For Better Garden Photos: Know Thy Camera

My attempt to capture a bee at work on a daylily.
My attempt to capture a bee at work on a daylily.

If you want to take better pictures of your garden (or for that matter, your kids, birds, places you visit, sporting events or anything else), the first thing you need to learn is your camera — and what controls it offers you. That was the message of Eileen Herrling, a Wisconsin-based photographer, who led the shortest 3-hour class I’ve ever attended last night — and not because the class ended early. Eileen had about 50 eager photographer/gardeners at Garden Visions thumbing through their manuals, clicking into the controls of their cameras, taking pictures of Coke cans, focusing and refocusing to figure out what controls each of us would have when shooting in the garden.

Even point-and-shoot digital cameras have features that allow photographers to tighten their focus or clear up the background of a photo. Here are three of Eileen’s take-away lessons:

  • If you have a digital SLR camera, learn to use F-stops and Time-values to enhance your images. (If you have a point and shoot, start using the little mountain and flower settings for different pictures.) An easy way to remember f-stops: Small f-stop (f-4), narrow depth of field; large f-stop (f-11 or above), wider depth of field.
  • Eileen has a couple of very firm don’ts. Don’t use digital zoom, unless you like (or think the shot is worth) grainy pictures. Don’t use automatic, which turns all the controls over to the camera. If you have a program mode, use that for your first picture to get the shot, then start playing with your controls to get a really good shot.
  • Develop a digital work-flow system. I’m taking this one to heart. I have about 2,000 garden shots (a few of which are pretty good) sitting on the hard-drives of two computers. That’s a no-no. Not only do the shots eat up storage space (I take pictures in the largest setting, which is what Eileen recommends), but one spilled drink (well, two spilled drinks) and I could lose it all. What your storage system looks like — disks, a remote drive — is up to you, but have one and keep it organized.

If possible, this class made me even more eager to get out in the garden and take a few pictures.

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