Have you got a garden in your house? If you have even the tiniest of gardens, like a balcony garden or an indoor garden, then you can make some brilliant images if you take care of a few tips and techniques because every garden has a story, some character and a personal touch to it.
The tips that we will be discussing here cover for a wide range of situations from small to large gardens. If you do not have a garden, you can apply these tips to photograph in public or botanical gardens and parks!
For photographers, besides photographing just the beauty of the garden, maintaining or working in it does not end without some amount of photography. Even when you are pruning, weeding, drying herbs or removing bugs, it can all be documented to be shared for learning purposes and to maintain a journal.
Garden photography is a slow process and an experience that helps to appreciate what we are able to grow and achieve in a space. When photographing your own garden it is about the process of how your garden evolves over time. You will be documenting the experience as you are growing your plants.
Here Are Some Tips And Techniques For Stunning Garden Photography
You may want to photograph your garden because you want to document the progress and growth in your garden, you may want to share on social media, you may even want to make a few prints for an album or to hang on the wall or you may even want to take part in a garden photography contest. Whatever your intentions are, understanding the plants, looking for the light and documenting the story is important when it comes to garden photography.
Here are some tips that will help you create stunning garden photographs in no time!
Choose The Right Subject To Shoot
When it comes to a garden, the first thing that comes to mind are flowers. Flowers are one of favorites subjects for most people. However, there are more elements that build up the garden and don't just focus on the flowers.
In a garden you will find a lot of elements like seedlings, plants, flowers, shrubs, trees, vines, fruits, vegetables, herbs, greens, critters, props, lighting, benches, other structures, sometimes even a pond and many more.
Focus On Colors
Should you shoot only when there are colors? Best time to photograph a garden landscape would be the spring, summer and autumn seasons with all the colors scattered around in the form of flowers or leaves. But in winter, you can photograph the transformation taking place and document how plants prepare themselves for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.
If you have a big garden and you want to photograph its character, you will need to go wide and choose a perspective where you can incorporate the entire garden in the frame. This photograph will tell in a frame what your garden is about, how it looks like, how it is laid out, etc.
Look For Patterns
If you want to show a particular area of a garden like a patch of flowers, foliage or vegetables, then you need to get closer to the patch and photograph them. Look for interesting and repetitive patterns here to include in the frame to make it look more interesting.
You may also want to show the characteristic of a plant in the garden. In that case, get closer to the plant and photograph it from its level. You will want to bend down and look for the best perspective to present the plant without much distractions around.
If the plant has flowers or is bearing vegetables/fruits, you will want to include them to show at what stage the plant is. You can also show some unique characteristics of a particular plant through photographs!
Besides the above, you may want to photograph the flowers, fruits and vegetables up close in your garden in order to show the characteristic of them up close. When photographing flowers and fruits/vegetables, do not just photograph them alone unless you are capturing a closeup shot.
Include a few leaves or even the critters to add to the story – for example a bee pollinating a flower, a butterfly enjoying the nectar from the flowers or even beneficial bugs preying on pests. These will help you document your garden's story!
Photograph stories like germinations, transplanting, etc., as these are part of a plant's growth cycle. These images are interesting to look at and a great way to document life in the garden.
Similar to the above, you can also photograph the lifecycle of critters in your garden. Make sure you do not disturb them in their natural habitat as it can lead to breaking their cycle or killing them. Stay far from them and use a longer focal length to document the process.
Don't Forget To Include Props
Look closely at the garden walls, fence, garden floor in between the fallen leaves for mushrooms, lichens, moss, etc. as these are part of your garden and play an important role in soil health and its indication. Document the times these beautiful things sprout in your garden.
In the end, do not forget the garden tools! You can take someone's help to add a human factor in the image to show someone working with the tool or someone watering a plant, etc. You can also make a minimalist but creative arrangement of the tools in the garden to get impressive results.
Include working hands like planting, weeding, digging up, plucking fruits, vegetables, holding the harvest, watering, etc. These can look very interesting and at the same time tell a lasting and memorable story.
Note: If you are worried that you do not have any critters visiting your garden, the best tip is to grow plants that attract these critters. For example to attract pollinators, grow plants to produce flowers that attract the pollinators or other beneficial bugs.
