Posts Tagged ‘Garden Photography’

Using a Telephoto Lens to Compress Garden Scenes

Monday, April 10th, 2017

Using a Telephoto Lens to Compress Garden Scenes

Since gardens are beginning to blossom again after a long winter, I’m returning to the garden setting for this tip.

A telephoto lens is essential in garden photography for picking out pieces of a distant landscape or for macro work, and I often use one in conjunction with extension tubes or close-up filters. For landscape photography I use a zoom to pick out the garden details or to create a layering effect. On foggy days, I often look for how trees stack up with one another and how they lose detail as they recede into the mist; the layering on these days works exceptionally well.

Field of Poppies, grown for cutting near Silverton, Oregon in the summer

Field of Poppies, grown for cutting near Silverton, Oregon in the summer

When I spotted this field of poppies growing in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, I wanted to recreate the feeling I had of seeing such a multitude of flowers in one place. To do this, I chose a telephoto lens and crouched down a bit lower to overlap all the poppies. By using a zoom and compressing the scene, I was able to capture the feeling I had of seeing so many poppies in one place.

Wallflowers and grasses line the Willamette Valley in spring as a stately oak fills the background.

Wallflowers and grasses line the Willamette Valley in spring as a stately oak fills the background.

For this image of wallflowers in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, I used a telephoto lens to compress the scene for the multitude of flowers and also to keep the size of the tree large on the distant ridge. If I had used a wider-angle lens, the distant tree would only be a small pimple on the ridge face. A telephoto lens creates more drama in the scene.

Azaleas and rhododendrons at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, Canada at sunset.

Azaleas and rhododendrons at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, Canada at sunset.

While I was visiting Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, Canada I used my Canon 70-200mm telephoto lens to help frame the wonderfully lit tree with the yellow blossoms of the surrounding shrubs. The compression also created a layering effect for this image and compositionally a frame-within-a-frame which creates depth.

If you like this garden photography tip, I offer 99 more in my e-book “100 Tips to Improve Your Flower and Garden Photography.”

Look for my next garden book Visionary Landscapes due out this September on Tuttle Publishing.

The “Cramming” or “Shoot-Through” Technique by David Cobb

Monday, February 8th, 2016

The spring wildflowers have started to pop in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon, so I thought I’d take the time to explore a technique I often use for photographing spring wildflowers called “shoot-through” or “cramming.” I had used this technique for a number of years before I learned macro photographer Michael Brown coined the phrase “cram-it.” It’s fun, and it takes a bit of practice, so if you’re willing to give it a try here’s how to do it.


I often use a telephoto for this procedure, and employ this method when I want to eliminate distracting elements or when I want a wash of color throughout my image. I use a fairly wide-open aperture setting and find f2.8–f5.6 works best. I place my lens against a number of blossoms while selective focusing on a background flower. The front images are blurred and help obscure a number of distractions like twigs or branches. They also create a more ‘painterly’ feel to the photograph.

 Tulips Red & Yellow

I loved the color of these tulips on top of a rock, but couldn’t photograph them without including distracting parts of a nearby house. My solution was to lay my lens right in front of a bundle of red and orange flowers and then “shoot through” them. This added a nice wash of color across the stems, and also eliminated the distracting staircase and window of the house.

 Water Lilies

In a recent photo of water lilies taken on the Big Island of Hawaii, I was going for more of a Monet feel for the image. For this shot I used my Canon 70-200 telephoto lens, my Kenko Pro 1.4x teleconverter, and my Canon 500D close-up filter. I placed my lens right in front of a clump of grass and “shot through” it. The shallow depth-of-field gave me the softness I liked, but “cramming” with the grass lends an even softer look and captured the Monet feel I was after.


I’ve posted a couple of other examples of this technique below. You can find this tip and 99 others contained in my e-book 100 Tips to Improve Your Flower and Garden Photography.

Summer Wildflowers

Yellow Crocus

Photographing the Garden Landscape

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Photographing the Garden Landscape

By David Cobb

I’ve recently signed a book contract to produce Japanese Gardens of North America with writer Kendall Brown, and it’s due out in spring 2013. So lately the garden landscape has been on my mind, especially as it pertains to the Japanese garden.

The best way to begin photographing the garden landscape is to hold off on shooting, and walk around instead and notice the site lines, structures, water features, flower beds, stone work, and anything else that makes up the garden. Observe how the gardener has arranged the colors of the flowers—are the colors harmonious, complementary, or uniform? Notice the light and where it is, and also envision where it will be, so you’ll be ready for those other shots later in the day. When will that colorful patch of flowers be in the shade and ready for shooting? Make a note to come back later.

Keep an eye on color and make a note to come back later.

I often begin photographing the garden with the “get to know you” shots. These are the general all-purpose images that can give a nice overview of the vicinity. Sometimes I wait until the view is without visitors, but sometimes I include them to give the garden a sense that other people actually visit and enjoy it too.

With garden photography, I almost always use a polarizer to cut down on leaf glare and to also create further saturation of the colors. Once I’ve taken that overview image, I start to narrow my field of focus and look for leading lines (sidewalks, fences, flower beds), and a foreground (bright flowers, large stones, or colorful leaves) to help create depth to my image. Setting up a good garden landscape shot is the same as setting up a good landscape image anywhere–with the exception that for garden landscape images I rarely include the sky and often frame my image part-way up the distant trees.

There are usually a variety of gardens within the garden, and I photograph an overview of each one separately. For instance, in the Portland Japanese Garden there is the Sand and Stone Garden, the Flat Garden, the Natural Garden, the Strolling Pond, and the Tea Garden. I photograph each garden separately as a landscape, and then I begin to look for the more intimate compositions.

For the garden landscape my lens of choice is the 24-70mm. A wider angle lens causes too much distortion to the trees, garden art, or garden structures. Therefore, to keep things more in perspective I’ll often photograph between 35-60mm. A few more tips to keep in mind are to photograph the garden in the morning when there is little wind and also better light, and avoid those bright sunny days if you can help it. Try instead for an overcast day which will add even lighting and better color saturation. Better yet, go when there’s a thick fog to bring out the mystery of the garden.

The garden setting is one of my favorite places to photograph. I love the beauty of it all and the challenge of capturing that splendor. It is a place to feel creative with your photography and a place to expand your limits as a photographer.

If you’re interested in signing up for one of my garden photography workshops, please do at . We’ll be based out of the Oregon Gardens in Silverton this May, and a few spots are still available.