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Garden Photography

Updated on May 17, 2010

Any attempt at conveying the size of a large garden generally results in extensive areas of uninteresting foreground. The massed flowers and main features of the small garden (lily pond, pergola, rockery, etc) are generally laid out on a more modest scale that is easier for the normal angle lens to handle.

Viewpoint

Generally it is better to choose characteristic portions of the garden rather than try to include the whole scene, and all stiff and formal effects should be avoided. Nothing is less attractive than a square-on photograph of a flower bed or border where a narrow uniform strip of flowers stretches from one side of the picture to the other. Straight-down-the-garden-path pictures are equally dead looking.

A viewpoint on a corner usually gives a picture in which the space is filled in a much more interesting fashion; paths then lead into the scene at an angle, and the varied masses of light and shade formed by groups of flowers can be balanced to make a pleasing and original composition.

A camera at eye-level will lessen the importance of the closest blooms, but indicate size of bed and general layout. For distances of 10-20 feet, waist-level viewpoints are often best; much depends upon the varying heights of the flowers themselves, whilst for small border clumps camera heights of 1 to 2 feet at distances of 4 to 8 feet are advised. Dead-overhead viewpoints of selected, even-growing masses, provide interesting "pattern" pictures.

It is often possible to find an effective viewpoint in which a view of the garden is seen from indoors through an open french window or door. And interesting photographs can often be taken from a first floor window, a viewpoint which, in many cases, has the advantage of excluding the sky.

Garden Plants, Trees, Shrubs

Rockeries and massed blooms are easier to arrange in the picture space than isolated clumps of assorted specimens.

In black-and-white pictures, the flowers of the lightest tones should be placed to provide the main point of interest, but in making colour photographs the place of interest should go to the most brilliant colour.

Plants that carry all their interest at the top, like standard roses, are not easy subjects unless they are photographed close up. Flowering shrubs and fruit trees are good space-fillers for upright or square picture shapes. Dark shrubs and laurels make poor subjects lacking interest but are excellent for backgrounds.

Garden Furniture

Garden features like archways, bird baths, sundials, steps and the like make excellent units for framing or furnishing the picture space, while ornamental loggias and lily ponds make good main features. Rustic furniture, especially when it is new and shiny, is risky picture material. Statues and animals are best kept out of the picture as they attract all the attention and the garden becomes a mere setting for them.

Backgrounds

The majority of garden photographs are spoiled by aggressive backgrounds- white painted trelliswork, wire-netting, railings and ugly fencing. It is usually difficult to avoid this type of background but it is possible to play it down- it can be blurred by selective focusing and the picture can be taken when the background is in shadow.

On the other hand, close-boarded fencing, wattle and old roughcast walls can actually add decorative interest to the picture if the lighting is oblique and shows up the texture.

The sky, usually the best of backgrounds, is rarely effective in a garden photograph and is generally better cut out altogether by a suitable choice of viewpoint.

Many garden pictures are marred by details that could easily have been avoided before the picture was taken, dead or withered blooms near the camera, stakes and canes, name-tags and odd tools. Daisies that pass unnoticed on the lawn come out as disagreeable white spots on the print.

Lighting

The best lighting is provided by slightly diffused sunshine with plenty of reflection from white clouds. This type of lighting gives modelling and relief without dense black shadows.

Flat, high angle or fully frontal lighting all tend to destroy modelling and depth, while back lighting is rarely effective, particularly when it shines through a network of small branches.

Filters are not required unless the flowers are tall, and are photographed against a blue sky background, when a 2 x or 3 x yellow, green, or yellow-green filter may be used with advantage. An orange filter gives greater tonal contrast, but at the expense of over-dark foliage. Broad lawns and open scenes which include the sky also need a filter.

Early morning and evening sunshine is useful for spotlighting individual features, but it should always be supplemented by a white reflector or the shadows will be solid black.

Camera

All the normal types of camera are suitable for garden photography. Even a fixed focus camera will turn out attractive garden pictures, but it calls for even more attention to the background than usual. A focusing camera has the advantage that it can be made to throw the background out of focus.

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