The Purpose-Driven Photo

Rosa_Rose_Columbus-OH_LAH_3536Perhaps you want to hang a huge framed photo of your prize roses over the couch. Or maybe you see some striking flowers in someone else’s garden, and you want to grow them at home—but you don’t know what they are. Maybe you simply want to record where you plant your tulips this fall, so you don’t bury them under a new perennial  come spring. I’ve taken photos for all of these reasons and more.

Perhaps the first and most important consideration when it comes to garden photography is to make clear in your mind just why you’re taking a particular photo. If you don’t have a specific goal, it’s very difficult to accomplish it!

Let’s say you see a new plant and you want to record its characteristics so you can go home and identify it. In that case, you need a picture of the entire plant. You’ll want to include a reference point—your foot, a ruler, a wall or sidewalk—so you can remember the plant’s size. Then, get up close and record the leaves, how they’re arranged on the branches or stems, their color, size, and shape. Take another shot showing any flowers, berries, seed pods—anything that will help you in your ID search. You can attempt to make these images interesting, even artistic, but your primary focus is on details such as sharpness and consistent lighting that shows colors and textures. These pictures of a Silver Maple are ID shots:

Another, related reason to take a photo is to get help in identifying a problem. Why are my tree’s leaves turning yellow? What’s that mass of bubbles doing on my perennial? Is this insect a pest? It’s so much easier to show an expert a photo than to try and describe something in words!

As we’ve landscaped our new home over the past two years, I’ve taken a lot of photos for inspiration. If I see a garden that particularly appeals to me, I record it so that I can duplicate the effect at home. At times like this, I have to decide how much of the scene to include. Do I want a close-up, or do I want to include the entire garden? If I’m interested in a specific combination of plants, I try to zoom in on just that combination. If I’m drawn to the ambience of the entire place, then I switch to my wide angle lens.

I find that taking an ID photo is much easier than trying for artistic effect. With art, anything goes; the goal is pleasing your inner artist. Having that much creative license can be intimidating. At least with a digital camera, we’re free to experiment.

For example, rather than attempting to record the plant in as realistic way as possible, you might want a totally different effect. Most people don’t immediately recognize the flowers in this photo as hydrangeas. In fact, they usually assume it’s a drawing. While my image doesn’t appeal to everyone, I like it.

8 x 10 Hydrangea_6554

For this photograph of a yellow columbine, I didn’t want to distract the viewer with extraneous details such as nearby plants, foliage, fruit, or seeds, so I isolated my subject. My goal was a contemporary wall graphic that would make an eye-catching print.

5 x 7 Yellow Columbine-001

As we can see, there are as many reasons to take a photo as there are photographers. Just be sure you know what your reason is before you snap the shutter.

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