Garden Photography Tips

Sometimes on a sunny day people ask me why I am not outside snapping pictures. Actually, I kind of avoid taking photos in bright sunshine. Those fine days are good for other things, like going to the beach, but less suitable for taking pictures in the garden. The idea that sunny weather is the best photo weather is a common misconception, perhaps based on the thought that “more is better”. More light equals better pictures? No, not really.

And why is that? It is because in the direct sunlight you get very strong contrasts between light and shadow. Our eyes adjust automatically to that but a photograph is likely to suffer. Expect washed-out highlights and/or very dark shadow areas. Also, backgrounds are likely to become more busy and distracting in direct sunshine.

So, give me an overcast day and I will seize the opportunity to make nice flower shots in that soft and pleasant light, which brings out the delicate beauty of those flowers.

But what if you just can’t wait for that perfect weather? Perhaps your flowers are at their best right now and you want to capture them before they fade. Hang on, I will give you some tips on how to get around the sunshine.

I am going to share with you some of the secret photography tips that the professionals use to make great shots even in the harsh sunlight. And you don’t need all those expensive gadgets used by the pro’s either – I will tell you how to make them yourself from common houshold items.

It doesn’t matter if you have a simple point-and-shoot camera or an advanced digital SLR, you will get better pictures of your flowers in any case. Even the most advanced digicam is dependent on the quality of the light to bring out the best in a subject.

First Tip: Be an Early Bird, or a Night Owl
I have made my best flower pictures just before sunset, in that soft golden light. Pink roses seemed to glow, while the foliage appeared very dark. The result was a set of excellent flower shots, with roses shimmering against a subdued greenish black backdrop.

If you are an early bird you can go out in the morning and capture the moments when there’s still dewdrops on the petals of the flowers… or perhaps lingering drops of rain from that shower during the night.

Second Tip: Bring In Your Own Clouds
If you can’t wait for those clouds to roll in, then make your own overcast day. Here is how to do it: you filter the sunlight through some diffusing material, such as wax paper, white garbage bag, white T-shirt, or other light-colored cloth – or even better: a light-colored umbrella! You need an area of maybe 12 to 18 inches square to shade a large enough area for shooting a closeup of a flower. To make a diffuser you can carry around (if you don’t have a suitable umbrella), you can take whatever other loose material you have and secure it to a wire coat hanger (bend the lower part of it until it forms a square), then use the hook as handle.

Hold the diffuser (or even better, have someone hold it for you) between the sun and your subject. You now have the equivalent of what the professionals call a “soft box”, and it creates a nice soft light where the shadows are no longer so harsh and distracting. Try making the same picture with and without the diffuser, and notice the difference.

Third Tip: Make a Solar Eclipse
Sometimes you may want to completely block the sun, rather than just diffusing the sun’s rays. Then use some opaque material, like a piece of cardboard, to make a shadow. This is useful in situations where you have a stunning flower set against a distracting, busy background. Then hold the cardboard so that it shades this background, effectively darkening it and making it less visible. Adjust the exposure to make your subject correctly exposed – then the background should come out much darker, making your subject (the flower) stand out.

Fourth Tip: Use a Sun Foil
There may be situations when you feel there isn’t enough light on your subject – for instance, a little flower growing close to the ground where the light doesn’t quite reach it. Then you can use a reflecting material to shine extra light on it. Do do this, take for instance that piece of cardboard you used as sunblock above, and glue a sheet of aluminum foil on it (or use a mirror). Then hold it so that it reflects the sun’s rays on to that dainty little flower you want to bring out better.

Again, it helps to have an assistant do this for you; or put the camera on a tripod so you don’t need to hold both camera and reflector at the same time. To add a warm cast, use a gold-colored or copper-toned foil.

Fifth Tip: Zoom in To Fix the Background
Assuming you have a digital camera, as most folks do nowadays, you certainly have a zoom lens. Being able to zoom in (or zoom out) is useful in many ways, and in the context of making flower pictures it is particularly useful to zoom IN. Again, the reason is you may have a problem with a distracting background.

A telephoto setting (ie. a long focal length), which is what you get by “zooming in”, has the advantage that it doesn’t show so much of the background. You might say it enlarges the background so that there is room for only a small piece of it within the image area. For the same reason, it also makes the background appear more blurry – assuming you are focusing on something that is closer to the camera and there is a certain distance between that and the background. Therefore, zooming in on a flower is often an excellent way of getting rid of something distracting that shows up behind it.

Sixth Tip: Try Backlight To Add Some Drama
This is another creative way of making use of that sunny day. Instead of having the sun behind you when shooting a picture, like it’s commonly suggested in beginner-level photography books, try shooting into the light! However, place the camera so that it captures your subject with the sun behind it, avoiding having the sun shine directly into the camera.

By doing this, you can create a dramatic glow of light around a flower; and if the flower petals are somewhat translucent you may get a beautiful stained-glass look. Experiment with different exposures since the camera’s automatic metering is easily fooled by backlit conditions.

About the Author:

Kai Virihaur is a long-time fan of Photography. He first made pictures using a “Brownie” camera at age 10, and went on from that to shooting pictures with professional SLR equipment. He has exhibited his photographs in art galleries in the U.S., where he lived and worked for five years, and in Sweden where he now resides.

Nowadays, Kai is using digital photography technique only. He says that working in the darkroom with noxious chemicals was rather demanding although the results could be exciting. Digital photography is so much cleaner, and more fun.

Kai is especially interested in ways of making better and more interesting pictures, and now runs a blog – A1 Photo Tips – where he shares the knowledge he has gathered over the years with other photo enthusiasts. On that blog, he publishes new photo tips several times per week.