Photographing Your Herb Garden

| June/July 1994

Whenever I visit my mother in southern Colorado, one of the first things she does is bring out her most recent snapshots. Her latest garden shots are usually among them. There are pictures of rose bushes, gladiolus beds, flowering herbs, and any other vegetation she has grown and found interesting. Usually these photos are out of focus, taken in the wrong light, or poorly composed. I remind myself that she is proud of these photographs. She sends copies to her sisters and friends.

After many years as a professional photographer, I know that the definition of a good photograph is “whatever you’re happy with”. But the pros have a few tips and techniques that may help as you try to preserve some of the enticing images of your garden at its height. Photography can be as difficult or as easy as you care to make it. It needn’t be intimidating.

The garden offers so many sights worth capturing on film—towering seed heads of dill, dew glistening on leaves at sunrise, the different stages of a blooming flower. Each year, as conditions alter through the changing of the seasons, events will happen in your garden that may never happen again. Through photography, you also can record lessons you have learned in the garden, your successes and failures from one season to the next. You can also photograph gardens you visit so that you’ll remember designs or appealing combinations.


Cameras. Many of the new 35mm cameras popular today are the “point and shoot” variety. Some have built-in lenses that zoom from a wide angle to telephoto. They are totally automatic: they will focus, set the exposure and the shutter speed, and rewind the film. They’ll work fine for shooting landscape photos of gardens, but if you want to take close-ups, you’ll find these automatic cameras very limiting.

The biggest difficulty is that the lens simply will not focus up close to the object you want to photograph. And because automatic cameras don’t usually have interchangeable lenses, you can’t change to a special close-up lens. Another drawback is that what you see in the viewfinder of an automatic camera is not precisely what the lens sees; this problem is even greater in close-ups.

A 35mm single-lens reflex camera is the best overall camera for taking quality garden photos, from close-ups to scenic vistas. Its viewfinder shows exactly what you’ll be getting on film, and you’ll have the option of changing lenses. This kind of camera usually has a built-in light meter and comes with a 50mm lens.

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