The availability of high-quality cameras for a relatively low cost and digital image capturing has changed the game of photography. If you love nature, a garden can be one of the most satisfying subjects to photograph. The act of being outdoors enjoying the space is uplifting. And the photos will be a reminder of spaces that are constantly changing. With a few simple tips, you can transform your photos from ordinary to extraordinary. The final results will make the enjoyment much more fulfilling and give you a catalog of beautiful images to share no matter what the season.
There’s more to garden photography than just pointing your camera at a pretty flower! Stacy Bass, a talented landscape and garden photographer with a beautiful book, Gardens at First Light, has joined us today with her best pointers on how to take stunning photos in the garden.
Garden Photography Tips to Capture Nature’s Beauty
By Stacy Bass
Garden photography is where my heart lies, and after two books dedicated to the subject, I have no doubt found my muse. I lecture around the country to garden clubs and other groups on the subject of garden photography and have a few tips to share.
Whether you are hoping to chronicle your own growing garden or looking to improve your photography, I hope this will provide some guidance and inspiration.
Light is the core of photography. It is so important but also very easy to overlook. A common misconception about taking pictures is that the brighter the sun and the “prettier” the day, the better the pictures will be. I disagree.
Early in my career, I was given an assignment to photograph a garden for a regional home and garden magazine. This assignment had very strict time constraints and the day that I needed to get it done, I woke up to find rain pouring down.
Anxious to accomplish the assignment, I drove over to the property, hoping that the rain would let up. Nothing. How could I possibly get this done? My equipment would be ruined. The images would be gray and dreary and I might never get hired again.
I decided I had no choice. I got out of the car, figured out a ridiculous but functional way to balance an umbrella on my head as I carried my gear into the landscape, and I just started shooting, rain and all.
When I went back to my studio to look at my images, I couldn’t help but smile. The pictures were breathtaking. The mist had created an almost invisible aura over the property which looked magical on film. The colors were intense and saturated. The light was beautiful.
There is nothing quite as calming to me as light that is consistent and even. Though a bright sunny day is wonderful to enjoy, you won’t find me with my camera in a garden. The shadows are harsh. The colors shift and change. No matter how dark it may seem, take a chance. With proper exposure and a sturdy tripod, the light is a trusted friend.
Time of Day
I shoot primarily at dawn, and occasionally at dusk—both times of day are wonderful for capturing the garden. For equipment, while a reliable camera is important, using a tripod is key. It’s a little hard to get used to at first but in short order, you will find it becomes indispensable—allowing you to shoot longer exposures at low light without having to worry about camera shake or blurry images.
Another tip—one that I learned early in my career but that is a favorite to pass along—is this: before you depress the shutter, take an extra second to look at all four corners of the frame.
This simple act can save a huge amount of time in post-production and will help you to create consistently stronger pictures. By doing this, you are consciously deciding what to include in the frame and what to exclude—and that focus and attention to detail forces you to be more critical about the composition of each shot.
In the garden particularly, doing this will give you a chance to move the camera as needed to avoid, for example, a faded rose at the edge of the frame or a section of hedge that is discolored.
Discovering that you have some unwanted element in the picture is not a huge deal these days thanks to photo-editing software, but no question, more time spent making the photo will result in less doctoring needed!
Those three tips can make a dramatic change in how you capture the garden. If you would like to learn more, Gardens at First Light offers a Garden Reference Guide of beautifully hand-drawn sketches of the topography of each garden as well as helpful gardening tips. There are images that correspond to directional arrows on the sketch, allowing you to see exactly where I was standing and what I saw when I took each photograph.
Stacy Bass has been a fine art and editorial photographer for the past decade. Her signature images of architecture, interiors, and gardens have resulted in three solo exhibitions and numerous awards. Her photography has been featured extensively in books and magazines, including Garden Design, House Beautiful, Horticulture, California Homes, British Homes & Gardens, and many more. Stacy’s bestselling monograph celebrating the American landscape, In the Garden, was released in May 2012. Her second book, Gardens at First Light, was released in May 2015 and has been wonderfully received by photography and garden lovers alike.