Observe And Analyze Your Subjects
In order to photograph your garden effectively, you will need to have a good knowledge about the behavior of the plants, their blooms, their produce and the interaction of the critters in the garden. Flowers depending on the type and species can open throughout the day from morning till night. For example, you cannot wait for the evening golden hour to photograph the morning glory because it opens really early in the morning and most of them close well before midday. Nocturnal plants bloom after sunset and close before sunrise.
Critters interact with certain blooms and plants particularly. Certain bees, butterflies and other pollinators choose specific flowers and other critters like damselflies and ladybugs forage on the harmful aphids and other bugs. Observe them so you know where to look for them and choose a spot or flower to photograph.
When you are photographing in your garden, observe how the sun moves across the sky and casts light. Depending on the time of the day and light available, you can go creative. Even the light from a harsh midday sun can be used to make dramatic photographs that include dappled light and strong light and shadows.
The Best Time Of Day For Garden Photography
Early mornings and late afternoons are usually the best times to photograph the garden as the light is soft and golden. But I think that any time is a good time to shoot in a garden unless you are out in the hot midday sun with no shade. You can use a diffuser if the light is too harsh and there is something you need to photograph during that time.
Different plants behave differently – for example, some flowers bloom early in the morning and start to close before midday, some open about 10am and then there are some that open in the evening and even nocturnal ones that open at night. So depending on what your subject is, you will want to choose a time of the day and make use of accessories to control light when you want to capture photographs of the garden.
Overcast days are great for garden photography as the light is naturally soft and diffused already. You will not have strong shadows in the image and exposure settings will be easier to get right.
Golden hour can be magical in gardens. The side light will create long dramatic shadows and cast golden hues in the garden and its elements. Brilliant backlit images can be shot during this time and it can help to emphasise the textures and forms of the leaves and flowers in the garden and also help to photograph silhouettes if that's something you are interested in.
If you are struggling with exposure when backlighting, do not forget to use spot metering. Move around to find the best lighting angle and best perspective for the shot.
Best Season For Garden Photography
No season is bad for garden photography. Seasons will vary with geographical location, so make best use of what you find in each season.
- Spring is a time for new growth, and some early blossoms.
- Summer can be vibrant with exotic flowers, fruits and greenery everywhere.
- Autumn still has some flowers, colorful berries and brilliant foliage. That combined with rain and fog can make way for mellow mood in images. The overcast days will allow for photography all day long.
- In winter, you will be able to photograph the changes in your garden like naked trees and shrubs, and other plants shedding their old leaves and going into a period of dormancy.
- If you have prolonged rainy seasons, photograph plants, flowers, critters with raindrops on them. This can look truly spectacular.
Choose The Backgrounds Wisely
As much as possible, keep the background free of distractions. This will help bring the viewer's attention instantly on the subject and will also keep your subject prominent in the frame. In order to achieve a clean background, you will need to move around and find suitable perspectives.
Include The Critters In Your Garden
Showing the interaction of critters with the plants in your garden can add meaning to your garden pictures. Critters can be very quick, so you need to wait in a location where they are most likely to be found, with your camera and a tripod ready.
Shoot Under Various Weather Conditions
When we think about the right time for photography, the first thought that comes to our mind is clear skies and the golden hour. Do not limit yourself to the golden hour alone or clear sky days, but get out any day under any weather condition to find interesting compositions and contrasts in the garden.
If you have an overcast day, make use of the soft light to make vibrant photographs. If it is raining, you can take photographs of the plants enjoying the rain and after the rain. Make sure to protect the gear with rain covers and similar accessories.
When shooting indoor plants, you can place the plant near the window to beautifully light it and the same applies when photographing plants in a greenhouse. Look for soft evening lights or diffused lights through the curtains/blinds to illuminate the plants. You can also photograph the plant in its original location to tell a story about it.
With gardens, you can go with a variety of compositions and genres, right from a wide angle landscape to a closeup macro or even abstract. It depends on what you are looking to create, the purpose and how you see the different elements in your garden.
Here are some ideas to compose brilliant garden images:
When talking about compositional guidelines, the basic rules like the rule of thirds, leading lines, etc. are what we think of. With garden photography, you can almost apply any or all of the compositional guidelines to get amazing photographs. Of course keep the rule of thirds in mind for basic composition and then take it from there.
- Rule of thirds: Use the rule of thirds to place your subject and other complementary elements in the frame so you can draw viewer's attention instantly and at the same time create balance in your photographs. Place the elements on the one third lines and/or at the intersecting points of the lines.
