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Essential Skills for Garden Photography

Garden photography uses a vast number of photographic skills and below are listed some of those that you may want to think about and take into consideration when approaching this task. From composition through to how to get your vision onto the printed page each takes a different skill to achieve it. Some of these include:


A garden can be a small or large environment. It can be highly manicured and structured or the other extreme of completely wild. Each has it's own appeal and challenges, but most of all you need to consider how the final picture is going to be portrayed. You also have the challenges of height and expanse, getting the image to look right on the print will involve you in having to think about foreground and background focal points as well as perspective. For more on composing photographs in general and techniques like using mirrors to help why not take a look at:


Using telephoto lenses and standing further back from your main focal point will allow you to pull the background detail towards you and therefore close up the distance, whereas if you use a wide angle lens and move closer to your main subject this will give you a wider angle of view. Of course your position can also have an effect on structures, buildings, statues, trees or other garden features in that too close and looking up will cause the top to bend inwards so moving yourself further back, if you can, may be more effective.

For some ideas on how you might go about tackling perspective take a look at:


With a garden you have natural variable light to contend with. You can't switch on or off the sun so you have to be aware of the amount of light and where it is falling within your composition. When you are photographing a wide scene within the garden, light is bouncing everywhere and controlling the exposure for both the ground, which will be dark and the sky, bright, needs to be considered.

We have three built in meters on our DSLR's allowing us a variety of metering techniques. We can also adjust the exposure compensation to make the image darker or lighter. Some later cameras also have active d-lighting that allows the contrast range to be increased. With larger garden scenes so as not to loose the sky I will often under expose by using a small - (minus) exposure compensation, as I know I can pull detail out of the shadow areas in editing and it is not possible to recover lost detail in highlights. Of course there are other techniques that can be used to help control light, like fill flash and reflectors.

For more on exposure techniques take a look at our Exposure Section and in particular our Article Route on Exposure.

Fill Flash and Reflectors

Fill flash is a good tool to help add additional light to the shadow areas of your photo and is particularly useful when doing close ups of particular plants, or trying to put detail onto a garden feature. Reflectors are another useful tool in this respect, in that you can use the reflector to bounce back the light onto the side which is in shadow.

For more on how you might go about using fill flash and reflectors, check out our Lighting and Reflectors Section.

Use of Polarizer's

Using a polarizer   is another way of controlling the amount of light, but more often used to reduce the amount of polarized or scattered light. Polarizer's can help reduce haze, make colours more pronounced and either enhance or reduce reflections, a useful feature on ponds and water features. They can also have the effect of removing sheen from grass and leaves, giving a more deeper colour. Views with blue sky and white clouds are enhanced and the effect is most marked if the camera is at right angles to the sun.

Depth of Field

To control the effect that the background has on the main subject of your photo, you can adjust the depth of field be enlarging or reducing the aperture of your lens.  You can widen the Depth of Field and therefore increase how much of the photo is sharp (in focus) in front and behind the point you focus on. A larger f number, a smaller hole, puts more in focus, while a smaller f number makes the depth of field smaller and is useful for throwing the background out of focus.

Composition and Reflections See Larger Image

Draw the eye into the picture See Larger Image

Give it depth See Larger Image

A Focal Point See Larger Image

With a wider angle lens the depth of field is much greater, while a telephoto lens has a narrow depth of field. Generally the nearer you are, the narrow the depth of field. For those photographers seriously involved in gardenscapes this will become a major feature and you need either a depth of field calculator or one of our depth of field guides.

Controlling Movement

On most days in the UK you can still have an element of breeze which can make the plants move. On wider garden shots this is unlikely to have a lot of impact, as the aperture you will be using will compensate for this. However for moving water features or when doing close-ups this is something that will need consideration. Routinely movement can be controlled by the speed which in turn is affected by the ISO  and apertures you select. The speed that is needed depends on how fast the object is moving across the frame and relevant to the time it takes to get across. Generally the closer you are the higher speed needed to stop the movement. In the case of water features if you want to create a steam effect then you will need a long exposure, the lower speed allows the shutter to remain open longer, whereas a high speed will stop the movement and give an ice effect. Normal speed will leave it looking more natural.

Instead of coping with the movement we can decide to reduce the movement by using such items as bottomless light tents or clamps to steady plants. See Garden Photography Essential Techniques for more on these items.

Macro Photography

Macro Photography is the art of getting closer to your subject. Perhaps it's a portrait of a butterfly, getting in close to the middle of a plant, getting the stamens or the tiny wildlife that live and work within it. We have a number of articles on macro and getting closer to your subject, including techniques involving the use of Close-up Lenses macro lenses, Extension Tubes or Bellows and stepping rings

Time Lapse Techniques

Of course plants particularly do not grow/open in one quick flash, it is achieved over many days/hours depending on the type of plant. Using time lapse techniques can allow you to take a number of sequenced images over a period to be able to create a moving image of something we don't normally see with our own eyes.

Removing People

This can be done in a number of ways. You can sit/hang around and wait for everybody to get out of your shot, or of course choose a day when members of the public will not be in such large numbers, or ask for your own private viewing. The other way is to compose your shot so that if people are within it you can remove them later in the digital darkroom using editing software like Photoshop. A variation on this, and if you like using Photoshop is to take a stack of pictures of the same scene and combine them into multi layers removing from each layer the people you have in the shot and then when no more people are in any of the pictures to flatten/combine them. To achieve this successfully you need to have your camera on a tripod and use it in manual mode so that you can lock the Exposure and white balance.


In the age of digital, editing is a natural part of the workflow process. Of course we all strive to take that perfect image in camera, but it is not always possible as outlined in some of the areas above. How much editing you do is down to what you are trying to achieve with the final image. It might be that you only need to pull detail out of shadows, adjust brightness/contrast, enhance colours a fraction and sharpen a little, or you may need to do more like removing items, stitching to make panoramas, or combining mutli-layers together to get the correctly exposed image. Of course you may want to produce a limited edition print and add text, or produce images for web use, whatever it is editing will be a part of your image making process.

See Also:


By: Tracey Park Section: Gardens Section Key:
Page Ref: gp_skills Topic: Gardens Last Updated: 03/2011

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