First Light: Preparing to Photograph Your Project

by Rochelle Greayer

in Photography

Stacy Bass is back with us again to help us improve our garden photography skills.  This time she is helping us get ready to photograph and plan a perfect photo-shoot.  Stacy….

stacy bass photography hedges formal garden

Following my last post on composition in garden photography, someone asked me to direct some comments to landscape designers on the subject of how to prepare a project to be photographed, what time of day to shoot, etc. Though previous posts addressed the quality of light and gave advice on the most advantageous time(s) of day to capture your work, I thought I would respond a bit more specifically to the inquiry.  So, here we go.

Most often, when I am given an assignment by a magazine, the garden owner is prepared for the shoot and the property is “camera-ready” though that is not always the case.  I have learned and am able to shoot “around” lots of issues (meaning, able to downplay or make them less obvious) but that is not really ideal.  In a perfect world. .. which sometimes a spectacular garden at sunrise really can be. . .here are some things to do pre-photography to make your garden/project look its best.

1.  Pick a date carefully.  It is so important to try  to shoot the garden at its “peak.”  Lush, full, in bloom.  Of course, many gardens look
wonderful in every season and simply have different tones or personalities. If you have access to the garden/project and can shoot it throughout the
year, this is a great option. I am fortunate enough to have been asked to chronicle one such garden for the Smithsonian and it is amazing how different, yet interesting each season’s offering really is.  If you are not able to do this, try to narrow your shooting to a range of dates that will
really illustrate and emphasize what you have created, in all its glory!
formal garden boxwod hedging stacy bass photography
2.  Weed and Deadhead.  It is amazing what a difference it can make to clean up your plants and flowers beforehand.  For tight shots, it is usually not too difficult to find a bloom or two that will look beautiful but for the wider shots, the cleaner and more manicured, the better.  I will pitch in
and do what I can while shooting but as you all likely know, this can be very time consuming and is best done in advance.  I have also “relocated” a
bloom or two in my shot if absolutely necessary to fill a space or add color to a void.

3.  Cut the Lawn.  It is really best to have the lawn cut 1-2 days before the shoot.  Ideally, you would like to avoid mowing lines so add an extra
day depending on the time of year and how quickly the grass is growing.  A recently cut lawn will really set off the plantings and will draw the eye to
the areas you most want to highlight.

4.  Irrigation.  My biggest pet peeve about shooting early morning, especially in a time when many people have extensive and automatic sprinklers, is showing up to shoot and having the sprinklers in action.  My expression is the exact opposite you might find on the face of a child on atoo-hot summer day.  They are elated. I am miserable.  Not only does the water and puddles that may result create inconsistencies in color and tonein the landscape but longer exposures early in the day will make the sprinkler look like a blur through the image (that is, if you are not ableto disable it).  This is true in grassy areas with plantings as well as when patios are involved.  I have gotten soaked on more than few occasions and Itake that in stride.  The worst part is having to disturb people at dawn to gain access to the controls.  Plan to have the sprinklers shut offmidafternoon the day before the shoot.  And leave the water/dew to Mother Nature.

stacy bass phtography green garden

5.  Exterior or landscape lighting.  With few exceptions, turn the lights off.  These lights can really alter the color of the final image and can
even draw attention to the light source instead of the garden.

6.  Plan ahead.  Often in the midst of shooting, when the light is coming up fast, it is easy to lose sight of an angle you wanted to make sure to
capture.  If you plan to shoot your project yourself, take the time to do a few test shots first.  Checking a series of possible angles or perspectives
in advance will save you a lot of time when it is most precious and will help guarantee you get the shot you really want.

7.  Belt and suspenders.  What I mean by this is. . .cover your bases. Sometimes the shot that feels right at the moment is not the one you hoped
for when you get back into the studio.  As I  mentioned in an earlier post, always try a few perspectives, even one that really seems like a stretch.  A
hedge that is perfectly trimmed and square to the brick wall it softens might look askew if you are shooting down or up at it.  Play around with
your “eye” level before you set up the camera.

stacy bass phtography iris

8.  Don’t rush.  Once again, I thought I should emphasize that patience really pays off.  If you think the light is bright enough and the shutter
seems to be fast enough AND the playback on the camera looks sharp, check again.  The temptation to leave the tripod behind to freely roam the garden is so tempting. . I’ve been there.  Don’t do it!  I promise you will be much happier with the results.  If you are really frustrated with using a tripod, I sometimes suggest to people to try a different model. I have a few but one has a pistol/trigger mechanism that is so fast and easy to adjust, it makes it simple!

- Stacy