- Leading Lines: Lines can be found in gardens in terms of hedges, garden paths, pathways, fences, rows of plants, stems, stalks, variegations in leaves, in flowers and even through shadows. Use these lines to frame your image so you can direct the viewer's attention to the main area of the frame which is mostly your subject.
- Fill the Frame: If you want to bring out details of a particular element like textures on leaves, flowers, pollen and other intricate details of the parts of a flower, critters, etc., it is best to go close and fill the frame with these details. This can lead to interesting abstract and graphical images.
- Unusual Perspectives: Do not just photograph garden images like a snapshot. Move around, bend down and look up, or look straight down and see how the light falls and illuminates areas of the garden and the different parts of plants. Photograph different perspectives and this is particularly important to get rid of distracting backgrounds and to get a neat image of the subject you are focusing on!
- Shoot the back side of flowers and leaves as well, as they have some really interesting details that will look brilliant if shot well. For small plants, you may need to get down flat on the ground to get effective shots.
- Textures and patterns: Plants and flowers come with textures and patterns of all colours and forms. Look for the right frame, angle to capture them brilliantly, so they stand out!
- Colors: Gardens are places that burst with colors especially from spring till autumn. Look for striking colors like red, orange, yellow, pink and photograph them for some strikingly vibrant garden photographs. Besides these you may also have colors like white, purple, blue that can be used to create photographs with a mellow mood.
- Complementary Colors: With so many colors around in the garden, you need to know what colors to put together to to create contrast and engagement in your images. It is always good to put complementary colors (opposite to each other on the color wheel) together to create a striking contrast. Light and dark colors also go well together.
- Contrast: By contrast we mean that you can use light and shadows as contrast or you can use contrasting colours and shades (dark and light) when framing your subject. When the sun is out, there will be areas with dappled light that can be used as a spotlight to frame your subject.
- Depth of Field: In order to make your subject stand out in the frame you can experiment with shallow depth of field. This will bring focus to your subject and throw the background and foreground out of focus. When working with wider aperture values, make sure you have the subject in sharp focus.
- Macros: Take closeup photos of flowers, leaves, critters and other elements in your garden. Even if you do not have a macro lens, these closeup shots will help show the intricate details in these subjects in your garden.
- Monotones: For artistic purpose, you can make monotone images by filling the frame with elements that have different shades of the same colour. This will give a pleasant look and a semi abstract mood to the image. Photographing subjects that have colours like yellow and orange during the golden hour will also lead to beautiful monotone images.
- Abstract: We already discussed about macro shots, but there are a lot of textures and patterns you can see in various areas of the garden. For example, textures on leaves and flowers, patterns on leaves and flowers, reflections if you have a small pond in the garden, close details of seeds, stalks etc., all can yield abstract images. You just need to look out for them.
- Frame within a Frame: Shoot your subject through leaves or other plants and flowers in your garden. This can be an interesting way to frame your subject naturally with elements in your garden.
- Minimal Frame: Instead of adding a lot to the frame, include just a small plant and try a minimal frame. This will bring emphasis to the plant and keep the frame uncluttered.
- Capture the Character of the Plant: In a garden you may have varieties of plants that include small plants, shrubs, climbers, etc. Look for the shapes, lines, curves and observe how they have naturally grown – capture their character in the image.
- Go for Flat Lays: Flat lays can be interesting if done well. You can have a spread of various plants and flowers or a spread of the same plant so you can capture the repetitions and patterns in the image.
- Keep the frame neat by removing dirt, dust and unwanted elements like dry leaves and twigs from the frame.
- You can give the plants a foliar spray before photographing them to give them a fresh and vibrant look.
- Photographing just after a rain is another good idea to photograph the freshness of the garden and this is a time when the garden is washed off the dust settled on the leaves and flowers. You can also photograph your subjects with the beautiful water drops clinging on to them.
- Do not forget the seed part. It is one of the most important stages in the lifecycle of a plant as the seeds germinate into new plants.
- Try photographing in both landscape and portrait orientation.
- Include elements in foreground and background to show context, scale and depth in images.
- When shooting a wide angle photo of your garden, include layers (foreground, middle ground, background) to create depth.
- It is good to add some information about your subject along with dates so viewers get to benefit from that information.
