Garden photography

by Lila Das Gupta

I've always wanted to take better pictures of my garden and allotment, not just for the sake of keeping a record, but for the pure artistic pleasure of it.

Close-up of red Dahlia 'Catherine Deneuve' flowerI've always wanted to take better pictures of my garden and allotment, not just for the sake of keeping a record, but for the pure artistic pleasure of it.

Up till now I've been rather stupidly remiss: I took on an overgrown allotment, but I simply never got round to taking a picture of it 'before' and 'after'. All that has now changed.

For the past 18 months, Paul Debois has been photographing my garden and allotment for Gardeners World magazine, and I've been really inspired by watching him work.  Whether it's a lily beetle, a courgette flower or a row of lettuces, his pictures have made me start to look at things more closely. If Paul can take beautiful pictures of my garden, what's stopping me?

We own a very good, but rather bulky digital camera. I also have a compact digital camera which I've never quite got the hang of:  if you want to take it off the 'auto' setting, it's so full of menus, I find it rather off-putting. So, I saved my pennies and decided to invest in a new one.  A couple of weeks ago I took myself to a high street camera shop where I got some excellent advice.

What I've ended up with is a compact digital camera that is small enough to slip into my pocket, but has some of the functions you might expect from a more sophisticated (for that read SLR) camera, like a control ring on the front that displays the f-stops. The screen also tells you what the shutter speed is and what the focal length is. A dial allows you to adjust the exposure to darken or lighten the picture and tells you by how much on the screen.

I still have an awful lot to learn about photography, but I've finally found something which I feel I have a good chance of mastering. There may be good deals for cameras on the internet, but there's nothing like playing around with one to decide if it suits your needs.

In just a couple of weeks I've been able to take better photographs.

Here are some tips if, like me, you are a complete beginner.

1. To cut down on camera shake and to shoot at slower speeds, buy a tripod for flower and garden photography. You don't have to spend lots of money on a heavy duty one. Mine was £30 for a full size one. I also bought a half-sized one which can be adjusted downwards for photographing vegetables.

2. Try to take pictures on overcast days, in the very early morning or at the end of the day. Harsh sunlight bleaches out your subject. Try photographing after rain, the droplets can enhance the effect no en

3. Take pictures of the same thing from different angles to see where the light is best: things which are translucent often work well when the light comes from behind causing a kind of halo or glow when they are back-lit.

4. If you want to provide some artificial shade, you can rig up an inexpensive diffuser by making a rectangular wooden frame a few feet across (try bamboo sticks tied together if that's all you have in the shed).  Attach plain voile net curtain material to the frame by folding over and sewing on, or use drawing pins or a staple gun. Find a willing helper who'll hold it over what you're photographing to create a shadow. Sometimes you can use your own body to make the shadow.

5. Watch out for your backgrounds: try to isolate what it is you want to photograph and look at it from another angle if the background is fighting with it for attention.  Get closer to your subject if needed.

6. Make sure you have a large enough memory card. Buying two chips of 16 gigabytes can be much cheaper than one of 32.  Opt for a class 6 card if you want something fairly speedy.

7. The artist Georgia O'Keeffe used to say that she pared things down and magnified them in order to get to their essence.  Perhaps that's sometime to bear in mind when taking photographs.

Take your camera out three evenings in a row and see the difference in what you can capture.

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Talkback: Garden photography
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Gardeners' World Web User 23/07/2010 at 17:32

Try to make use of the Golden Mean like artists do. Imagine you have lines across your viewer one third and two thirds horizontally and vertically and where they intersect is the Golden Mean where the most important part of the picture should be, a choice of four. Also, finding straight diagonal lines from any of the corners of the frame will give you a good composition. Try to get complementary or harmonising colours and have fun experimenting with the editing of your pictures on the computer. I hope you have as much fun photographing plants and gardens as I have,Lila.

Gardeners' World Web User 24/07/2010 at 21:02

I can't agree more with point number five. I took some wonderful photos of penstemens in my garden and when the photos came back (before I went digital) there were a goood many shots which featured the gigantic underpants of my neighbour hanging in the background!

Gardeners' World Web User 27/07/2010 at 20:27

I take pictures of our garden and allotment every month and then download them on to MSN, it's a pleasure looking back and enjoying the garden over and over again.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/07/2010 at 08:10

I much enjoyed your post on camera gardening. I take average pictures with my mobile which I always have on me. Until the advent of camera mobiles I never took pictures. I use it for a variety of purposes. Record/diary keeping (then adding text with Picasa, so I know what I planted where in the next season, and also it reinforces the plant names), passing wildlife which won't wait for you to go and get your camera (birds, butterflies, frogs, moths), artistic views, identification, (most recently what turned out to be a garden escapee, Linum grandiflorum, in a butterfly meadow in a country park, had to call in the experts).It's a bit addictive and a brilliant tool.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/07/2010 at 09:24

I have got a few little galleries that I have done, just when in my parents garden and in the inlaws garden... you can get some great shots, but would recommend a decent camera... Macro lens work a treat. See them here

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