More and more gardeners are taking an interest in photography – and, it’s not hard to see why. Some of the gorgeous views and sights are just crying out to be photographed. So, we are going to take you through some top tips when photographing vistas. Follow this advice and your pictures will be better than ever…

Top tips for photographing vistas

Golden hour

The first thing to remember is that your photograph will only ever be as good as the light allows – that is what naturally comes with taking photos outdoors. The best times to photograph are in the ‘golden hour’ – the first and last hours of sunlight in the day. During the ‘golden hour’ more light is behind the subject than on it, creating dramatic effects, enhancing the finer detail or silhouette of an object. The consequence of pointing the camera directly into the light is glare, so in this scenario the lens should be shaded, ideally with a lens hood or your hand.

For much of the day, the light is often at its best for garden photography when filtered by light cloud or mist, creating images that are not marred by contrast. This is at odds with the approach of the snap-happy gardener – when the sun comes out, so too does the camera. It’s a response that’s as instinctive as the British preoccupation with the weather but the results are often disappointing. This is because cameras cannot record the extremes of contrast created by bright sunlight, and produce images with bleached-out highlights and black holes where the shadows fall – an outcome that even the most sophisticated post-production software cannot remedy.

Sunshine is especially unflattering for portraits of people, accentuating the inevitable lines that come from either squinting into the bright light or age. However, there are exceptions, such as architectural subjects – buildings or statues – and trees which look dramatic when taken against a brilliant blue sky, especially if the sun is behind the photographer minimising shadows.

Setting the aperture

Vistas - framing a photo

Some of the best photographs of garden vistas and landscapes are taken on cameras with interchangeable lenses and by selecting the manual setting. For maximum sharpness, these images are mostly taken with long, slow shutter speeds that allow a small aperture – the size of the opening through which light enters the camera. Small apertures create maximum depth of field which ensures that most of an image is in focus – in aperture settings, these are the high number f-stops. Conversely, large apertures let in maximum light, creating a shallow depth of field which means that only a small part of the subject is focus. A shallow depth of field lends itself to close-up photography, especially of flowers, berries or leaves because it isolates a subject from its background. These settings can be changed on most point and shoot cameras.

Coping with the weather

Vistas - shaded lenses

Frosty scenes

It is not only light that affects garden photography, so too does the weather with its capricious round of rain, mist, wind, snow or frost. Hoar frost brings the winter garden alive, accentuating the structure and fingering skeletal seedheads and trees with silver filigree. A light dusting of snow has a similar effect, but too heavy a fall shrouds the landscape like an ill-fitting mantle. Light reflects off snow, causing cameras to underexpose which results in dark shots. Digital compact cameras often have a setting for shooting snow, or you can switch to manual function in order to compensate by at least one stop of the aperture setting.

Mist and rain

Mist adds great atmosphere, diffusing the light and creating a hazy sense of mystery. Surprisingly, rain showers can be a blessing, scattering small droplets of water on flowers and leaves that sparkle in close-ups — even the accompanying cloud cover can add a certain radiance. Images taken during heavy rain need to be taken on a fast shutter speed — a slow speed will capture the movement of water drops as long, vertical blurs. Wind causes major problems because moving plants blur, especially on shutter speeds of less than 1/60th second. Any slower than this, and the camera needs to be mounted on a tripod to avoid camera shake which occurs if the camera inadvertently moves during longer exposures.

A top tip to remember…

A high quality camera and lens set to a maximum depth of field (high f number) captures images of long views and landscapes that are sharp throughout. However, the greater the depth of field the slower the shutter speed, so this kind of garden image needs windless conditions.

Other tips when photographing gardens…

    
A guide to photographing close-ups A guide to photographing still lifes