- Use natural light and avoid flash by all means to get natural looking shots.
You can shoot photographs of your garden with any camera that you have and even use your smartphone. If you are going for macros and creative shots with shallow depth of field, it is good to have a camera that can shoot manual and have a macro lens as well.
Here are some important gear that you will need for stunning garden photography!
- A camera that can shoot in manual mode – this could be a DSLR, mirrorless or a compact camera.
- A macro lens of your choice – Use any macro lenses that you may have, however, longer focal lengths help to stay far away from the critters and photograph them without distracting or disturbing them. If you do not have a macro lens, use any lens that you have in hand – preferably a prime lens. It is also good to have a moderate zoom lens so you can do wide angle shots, medium shots and then some closeup shots as well.
- A sturdy tripod – Some situations especially when shooting macros requires you to stay still and hold the camera steady. A sturdy tripod or if you need to get down to ground level, a camera bean bag or a sturdy gorilla pod will help.
- A diffuser and reflector – Although most of us prefer to do any sorts of photography in the morning or evening, there are times when you may have to photograph in the day time when the sunlight can be harsh. You can make use of diffusers between the sunlight and the subject to avoid the harsh light and shadows. Also, if you want to fill in some light in shadow areas, it is a good idea to use a reflector.
- A Polarising Filter – If you will be shooting images of a pond, it is good to use a circular polarising filter to reduce reflections.
- A cable release – When using the camera on the tripod, it is good to use a cable release to avoid any blur due to camera shake.
Here are some basic camera settings to get started with garden photography!
- Set the camera on manual mode. This will give you more control over the exposure where you can adjust the shutter speed, aperture and iso values. Some fast moving critters and plants/flowers when photographed under breezy conditions, will require a faster shutter speed and photographing the plants on a normal day, other still elements can be captured using comparatively slower shutter speeds.
- Shoot raw.
- If you set the camera on a tripod, make sure you turn off image stabilisation. If using a DSLR, use the mirror lockup feature.
- Set the white balance according to the light. You may need to choose daylight for normal day and cloudy for overcast days and shade if you are shooting in the shade. If you are unsure, leave it on auto and then make adjustments when post processing.
- Set the lens to autofocus for normal shots, but for macros, it is best to manually focus on live view. If you are shooting a wide angle shot of the garden, use hyperfocal distance or focus one third into the scene to get the entire frame in focus.
- Choose the correct metering mode depending on the light in the frame.
- Set the aperture value depending on what you are looking to achieve. For images with a blurry background and for close shots, you will need to shoot wide open and for images where you want to include the background information (medium shots), you can shoot above f/5.6. For very wide shots, use aperture value between f/11 and f/16.
- Set the iso to the lowest value if the light is bright and on overcast days, you will need to slightly increase the iso.
- Set the shutter to greater than (1/(2 x focal length)) if you are hand holding the camera taking the crop factor into account. If your subject is moving, you will need to use faster shutter speeds greater than 1/500s and use continuous/track focus modes.
- Whenever required, you will need to make adjustments to iso based on aperture and shutter speed values.
- Keep an eye on the histogram to make sure you are not clipping the shadows and highlights.
Once you have photographed your images, import the raw files into your post processing application. All photos will benefit from a bit of post processing to get the right colors and details out of them. Here are some basic adjustments you can make to give a pop to your garden photos.
- Adjust the white balance if you did not get that right in camera.
- If required, straighten and crop to get the desired composition.
- Remove any unwanted specks, dust, dirt, distractions, etc., using the clone or healing tool to get a clean frame.
- Make adjustments to exposure, contrast, to instantly give a pop to the images.
- If you think there are areas where highlights and shadows details are lost, use these sliders as required to recover the details.
- Use the blacks and whites sliders to get the blacks and whites in the image right.
- Garden photos are about the vibrant colours in there, so you can increase the vibrance a bit to give it a striking look.
- If you want to work with specific colours, then make use of the HSL panel.
- Apply sharpness and noise reduction if necessary.
- Print photos from your garden and hang them in your house.
Garden photography is a great way to kick start your photography where you learn to observe, analyse, be patient and shoot images. You can learn basic photography skills by shooting in your garden because you work with various light situations, compositions and camera settings.
If you love photographing in the garden, what are some tips that you think are useful for garden photography? Share with us in the comments section below.