This morning I packed the Pentax K-3 II and the SMC Pentax-DA 18-135mm WR lens into my 40-year-old trusty Billingham Alice bag, travelling light, and we all went down to Arley Hall and Gardens for the second day of the annual garden festival. It’s always interesting, with stalls, plants for sale, arts and crafts, Gardener’s Question Time, lectures and even classic cars. More of the cars tomorrow. So I looked the part with my equally trusty Harris Tweed jacket and its matching cap, also known as my “wee bonnet” by my Scottish friends.
One thing that was obvious was that we are not yet fully recovered commercially speaking from the effects of the pandemic. Some exhibitors were missing, and the attendance was clearly down. Not too disasterous maybe, but definitely down. Hopefully by next year things will be better recovered, but the upside is that it was quite good to be able to get around with smaller crowds of people. less queueing for lunch if nothing else. We bought a bit more than usual as a token of our support, but it’s a drop in the ocean.
I’ve prepared some pictures, so let’s have a look at what we have.
The Wabash Jazzmen
Queues for lunch were fairly light.
Exhibits from local primary schools were very much reduced.
Our back garden, such as it is, has been resplendent with bird activity for weeks now. They all have a technique where they come down to feed, and then as soon as one of us appears with a camera they all flee to the four corners of the earth. Lens cap on, birds come back. Lens cap off, birds fly away. However, today I tricked them by shooting pictures of flowers in the garden, and then they came down, lulled by this strange alternative pursuit. Here’s a selection of images as they attack the fatballs kindly provided for their superior dining experience…..
I presume this is a juvenile, sitting atop the feeder in a wistful sort of way.
Unfortunately the grown ups are in charge.
So wistfully looking up is the next brave step.
A quick attack to gain a place at the table, followed by a scuffle.
We were driving past the old Vicarage just after lunch today and noticed that the garden was open as part of the National Garden Scheme. So I turned around, re-parked and we walked up to have a look. The first time I photographed this building was as part of English Heritage’s Images of England project, which was around the year 2000. Today was the first time we saw round the back and the absolutely magnificent garden. From the patio, through to lawns, then paths descending down between the trees and running alongside the stream that I would imagine is part of the moat at Newhall Farm. This hall has been totally renovated since we remember it as a ruin on its little island in the moat. But back to today’s trip. It’s a great idea that owners open up their gardens a couple of times a year, charging a small amount that is donated to charity. It was an unexpected bonus for today and we’ll keep an eye out for other gardens from now on.
For good garden photos your garden needs to be looking at its best and the light has to be right. But as you look out of the window at it every day, you’ll see when your plants and flowers look their best and you can easily be out there with your camera in minutes snapping that perfect garden shot.
1. What Gear Do I Need?
Your standard zoom is fine but if you want to get closer to the flowers to hide the weeds you need a macro lens. If it’s very bright attach a polariser to your lens to reduce glare and consider using a tripod that has a centre column that can be used in a horizontal position to get closer to flowerheads. A small reflector will help direct light to where it’s needed and you don’t even have to purchase one as you can create your own from foil and card.
2. Avoid Bright, Sunny Days
To be honest, bright days when the sun is high in the sky can be awkward as the colours will be too harsh and you’ll have deep, dark shadows. A lot of flower photographers prefer early mornings, but a still evening’s just as good. In fact, why not get outside after work and enjoy the warmth of the evening while you take your photographs? Hazy days when it’s a little cloudy but the sun’s still shining are perfect, though, as the clouds act as a giant softbox, diffusing the light.
3. Dealing With Windy Days
If there’s a gentle breeze in the air crank up the shutter speed or stick your camera on a tripod and slow the speed right down if you fancy taking some experimental shots.
4. How Green Is Your Garden?
If your garden’s too green you may need to narrow your focus as even though your eyes can see the spots of colour your camera might not. Getting in closer will also hide the weeds and broken shed windows you want to disguise or you could use them as subject as weeds can be just as photogenic as roses.
5. Create Paths And Frames
If you have a path use it to guide the viewer’s eye from the front to the back of the image, creating depth. A small aperture will give plenty of depth-of-field. Give your garden a ‘frame’ too as with portraits, they can be improved with one. Entrances, arches, gates, hedges and overhanging trees all work well. Also, look beyond your garden hedge and fence to see if you have a view that can add to your garden landscape.
