Photographing the Fall Garden

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A photograph of a garden is not so much about the physical reality of what we can see there, but more about how we feel when we are actually there in the garden. No matter what kind of garden you have, big or small, manicured or cottage cozy, or even what kind of camera you’re working with, the most important thing about the picture is to ask yourself why you are taking it. What do you see? What do you want the photo to say?

There are always a panorama of subjects for fall color images in the garden that we overlook, and the stage slowly turns all by itself, from October through December. Finding the best time and the best light to photograph a garden is a vital part of every successful shot. The worst light is bright noontime sun that creates harsh shadows and severe, brassy colors. Early morning provides access to soft lighting where the colors are rich and shadow areas still be deep enough to be explored. The shadows are not yet dense in the early morning and the sunlight is not yet bright. Light at the end of the day also provides a softness, but in a whole different way. The setting sun back-lighting ornamental grasses in the midst of falling autumn leaves can turn textured and muted colors into living stained glass. In woodland gardens the light is almost always dappled with shade on wild and native diversity. It allows more time to work with the sunlight than an open garden would.

Any kind of change in the colors, textures, and densities in the garden are wonderful opportunities to capture the transitional stages of Mother Nature. Take fall color patterns and shapes into the camera frames edges. Include any noteworthy garden structures, such as a gazebo, masonry walls, trellises, and water features to create drama and energy. Angle of your approach to change the perspective of your composition and the resulting blend will be garden artistry that speaks to not only what the garden is, but what it feels like.

And best of all, slowing down, being still and focusing thoughtfully on the plants lets us bear witness to the real heart of the garden and why we love them so much.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.