Garden photography tips from the National Trust

Sissinghurst purple border |

The purple border at Sissinghurst in May 2014. Photo by Ann Daly.

I know it’s a poor craftsperson who blames her tools, but my garden photography has taken a dip in quality since I bought my Photojojo iPhone lenses. So I dug into the archives from my tour of British gardens last year to retrieve my top tips from National Trust garden photographer David Dixon.

My husband and I were the only ones to show up for David’s garden photography workshop one morning at Sissinghurst in June 2013. We were rank American amateurs, and — even worse — I was toting an iPhone as a pitiful excuse for a real camera. Good British manners won over his apparent apoplexy, and David soon recovered himself enough to continue with his slideshow and tips before we prowled through the gardens to apply his wisdom. I was thrilled to get a private tutorial.

Here were my top takeaways:

1. Looking for a good camera? David recommends the Panasonic Lumix with interchangeable Leica lenses.

2. If the sky is not blue, leave it out of the picture. It interferes with the exposure.

3. Keep the horizon line horizontal.

4. Watch that your verticals are nicely upright. Verticals give structure to your composition.

5. Give the composition a focal point. The eye needs to settle on something, whether it’s a shape or a bright area, and then the eye wanders around it.

6. Aim to get a three-dimensional effect. Choose a strong foreground focus and leave the rest in the background.

7. Don’t put paths in the center of your image. Pull paths in from the side, on the diagonal. Diagonals are strong and interesting. The same thing holds for plant stems. Bring the stem in from the side. It fills the frame comfortably.

8. Shoot plant groupings from above from the same uniform distance, in order to give the entire grouping an equal sharpness.

9. Pay attention to the direction of your light source. The best light source falls from a right angle on your subject. Never light a subject from behind. The best light for photography is in the early morning, especially in spring and autumn.

10. Dull light is ideal for flower portraits.

11. Remember “the rule of the thirds”: For a more dynamic composition, imagine the canvas divided into thirds, and arrange your image accordingly.

12. Avoid foreground softness. Keep it sharp.

13. Keep your focus on the front third of the image.

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