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Digital photography let's you see your garden in a new way

January 22, 2011
Marybeth Kampman

A few years ago not everyone was used to the concept of digital photography and film was still readily available. A lot has changed in the past few years. Now few are without the ability to take a photo; most cell phones can and many people carry a small camera for that "just in case" moment.

Digital cameras are easy to use, lend themselves to taking a seemingly endless number of photos at a reasonable cost. Along with the predictable family shots in front of tourist attractions, people are unabashedly taking pictures everywhere — from restaurants to museums, street corners to elevators. Their pictures are of food, shadows, interesting patterns
or juxtaposition of unusual objects, they document items they want to purchase in stores or take pictures of their cars in parking lots so they can find them again.

That's exciting because it says people are using their cameras as an extension of themselves to document their world as they see it. Staid, composed, staged shots are becoming more rare, being replaced by quirky angles, unusual lighting and original subject matter.

Why not bring this informality and personalization of photography to your garden photography? But while digital photography allows you take lots of photos and delete what you don't want, it's easy to become indiscriminate. Taking a good photo still requires time, thought and planning.

First, know how your camera works. Read the manual and take it with you; I guarantee you'll forget what one of those pesky buttons does at some critical moment.

Start with an open mind and be flexible. I was once assigned to do a photo shoot in a succulent garden. I wasn't a fan of succulents and I wasn't sure what I'd encounter. After an hour I'd fallen in love with their geometric and architectural shapes and patterns. I found myself taking a different approach than if I was photographing a rose garden with its soft feelings and colors. Here are a few other ways to get great garden pictures:

• Pay attention to the light. Discover the beauty of overcast days. Get up early and skip happy hour. The light is often the most beautiful the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. Learn to take advantage of those special times of day and plan your photo shoot around them.

• Get down and uncomfortable. All too often the best shot involves getting yourself into an awkward position. This is where a camera with a swivel screen can come in handy. Tripods with bendable legs that can wrap around a tree branch or stake can also be very useful. They provide
you with a "third hand" that stabilizes the camera in tight situations. Often nature presents stunning arrangements and groupings. Other times it's important to do a little styling of the shot by removing errant twigs, weeds or dead flowers.

• Remember to turn around. Often the best shot is the one viewed from a different perspective. Walk around your subject and pay attention to what else will be included in the photo. Zoom in and zoom out, not just with your lens but also with your body. Try moving closer and farther away from your subject and see which approach you prefer. Squat down or hold your camera up high. Since it is no longer necessary to use an optical  viewfinder, take advantage of the freedom of movement that using a LCD viewing screen gives when composing a picture.

• Don't restrict yourself to beauty shots. Use your pictures to document your garden experiences. I take at least two photos when taking a picture of a plant that has an identifying label — a beauty shot and a photo of the label. It's easy to forget the exact name of the photographed plant.

You also can use your camera to document garden ideas that strike your fancy. Take pictures of watering systems, garden designs, hardscape or color combinations you admire. Go to the garden supply store and take pictures of plants before you buy them. Include, of course, the pictures of the labels that give care, light and water requirements. Not only will your garden be more attractive and well planned, but you'll save money.

Your camera can be a great tool to help you identify a plant or shrub you'd like to include in your garden. Take a picture to your garden supply store or bring it in to the Master Gardener's help desk for help identifying it. You can also take a picture of a diseased plant. While you're at it take multiple pictures of close-ups of the problem and also pictures of the entire plant and its habitat. This information will be invaluable in sleuthing out the cause of the problem.

Digital photography offers endless possibilities for exploring your creative side. You'll see the beauty of your garden and become more informed through the lens of your camera. All you need is a memory card as big as your imagination.

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