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Allow garden photography to grow on you

A hummingbird visits some Bee Balm flowers for nectar. (Susan Mulvihill)
A hummingbird visits some Bee Balm flowers for nectar. (Susan Mulvihill)

Something I enjoy just as much as writing is taking the photographs that accompany these columns. I find myself constantly marveling at the natural world around me and I enjoy sharing and preserving what I see.

The advent of digital photography has been the best learning tool for me. I can take as many photos as I want, see the results immediately and delete the rejects. How much easier can it get?

For a few years, I’ve been using a small point-and-shoot camera, the Canon PowerShot SD750 Digital Elph. It takes 7.1-megapixel images and is easy to use.

I like how small it is; I can slip it into a purse or a pocket. It enables me to take pretty decent close-ups and it has a zoom feature for distance shots.

As nice as this camera is, I felt the need to upgrade in order to take more detailed photographs and increase my options.

After some research, I purchased a Canon EOS 50D digital SLR camera about 18 months ago. It takes 15.1-megapixel images. It came with a 28-135mm all-purpose lens and I picked up a 70-300mm zoom lens so I could take better long-distance photographs.

One of the camera’s nicest features is the image stabilizer. This helps me take clear photos even when I’m jostling the camera a bit in my excitement to capture an interesting scene or subject.

The camera has way more features than I’ve figured out but it is quite easy to use. One can use the automatic settings and still take wonderful photos, or set up the camera manually for more control over the results.

I am by no means an expert photographer but have been picking up helpful tips along the way in an effort to progress my skills. Here is what I’ve learned about garden photography:

1. If possible, take photos on an overcast day because that is the best light. On bright sunny days, there’s too much contrast; on cloudy days, there is more even light on your subjects which makes the colors more true. That said, taking a photo when the sun is low in the sky is an option.

2. To get the right picture, sometimes you have to get up early or stay up late.

3. Watch for interesting contrasts in foliage or cool-looking seedheads. Remember that plants can be just as attractive when they’re not at their peak; even spent blossoms have visual interest.

4. When you select a subject to photograph, walk all around it to find your shot. Sometimes, you have to get down on the ground so you are on the same level as the plant.

5. If your intended subjects are wild birds, grab a chair and park yourself in the middle of the garden where they are active. Be patient and stay still: Your shot will come. That’s how I got the photo of the hummingbird that accompanies this column.

6. Don’t try to stage a natural shot because that’s probably how it will come across visually. Take your time to find the perfect, natural composition and then frame it accordingly.

7. Watch how the light plays on your subject. Sometimes I’ve gotten neat-looking photos when they are backlit or when the light picks up the dew on a plant.

8. It’s a good idea to have a back-up battery and memory card with you at all times. There’s nothing more frustrating than visiting a stunning garden, being anxious to shoot as many images as possible, only to have the battery die on you or max out the memory card.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at Visit her blog at for more gardening tips and information

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