On April 5th at a meeting of the Amherst Garden Club in New Hampshire, Rich Pomerantz gave a lively overview of how anyone can take great garden photographs. With digital cameras, it’s easy to rely just on auto mode to take pictures – I’m guilty of this even when I know if I made a few adjustments my pictures would often be so much better. By paying attention to lighting and composition as well as camera settings, Rich showed us the difference between so-so pictures and ones that can make an audience gasp with delight.
Rich Pomerantz’s major focus in photography centers on his interests in gardens and farms, and often extends to include people and their lives. He has published books, such as Great Gardens of the Berkshires, and his photos have appeared in several magazines including Garden Design, Yankee Magazine, and National Geographic. He also offers workshops on photography in New York City and in New England.
A very down-to-earth person, Rich has a keen eye for beauty in sometimes unexpected places and a talent for capturing that beauty in photography. It’s often a matter of finding the right combination of light and view point for a particular moment and tweaking your camera settings to capture that moment most effectively.
Here are some of the valuable pointers he gave us to improve our pictures:
- Know how your camera works – the use of the aperture setting and shutter speed
One of the most important settings is the depth of field – what will be in focus in the photograph. This is controlled by the aperture or f-stop setting. The aperture is the opening in the lens through which light passes. The higher the f-stop setting, the smaller the aperture (and less light), and the deeper the depth of field. So with an f-stop setting of f/22, everything will be sharp and in focus.
But sometimes you want to focus on a particular feature such as dew drops on a leaf. In this case, you want a lower f-stop to a setting such as f/2.8, thus a larger aperture (and more light), and a shallower depth of field.
When you have a smaller aperture such as f/22, less light is coming through to the camera. So the camera or the photographer has to compensate by using a longer shutter speed to get the light needed to capture a picture. If the shutter speed is 1/30 of a second or slower, you will need to use a tripod to prevent a blurry photo.
With a lower f-stop such as f/2.8, the camera is getting plenty of light, so it will use a faster shutter speed such as 1/250 of a second.
- Select the right light or make the best use of the light available. Light has intensity, color, and direction.
In general, soft, overcast days are best for photos because the light is diffuse and has a low intensity, offering a broader range of tonality. So in close-ups of a flower, you will see more detail.
On a bright, sunny day, the light is more intense and hard. There’s more contrast between the lightest and darkest areas of the picture; therefore, you will see less detail. You can use this light to create a cartoon-like effect in the photo where the color range is very limited.
In terms of color, you want to seek the “magic light”, which is generally at sunrise and sunset, when the sun is further away and shining at an angle creating a light that is warm and soft. By 11:00, the sun is overhead and the light is more direct making the colors harsher. You can see the difference in photos taken in the morning versus high noon in the reds, purples, and blues.
In general, you don’t want to shoot into the light because the light hitting the lens can create artifacts such as a halo that you might not want. In this case, you can use a lens shade or your hand to shield the lens. However, you can make the best of bright light by having the light behind a subject, such as a sunflower or fall foliage, to create a translucent or silhouette effect.
You can also use a reflector to lighten the part of the subject that is not getting direct light. I think we’ve all had that family photo where the light in back is so bright that we can’t make out anyone’s faces because it’s so dark in front. In this case, you can place a reflector is front of them so the light behind them will bounce off of the reflector and fill the front with light.
These reflectors come in various shapes and sizes. They are easily folded and come in white, silver, or gold. You can also use what you have available at the time such as a white shirt or page of a newspaper or even a white car.
- Compose your picture
Rich says the best way to improve your photos is through composition. Really pay attention to what is in your viewfinder. Very often, just by getting closer to your subject or scene, you create a better picture. Also, turning your camera vertically can help you create better compositions.
Use leading lines, such as fences and pathways, to lead the viewer into your photo, starting with a focal point such as a statue in the corner.
You can frame a subject by shooting through a doorway or creating a frame with the branches of a tree.
There’s also the well-known rule of thirds when composing your picture. Adjust your camera so you can see three equal areas of your photo through the viewfinder, both horizontally and vertically. Place your subject at the intersection of two of these areas.
Look for patterns, shapes, and silhouettes to create interest.
Like with any endeavor, photography requires concentration or focused attention to get results that are a notch or two above the ordinary. So grab your camera and shoot for the extraordinary!
And if you would like to take a workshop with Rich, see his list of workshops at www.richpomerantz.com/workshops.