With the world in a global lockdown, this spring is like no other you’ve probably ever experienced. Yet, we can also take advantage of what is right on our doorstep that we have never discovered before. Just because our world has come to a stop the natural one hasn’t and the flowers and insects in our gardens are still growing and emerging in the same pattern, just as they have year after year. There are amazing creatures and scenes you can capture in your garden, or in a green space close to you. So with the help of these tips from International Garden Photographer of the Year luminaries, grab your camera and head outside (but not too far, and stay clear of others for your and their safety)
Grow a wild area
Whilst it can be tempting to trim and prune our garden hedges and create a neat-looking outdoor space, wildlife prefers it to be wild! Keep one area of your garden wild and you’ll be amazed at the visitors you have coming to see you. If you’re after a certain species do your research first and find out what plants they like.
Capture resting insects
Instead of running around after flying insects wait until they have rested. American photographer Jim Turner captured this image of an augochlorella aurata commonly known as sweat bee in Brookside Gardens, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, and was the winner of the Wildlife in the Garden category. Wherever you are in the world, bees are notoriously difficult to capture if they are moving around! ‘This bee was standing on the anther of a Lilium flower and the longer it stayed, the more it became clothed in the red grains of pollen,’ Jim says.
Know your subject
Austrian photographer Henrik Spranz (www.spranz.org) came in second place in the ‘Wildlife in the Garden’ category and tells us how he got this shot. ‘The black-veined white butterflies [Aporia crataegi] can be found roosting in groups in the early morning. With them keeping so still before the heat has had a chance to warm them up I set up this shot using a wide open aperture to get this bokeh effect of the surrounding meadow. I used a Berlebach Mini-tripod and live view for manual focusing.’ When it comes to his best tips for photographing butterflies Henrik says, ‘Learn about your subjects, their habits, and nutrition. For example, many species of butterflies roost on plants they get nectar from.’
Know your camera
Wildlife cannot be directed – so to up your chances of getting that great shot, know your kit inside out. For action shots, set your focus to the tracking feature and put it into the burst frame mode so you can pick the best image from the bunch.
The background is vital
With wildlife images it’s easy to get so focused on the subject that you forget about the background. The background makes or breaks an image so it is really important. Many wildlife images work by isolating subjects against a plain setting. Open your aperture to blur the background or if you’re shooting your subject at a close proximity with a long lens this will occur anyway.
Commended photographer Lynne McClure captured this image of a rabbit in her garden just as it was about to eat one of her Cosmos flowers. ‘I am a person who loves to garden,’ she tells us. ‘This was taken in an area where I spread wildflowers. Rabbits seem to love poppies, so that is what drew this creature to that spot. It didn’t seem afraid to have me close by. I sat very quiet and still in the mornings with my trusty camera and was able to get the shot. I love wildlife photography as I find animals so interesting to observe. I provide them with appropriate things to eat and fresh clean water to attract. I have two bubblers in my yard that draw in birds and squirrels.’
Chris Mills was commended for his image ‘Frogs in the Pond’ in the Wildlife in the Garden category and finds taking images of wildlife to be good for the soul. I suffer with
my mental health including agoraphobia and I didn’t leave the house until I started volunteering at this organic garden several years ago.” Chris took this image at Ashfield Gardens in Worcestershire. A pond attracts loads of wildlife like frogs, dragonflies, damselflies, newts and birds to name just a few. In this shot Chris has made excellent use of the light which highlights the frogs in the water, and creates a brilliant bokeh background.’
There’s a wild jungle of flowers outside your back door waiting to be discovered
Love the light
Photographer Emily Endean loves good light for her floral captures. ‘Great photography is all about great light. Shoot at sunrise or sunset to give you that soft glow and warm colours. Or even explore the woodland floor at sunrise, look out for pockets of light coming through the trees; this has to be my favourite thing to do – certainly during bluebell season, which is coming very soon!’
Stick to the path
Photographer John Campbell makes sure he is respectful to the environment he’s shooting in, and if you are taking photographs in a shared space then you need to take this into account too.
‘I always keep to paths and never step into borders or planting schemes – someone has worked so hard to create the garden that you need to have respect and understand each plant is precious to them.’
Look for leading lines, pathways or any other elements in the scene to help with the composition. If you’re going for a symmetrical finish search for repetition of lines of flowers and patterns in the frame to help you create a strong result. Finally look for layers of flowers and shoot through for an effective image.
All about the colour
Emily Endean’s (www.emilyendean photography.co.uk) image ‘Pretty in Pink’ was highly commended in the Beauty of Plants category and was captured in Dorset. ‘It was a warm summer’s eve and I’d heard about this field of pink Papaver (poppies) on the grapevine and had to go and see it for myself. It was tricky to find driving through the lanes of the Dorset countryside but when I came across it, wow, it was so worth the drive. A sea of stunning pink! I took a few shots of the wider vista but as the sun began to drop I decided to switch it up with a zoom lens and use a shallow depth of field. I used the sun as a backlight and singled out some of the beautiful flower heads.’ Follow Emily on Instagram @Emily_endean_photography and Twitter @Emily_endean.
Get up early
Photographer John Campbell (www.roomoflight.com) took second place in the Beautiful Gardens category, and shot this wideangle scene (below) at Knoll Gardens in Dorset on an autumnal morning. ‘When I started photographing gardens, it was so lovely to be working on my own in beautiful places that I had completely to myself. It’s a special feeling that makes up for getting out of bed at silly o’clock,’ he tells us. ‘Don’t try to shoot gardens in the middle of a sunny day,’ he advises. ‘You need to be there in the golden hour, at sunrise or sunset, to get the best quality of light and those gorgeous warm tones. Being outside so early in the UK means that it can be cold, even in the summer, so pack layers, and good shoes.’ He is currently photographing the gardens at Buckingham Palace for the first official book, The Royal Gardens at Buckingham Palace, due to be published in spring 2021 by the Royal Collection Trust. You can follow John on Instagram @room_of_light.
