Hartley Magazine

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Photograph your Garden like a Pro – Tips from Robin Bachtler Cushman

Each year a moment arrives when your garden calls out to be photographed. Suddenly those cascading branches of ‘Snowmound’ spirea create a colorful explosion next to vivid yellow daylilies and bright purple sparks of chive blossoms. Get out the camera! But how can you create a shot that rivals those fabulous magazine photos?

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with professional garden photographer Robin Bachtler Cushman (www.robincushman photography.com) on shoots for major magazines—and I do mean work. During early mornings garden forays I’ve been down on my knees picking up individual pine needles so the shot would be picture perfect. Here are Robin’s basic tips.

  • Look for vignettes, not whole gardens. Every garden has at least one area or grouping of plants that really pops. Focus on these in your own place and frame around the messy bits. Robin often blocks out those portions of a garden not up to magazine standards.
  • Get your garden ready for its close up. Neatness counts. I was on my knees with those pine needles because the camera spots messy details our eyes ignore. Everything within the frame must be perfect. Sharpen lawn edges, remove weeds and add a handful of mulch for the great beauty shot. Robin carries clippers and a small cultivator to tweak the scenery.
  • Slanted light or overcast days work best. Robin doesn’t get up at dawn just because she loves the bird chorus. That’s when the soft light—my son’s kindergarten teacher called it “the golden light of goodness”—best shows off plants. Midday sun is harsh and lacks drama. Evenings are also possible, but often more breezy, which foils your ability to keep the plants in sharp focus. For great light, set your alarm.
  • Shoot for the maximum depth of field. In many professional garden shots, everything is sharp, from the foreground to the background. If you’re beyond point and shoot, use your tripod, close down the aperture and expose for long periods of time—Robin sometimes takes exposures that last up to a half a minute. That’s why you need still air. With slow shots, any movement of the leaves registers as a blur.
  • Capture dynamic flower portraits. Shoot so flowers are facing the camera. Slanted patterns create lively compositions. Find ways to frame plants so that you achieve balance, but avoid dull dead-center bull’s-eye shots.