Summer in the garden is a wonderful time. Flowers are blooming, butterflies, hummingbirds and bees are visiting and the bounty of the vegetable garden is full of colorful baskets of tomatoes, squash, eggplants and peppers. Many of us want to show off our gardens, however using a camera with more than a 'point and shoot' setting makes us uncomfortable and the automatic setting often leaves us disappointed in the results. Without going into a long list of technical terms, there's some common sense tips and techniques that will improve your photography a great deal.

Light is the most important element in good photography.

Learning how to utilize the available light and how to recognize prime times to shoot is one of the most important things a garden photographer can learn. Many people think that a bright sunny day is best for shooting photos and that is so far from the truth. Bright sunlight casts harsh shadows and often the delicate veins and colors in petals and leaves are overwhelmed by too much light. Overcast days are great, or early morning and late afternoon when the sun is at a lower elevation will make for much better pictures. If you need to shoot during the brightest part of the day, a white umbrella will diffuse the light enough to make a better shot. Even a piece of white shower curtain stapled to an empty thrift store picture frame will make a good diffuser. Hold it above the area you are wanting to shoot and the light will soften dramatically and give you a much better photo. To lighten areas that are shadowed, use a sheet of aluminum foil to direct light into shadier areas. The photos below show the difference between full sun and diffused light.

purple petunias and leaves in different light

cream colored daylilies in different light

Composition is an important photography skill

Composition is another skill that many new (and old) photographers need to learn. Frequently, they try to cram as much information into the image as they can, when a less busy composition will tell a better story. Most often, moving in closer to your subject will remove distractions and background clutter which focuses the eye on the subject better. Also when photographing flowers, instead of a single blossom it is better to find a few grouped together. It balances the composition and draws the eye around the image and the viewer spends more time looking at it. In the images below, the single blossom is of a pretty daylily, however, there's quite a bit of distracting foliage surrounding the flower. By moving in closer and choosing multiple blossoms, the viewer has no distractions and the true beauty of the flower is more apparent. Another composition tip is to turn your camera so that the image is vertical or in 'portrait' mode. Some subjects just need the extra length that this view offers. Sometimes just a change in perspective makes a very good image that much better. I shot a still life of some of my garden vegetables that I considered pretty good, however when I changed my angle and zoomed in a bit, the image is even better. Remember to shoot several different views, because you never know which one will be the 'keeper'.

composition example of daylily images

composition of vegetable still life

Pay attention to the background

The crape myrtle flowers in these next images show what a change in background and a tighter shot will accomplish. The flowers in the first shot have so much extra information in the picture that it is actually quite boring. There's also an unsightly utility wire cluttering things up. By moving closer and changing the angle, the image goes from boring to dramatic. So, be sure to look at your background. Does it add or detract? If it doesn't add anything to the shot, change your angle. Another tip is to think outside the box. The oak tree in my yard has some beautifully shaped leaves. By shooting from the usual angle it doesn't give the viewer the full effect of how lovely these leaves are. However, just a couple of steps took me under the tree and by shooting the leaves from this angle and against the sky gives the viewer a whole different picture.

composition examples of pink crape myrtles

difference in composition

Remember to enter our Annual Photography Contest this fall

These are just a few simple tips that anyone with very little photography experience can use. Even though the advanced settings on most cameras will achieve professional results. The majority of the population just wants to be able to point and shoot. By paying attention to lighting, composition and distractions you can shoot some amazing images without understanding anything about aperture, shutter speeds and ISO. We hope that you practice your photography skills in your gardens this summer and make a file of your best images because the 19th Annual DG Photography Contest is coming up in October. Gardeners from around the world enter their best images and the population of the Garden are the judges. The winning images are compiled into our DG Calendars and the 2020 edition should be as beautiful as the ones in previous years. It doesn't matter if you are handy with a camera or not, our winners come from all walks of life and professions. So make a folder for your best images today and start saving them. There are 19 categories and you are allowed to enter up to 2 images in each category, so there's many chances to win. We hope to see your images there this fall!