Magazine article Sunset

Cultivate Your Garden Photo Skills

Magazine article Sunset

Cultivate Your Garden Photo Skills

Article excerpt

Easy but effective techniques for better photos of flowers and gardens

A dew-kissed rose unfurls in the misty morning light, and you want to capture its beauty in a photograph. You get your camera, aim, and shoot, expecting a picture-perfect shot. When the photos are processed, they're too light, too dark, too contrasty, or blurry.

Many of us are so proud of our gardens that it's a big disappointment when the photographs we take don't measure up to our expectations. But taking consistently good pictures is not unlike cultivating a rose: to get the best results, you have to know a few techniques.

We followed professional photographer Russ Widstrand around a Southern California garden to learn about the techniques he uses when he shoots home landscapes and flowers for Sunset. Here we share some of his tips that any gardener can use. Many of them work with all types of cameras, although some apply only to cameras with interchangeable lenses and manual controls.

Shoot when the light is right. Many people believe that bright, sunny days are the best for photography. On the contrary, says Widstrand: "The radical colors, textures, and patterns of the garden go wacko in bright daylight." In a sunlit scene, your eye can see details in the highlights and shadows that the film won't record. To see what the film will capture, squint at the scene before you shoot.

The best times to shoot gardens, especially overall views, are the early morning and late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky, and on overcast days, when the light is even and details are not obscured by contrasty shadows.

Shade the lens. If you do shoot in the sunshine, prevent direct sunlight from hitting the lens and causing light streaks and hot spots in photos. Attach a screw-on shade to the lens. Or shade the lens with your hand or a handheld card - just be sure that it doesn't intrude into the field of view.

Control light in close-ups. When you photograph subjects such as flowers close up, some basic tools can help you improve the quality of the light. Widstrand often places a translucent white umbrella above flowers to diffuse the hard light and reduce contrast. He also uses a folding white reflector to bounce light into dark shadows in order to enhance detail.

Warm up blue light. At prime shooting times such as early morning or on overcast days, the light often has a bluish cast. This can produce pleasing effects if you're photographing delphiniums and want to accentuate their blue flowers. …

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