How to Photograph Gardens

July 23, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment | |

Right time, right place

A garden looks so different at different times of day. The various parts of the garden are lit up by the sun, the shade offered by trees changes shape and size all the time. Flowers open and close and spin around to face the sun!

That is why professional photographers will often revisit a particular garden time and time again at different times - it is hardly ever the same twice. And of course it changes throughout the seasons.

In summer in the Northern Hemisphere it is often easier to create atmosphere in a garden photograph with morning or evening light. In the morning you have the added bonus of dew to create sparkle and mood. But evening light can be warmer in tone - and the flowers do not look so sleepy!  For me, the ultimate light is in the evening after an afternoon rain shower.

But gardens offer a lot for the photographer at any season.

How to Photograph Gardens

The Circle
Nicholas Hastings Winch
Commended: International Garden Photographer of the Year 2009-07-08

Here, Nicholas has used the subdued colours of a winter evening to great effect.


Photographing a garden is a bit like photographing a small landscape. The same considerations are in place when attempting to capture a vista or wide view. Choose the viewpoint very carefully and compose the view in the viewfinder. Create interest in the foreground of a wide shot. Use natural shapes like trees and shrubs to balance the composition. Create a sense of depth by leading the eye 'into' the frame.

How to Photograph Gardens

Cruden Farm
Simon Griffiths
Commended International Garden Photographer of the Year 2009-07-08

Simon's composition is beautifully balanced, with a strong sense of perspective and direction into the frame.

Make sure you keep the viewer's eye inside the frame. At International Garden Photographer of the Year we see a lot of shots where an area of white sky leads the eye out of the frame. It's usually possible to change your viewpoint to eliminate a white sky. You can use a graduated filter to darken the sky, or do this in post-production with Photoshop.

Choosing your viewpoint is not just about moving a metre or two either way. What about getting up high? Is there a balcony or even roof you can shoot from?

How to Photograph Gardens

Andrea Jones
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello Garden
Finalist: International Garden Photographer of the Year 2009

Andrea has chosen a specific viewpoint in order to create a balanced composition, with all the elements in visual harmony.

But unlike landscapes, gardens are man made. Often gardeners or garden designers have created visual focal points in the garden already. The photographer needs to be aware of this and use the opportunity if it is appropriate.

How to Photograph Gardens

Dennis Frates
Portland Japanese Garden. Finalist International Garden Photographer of the Year 2009-07-08

Look at the way that Dennis has used the carefully-positioned Japanese sculpture to anchor the composition. Try putting a finger over the sculpture and see how less satisfying the composition becomes without it.

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