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Gardening Etcetera: Capturing the Beauty of Gardens Through Photography

Gardening Etcetera: Capturing the Beauty of Gardens Through Photography

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Even Northern Arizona's ubiquitous common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) appears breathtaking when the photo is taken from an innovative perspective.        

One of the great joys in life is witnessing the rhythm of living things in our gardens and landscapes: the tiny thrill we get when our forsythia shrub festoons itself with yellow blooms at the first sign of spring; the satisfaction that comes when our peach tree presents us with its first crop of peaches; the wonder we feel each fall witnessing the dance of colors performed by maple leaves in a gentle breeze.

Why not capture these precious moments in photos? Here are a few pointers on how we can do just that.

But first, a few photography facts: The F-stop setting on your camera will determine the depth of field, or how much of your subject will be in focus. When you prefer having everything in focus from near to far, such as a scenic shot, select a larger number like F-22. Your camera may have a scenic setting that does all this for you. Conversely, it’s likely to have a close-up setting that automatically sets a lower F-stop, which will blur the background. And don’t forget to employ a fast shutter speed when photographing moving people or animals, or on windy days.

Now let’s segue into the artistic aspects of garden photography. My school of thought is that the most vital tool in garden and landscape photography is not the camera, but the human eye. If you can teach yourself to observe the world from a naturalist’s perspective, you’ll be on your way to capturing the essence of your subjects, whether they be a garden niche, a majestic pine, or a child discovering the delicate beauty of a flower.

Be keenly aware of what’s happening in your landscape and take action if you see anything eye-catching. If your trees display a marvelous array of colors one fall, don’t delay in preserving this memory by snapping many pictures from all sorts of aspects and at different times of day. The same goes for spring or summer flowers, or the bounty in our vegetable gardens. Above all, don’t take for granted that your trees, flowers, or vegetables will produce in abundance each year.

Immediately after sunrise or before sunset are ideal times to take outdoor shots, while colors are warm and landscapes reflect golden hues cast by the sun. Remember, midday photos make sharp contrasts, so if the subject is even slightly in the shade, you may need to use the flash. On the other hand, overcast days often turn out great photos with the camera catching colors more vibrantly than the human eye will.

When I photograph flowers, I search for a perspective a casual observer wouldn’t notice. Since short-stalked flowers are typically viewed from above, try taking a shot from a rabbit’s point of view—you may need to lie or squat on the ground to achieve this. Flowers are often in the shade, but using a flash makes them appear two-dimensional; to show their true depth, hold a sheet of white paper above the camera lens and turn off the flash.

Let the sky and all its moods be your backdrop. If you perchance spy an amazing cloud formation, take a shot. Better yet, add a tree, shrub, or flower grouping to the side of your image to impart the scene with depth and definition. Don’t fret if the tree is bereft of leaves; it will be striking.

When photographing a tree, experiment with several vantage points, perhaps positioning yourself near the trunk and aiming upwards through the canopy. This view is stunning when an azure sky shines through a lacy network of leaves.

Take advantage of each season by strolling through your property every day or so. You may discover icicles dangling from a conifer branch with a sunlit backdrop, or your dog sleeping among a bed of daisies.

Go ahead and experiment with photographing anything and everything in your garden. Seemingly mundane things, like the common sunflower found throughout Flagstaff, may become riveting when viewed in a photo shot from an innovative perspective. In no time, you’ll have a photo collection of amazing garden memories.

Cindy Murray is a biologist, co-editor of Gardening Etc. and a Coconino Master Gardener with Arizona Cooperative Extension. She takes amazing photographs of the natural world.

If you have a gardening question, send a message to and a Coconino Master Gardener will answer your question.


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