Tenets of Garden Photography


Boobie_begging_amall_dsc_6426I bet you think I’m going to recite the tenets of garden photography for you.  No such luck.  What I’m offering instead is this intriguing article about travel photography – and here I’m veering perilously close to off-topic – but let’s see how they translate to our world.

The first advice is to not cut off people’s feet, which makes me wonder: is there a plant part that, if cut off, spoils the photo?  And the admonition to avoid telephone poles coming out of your subject applies equally well to plant subjects as to human.  But really, there’s lots more useful stuff here, like the fact that we usually see the subject, not the whole frame, and we should always "check the borders."  And my favorite – a discussion of qualities of light that goes beyond the avoid-harsh-sun advice we see everywhere to describe "sweet light" and suggest that flash be only during the day, never at night.  I just love that counterintuitive stuff!!

Specific to travel, photographers are reminded to catch these elements: people, scenics, details, food, movement, action, and nightlife.  So what do you suppose the must-shoot elements would be in gardening photography?  Maybe entrances, whole borders, close-ups, small plant combinations, animals, and such hardscape as seating, stone, wood, and statuary.  Sandy and Judith, I want to hear from you guys especially.

[Photo of "begging boobies" taken in the Galapagos Islands by my friend Julie Miller.  The trip was a digital photography adventure led by photographer/teacher Eliot Cohen.  Check out the "Personal" part of his portfolio, especially the totally cool panos.  Oh, hell, while I’m handing out links here’s one to the magazine Julie edits – Science News.  Its coverage of the hot-button issue of invasive plants has been excellent.]


  1. I started leaving a comment here. After my comment got longer than this blog entry, I thought I should write my own in response! See “On Garden Photography” on my blog.

    Thanx – Xris

  2. I was just cropping a photo for my blog today and thinking of that “don’t cut off body parts” rule of human photography and wondering what I could get away with on poppies. I usually photograph the whole plant as tightly as I can and then crop “artfully,” which is of course, totally subjective. I have less success with finding good light because I’m desperately impatient when I want to blog about something.

  3. So many people do TIGHT open flower close-ups , which are gorgeous, but please rembers to also take TIGHT CLOSE-UPS of:
    – flower buds in various stages of opening
    – seed heads
    – bark
    – the flower’s fruiting stage (if any)
    – foliage
    Also I’m always looking for nice props or tools that show proportion say a pile of tulip bulbs laying next to a trowel.

  4. I loved the observation about when to use flash…(for fill during the day and never at night)…that is so right on.

    I’m going to keep my comments short, or risk writing a dissertation on this subject. so…if I had to offer anything:

    a. photograph on cloudy days, if possible after a rain. sunlight washes color out while a cloudy day brings the garden alive for a camera.

    b. shoot tight or far, long or wide, but be decisive and have a purpose. what are you trying to show…or better yet, what do you see? if what you see is not apparent, then you lack focus and so will your photography.

    c. as Susan pointed out, the subject is only the subject…in some ways the least important part of the photograph. it is the supporting elements that tell a story. if the composition has extraneous information that do not add to the story, then they have no place…absolutely none, in the photograph.

    d. frame with your feet, not your zoom lens. zoom lens change perspective as you move in and out. they don’t just bring you closer or farther, they increase or decrease depth of field. compose with your feet by moving closer or farther away. the zoom (if you choose to use one) is for changing perspective, from wide to long.

    e. use your aperture to control depth of field (wide equals more, long equals less).

    guess it turned a bit long.


  5. Good post Susan and great comments from Xris and Barrie. I think one should shoot whatever catches their eye. One thing I do try to do is not to have a cluttered background. Otherwise your eye wanders around the picture. I try to only include what I want to see. Not always easy and doesn’t always happen. I am still quite new to photography and have tons to learn. Photography is like anything. Practise makes perfect:).

  6. Great topic, Susan. Photos bring a garden blog to life, and I enjoyed reading tips from more-experienced (and gifted) photographers. Thanks also for the links to Sandy and Judith’s blogs–what gorgeous photos.

    If you haven’t already checked out Diane’s Baja Desert Garden at http://cabopulmo.blogspot.com/, you need to see her photos too.

  7. One lesson I’ve never forgotten from an old pro photographer is to start taking pictures from far away and then constantly zoom in on the most interesting thing in the picture. Keep picking interesting things – and keep zooming in. Sooner or later you either get to the bark, the flower stamen, pollen grain. pattern or whatever it is your “eye” or artistic sense says is “interesting” in the picture.


  8. “e. use your aperture to control depth of field (wide equals more, long equals less).”

    Actually, it’s the opposite: a wide aperture (F 2.8)has less depth of field than a narrow aperture (F 5.6).


    The tradeoff is that a wide aperture lets in more light and allows a faster shutter speed, which reduces the possibility of a blurry photo.

    For shutter speeds 1/60 of a second or slower, try to brace on a solid object, or use a tripod.

  9. sorry doug…i meant (but didn’t write) wide angle vs telephoto…wide angles have greater depth of field. you are absolutely correct regarding aperture and i mis-wrote. thank you very much for pointing this out! bashfully, barrie.

  10. These are all great tips. I would add one more: Look at your subject from all differnt angles. Instead of standing and looking down at a flower to take the picture, get down at eye level or ground level. Look at the subject from all sides. Look at a leaf or flower from underneath and behind, left and right. Ordinary things in the garden can look extraordinary if we take the time to look at them in a new way.

  11. I found your article and the associated comments excellent! Thanks for the good info. I just added a post on photography over on my site and linked to yours….Thanks!

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