How do you take good photos of a garden? How do you get images that are clear enough to identify the flowers, or capture the sweep of color of a border or that simply can be carried along to a nursery to decide what other plants would add interest to a particular flower bed?
Author Janet Loughrey wrote about and photographed more than 50 garden locations around Saratoga, most of which appear in her latest book, “Saratoga In Bloom,” which will be available from publisher Down East this month.
Loughrey estimated she had taken more than 5,000 digital images for this book, which covers Saratoga Springs gardens past and present including images and stories of the gardens and gardeners. About 200 of those photos appear in the book.
A four-time national award winner, Loughrey’s work is technically precise while also pleasingly artistic.
Her images have been published in most major gardening magazines and in dozens of books. She is the author of “Gardens Adirondack Style” and the sole photographer for “The Ann Lovejoy Handbook of Northwest Gardening.”
Her images are what gardeners want to take of their own gardens. To discover her secrets of success, I asked Loughrey about her work and what gardeners should consider when heading into the garden with a camera in hand.
Q: How did you come to write two garden books on locations within the Capital Region?
A: I grew up in Glens Falls and have lived in Portland, Ore., for 30 years. I enjoy working on projects that bring me back to the Adirondack region. The Saratoga book came about by accident.
In the summer of 2002, I was working on “Gardens Adirondack Style.” There was a drought that summer, so a lot of the gardens up north were not looking their best. I decided to explore Saratoga Springs for a few days and discovered many beautiful plantings all over town. I started thinking then that there might be enough material for a book.
Q: How did you get started with garden photography?
A: I started out as working as a darkroom technician and photographing landscapes on the side. Competition in the field of landscape photography was fierce. Not many people were specializing in garden photography in the 1990s, and since I was a gardener, it seemed like a good fit. I was eventually hired as managing editor for a regional gardening magazine and started freelancing full-time after that.
Q: What makes for a good garden photo?
A: There are whole books written on this topic. In general, it’s best to photograph a garden early in the day while the winds are calm and the plants are fresh. Cloudy days are best to achieve even lighting.
Q: How do you suggest gardeners get started?
A: Take a basic photography class or look at some free online tutorials. There are tons of them on the Internet. Buy a garden photography book and learn some basic tips from a pro.
Join a photography club. Look at magazines and books and study how the photos are made.
Q: How do you determine what to focus upon?
A: The best advice: Fill the frame and have a strong foreground and/or focal point. For closeups, be careful not to have a distracting background.
Q: Do you have to own fancy equipment to achieve good results?
A: I don’t use point-and-shoot cameras, but I know other pros who have achieved excellent results with them. Some models are supposed to be especially good with close-ups.
Knowing how to use your camera is the best advice I can think of to get the best results. It seems self-evident, but a lot of people take the camera out of the box and start shooting, and never get around to really reading the owner’s manual.
Q: Can you talk more about lighting? Many photos come out looking too bright.
A: Dramatic photos can be taken early and late on a sunny day when the light is at an angle. Full midday sun can be too strong, with highlights getting washed out and shadows blocking up.
Q: Any tips for getting a good composition?
A: The best way to improve your composition is to use a tripod. I use one for nearly every shot. It makes you slow down and notice things in a scene that you wouldn’t ordinarily see.
Q: What about close-up images?
A: For close-ups, using a tripod is essential to get the proper sharpness and keep the camera from shaking.
Q: What are the common mistakes people make?
A: The biggest mistake I see people make is not having the shutter speed set high enough. If your pictures are blurry, this is most likely the cause. Auto settings work fine for many but not all situations.
Also, people get too rushed. They don’t take the time to stop and compose a picture. Even if you don’t have a tripod, you can make your body act like one. Plant both legs slightly apart, put your arms at your sides, lift the camera to your face and look at all the edges through the viewfinder before taking the picture to make sure the photo is well framed.