How to take the best pictures of your garden
It is right about now, midsummer, when most Canadian gardens come into their own. Aside from some weeding and watering, the work has been done and it is time for gardeners to relax and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of their labours. The satisfaction and enjoyment is that much sweeter, the poets say, because it is fleeting. As experienced growers know well, blossoms are ephemeral and seasons ever-changing. It is both the joy and the pity of being a home horticulturalist.
Photography is the way to keep your flowers blooming and gardens verdant long after they have withered and died and returned to the earth. (Fall, with its decay and decline, mind you, can also be a very photogenic phase.) To help our readers hang on to their successes well after withering, Canadian Wildlife magazine reached out to several of our nature photographers for advice on capturing the impermanent beauty of their gardens.
The first thing to consider, according to every expert, is light. Contrary to what many expect, full sunlight is less than ideal in most cases. You lose definition, and colours get washed out. So while a hot and sunny afternoon may be the best time to sit and relax in a garden, to get the best photos, consider getting up early in the morning. Mornings in a garden can be magical, with gentle light and dew on the grass, spider webs and petals. When shots at dawn are impractical, evening light also offers a gentler, warmer tone than at midday and is also well suited to autumnal gardens. Overcast days too offer nice light to show off flowers, particularly pale plants because you can capture more detail. Whenever you choose, be sure to study your plot at different times of day beforehand, getting a sense for the light angles, shades and shadows that can add so much to a photo.
Longtime nature photographer and Canadian Wildlife contributor Thomas Kitchin in Dartmouth, N.S., offers a handy tip. “Next time you notice a sun shower, grab a friend, your umbrella and your camera — ideally with a zoom lens — and get out to your garden quick as you can. You have light dancing, reflecting off the droplets. You’ll get something different and dynamic.” With your “assistant” holding the umbrella and protecting your equipment, move quickly around the garden watching for “butterflies taking shelter from the rain, and flowers gently dripping.”
If you are focusing on creating portraits of individual flowers, go simple. Home in on your subject, minimizing unconnected foliage around it. An effective way of doing this is to increase the aperture of the lens, putting the peripheral content out of focus, emphasizing in crisp definition the flower itself.
To capture the overall effect of your garden, think in terms of how you designed it, the particular vantages and viewpoints you developed as you planted it. Are there bowers or entranceways, perhaps a sculpture or other features that can hold the eye and create an atmosphere? These will help define the space and in larger views give some diversity to the effect. Again, depth of field can add interest and intent to your image.
It is a truism that gardeners live with and embrace the impermanence of their calling, but that shouldn’t preclude any of us from enjoying our garden successes throughout the year.