When he’s not tending the beds in the Kurimoto Japanese Garden, seasonal gardener Paul Swanson is snapping photos of the plants and vistas at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden. Swanson is studying photography at Toronto’s Ryerson University, and when he’s at home in Edmonton, he practices the skills he’s learned at school as staff photographer at the garden. When I visited the gardens in mid-May, Swanson told me about some of the tricks photographers use to make plants look pretty as a picture. Here are his top three tips for garden photography. (In 2017, the Garden assumes a new name to reaffirm its university roots, after four decades of being called the Devonian Botanic Garden.)
1. Get low
“We tend to take shots at eye level,” says Swanson, “because that’s how we see them.” But to add another perspective, he says, get low to the ground. “Sit down,” Swanson says, “Shoot from underneath the flowers.”
2. Shine a little light
A sunny day may be perfect for people, but for photos, the light is harsh, casting deep shadows on sunlit petals, which heightens the contrast so much that the camera is unable to take in the nuances of light and shadow. In these situations, Swanson recommends doing what the pros do for garden photgraphy: cast some light on the shadowy areas.
3. Frame it
It’s sometimes difficult to portray the subject of a photo in its context. To do this effectively, says Swanson, frame it. “Shoot through a fence post or grab a tree branch,” he says. “And use it to frame something like a fountain.”
His best advice for garden photography? Be adventurous!
Photos courtesy Paul Swanson