Photographing Gardens

The previous article in the series dealt with photographing unusual natural plant features; this one deals with photographing more formal displays.

Gardens are entirely man-made, planned for strong visual effects and lovingly tended.  Accordingly you will find yourself trying to capture what the gardener intended and to portray it to full advantage.  Framing, lighting, depth-of-field and avoiding distractions (such as other people in public gardens appearing in the picture) are things on which to concentrate.

 Flower Bed DisplayThe picture on the left is a fragment of a long two-colour display of plants.  The flower-bed itself was about ten times the width portrayed in the picture.  Whilst producing an inspiring blaze of colour the whole bed is very long and thin horizontally, and if the photographer attempted to get it all in he would have had to include a large area above it and below it due to the proportions of the frame.

On a standard camera therefore, the result would have been uninspiring.  This section has some impact.  If the camera had a panoramic setting then the whole bed could have been taken very effectively.

White Tulip Bed

For the bed of white tulips on the right the gardener has created various levels of colour from the bright green of the low bushes on the left, through the pale blue at intermediate height to the tulips themselves at the top.  All the tulips are in good condition (this may not always be the case due to their fragility and short time in bloom). 

The lighting is ideal – its obliquity allows the tulip petals to be seen by transmitted light providing good detail, but is far enough off the axis of the lens not to provide difficult contrasts by photographing directly into the light.  Careful attention needs to be given to the exposure in shots like this, especially with the white petals because this can lead to large featureless areas on the photograph.  If necessary, underexpose by 2/3 of an f/stop.

Flower Bed in Victoria Park, Bath

The flower bed on the left is the nearest of a series of round beds stretching off into the distance.  By carefully selecting the angle and the distance, the bed is made to fill most of the picture area, portraying how the gardener has arranged the display in contrasting rings of colour with some larger bushes in the middle. 

The circular units of the flower-beds are well enough displayed to show how the whole longer display is set up, but this is effectively a pictorial footnote with the emphasis being on the design of the individual rings. 

Dancing Figure Topiary

The dancing figures and inscription on the right show that the gardener has invested plenty of time and effort in producing this very effective horticultural result.  The framing of the picture is necessarily defined by the width of the inscription in the foreground and whilst the picture shows what it should as reportage it not very effective because the figures holding hands are not as prominent as they should be, and because there are many distractions in the background.

The picture would have been better if it had far less depth of field.  This could have been achieved through switching the camera to an aperture priority manual setting (usually signified by “A” on the adjustment dial) and going for the largest aperture that the lens will allow and the camera will still permit for exposure. 

If the camera had film-speed adjustment, it should have been set to the lowest ISO (slowest film-speed) in the range.  That way the aperture would have been as large as it could have been, and therefore the depth of field as shallow as possible. 

Once this was done, the camera should have been manually focused on the front of the figures holding hands in order to get the inscription sharp and depth of field running just as far as the back of the figures.   The distant background would then have been well out of focus.  A further improvement could have been made by waiting until there were no other people in the picture.

The next article in the series will deal with flowerscapes.