How to photograph a garden visit

A much anticipated garden visit is underway. You want to see everything, you want to photograph everything; your partner wants to see something different and doesn't want to wait while you photograph. The sun is in, the sun is out. The rain comes, the rain goes. And then the wind picks up. What's a conflicted photographer to do?

To save your sanity (and possibly your marriage), here are my 8 tips for getting the most out of your garden visit.

1. Split up

I never, ever, ever get my best shots when I'm with anyone. I need to let my brain get into that flow state where you're not really thinking about anything, which in my experience is impossible when anyone is waiting for you to finish a shot. So I agree to spend half the trip doing what everyone else wants to do, if I can have some time on my own. I don't even get my camera out while I'm with anyone else most of the time, but I'll be taking mental notes of what to come back to.

2. Don't overshoot every bed of flowers

Much like the cinematography advice I had for photographing cut flowers back in May, save time and memory cards by quickly going for 3 key shots:

- bed overview:

140mm, 1/210th, f2.8, ISO 200

140mm, 1/210th, f2.8, ISO 200

- a perfect bloom in context (the Hero shot):

115mm, 1/240th, f2.8, ISO 200

115mm, 1/240th, f2.8, ISO 200

- close up:



Think about where the sun's coming from (if it's overhead, try shooting into the sun, and overexpose by a full stop or more). Bright, direct sunlight makes for very contrasty shots and you should try to avoid it. You can throw a shadow by standing between the sun and your subject if needed.

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3. Keep an eye out for distractions

Look all around the frame before you shoot and check your background doesn't have any stray people, umbrellas, tractors, noticeboards, dead stuff, splashes of red or specular (bright) highlights - these will all draw the eye away from your subject.


4. Pay attention to the foreground

Expanses of grass or footpath do not make for an attractive photograph. Change your viewpoint to exclude them.

Don't do this - the square of footpath adds nothing:

Try moving to exclude the footpath:


5. Dealing with wind and rain

A microfibre cloth draped over your lens will keep off light rain, and you can use it get rid of rain spots on the front of the lens. Keep checking your lens for spots - it's easy to miss them looking through the viewfinder. Leave your lens hood on for extra protection.

When the wind picks up you'll need a faster shutter speed. You can rescue many things in processing, but a blurred subject is not yet one of them. Let your ISO compensate if you need a small aperture - better to get a lower quality sharp shot than an unusable one with a low ISO.

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6. Don't keep changing lenses

It's annoying to your companions, and it lets dust into your camera. My preferred workflow is to take everything I want to with my longer lens, then switch to a wide angle or macro at the end. And I always use my iPhone for quick close ups. 

Don't leave your phone in your bag. All these were shot on my iPhone:


7. Photograph the plant markers

You think you'll remember what everything was, but you won't. 


8. Share your photos

Don't leave them on your camera. Download, edit (for quantity as well as processing) and then get them out in the world. 

All images (except iPhone shots) taken at RHS Wisley in July 2016.

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If you enjoyed this post you will also like this one: Phone vs DSLR to photograph Bourton House Gardens