The Art of Garden Photography

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Every gardener who seeks to capture the fleeting moments of perfection in plants and gardens must inevitably turn to photography. In this remarkably clear and informative book, celebrated photographer Ian Adams provides detailed instruction in every aspect of the art and craft of garden photography, from selecting the right equipment to starting a garden photography business. Chapters include such topics as:
  • Digital cameras
  • Film and filters
  • Sharpness and exposure
  • Abstracts and close-ups
  • Lighting
  • Scouting and preparing the garden
  • The garden vista
  • Garden structures
  • Gardens through the seasons
  • Finding fine gardens
  • Making color prints

Filled with the author's first-hand experience and expert wisdom, The Art of Garden Photography is certain to be a treasured reference for gardeners and garden photographers.

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Editorial Reviews

National Gardener - Joanne S. Carpender
"Ian Adams handles the problem of explaining film based and digital photography superbly in answering the many questions of his workshop students."—Joanne S. Carpender, National Gardener, April 2005
Philadelphia Inquirer
"Besides being a how-to guide, the book also showcases some of Adams' best work. His photos were shot all over the country, but specific attention is given to locales (such as Cleveland Botanical Garden) in northeastern Ohio, where Adams lives."—Philadelphia Inquirer, March 25, 2005
Buckeye - Bobbie Schwartz
"One of the most useful books to come across my desk this year."$#8212;Bobbie Schwartz, Buckeye, October 2005
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780881926804
  • Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 10.98 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Each year, I am privileged to visit and photograph numerous public and private gardens for magazine, book, and calendar projects, as well as for personal pleasure. Although I often photograph plant groupings and portraits, as well as abstract garden patterns and textures, my greatest challenge and delight is to try to capture the essence of the garden, with photographs that evoke a strong sense of place, highlight the structure and major themes of the garden, and showcase the intent of the designer or owner. Magazine editors often refer to these images as establishing photographs, overviews, or garden vistas.

After years of conducting garden photography workshops, I'm convinced that most beginners — as well as many seasoned photographers — find photographing garden vistas to be much more difficult than, say, photographing flower close-ups. Unless the photographer has a good understanding of garden design, constructing a garden vista through the camera viewfinder can be a daunting task. I've also observed that many beginners have difficulty learning how to effectively use a wide-angle lens, an essential tool for photographing garden vistas.

How wide a wide-angle lens do you need for garden photography? At least a 28 mm, in my experience, and a 24 mm is very useful sometimes, assuming you are using a 35 mm film camera format. A 20 mm wide-angle lens has tremendous coverage and can be used to compose very dramatic photographs, but this is often at the expense of a certain amount of distortion. For example, this lens will tend to turn straight lines, such as building walls, into curves when the camera is pointed slightly up or down, a phenomenon known as barrel distortion. Although I own a 20 mm Nikkor lens, I don't remember the last time I used it.

I strongly recommend that you consider purchasing a wide-angle to medium telephoto zoom lens as your standard lens for garden photography. A 28–85 mm is a good choice, or a 24–120 mm if you prefer a wider range. Be sure to purchase a two-ring, rather than a one-ring, zoom.

You may be tempted to purchase a zoom with a much wider range, such as a 28–200 mm or 28–300 mm zoom. These lenses are usually more bulky and may only focus to 4 feet or more, which is not close enough for many garden vistas. In addition, the extreme zoom range creates challenges in lens design, and these lenses aren't usually quite as sharp as zooms with a smaller range of focal lengths.

Nor do you need a fast wide-angle lens, such as an f/2 or f/2.8, for garden photography. Most of your garden vistas will be taken with the lens stopped down to f/11 or f/16 to maximize depth of field, and a wide-angle lens with a maximum aperture of f/3.5 or f/4 is more than bright enough for focusing and composition.

Once you've acquired a wide-angle lens, how do you use it to create dramatic garden vistas? Beginners tend to try to include as many elements of the garden as possible, and the result is a confusing photograph that lacks clarity and depth. The key to using a wide-angle lens effectively is to design the photograph carefully, paying special attention to the foreground.

Photographs 50 and 51 illustrate the classic approach to using a wide-angle lens. Both images integrate foreground, middle ground, and background elements. In particular, both photographs incorporate strong foregrounds, which anchor the design, help to create intimacy and a strong sense of depth, and make you feel that you can step into the scene. Usually the camera will be pointed down slightly, low to the ground, close to the foreground subject, and the horizon will be placed high, so as to include just a sliver of sky or no sky at all. After all, we're trying to photograph the garden, not the sky, right?

This classic, near-far, foreground-in-your-face approach to scenic photography using a wide-angle lens isn't new. Renowned landscape photographer Ansel Adams (no relation!) used it often, and it is the hallmark of many top contemporary landscape photographers, including David Muench, Carr Clifton, Larry Ulrich, Tom Till, Jeff Gnass, and Jack Dykinga. Studying the work of these talented photographers will provide you with many insights that you can incorporate into your garden photography.

Precise positioning of the camera is critical. At first, remove the camera from the tripod so that you can move it freely, trying various compositions until you find a promising design. Then, based on your viewing position, set up the tripod and reattach the camera. Pay special attention to the edges and corners of the image, making sure that no twigs, leaves, or other objects intrude to impair the composition. Make sure you examine the relationship of the various picture elements to ensure that important objects don't merge or overlap in the scene. A movement of the camera just an inch or two can have a profound effect on the final image. Take your time!