6. Shoot Some Macro Work
If you do get your macro lens out make sure you fill the frame and blur the background with a larger aperture. Flowers are nice but look for interesting leaves too as these often have textures flowers don’t have. Keep your eye out for insects such as butterflies who can be found on a cool morning with their wings open warming up too.
7. Make The Most Of Showers
If a gentle shower’s fallen get outside as you can get great images. Close-ups of water droplets on blooms can look great. Of course, if you haven’t had any rain for a while, fill a water spray or even a watering can and provide your own ‘dew’ or ‘rain’.
8. Take Garden Photos All Year Round
Don’t think this is just a one evening project either as different seasons, mood and light give you endless photographic opportunities right on your doorstep.
Public gardens are bursting at the seams with blooms of colour and as most are free it means you can spend a few hours taking great floral photographs with no extra cost.
Public gardens vary in size and some even attract photographers because they are home to a particular species of flower. When’s the best time to visit will depend on what flowers you’re trying to capture in your images but generally there’s something to capture all year round. Don’t overlook photographing topiary, water features, ponds and streams too.
What Camera Gear Will I Need?
When you’re heading out the door, make sure you have your camera bag because as well your sandwiches and a flask of tea, you’ll also need a few lenses. As you could find yourself changing lenses frequently a sling bag with side access could make it easier and quicker to reach for a particular piece of kit but a camera backpack that’s designed to carry several lenses, camera body and accessories will also be fine.
When it comes to lenses, a wide-angle lens will give you sweeping shots of the colourful gardens while your telephoto will get you close and your macro lens even closer still.
Pack a polariser to stop glare and help enhance the colourful blooms and a reflector will bounce light where it’s needed. If it’s shade you need your own shadow will work perfectly well but a piece of plain card will also do the trick.
Take a notebook and pen along too as once you’re back home all those Latin names will be long forgotten and you’ll need to know them so you can title your images correctly.
Make Sure You Contact The Garden Staff
If you give the public garden a quick call you’ll be able to find out what’s blooming and when. You’ll also be able to check if there are any restrictions such as: do you need to always stick to the path? Or, can you get close to take a shot of a flower head that completely fills the frame? And, are tripods allowed? If not, you’ll need a sturdy hand and very still air to stop blur spoiling your shot. You could also pack a beanbag or use a wall, bench or another type of support that you’ll find in the garden.
What’s The Best Time Of Day?
Make sure you arrive early as the light’s better, there’s less chance of breeze and there will be fewer people to get in the way of your shot.
What Type Of Images Can I Take?
It’s very easy to be lazy in a public garden and stay in one place but there’s lots of space and plenty to see so make sure you take advantage of that.
Change your focal length, create a different angle and move your point of view. Use a wide-angle to establish where you are but then move in closer for frame-filling shots that burst with colour and detail. Think out of the box a little and be different if you can. Set your camera up on a tripod (if allowed) and shoot a time-lapse series of a bud opening or find some plants which are dying to give your flower photography a different slant.
Look for paths that will draw the eye in and gateways that will frame your shot. These patterns and props are fun to look for but if you ask the garden’s staff or do a quick search online you’ll soon find a few tips that point you in the right direction as well.
How To Deal With Wind & Shake
As with all types of flower photography, the wind is your enemy (that’s unless you want to create blur of course). A tripod will help reduce camera shake when the wind’s blowing and a cable release or the camera’s self-timer will also help you take a steady shot. If tripods aren’t allowed you’ll just have to sit and admire the garden until the wind stops blowing. You could hold the flower steady with a piece of wire but this might be frowned upon so check first.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has revealed the winners of the 2021 RHS Photographic Competition, ahead of this year’s National Gardening Week (26 April – 2 May).
In a year that has seen a huge increase in people appreciating their local green spaces owing to the lockdowns, the RHS has reported a record number of entries to this year’s competition with the winning images selected from thousands of photographs from amateur and professional photographers around the world.
Making clever use of drone photography, Oliver Dixon scooped the title of Overall Winner for his image Spring from the Air. Entered into the Gardens category, the aerial shot gives a rarely seen glimpse of the intricate and symmetrically pleasing design of The Flower Garden at Loseley Park, Surrey. Judges praised the “astonishing detail of the image, which used texture, colour and design to give the photo a tapestry-like feel,” said the organisers.
