With the current ongoing global situation and lockdowns in force to varying degrees, what better time to practice at home photography. As restrictions ease, take the new skills out to your local botanic gardens.
These days everyone has a camera be it a DSLR, mirrorless camera or the camera on your phone, but how do you make your image stand out and catch someone’s attention, or get a better than average shot with a smart phone.
Photography can be broken down into three elements, subject, light and composition.
Taking these in reverse order, the majority of images captured are taken by someone who walks up to a scene and holds the camera to their eye standing up, or the phone held arms outstretched. Everyone views images, and for that matter life, from a standing position, on average 160 cm from the ground. So the easiest thing to change to make an image stand out is to change the angle of view.
Try shooting across a flower or from underneath - a worm’s eye view
Look for angles that are not what you normally see. This changes alone will stop people from scrolling to the next image and make them think, “what’s going on here?”. Once you have their attention, you have a chance of them exploring your image further. In these days of Instagram, Flickr and a myriad of other platforms, you’re competing for fractions of a second of time to get your image seen, so anything different about it will provide a chance the viewer will pause.
Let’s look at some basic composition rules.
Rule of Thirds
The “Rule of Thirds” is where you imagine a grid dividing your image into three columns and three rows. By placing the main subject on the intersection of those dividing lines, or along one of the lines itself, makes the image more pleasing to the eye.
Symmetry and Patterns
Look for symmetrical shapes or patterns.
Flowers make great subjects for geometrical shapes for photography and make great Instagram shots with the square crop suiting a circular flower.
Find a Hero
Find a hero for your shot, something that stands out. You can then make it stand out further using depth of field, on a smart phone use portrait mode, or on a DSLR or mirrorless camera use a smaller aperture number f2,8 f4 etc which gives a shallow depth of field to make the subject stand out from the background.
Look for wildlife in the garden.
Look for the interaction between wildlife and the plants in your garden. If you have a nectar bearing flower, there’s a good chance something will come long for a feed sooner than later, so set up the camera and wait and to see what comes along.
Light is an important part of all photography. Without light you have a black image, so you need light to some degree. Look for natural light that’s making a subject stand out. The best light is usually first thing in the morning or late afternoon when the shadows are long, and the light has that golden tone to it.
Look for the direction of the light, back lighting as above can give some rim light to the subject, (edge lighting), to make the subject stand out from the background.
If you want to have some fun, try some external lighting. You can use a flash or even a strong torch to add some lighting to a subject. The trick is to make the image look as if it was not lit with lighting. The shot below was taken with two separate light sources and the lower light source was covered in a brown gel (coloured piece of plastic) to give a golden glow to the background.
Below is an example lit with just a torch.
Just adding some light and underexposing the shot to give a black background makes the shot appear to be taken at night when it’s actually been taken in normal daylight. It’s just enough to make the image that little bit more interesting and different from everyone else’s shot.
If you can time it right, you can come across some great natural light at the right time of day.
The shot above was taken with natural light, no added lighting, late in the afternoon as the sun starts to go down and only light certain parts of the Garden, so the background was in shadow and the flowers in full sun. Start to look how light impacts various areas at certain times of the day. This will vary depending on the time of year.
The subject of the shot is the main focus. It’s what you want the person to notice most in your image. You can do all the above to bring the subject to be the main focus of attention, but to make it really stand out, it’s best to have a great subject. Look for flowers that don’t have dead or dying parts or that have been half eaten. If you’re in your own garden remove dead leaves or distracting elements from the subject. Water drops can make for added interest to a shot so go out after a rain shower and see what you can find.
The use of colour in a shot can draw attention, so look for contrasting colours to make your subject stand out. The deep red on the light green background above draws the eye to the flower first, then up to the water droplets as you start to explore the image.
In your own garden you can make use of spray bottles to add water droplets to flowers or even spider webs to give the effect of dew on their web.
Your subject doesn’t always have to be at the macro level. Flowering trees also make great subjects so it helps to look at both large and small scale when looking for the perfect picture.
Likewise, you don’t always have to have the whole flower in shot to make an interesting image.
Finally, after you have your image, you can really have fun and start to play with the image using various post processing software. This is where you can explore your creativity and transform an image into something special.
This image was converted to monochrome mainly because there’s a bright green garden hose in the middle of the shot and by converting the shot to monochrome the hose blends into the shot while still keeping the main subject of the tree roots as the primary focus.
And don’t forget the fungi! These little guys make great subjects for lighting and processing. Especially after any rain.
Lastly, an example using all the things covered above:
· off-camera lighting,
· use of colour,
· shallow depth of field, and
The finished result is this image which looks not unlike an old masters painting of a set of Waratah flowers showing the full life cycle of the flower from the small bud in the centre to the full flower on the right.
I hope this gives you some ideas and inspiration to get out in your garden or as restrictions ease, to get into some of the botanic gardens near you.
You can see more of the plants and flowers of the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan on my website or my Instagram account or join one of my photography workshops in the Australian Botanic Gardens Mount Annan when restrictions ease. For now, your front and backyard, balconies, planter boxes and pot plants await. Go out and see what you can create.
Your Garden calendar competition
Want to share your photographs with Australia? Enter photos that you took at the Garden for your chance to be included in a limited-edition calendar. More information here.