There are no signs of spring springing around here yet, due to the brutal cold still lingering—and oh, look, more snow on the way—so it’s back to the topic of fun garden photography to find some cheering color. This time, I’m thinking about ways you can change your views by changing the height and angle of your camera.
Holding your camera at eye level and shooting straight ahead—as in the image above—is the usual way to photograph a sizable plant, border, or landscape. And a downward view—the way we usually see our plantings when we walk around the garden—is common for most herbaceous plants. (Below is shredded umbrella plant [Syneilesis aconitifolia].)
Exaggerating the downward approach, so you’re shooting almost or completely straight down, is one way to add a bit of variety to your plant portraits and combination close-ups.
This approach can capture intriguing tapestry-like or patterned effects, especially if you can fill the whole frame with the plants. (Above is the shredded umbrella again; below is Chocolate Chip ajuga [Ajuga reptans ‘Valfredda’] with golden creeping Jenny [Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’].)
If the plants don’t fill the frame, though, the effect can be really weird: kind of dizzying, in fact, as your eyes try to make sense of what you’re seeing.
Experimenting with different angles will help you figure out which ones you find most pleasing for each of your plants.
Shooting straight on can be a good way to show off plant habits and flower forms (shredded umbrella again above, and Colchicum speciosum below)…
…while tipping the camera a bit can give you an interesting view inside of cupped blooms.
If you want to photograph trees, high-climbing vines, and other plants above normal eye level, of course, you’ll angle your camera the other way. (Below is ‘Sunspots’ annual sunflower [Helianthus annuus]; this one was about 8 feet tall.)
The closer you are to the plant, the steeper the angle. As with shooting straight down, shooting almost straight up creates a rather vertiginous effect, but it’s a neat way to create a dramatic perspective.
Shooting upward is also an option for photographing the faces of flowers that tend to tilt downward, such as Lenten roses (Helleborus x hybridus).
Sure, you can lift their blooms with your fingers or a stick to get a better view, but then the props are usually in the picture too. Changing the angle of your camera, rather than forcing the flowers to look up at you, lets them keep their natural charm.
It also gives low-growing flowers, like snowdrops (Galanthus), a much prettier background than mud or mulch.
Instead or—or along with—changing the angle at which you hold your camera, you can change your own height.
I took the above photo, for instance—of ghost bramble (Rubus thibetanus), Dakota Goldcharm spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Mertyann’), and creeping bramble (Rubus pentalobus)—while standing straight up and tilting the camera down, and the one below by kneeling and shooting straight ahead. The first one is a more realistic representation of the combination, because that’s actually how I normally see it in the garden. But I prefer the second one, even though I get to view it that way only when I’m weeding the path.
Out front, I tried another experiment: keeping my camera level but changing my height while standing in one spot.
Above is usual eye level (a few inches over 5 feet); below is at about 4 feet.
At about 3 feet…
…and about 2 feet. It’s interesting how the view changes as some plants get hidden and others become more obvious, and as the background changes.
Shooting low like this is over-exaggerates vertical plants, such as the cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), which look like they’re about 8 feet tall instead of 4 to 5 feet It’s fine for showing off individual plants or combinations, though, and it’s a neat way to get an idea of how other people might experience your garden: sitting on a bench, for example…
…or at kid or critter level.
No wonder gardens can be so magical for children. It’s easy for grown-ups to forget what it’s like to be completely immersed in plants. (Below is dwarf fleeceflower [Persicaria affinis] with Japanese blood grass [Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’], ‘Gerald Darby’ iris, and Tropicanna canna [Canna ‘Phasion’].)
Shooting right at ground level is an interesting option for photographing low-growing plants, like these hybrid Dutch crocuses, since you typically don’t see them that way.
To get shots like this, you have to get down and dirty—literally. That’s not so bad in summer, but when you’re shooting spring bulbs, it’s an easy way to get chilly and muddy really quickly, so it’s a good idea to drag a bit of old rug or blanket around with you so you have something to kneel or lie on.
Once you get down this low, there’s nowhere to go but up! Change your perspective another way by getting higher: on a stepladder, for example…
…or on a raised porch, deck, or balcony.
A second- or third-story window gets you even higher.
(These two shots are of the courtyard: above in 2005 and below in 2013. It’s kind of amazing how much the volunteer Eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) behind the barn grew in 8 years!)
Do I need to add a disclaimer to the next one? Okay: Do not try this at home. That being said…to get even more of an overhead view of the garden, I have, on occasion, carried my camera up onto the house roof. I bring a hammer, too, so I can pretend I’m up there doing serious maintenance stuff if a car goes by or a neighbor is out walking.
Is it useful? Not so much in a garden that’s basically finished, except for record-keeping. But if you still have some empty space to fill, or if you’re thinking about reworking an area that you’re not happy with, having images like these could be really handy when you’re sketching out ideas.
Need even more of an overhead view? You can’t get much more aerial than a satellite image. I checked out at least a half-dozen options, and Google Earth aerial maps were by far the most clear and the most recent. I think these are from 2012, based on the pattern I mowed into the lower meadow.
Below is the closest view I could get of the area right around the house: good enough for rough planning, anyway. (And, good enough to show where two small alpacas were hanging out at the moment the image was taken, just north of the house; see them circled in red? I can even tell which is which! And wow, those chartreuse plants really stand out, even from space.) Apparently the images in more-populated areas are taken from airplanes, and they’re at even higher resolutions than the satellite images.
If I’d had access to overhead images like these 14 years ago, would I have done a better job creating a more organized system of paths and planted areas, at least inside the fence? Possibly. But back then, I really didn’t know what all I wanted, so the plan likely would have changed anyway. I can’t say I’m terribly disappointed how it evolved section by section, even if folks flying overhead aren’t impressed.
(By the way, you can’t use Google Earth images for commercial purposes, but according to the GE policy statement –Use of Images—it’s okay to use them on your own blog or website or print them out if you keep the logos and such on them.)
Until drones start flying around at even closer range, there’s another way to get an almost overhead view of your yard: the “10-foot pole method.” Credit for this one has to go to Alan Lorence of It’s Not Work, It’s Gardening! To get aerial pictures of his garden, he attached his point-and-shoot camera to a section or two of metal conduit and used the timer function to capture images as he walked around. You can check out his results in A Different Perspective and Bird’s-eye Survey. This is brilliant, Alan, though what I’d also like to see is a picture of you doing it!