Break-the-Internet Garden Photography

Fly on Coreopsis by Jennifer JamesGreat Garden Photography: Tickseed with Fly photo contest entry by Jennifer James.

Welcome to the first part of our Break-the-Internet Garden Photography series! Because we host seasonal Photography Contests at American Meadows (with great prizes), we thought it was high time that we chimed in about what makes a truly amazing photo.

While some photos are pretty and some may be cute or charming, others are simply unforgettable. We want to help you make unforgettable, frame-worthy photos!

The kind of photos that ‘break the internet’ by catching everyone’s attention on social media.

With that in mind, we plan to explore some great photographic techniques together. Our goal is to help you get truly memorable images of plants, people, and pollinators out of your gardens using both either your phone or digital SLR camera.

SLR = Single Lens Reflex. It’s the kind of camera that you can swap out separate lenses for.

So, are you ready? We’re going on a journey - one that will allow you to retake control of your camera! We know, the whole reason that you bought it was so that you could think less - but if you want amazing garden photos, just a teeny bit of thinking can really pay off.

Today, we’re covering our 3 favorite foundation-shift ideas about garden photography.

Foundation-shift ideas are the ones that stand out to us as simple tweaks-in-thinking. The ones that any photographer can use to get better results behind the camera without reading a book or taking a class.

garden Photography
Pat Leuchtman of Commonweeder.com snaps a photo at the 2016 Garden Bloggers Fling in Minneapolis.

Stay tuned for future posts with meaty info about lighting, exposure, camera settings that help you get magazine-quality images, and our favorite fun tools and apps for your phone.

Garden Photography tip #1 - COMPOSITION: Make it don’t take it

There is a difference between taking a photograph and making a photograph. Taking a photograph suggests that you were simply present enough to push a button - and on many occasions, that’s all you want or need to do.

Making a photograph means that YOU made a series of thoughtful decisions that led to the final image.

And when the final image is really something special, it feels great knowing that your decisions were responsible for a level of quality that your camera could never achieve without your brain’s input!

One of the first decisions you’ll make when attempting better garden photography is composition - aka, framing your photos in the viewfinder before you take the shot. All modern cameras, be they phone, point and shoot, or digital SLR, allow you to overlay a grid right on top of the viewfinder.

This grid helps to remind you about your framing options. It will be divided into nine sections so that you can make use of the most common technique for eye-pleasing compositions, called ‘The Rule of Thirds’.

iPhone Photo Grid
Using the grid overlay in your camera's viewfinder, you can position the most dynamic portion of your subject so that it falls into just one third of your photo. Play with landing points of interest in either the top or bottom third, or in the extreme left third or right third.

Learning Assignment: Use the Rule of Thirds

Easy Assignment: ⅓ vs. ⅔ rule
Using the grid, divide your photo into thirds either vertically or horizontally. Now, intentionally position the subject of your photo so that it takes up just one third of the image's space.

garden photography Rule of Thirds
Easy Rule of Thirds Assignment: The bright red cardinal in this photo is positioned within the top third of the image. Think you can do better? So do we! Submit your Rule of Thirds garden photo here and we'll proudly show it off as our example!

Intermediate Assignment: Exploring Rule of Third Intersections
This time, you'll want to make special note of the four intersections that your nine lines create when they cross. Any one of these junction points is a great place to position a spot in your photo that you want the viewer's eye to be drawn to. Color, action, sharp lines, sun spots, curious blurs - anything that you find interesting can be lined up with one of the four intersections to bring some extra attention to your shot.

rightThirdFocusMullein
The unraveling twists of Common mullein has been shifted to the right side of the photo and lined up with an intersection. This makes for a more dynamic photo than simply centering he subject. Think you can do better? So do we! Submit your Rule of Thirds garden photo here and we'll proudly show it off as our example!

