Garden Photography: A Short Rundown of What You Need To Know

Apr 2, 2018

I have always been fascinated with plants.

I have always been fascinated with photography.

Put them together and what do you get? Plant photography (surprise!).

Since this is such big part of my life, I figured that today is the day that I finally share some tips and tricks for photographing your garden. Although I’m not a “professional” photographer, in the sense that I don’t make a living off of my pictures, I have devoted a great deal of time to figuring out my camera and the art of composing photos.

You know, now that I think about it, why am I not selling my photos? Hmmm… I may just change that sometime in the future. πŸ™‚

Let’s get this conversation rolling!

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I’ll start by discussing equipment.

There are hundreds of options out there for equipment, but the only thing that is truly necessary is the camera itself. A tripod, such as this inexpensive option, is useful for longer exposures to stabilize your camera, but is not necessary for basic garden photography. Pretty much any other piece of equipment you can think of is extra.

Now let’s breeze through the never-ending topic of cameras.

There are three “classes” that I categorize cameras by: phone cameras, point and shoots, and DSLRs. These days, as phone cameras are becoming incredibly effective and easy to use, I’d say ditch the point and shoot and either use your phone, or a good DSLR. I personally use both. If I can’t lug my large black Canon DSLR around with me, I simply pull out my phone and (click!) it’s as easy as that. Even when I can use my DSLR, sometimes I just don’t feel like it, so I take a photo using my phone instead.

Zoning in on DSLRs for a second… There are several good brands out there (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, etc.) that all have good options, but I personally use Canon. The autofocusing system is near-perfection and, unlike some cameras (cough cough, Sony), has nearly perfect coloration right from the start. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever correct the color. It just means that the color looks nice and neutral (no tints) right out of the camera.

Alright, now let’s get to the meat of this post, photographing your garden. Regardless of whether you use a phone or a DSLR, the process is the same. When I’m outside doing my daily walk round the garden, I usually bring my camera with me and take photos of anything interesting that I may see. This could be a treefrog on a canna, or the way the light is shining through some trees in the shade garden. The possibilities are endless.

Processed with VSCO with j4 preset

 

Once I find a shot (say, the Gingko leaves from my last post above), I adjust the camera to the correct settings and take the picture.

“What are these correct settings?” You might say.

They vary. I use manual settings for the most part (unless I can’t spare the time), but I won’t cover all of that in detail here. I found a good article about manual camera settings (for a DSLR) if you’re interested.

Once I take the picture, there are a few options out there. One is to leave it unedited. This is a good option if your aim is to capture something as is. This is usually for a more practical purpose, because (unless you’re a magician) the photo will most likely look fairly plain. I edit my pictures (in Lightroom) enough to bring out the colors and make the subject stand out, but I never go beyond that. If I went a step further and began to touch the photo up and potentially bring in other elements that were not originally there, the photo would begin to feel unauthentic. I like to have good pictures, but prefer to keep it real.

The last option is for someone who wants an edited look without the time invested in achieving the perfect balance via a hardcore editing software. VSCO (I’ve always pronounced it visco – rhymes with disco) is a decent app on both apple and android devices that provides a TON of good presets, which are basically packaged edits (if that makes sense). I occasionally use them for Instagram if I’m short on time, but I can always get a much better picture if I invest the time to edit a photo with Lightroom. Down below are a couple examples of before and after I edit a photo.

Before
Before
Before
Before
After
After
After
After

Finally, let me say that I’ve just skimmed the surface of Garden Photography. There is much more to learn, and endless techniques to experiment with. Since this is another one of my passions (gardening always being my first), let me know if you want me to cover any particular element of garden photography – I’m happy Β to write about it!

 

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  1. A great topic Travis…I have an ipod camera (no cell phone) and a Nikon hybrid point and shoot/with dslr settings. I just need to get off auto and explore manual so your post and newsletter certainly gave me lots of info. One of these days I will learn more about the settings. Last year I took a course using a couple of phone apps that were very artsy and I loved it so I have been painting or making art from my garden photos ever since.

    • Travis says:

      It took me a long time as well to try the manual settings! Although the automatic settings can produce good results, you never realize how much of a difference a manually adjusted photo shows until you’ve played around a bit. Experimenting is the best way to figure it out – like gardening!

  2. Kim says:

    Well, I only have a point and shoot, no phone………………….but I do want to take more garden photos. Can I take a photo and then edit it? If so, what do you suggest?
    I am really excited about you starting these newsletters. I enjoy everything you have written on your website. I am learning a lot. Keep up the good work!
    Kim

    • Travis says:

      Why thanks, Kim!

      You can definitely take a photo and then edit it! Editing is basically making the photo more visually appealing after you take it. When I take a picture (it doesn’t matter what I take it with), I move it to my computer and open up the editor.

      Photoscape is a decent free photo editor that can do most of the basics. I used it for several years before finally purchasing a more advanced editor. Here is the download link if you want to try it: http://photoscape.org/ps/main/download.php.

      I just play around with light, saturation (how vibrant the colors are in the photo) and the other buttons until I achieve the look I am going for. Maybe I could write a post on the editing process sometime in the future – It’s not as confusing as it sounds! πŸ™‚

  3. Heather says:

    That photo of the orchid is stunning!

  4. Paul says:

    Congratulations Travis, on the first of many more newsletters full of useful and juicy pearls of wisdom. I look forward to learning much from you. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  5. andrew peake says:

    Fascinated by your work and eager interest in growing , as for photography
    You should check out this guy for photography, more nature than garden photography
    his work is stellar – https://www.facebook.com/JessFindlayPhotography/

  6. Marc says:

    Beautiful photos, Travis. Looking forward to more posts about photographing plants as I need to do more of that for my own blog.

    When is the best time to take photos? I’ve tried taking them at various times of the day, but find that sometimes there simply is too much sun in summer, so have tried the early morning and late afternoon but it can be hit and miss.

    • Travis says:

      Hi Marc!

      You were right – the best time of day to take pictures is in the morning, before the sun has risen all of the way (but after sunrise), and in the late afternoon just before the sun sets. This is called the “golden hour.” That is when I take most of my photos – the light is perfect then!

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