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  • Richard Barnes

plants and garden photography

Richard Barnes, a Chartered Landscape Architect from Northumberland, has always been interested in plants and photography. On 3 December he gave a very clear and informative Zoom talk to the Gardeners’ Club on how to achieve ‘appealing’ photographs of garden landscapes and individual plants without resorting to taking multiple shots of the same subject.

He started by emphasising that before you take a photograph ask yourself these questions: Why do I want to take an image? What do I want to convey? It is also essential that you read the manual and understand the camera’s controls. Practice using them until they become second nature, in particular how to lock the focus. He then addressed the factors of ‘Light’ and ‘Composition.’

Think Light. This requires patience and needs to take account of the following factors:

  • Avoid full summer sun as petals reflect the sunlight, so take the photo when the plant is in shade. Alternatively, if you are looking at a large shrub or tree then photograph the side away from the sun.

  • A diffused light is best as colours are more saturated.

  • Look into the light: Having the sun coming towards you or from the side will show the translucence of leaves or flowers. You will need to use a hand or piece of card to shield the camera lens from the sun.

  • Early morning in summer gives a cool blue light whereas in early evening it is a hot yellow light. Spring in Britain is a good time for photos as the light is warm.

Think Composition. The key principles are:

  • In photography, the rule of thirds is a type of composition in which an image is divided roughly into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and the subject of the image is placed at the intersection of those dividing lines, or along one of the lines itself. This is a difficult concept but try and get a diagonal rhythm which draws the eye into the picture e.g. if you are taking a picture of someone against a scenic background then avoid placing them in the centre.

  • Before you press the shutter look around the edges of the scene. You can always ‘crop’ the digital image afterwards if required.

  • When taking shots of gardens generally avoid the sky – if you do include it then it should form no more than one third of the image - and concentrate on showing different textures within the picture. Also bear in mind that red, yellow and green colours go well together and blue tends to recede into the background.

  • Only take pictures of flowers if they are perfect specimens, otherwise you may be disappointed.

  • If you want a good plant portrait then make sure that the background is out of focus. This can be achieved by siting the camera lens as close as possible to the subject, which reduces the depth of field – many digital cameras allow you to do this down to 5 cm (2 inches) by using the Macro mode. If you can manually adjust the lens aperture on your camera then selecting a large aperture (e.g. f/2.8) will produce a narrow depth of field whereas a small aperture (f/16 or f/22) gives a large one.

  • To show the detailed structure of a flower head or bud, pick a stem and put it in a slim vase to keep it upright. Place it on a window sill with a piece of black card behind it and then get your close-up shot. Try taking a series of pictures of the same flower as it opens.

For those readers who wish to delve a little deeper into the subject, I discovered this website: Understanding Depth of Field - A Beginner's Guide, which contains quite a few other introductory tutorials on how to use a camera in different situations.

Robert Blake


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