The title of Overall Young Winner was awarded to Jack Sedgwick, whose image Fantasy Flowers was entered into the Under 11s category. “His clever combination of three photographs taken on a rainy summer’s day at RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate stood out… for its originality, high degree of creativity and experimentation.”
The winning image in the new ‘Indoor Gardening’ category was photographed by Weerasinghe Tilan, and captures indoor gardening as a family pursuit during lockdown at a home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Award winning garden photographer and competition Judge, Richard Bloom said: “The diversity of imagery in this year’s competition has been astounding, with some very creative, unusual, dark, joyful and sometimes humorous work entered. No doubt in some way a response to the pandemic and the lockdown people have endured but also the introduction of the new ‘Creative’ and ‘Indoor Gardening’ categories which have given photographers a greater opportunity to get creative within their own boundaries.”
See the winning photographs here – they will be on display at all five RHS Gardens in September.
The 2022 RHS Photographic Competition is now open for entries, welcoming photographers of all levels of expertise. Entry is free and open to everyone, and images can be taken on any photographic device. Maximum five images per person. Entries should be submitted on the same site by 10am, on Tuesday 1 February 2022.
Further reading Great garden photography tips
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You don’t have to head to a place that’s bursting with beautiful landscapes to shoot some autumn-inspired shots as your own garden can give you just as many interesting autumn subjects to photograph. An even better reason to stay close to home is if the weather suddenly takes a turn for the worse you only have to take a few steps to be back in the warmth, you have your kettle close to hand and you can even continue shooting some subjects from inside your house.
1. Leaves / Trees
You can’t talk about photography in autumn without mentioning trees and leaves and its a subject we’ll be looking at a lot over the coming month so keep an eye out for tips on shooting macros, using backlight and much more with Autumn leaves.
If you have a few plants that give berries at this time of year, they should be ripe by now and ready to photograph. If they’re a dark colour, try underexposing your shot slightly to deepen their shade and use a polarising filter to cut down on shine/reflections.
Kids wrapped up in hats and coats, particularly when they’re throwing leaves around, scream autumn. Keep your shoot informal and try not to shoot too many posed shots. In fact, if you’re photographing your own children playing around in your garden just leave them to it and shoot candids as they play.
If you don’t want the colours of the foliage take over the shot, longer focal lengths, particularly with a wide to moderate aperture, can help, blurring and giving your background a nice bokeh effect as well as flattering the features of who you’re photographing. You can use out of focus foliage as a frame too, adding a spot of colour to the foreground of your autumn portrait shot.
Even though early morning and later afternoon is a good time to shoot, autumn light tends to be lower all day so you can get away with shooting during the day if you need to.
Some birds begin to migrate at this time of year which means you may have new species of birds visiting your garden.
Birds are easily spooked so you need to keep still and if you can, be hidden. Try shooting from an open window from your house, set up in your shed or if you have one, use a hide. If you work from inside and are shooting through the glass rather than an open window, make sure your lens is as close to the glass as possible and turn your room lights off to minimise reflections. You also need to be in a position that’s quite close to where the birds will land as even though you’re using longer lenses, they are really tiny and can look lost among your background if you don’t get close enough.
Some cameras can be controlled via a Smart Phone which means you can set the camera up in your garden and head back in to the warmth of the house where you can release the shutter remotely from.
Make sure you pay particular attention to the tips of feathers, particularly on the tails, as these can easily become out of focus when trying to get the right balance between a blurred background and sharp subject. You may need to switch to manual focus, so you can set the focus point more precisely. Light at this time of year can be low so be prepared to switch your ISO up and remember to use a high enough shutter speed to keep your subject sharp. Most small garden birds move quickly and tend to twitch and turn their heads frequently so you need a quick enough shutter speed to stop the movement becoming blurred.
If you have any damp, dark areas in your garden or have a compost bin, you’ll find fungi specimens are now springing up. You’ll find more whole specimens in the morning but as you’re in your garden it’s quite easy for you to pop out at any time in search of photography-worthy mushrooms.
Quick tips for mushroom photos:
As well as single specimens, capture mushrooms in an odd group which is more pleasing to the eye and adds interest to your shot
Contrast white mushrooms with backgrounds of moss and leaves
Blur backgrounds out of focus
Look under the mushroom for interesting textures
Light the underbelly by directing light into the scene with a reflector
If using wider apertures, check your shot as your subject can end up with parts that are out of focus
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