Create movement (double exposure)
Jacky Parker (www.jackyparker.com) is a flower and nature photographer based in a village called Sway village on the edge of the New Forest national park. ‘I took up photography about 14 years ago whilst studying for a diploma in horticulture,’ she tells us. Jacky’s image saw her win first place in the Beautiful Gardens category. She took this image in the new forest lavender farm in Wiltshire. ‘Echinacea ‘Salsa Red were the brilliant red stars of this beautiful summer palette of colours taken at the gardens of the New Forest Lavender Farm. I captured a double exposure to soften the grasses and create an evocative botanical daydream,’ she says. ‘At the editing stage I used a Gaussian blur layer and using a layer mask once again adjusting the opacity and using the mask to paint the flowers in whilst leaving the grasses slightly blurred, giving movement.’ You can follow Jacky on Instagram @jackyparkerphotography.
Although you might think focus stacking is just for close-up shots it also applies for some wider angle scenes where keeping the foreground to background completely sharp is key to the overall effect. Nigel McCall, who is a finalist in the Beautiful Gardens category, took this image in Aberglasney Gardens, Wales, one frosty morning in April. ‘It was early April and nighttime temperatures had been relatively mild for some time. Spring displays were starting to look good, especially the wonderful border of Tulipa rising from a sea of Myosotis. Then, unexpectedly a last frost hit. The alarm clock was set. I captured the end of winter and the beginning of spring.’ To create the final effect Nigel focus stacked four images together using Helicon Focus software.
Get experimental with your flower and wildlife photography
Jane Simmonds (www.janesimmonds.co.uk) is a creative photographer based in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. Her work is inspired by the natural world, from her garden to her daily walks in a local woodland. ‘I am drawn to colours, patterns and shapes and use alternative techniques like multiple exposures and intentional camera movement to create my abstract images,’ the photographer tells us. To get this image, which was highly commended in the Abstract Views category, Jane combined multiple exposures of three Cyclamen flowers to give a unique textured effect. If, like Jane, you like abstract photography then you need to be willing to experiment. ‘I don’t have any fixed ideas of what I want an image to look like when creating my abstracts – my approach is experimental and playful and involves letting go of the traditional “rules” of photography. I play around a lot with different camera settings such as white balance and exposure compensation for creative effect as well as trying various blending modes (for multiple exposures). Sometimes the results from my experiments are not very interesting and there are probably a lot more failures than successes but that unpredictability is what appeals to me with this type of photography.’ You can also follow Jane’s work on Instagram @janesimmonds31.
This image, called ‘Autumn Rudbeckia’, taken by Jacky Parker, came first in the Beauty of Plants category. ‘I saw this beautiful, late summer flowering Rudbeckia at the New Forest Lavender Gardens in Landford, Salisbury, and knew I had to capture it. Its orange colour perfectly reflected the beginning of autumn.’ To create the final effect Jacky edited the image using her floaty petal technique as she explains: ‘The image was duplicated and layered in post processing. I then adjusted the opacity of the top layer and changed the blending mode to create movement in the petals.’
To add some texture and sparkly bling to your close-up captures, use water and a spray nozzle and apply a light dusting of drops over the petals or subject. Simple tricks such as this bring another layer of interest to the frame.
Look at the small details
This highly commended image in the Wildlife in the Garden category is called ‘A Spider’s Path’, is by Italian photographer Carlo Cinthi. ‘For such a tiny spider in the garden, every raindrop became a giant obstacle as it continued its journey along this blade of grass,’ he says. To get such a super-close-up result he used a 105mm macro lens with a 1.7x teleconverter. Note that if you are using a teleconverter like Carlo’s you will lose x 1.5 stops of the minimum aperture setting. Carlo used an aperture of f/14 to keep the drops and spider sharp, and increased the ISO to 640 to give him a shutter speed of 1/400sec.
Garden photography kit list
Try this kit for capturing animals
For garden wildlife you will want a lens with that extra reach. Anything from a 100mm to 200mm lens will do the job in this type of setting.
To create a wild garden patch sprinkle some seeds this spring to start attracting lots of different insects. If you don’t have a garden look into a hanging basket or a window sill planter that will still attract creatures.
Rug to lie on
A lot of garden photography requires you to get down low so a rug or plastic bag to lie or kneel on will help protect your clothes!
Capture fantastic flowers with this expert kit
A variable length lens will give you plenty of options. We recommend something like a 24-105mm range in a setting like a garden.
A versatile tripod will be a valuable accessory out in the field. One that can remove the centre column will enable you to explore all angles and be more flexible.
Small step ladder
John Cambell always packs his small step ladder for a garden shoot, which gives him lots more options for shooting gardens and exploring different angles.
To create your own nature abstracts try this
A flatbed scanner and flowers are a match made in heaven. Scan in flowers and experiment with the results.
When taking super-close-ups in the garden you may want to slot in a different background colour. This could simply be a piece of A4 card in any colour.
Experiment and edit your flower images for an abstract result in a program like Photoshop. There are cheaper options as well that will do just a good a job, such as Photoshop Elements and Affinity Photo.
All images in this feature come from the winners and commended photographers of the 13th International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) awards. IGPOTY is a yearly photography competition that specialises in garden, plant, flower and botanical photography.
The main competition closes on 31 October each year, and winners are announced the following February.
There are nine regular categories each year, plus there are four photo projects and numerous seasonal special awards.
To find out more and enter your images go to igpoty.com.