Garden Photography – How to Prepare Your Yard for a Photoshoot

February 18, 2024

In this ongoing series titled “First Light” Stacy Bass helps us all be better at garden photography. This time, she is back to help us prepare for the photoshoot. How do you plan a perfect photograph and plan a perfect garden photoshoot?  Handing it over to Stacy for her expert insight:

stacy bass photography hedges formal garden

How to Prepare a Garden Project to be Photographed:

Following my last post on composition in garden photography, someone asked me to direct some comments to landscape designers on how to prepare a project to be photographed, what time of day to shoot, etc. Though previous posts addressed the quality of light and advised on the most advantageous time(s) of day to capture your work, I thought I would respond more specifically to the inquiry.  So, here we go.

Most often, when I am given an assignment by a magazine, the garden owner is prepared for the shoot, and the property is “camera-ready,” though that is not always the case.  

I have learned how to shoot “around” lots of issues (meaning, I can downplay or make them less obvious), but that is not really ideal.  In a perfect world (which sometimes a spectacular garden at sunrise really can be), here are some things to do pre-photography to make your garden/project look its best.

Pick and plan a date for your garden photoshoot carefully.

1.  Pick a date carefully.  It is so important to try  to shoot the garden at its “peak.”  Lush, full, in bloom.  Of course, many gardens look wonderful in every season and have different tones or personalities.

This is a great option if you have access to the garden/project and can shoot it throughout the year. I am fortunate enough to have been asked to chronicle one such garden for the Smithsonian, and it is amazing how different yet interesting each season’s offering really is.  

If you cannot do this, try to narrow your shooting to a range of dates that will illustrate and emphasize what you have created in all its glory!
formal garden boxwod hedging stacy bass photography

Weed and Deadhead Ahead of Time

2.  Weed and Deadhead.  It is amazing what a difference it can make to clean up your plants and flowers beforehand.  It is usually not too difficult to find a bloom or two that will look beautiful for tight shots, but the cleaner and more manicured, the better for the wider shots.  I will pitch in
and do what I can while shooting, but as you all likely know, this can be very time-consuming and is best done in advance.  I have also “relocated” a bloom or two in my shot if absolutely necessary to fill a space or add color to a void.

Well Before the Garden Photoshoot – Mow the Lawn

3.  Cut the Lawn.  It is best to cut the lawn 1-2 days before the shoot.  Ideally, you would like to avoid mowing lines, so add an extra day depending on the time of year and how quickly the grass grows.  A recently cut lawn will set off the plantings and draw the eye to the areas you most want to highlight.

Stop the Sprinkers Ahead of time too

4.  Irrigation.  My biggest pet peeve about shooting early morning, especially when many people have extensive and automatic sprinklers, is showing up to shoot and having the sprinklers in action.  My expression is the exact opposite you might find on a child’s face on a too-hot summer day. They are elated. I am miserable.  

Not only do the water and puddles that may result create inconsistencies in color and tone in the landscape, but longer exposures early in the day will make the sprinkler look like a blur through the image (that is, if you cannot disable it).  

This is true in grassy areas with plantings and when patios are involved.  I have gotten soaked on more than a few occasions and take that in stride.  The worst part is disturbing people at dawn to gain access to the controls.  Plan to have the sprinklers shut off midafternoon the day before the shoot.  And leave the water/dew to Mother Nature.

stacy bass phtography green garden

Turn off All the Lights

5.  Exterior or landscape lighting.  With few exceptions, turn the lights off.  These lights can really alter the color of the final image and can even draw attention to the light source instead of the garden.

Plan and Test Your Garden Photoshoot Shots Ahead of Time

6.  Plan ahead.  Often, while shooting, when the light is coming up fast, it is easy to lose sight of an angle you wanted to make sure to capture.  If you plan to shoot your project yourself, take the time to do a few test shots first.  Checking a series of possible angles or perspectives in advance will save you a lot of time when it is most precious and will help guarantee you get the shot you really want.

Cover your Bases

7.  Belt and suspenders.  What I mean by this is to cover your bases. Sometimes, the shot that feels right at the moment is not what you hoped for when you get back into the studio.  As I  mentioned in an earlier post, always try a few perspectives, even one that really seems like a stretch.  

A hedge that is perfectly trimmed and square to the brick wall it softens might look askew if you are shooting down or up at it. Play around with your “eye” level before you set up the camera.

stacy bass phtography iris

Don’t Rush The Shots

8.  Don’t rush.  Once again, I should emphasize that patience really pays off.  If you think the light is bright enough, the shutter seems fast enough, AND the playback on the camera looks sharp, check again.  The temptation to leave the tripod behind to roam the garden freely is tempting.

I’ve been there.  Don’t do it!  I promise you will be much happier with the results.  If you are really frustrated with using a tripod, I sometimes suggest trying a different model. I have a few, but one has a pistol/trigger mechanism that is so fast and easy to adjust that it makes it simple!

– Stacy

More First Light Garden Photography Series Posts and other thoughts from Stacy Bass

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  1. Sherman Unkefer says:

    Those are great tips and your photos are amazing! I especially love the tip about mowing the lawn 1-2 days in advance. It’s so simple but makes a lot of sense.

  2. Michelle D. says:

    Always a pleasure to read your tips.
    I wish more designers would take the time to do so. It would benefit them and the profession so very much.
    Over the years I’ve worked with some wonderful accomplished garden photographers.
    Each time they shoot a project I stand on the side line and study intently.
    It is poetry in motion to watch a professional garden photographer in action.
    Now if we could get some of these designers to pick up the watering hoses, black plastic nursery pots and shovels before they stoop and shoot, we might actually elevate the standards.
    Thanks again for your articles.
    Always great info.

  3. Linda Gans says:

    I have so much to learn!! You are spectacular!! I love all your comments.

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