Photographing in a Garden

– Posted in: Garden Photography

holt_1103__078.CR2When you want to photograph a garden get inside it.

By this I don’t mean walk off the street and step inside the fence, or move from the backyard patio onto the lawn or path.  Immerse yourself in the garden, get under a tree, look through a gate, get behind a bench. By doing this you will give your viewer a feeling they too are in the garden.

In my workshops I use this technique as juxtaposition, and is part of the PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshops  book on framing a photo.  The idea is to put elements together that will force the view to see a perspective you want to see.

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Whenever I see chairs or benches in the garden, I immediately see an opportunity to get inside a garden by looking past them.  It’s a great way to create intimacy, and in a grand garden you should find many places with benches and chairs to help you feel “in” the garden.

I found so many wonderful chair placements in my recent visit to Chanticleer I almost wanted to call this post “Where to sit in Chanticleer”. It is a marvelous garden and so thoughtfully put together you will want to find a place to sit to simply contemplate its design.

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When I saw these orange chairs at the end of a path mown through what had been a spring bulb meadow, I realized there were multiple design ideas going on, and that the chairs and path were pulling me into the next garden room.

The first wide angle photo established the two rooms with both the line of the path and the color of the chairs pulling us in.  Always on the alert for publications that like vertical photos I made sure I didn’t overlook a potential cover photo.

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As I walked toward the inner garden room I used a telephoto lens to help give a sense of intimacy looking in.  The chairs are certainly the focus point but the edges of the shrubs by the path help isolate the moment.

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Then once inside the garden room I went right away behind the chairs giving me a sense of the garden room and being in it, not looking at it.

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Another opportunity to use chairs to tell my story came as I strolled through the Woodland Garden. I saw these two green chairs before I knew there was a clearing.  But they immediately beckoned – elements of juxtaposition.

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They were nicely situated by a simple pond, but needed some context of being among the trees.  I backed out a bit to juxtapose a small tree in the composition.

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It really did not seem to do justice to the woodland setting.  I wanted to find a vantage point deeper in the garden.

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Now we are in the garden !  The chairs may be small, but in such a complex photo, I think it’s all I need.  We are truly photographing “in” the garden.

Let’s do one more discovery.  These next two chairs surprised me when I first approached them.  I was walking under the trees looking for a vantage point inside the garden looking out and saw this pair.

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The photo you see above was actually an after-thought, after I realized there was a lesson here.  In that photo those chairs are in the garden, but you are not.  The photograph may invite you to go to those chairs, but there is no sense that you are already in the garden.

In the final photo you are already there.  You look past the chairs, not at them.  The chairs are juxtaposed with the trees to help frame the photo and  pull you in.  Just where the photographer wants you to imagine yourself.

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Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic, a garden picture resource for photographs, workshops, and garden photography stories. A landscape photographer and award winning photojournalist with more than 20 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California.

Saxon Holt

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Kerry June 24, 2014, 9:28 pm

Many thanks for these thoughts and photos. You have given me much to think about.

Thanks Kerry – That is exactly the response I look for. These posts are lessons and ideas to work on when you are out with the camera. -Saxon

Jean Marsh June 25, 2014, 9:50 am

As always; you open another door and provide a new perspective. Wonderful article. Thank you,
Jean Marsh

Thanks Jean. Maybe I now need to do a post on doors in gardens. They too provide ways to get “inside” the garden . :-) – S

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Candice Suter June 25, 2014, 3:21 pm

Another wonderful photography lesson. Incredible photos and great information to remember when taking my own photos. Thank you very much!

Thanks Candice – Love the comments, glad to be helpful – Saxon

Pam/Digging June 26, 2014, 1:34 am

The chairs at Chanticleer are works of art set within a work of art. And yes, totally worthy of creating your own works of art featuring them!

Thanks Pam ! It’s all about the art isn’t it :-) – Saxon
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Fran Sorin June 26, 2014, 4:49 am

Saxon-
This lesson is excellent. I love all of those chairs at Chanticleer, had painted Adirondack chairs in my garden in Bryn Mawr, Pa. and loved photographing them. BUT I never understood how to use the concept of ‘being inside the garden’ to shoot from a different perspective. You’ve done a great job of teaching us how. Your photos offered me so many ideas – and they’re outstanding – as always. Thanks so much :) Fran

Thanks Fran – an editor suggested this to me many years ago so i am just passing it along – Saxon

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Charles Hawes June 27, 2014, 9:38 am

Really good and useful post but those chairs are a horror! Such ghastly colours.

Saxon Holt June 27, 2014, 12:35 pm

Charles – Loved your response ! It would be a fantastic experience for you to actually visit the garden and decide there, amidst one of the world’s most interesting gardens. I would pay to see your response to “The Ruins” http://photobotanic.photoshelter.com/image/I000038R11gg07Ms
Thank you for chiming in….

Pat Webster June 28, 2014, 8:43 am

Following on Charles’s comment about the colours and responding (very positively) to the photographs: I love the orange, would prefer a less bilious shade of green and detest the animal skin chairs. Yet I adore Chanticleer. So I will reserve judgement until I see them in situ.

Saxon Holt June 30, 2014, 2:40 pm

Thanks – Pat. I suspect some of what you “adore” about Chanticleer is the whimsy and the subtle unexpected. This helps us think about our own understanding of gardens. In such a good garden these provocations are not meant to change our own assumptions, just recognizing them is a good thing.
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