Precise focusing and depth-of-field control are also critical elements in garden vistas. It is important that the foreground subject be rendered tack-sharp, and ideally the entire scene should be in focus. If necessary, sacrifice a little sharpness in the distance, but keep the foreground elements sharp. This means using the hyperfocal-distance approach to focusing (see Chapter 4) and a small f-stop such as f/16 or f/22. Remember to use your camera's depth-of-field preview control, if you have one, to ensure that everything will be in sharp focus when the lens is stopped down.

Choosing the best vantage point from which to photograph a garden is another important decision. A high viewpoint, such as from a balcony, upstairs window, or flat roof, often reveals the underlying geometry and design of the garden. If there are no buildings or suitable vantage points near the garden, a stepladder may be needed. Sometimes you'll need to use a wide-angle lens setting to encompass the scene, while on other occasions a normal or even telephoto setting on your zoom lens will be needed.

A low viewpoint can be very useful for compressing perspective, disguising patches of bare earth or mulch, and photographing tall objects against the sky. In particular, snow-covered trees, tall prairie plants, and fall foliage can be dramatic when photographed against a blue sky or sunlit storm clouds. Occasionally pointing the camera straight up in a grove of trees creates a cathedral effect that can be very appealing.

Using garden objects as framing elements, especially tree or shrub foliage, is an effective way to direct the attention of the viewer to the key subject in the photograph. Photograph 54 illustrates how framing elements can be used to focus your attention on the subject.

Another important compositional device is the use of leading lines to draw the viewer's eye into the scene. Photograph 55 is an excellent example of how multiple leading lines can serve to focus your eye and make you wonder, "What's around the bend?"

Garden photography beginners tend to compose mostly horizontal images. Perhaps this is because it feels more natural to hold a camera in a horizontal position, or because some tripod heads make it hard to turn the camera from a horizontal to a vertical orientation. In fact, more vertical than horizontal images are published in most magazines and books, so you'll want to make a definite effort to take both horizontal and vertical garden photographs. For magazine articles and other publications, try to provide as many angles and orientations as possible for the photo editor.

Some guides to artistic composition suggest that horizontal compositions are more restful or tranquil, while verticals are more forceful and dramatic. I disagree completely. In my opinion, the subject matter determines the mood of the photograph, not the orientation. Great landscape photographers such as David Muench and Jack Dykinga elicit just as many oohs and aahs from their horizontal images as from their verticals. Photographs 56 and 57, one vertical and one horizontal, are both valid. Which do you prefer?

Do lakes and ponds flow downhill? Of course not, but judging by the number of tilted horizons I see in calendars and other publications, I sometimes wonder. Tilted horizons offend my sense of perspective, and I make every effort to eliminate them in garden photographs.

The easiest way to ensure that your horizon is straight in a photograph is to install a focusing screen in your camera that has faint grid lines etched in the screen horizontally and vertically. You use the grid lines to ensure that horizons and building walls are parallel to the appropriate grid line. Most camera manufacturers offer focusing screens with grid lines, and a few newer digital cameras even have electronic grids that can be activated and displayed when needed.

Among my pet hates in garden photography are blank, featureless skies. They are a waste of good picture space and tend to draw the attention of the viewer because they are usually the lightest area in the photograph. Although the diffuse light from an overcast sky is one of my favorite types of lighting for many garden images, especially close-ups and garden abstracts, the overcast sky itself detracts from the image, and I work hard to minimize or eliminate it.

Simply tilting the camera down a little often does the trick. Changing the orientation of the picture may also solve the problem: Photographs 58 and 59 illustrate how a simple change from vertical to horizontal can eliminate a blank sky and improve composition in other ways.

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Table of Contents

1 Equipment 9
2 Film and filters 18
3 Digital cameras 34
4 Sharpness and exposure 48
5 Lighting 63
6 Scouting and preparing the garden 73
7 Establishing photographs : the garden vista 77
8 Abstracts and close-ups 90
9 Garden structures 106
10 Garden visitors 122
11 Photographing indoors or at night 132
12 Gardens through the seasons 141
13 Finding fine gardens to photograph 160
14 The business of garden photography 177
15 Making color prints 185
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  • Posted April 13, 2012

    Garden Photography

    This book is a little older published in 2005, but is still very current. After conducting a series of garden photography workshops, Ian Adams realized that a book specific to garden photography that included digital camera information was needed. There is information about both film and digital equipment along with the author’s personal experience of his transition from film to digital. The photographs in the book are beautiful and printed on glossy paper, but most were taken with film and not digital. I would have liked a more balanced variety.

    I enjoy seeing “experiments” that the photographer/author provided when he tried different exposures or filters for interesting outcomes. There are detailed sections on composure, how to choose a viewpoint, and the common mistakes made by inexperience photographers with close-ups. I think the most valuable information for me was how and what to include in my pictures that was illustrated in his photographs.

    I have always wanted to capture some of the beauty in my own garden and this is just what I need to get started. Not just for the summer bounty, all four seasons are covered with beautiful photos of each. The Art of Garden Photography has earned a space on my permanent bookshelf.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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