Question: Is it okay to break the Rule of Thirds? Yes. You can even break it every single day. But if you’ve never used it before, you’ll notice how thoughtful it makes you as you compose your photos.

How to make grid lines visible on your phone:

  • iPhone: go to Settings/Photos & Camera and make sure that the Grid switch is turned on.
  • Android: turn the grid on and off using the tool menu, found in the lower left of the camera screen.

Read our next photo post: Tricky Lighting, Correct Exposures, and Color Accuracy (White Balance)

Garden Photography tip #2 - FOCUS: What’s your point?

When making (not taking) photos, you should always choose what you want in focus. A common mistake is to allow the camera to select a wide grid across the middle of the photo, making everything that lands there share the point of focus. You can do better.

marigold and tomato

This photographer was faced with the choice of focusing on the marigold in the forefront or the tomato in the background. If she had let the camera make her focusing choice, it's possible that neither would be sharp!

Sharp focus can be easily accomplished when using your phone, by touching your finger to the screen directly over the area that you'd like to focus on. Remember that most phones need to be 2-3 inches away from their subjects to focus in.

Focusing Trick: all cameras and lenses have focusing limitations and it's important to make note of yours. If your equipment needs to be a minimum of 6 or 8 inches away to achieve focus, you can borrow a carpenter's trick and create a Living Ruler. To do this, measure the distance from your middle finger tip to a point on your arm that's the correct distance away, and remember it forever! Maybe you have a mole or a freckle there?

Garden Photography tip #3 - EFFORT COUNTS: More is always better.

The best advice any photographer has ever received is to take a lot of photos! You can bet those shining examples that we see in magazines and posted throughout the blogosphere were not one-shot-wonders.

With the days of shooting on film slowly creeping into the history books, we no longer need to be selective about how often we push the shutter button. So shoot away - it's really like buying multiple photographic lottery tickets.

  • Move around, like, a lot. You should be changing position often.
  • Always try to get each shot both vertically and horizontally, if possible.
  • Step back for a wider shot and lean in for a close-up.
  • Shoot from above, shoot from below.
Crocosmia and hummingbird.

Photo Contest Winner Connie Etter always knows when to click away!

Most importantly, don’t ever feel badly that you shot over 100 photos or spent over an hour on the same shot and didn’t get something good. Not being afraid to fail means that you’ll be gaining experience and know-how, even when your final images come up short. (Ahem - this same attitude will take you far in the garden. Who cares what the neighbor’s think - plant away!)

Tip for Your Sanity: The biggest downside to this advice is that you'll be stuck with loads of photos that you need to pore through later and cull using the camera's delete button. Try looking at your photos in reverse order. Most often, the best shots you've taken will be at the end of your session, after you've really figured out just what it is that's so interesting about your subject!

Read our next photo post: Tricky Lighting, Correct Exposures, and Color Accuracy (White Balance)

Extra Credit: WHAT YOU MEASURE IMPROVES!

Instagram is a really fun way to track your progress; consider using it as a Photo Diary. Not only will this help you remember what you planted where from year to year, but it will also allow you to see how much your skill set has changed over the course of time. Also, posting to Instagram will increase your chances of 'breaking the internet'!

You can see what we're up to on Instagram here. Be sure to tag your photos #americanmeadows so that we'll know it's okay to share them on our feed!

You can submit your Rule of Thirds Photo Assignment entries to us here! They'll automatically be entered into our summer photo contest and we'll use any great examples to showcase just how the Rule of Thirds is done on social media - with credit to you, of course!

Reminder: Stay tuned for future posts with meaty info about lighting, exposure, camera settings that help you get magazine-quality images, and our favorite fun tools and apps for your phone.

2 thoughts on “Break-the-Internet Garden Photography”

  • Rachel cederborg
    Rachel cederborg July 23, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    I take a lot of pictures especially my stuff that's growing in and out side as well as the dog/s & miscellaneous wildlife & other. Will be submitting a few photos

    Reply
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