Gardening How-Tos, In the Garden


10 Effective Tips for Photographing Gardens

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My friend, Mick Hales, a genteel photographer, and a Brit, is acclaimed for capturing the essence of romance in gardens around the world, and for his roster of ” in-the-know” clients …Audrey Hepburn, Penelope Hobhouse, Rosemary Veerey, Roberto Burle Marx, the Bannermans, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, Deborah Nevins, Madison Cox, Ryan Gainey and Bunny Mellon, to name a few.

Mick’s career spans 30 years, and for 12 of those I have had the pleasure of working with him on several book projects, including my latest,  Living Newport: Houses, People, Style (2014.) I first became acquainted with Mick in 2002 through garden club friends and this fortuitous meeting resulted in our working together on my first coffee table book, Private Newport: At Home and in the Garden (2004.)

PRIVATE NEWPORT PG 104

He and I also partnered on updating the iconic garden book, Newport in Flower (2009) prior to its re-publication, and my gardens at Parterre were included in another book that he photographed, Gardens: Personal and Private for the Garden Club of America. (Between these photographic endeavors, Mick also authored 2 beautiful books himself—Monastic Gardens and Gardens Around the World: 365 Days.)

With such credentials, who can resist plying him with questions about the tips and troubleshooters for photographing our own gardens, or those we visit in our travels? (Not to mention the photography divisions in flower shows across this country, just waiting for you to show off your newfound talents.)

After a quick phone chat, Mick graciously agreed to offer up these 10 simple but effective tips for the novice garden photographer.

Thank you, Mick, for taking the time to share your knowledge with us!

Mick Hales


An Interview with Mick Hales


“Photographing your garden and getting the results you like can be more difficult than you might imagine. We have to remember the camera does not see the way our eyes see, in fact the way our brains see. In the garden that is particularly the case.”

  1. The most important tip is to photograph early morning, late afternoon or on a grey day. The camera can accommodate all the color variations as long as it is not in full sunlight. (I remember shooting Frank Cabot’s garden in Canada in the pouring rain and getting the best results; in part because gracious Frank was holding my umbrella.)

    Mick Hales
  2. Key in to the direction of the sun – where it is and where it is going- especially in the early morning and late afternoon. The sun moves so quickly it is important to anticipate what it will illuminate and when.

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  3. Think about what the pictures are for and how they are going to be used. Maybe you want to make an entry on your blog about what is happening in the garden; do you want to say it with one picture or five?

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  4. Do not overlook the close up. If you are photographing with an iPhone they are terrific for just this purpose.

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  5. Do not forget the overalls. Two simple points but often we leave without capturing both: gardens have beauty in the intimate portrait of a flower as well as the whole orchestra of the garden. (Unfortunately, the iPhone is not so good for the overall view, so put it on HDR under options for more definition.)

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  6. Shooting with a tripod is best for grey days; in fact I just about always use a tripod because you have to be more disciplined in what you choose to shoot. It also means I can stop the aperture of the camera down and get a lot in focus.

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  7. If you are including people in the garden, make sure there is a solid background behind them; it is easy to have a tree coming out of someone’s head.

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  8. Do not be afraid to shoot towards the light. This can create very exciting images and it is one of my favorite ways of photographing. Just be sure the sun is not coming directly into the lens (ie. block the sun behind a tree branch or edge of a structure.)

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  9. Listen to what the garden is “saying,” for each one has a story to tell. Go with the story! If it is a formal garden, emphasize the straight lines; if it is a naturalistic garden emphasize the freedom of nature; if it’s a plantsman’s garden go for the flower close ups and plant combinations.

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  10. Remember, a garden is always changing. So catch it while you can. If it looks good to you now, do not delay. I have had a hail storm destroy a garden in fifteen minutes on what had been a beautiful spring day. Or deer eat a whole display of tulips.

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I love to photograph private gardens through the seasons and create coffee table books for their owners. This is something you might also want to consider, now that you have some good basics in hand. It is so helpful to do that for those who have to downsize, leaving their homes and gardens which they have loved for many years, often just when the garden is really maturing. These custom books make great presents as well, especially for the “person who has everything”… except their former garden.

Photographing a garden is an art and as with all artists you have to be good with your craft before you can grow in your art. One last important note, just have fun doing it. Allow yourself to get lost in photographing your garden. For that is when the creative part of you takes over and you really see the beauty around you. Enjoy!

All Best, Mick Hales

For a full portfolio of Mick’s work go to www.MickHales.com.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

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