Most every garden visitor can be seen documenting their visit with a cellphone, point and shoot camera, or DSLR. Some take their garden photography very seriously, using high end cameras, multiple lenses, tripods and other photography gear.
If you're interested in improving your garden photos, I've have some tips for you, about equipment, lighting, expanding and contracting your “field of view,” choosing when to shoot and three specific hints.
Camera — Any camera used well can capture wonderful garden images in good light, but an interchangeable lens camera using a variety of lenses from wide angle to telephoto to macro is better. DSLR's will generally give the best results, but 4/3 format cameras can produce wonderful photographs too.
Lenses — For overall garden photos use a wide angle lens through a medium telephoto lens. A lens with a focal length of 200mm is great for close-ups and a macro lens of 105mm to 200mm is wonderful for tight, detailed flower photos.
Tripod — Choose a tripod and head designed to hold your camera with your longest focal length lens. If that tripod and head aren't within your budget, consider waiting until you've been able to set aside enough for them. It's too expensive to purchase a lessor ones which you'll eventually replace. Make sure it can splay its legs for shooting low.
Reflector/Ring Light — When shooting close-up images you typically find shadow areas needing to be filled-in. A lightweight fold-up reflector can provide directed fill-in light. I use a fold-up 30” Lastolite gold/white reflector.
Hint: The gold side of reflectors are great when you want warmer tones.For macro photography, when your lens is very close to the subject, a ring light works well to fill-in shadows.
Remote Shutter Release — You don't need an expensive device.
Polarizer — Many gardens they have fountains, ponds, etc. A polarizer can eliminate reflections from the water.
Garden Mat — When kneeling to make garden images, a rubber garden mat will protect your knees and pants.
Small Spray Bottle — Sometimes a bead or two of water on a leaf or flower in a close-up can make a good photo great.
In gardens, I've found that bright sunlight isn't the best light to shoot plants, shrubs, trees and especially delicate flowers. It's too harsh. A bright overcast sky works well. It has diffused light, but is bright enough so plant and flower details can still be seen.
Photographing close to or during the “golden hours” is ideal. The sun is low enough that light produces some great shadows which help show plant and flower detail. That increases sharpness and helps show them off. The light strength and angle at those times tends not to desaturate the flowers' colors.
For me, the morning is best. The air is often more still and if there's some dew on flower petals, all the better.
Hint: You can make your own dew with the small spray bottle of water I suggested for your garden kit.Field of View:
Gardens are a mix of photo opportunities in which various fields of view produce vastly different images of the same subject. I research the garden before visiting. Upon arrival, I take in an overall view of the garden prior to shooting any photos. Every garden has some kind of theme and you need to be cognizant of it to best photograph it.
I typically start with wide shots to capture the garden as a whole. Then I move in for the close up shots of fields of color, then tighten my view even closer to capture plant and flower details. Don't shoot exclusively standing up, looking down. Get low too. Shoot from plant height level. Use the garden mat I suggested for your kit.
Hint: When you're shooting, don't avoid the insects in the garden. They can add considerable interest to your images and help disclose the flowers' scale.If possible, locate the “perfect” flowers. Images of them are generally more compelling than those with blemishes and damage. Move around for your shots. Change your angle of field of view to create better images, ones with less distracting backgrounds and more complementary colors.
Compose your images using color and shapes to draw the viewers' eyes through your photo. Control the depth of field in each image to help the viewer concentrate on your subject.
When to shoot:
To really capture the essence of a garden, one visit isn't enough. Multiple visits to gardens are essential as their character changes from season to season and even within seasons. For some gardens, even winter with snow on the ground can be a great time to visit.
Photographic opportunities are found in gardens year-round: bare tree silhouettes and snow covered evergreens in winter, bulbs popping-up, then new foliage and buds turning into flowers in spring, carpets of bright colors in summer, then autumn's spectacular show of fall colors and falling leaves.