Tips for tak­ing bet­ter pho­tos of your gar­den and wildlife

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PERSPECTIVES - BY MELISSA KOSSLER DUT­TON

So the gar­den you planted or en­joy each day is flow­er­ing. Birds and an­i­mals are busy in your yard or neigh­bour­hood. And you’d love to cap­ture all this nat­u­ral beauty in pho­tos.

It’s so easy these days to pull out a phone and take pic­tures of any­thing any­time, but a lit­tle time and thought can pro­duce bet­ter gar­den and wildlife pho­tos.

“There’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween that for-the-record shot that pre­serves a mem­ory and get­ting a re­ally nice im­age,” says Brenda Tharp, au­thor of the new book “Ex­pres­sive Na­ture Pho­tog­ra­phy” (The Mona­celli Press).

Pause be­fore press­ing the shut­ter, she says, and con­sider: Is the light right? Can you give your photo a unique point of view by shoot­ing from dif­fer­ent an­gles and lev­els, mov­ing to the side, crouch­ing or stand­ing on some­thing?

Try to iden­tify what it is about the sub­ject mat­ter that “stopped you in your tracks,” she says. “It’s re­ally about nar­row­ing down your pur­pose in mak­ing that pic­ture.”

Some tips from Tharp and other na­ture pho­tog­ra­phers:

The Rule of thirds

Re­sist the temp­ta­tion to cen­tre the sub­ject, sug­gests Rob Simpson, an in­struc­tor in na­ture pho­tog­ra­phy at Lord Fair­fax Col­lege in Mid­dle­town, Vir­ginia. Think of your photo as a tic-tac-toe board, and place the sub­ject in one of the of­f­cen­tre thirds of the space. “It’s go­ing to make the photo more pleas­ing to the eye,” he said. “It gives it bal­ance.”

Tex­ture is ter­rific

One of the most ex­cit­ing things about pho­tograph­ing flow­ers and leaves is cap­tur­ing some­thing that passersby won’t see — their tex­tures up-close, says Patty Hank­ins, a flo­ral photographer in Bethesda, Mary­land, who sells her work and of­fers pho­tog­ra­phy tips at beau­ti­fulflow­er­pic­

A cam­era’s “macro” set­ting lets you take an ex­treme closeup and keep it in fo­cus. “It shows you all these in­cred­i­ble things that peo­ple who aren’t stop­ping to look won’t see,” she says. “It’s about fill­ing the frame with small de­tails.”

Stay­ing still

When us­ing the macro set­ting, keep the cam­era as still as pos­si­ble, Hank­ins says. “If you’re tak­ing a pic­ture of the Grand Canyon and your hand shakes a lit­tle, peo­ple aren’t likely to no­tice,” she said. “But if you’re tak­ing a photo of the cen­tre of a sun­flower, they’re much more likely to see it.”

A tri­pod can help. Look for one that is light­weight and can get low to ground, she says. If you don’t own a tri­pod, find some­where solid to place the cam­era or set it on a bean bag or bag of rice on the ground, and use the timer to take the photo. Many cam­eras also have set­tings de­signed to re­duce vi­bra­tions.

Prac­tice perime­ter pa­trol

Be­fore you shoot, scan the edges of your pic­ture for build­ings, out­door fur­ni­ture or other things that could dis­tract from your sub­ject.

Light mat­ters

Of­ten, out­door pho­tos come out bet­ter on cloudy days or when the sun is not di­rectly over­head, Simpson says. The soft light that comes through on an over­cast day will not cast harsh shad­ows, and may re­sult in a more even ex­po­sure and bet­ter de­tails.

“Peo­ple love sun­light, but it’s not the right light for ev­ery sub­ject,” Tharp says. “For in­ti­mate views of na­ture, opt for soft or dif­fused light.”

For land­scape pho­tos, how­ever, sun­light can add drama. Con­sider shoot­ing in the warm light found in early morn­ing or late af­ter­noon when the an­gle of the sun is low.

Thing 3-D

Hav­ing items in a pic­ture’s fore­ground and back­ground helps put the viewer in the photo and cre­ates a sense of depth, Tharp says. When tak­ing a photo of a meadow or land­scape, in­clude ob­jects closer to the cam­era as well.

An­other way to cre­ate di­men­sion is to an­gle the cam­era down­ward a bit, em­pha­siz­ing the fore­ground and cre­at­ing that near-far re­la­tion­ship.

An­i­mal ac­tion

The best an­i­mal pho­tos re­veal the sub­ject’s be­hav­iour or per­son­al­ity, Tharp says. Take time to ob­serve the an­i­mals and wait for the best shot. But be ready to cap­ture the ac­tion when it hap­pens. Simpson rec­om­mends a fast shut­ter speed to avoid miss­ing the shot.

Keep the an­i­mal’s eye in fo­cus.

Shut­ter se­lec­tions and aper­tures

Be­com­ing a bet­ter photographer will mean un­der­stand­ing shut­ter speeds and aper­tures, Tharp said. The right shut­ter speed can mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween freez­ing the mo­tion of a mov­ing an­i­mal or end­ing up with a blur. When pho­tograph­ing some­thing in mo­tion — an an­i­mal, bird or wa­ter­fall — give prece­dence to shut­ter speed over aper­ture, which is the amount of light be­ing al­lowed into the lens.

If con­trol­ling the sharp­ness of the back­ground is the goal, pri­or­i­tize aper­ture, be­cause it de­fines the depth of what will be in fo­cus, she said.

“Ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent aper­tures and shut­ter speeds on your sub­ject will quickly show the var­i­ous ef­fects,” Tharp said.


Ja­panese maple leaves blan­ket a front yard in Ma­maro­neck, N.Y.


Dew drops are seen on the leaves of lady’s man­tle in a front yard in Ma­maro­neck, N.Y.


Pur­ple Cone­flow­ers in a front yard gar­den in Dal­las, Texas.


A Dusty Miller in a front yard gar­den in Dal­las, Texas.


A flow­er­ing Crape Myr­tle in Dal­las, Texas.


Wa­ter drops can be seen on a bloom­ing hol­ly­hock in a gar­den in Frank­furt (Oder), Ger­many.

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