Meadow as rain garden seen through trees edging California naturalistic garden
Meadow garden as seen from behind two trees—a point of view: Meadow as a clearing in the woods.

Want to take better garden photos? Before you snap the shutter, think of your point of view.

We are now deep into the workshops, Lesson 2.4, where we begin to move from understanding how the camera sees to understanding how the photographer sees. You should now realize that every photo needs to tell a story—and have a point of view.

“Point of view” has a double meaning for any photographer. On the one hand, you should be conscious of why you are taking a photo, what story you want to tell. What is your opinion—what is your point of view? The camera always lies, and it is up you, the photographer, to distill the scene in front of you to tell the story (the lie) that you want told.

In order to tell your story you will also need to carefully consider the scene in front of you and find a vantage point from which to compose your photo: in other words, you need a physical point of view. Careful consideration of this is fundamental to composition and to a well-crafted photo.

Consider this fine garden room:

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View of a bench in a garden room surrounded by plants

As soon as I saw this secret little room tucked behind shrubs and just off the lawn of a gracious home, I knew there was a photo to be had. I grabbed this photo right away, as I considered what I was seeing, what I wanted to say about it, and where the best angle was to be had.

I wanted to emphasize the contemplative feeling of being surrounded by these distinctive plants—having them all to oneself in this small space. I wanted to put other garden lovers here to drink in the wondrous combination of plants, to emphasize the bench among the plantings, and not be pulled out of the mood by seeing the larger garden beyond.

Did you notice the camera icon in the photo above? That’s where I headed; that’s where the next photo would be taken—a different point of view.

Fortunately there was a small garden path leading around the back of the garden room; I found a spot behind the bench, outside of the space that I wanted to photograph.

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Point of view outside the garden looking in, over the bench.

Often a position outside the garden area gives you a point of view that seems to put you inside the garden with a feeling of intimacy. I will often walk away or back back out of a scene so that I can look back into the view and juxtapose elements to frame a composition (Review Lesson 2.1 Framing). Here, I went around to the other side of the garden in order to look back into it. (The first shot was taken from near the pot on the path in the second image.)

I found a physical point of view that reinforced my view of the garden  as a quiet, secret garden. The second photo presents a much more intimate scene than the first.

In this next example, moving the camera only a matter of inches creates a completely new point of view and a different story.

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Stream and pond in backyard garden.

This first picture is about a water feature, stream and pond flowing from the house and patio through a backyard garden. There is however, another story that is more about this magical pond itself, which introduces a shimmering plane of reflected sky light.

I put on a wider lens on my camera and raised the tripod about 12 inches, so I could point the camera down into the pond and pick up more of the sky’s reflection. The physical point of view is hardly changed, but a new story emerges as the point of view – the opinion of the photographer – has changed.

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Point of view looking down into the pond and its reflection

Note also that I have moved about 18 inches to my left in the second photo so that the strap leaves of the iris could line up as a precise silhouette in the reflected water. Careful attention to detail in this composition reveals best position to set up the camera, an exact point of view to communicate the point of view of the photographer.

This is another great example of how a tripod facilitates the making of a composition, in finding that exact position where the framing elements, the leading lines, and focal point all work together. Finding the one best photo is often a meditative process as you carefully consider exactly what you are seeing. A tripod slows you down and forces you to study the garden.

Note, the physical point of view of those two pond photos is a fairly low angle rather than a standing, eye-level point of view. While, in the next chapter, I will strongly urge you to trust your own eyes and learn to appreciate what a lifetime of eye-level observations has told you about beauty, there is nothing like a change of your vantage point of view to help you see things differently.

This is especially true when you photograph flowers that grow close to the ground. Consider these delicate Grecian windflowers:

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If there is room to get low, even down to a belly view, you will find that flowers photograph much more realistically and dramatically. This sequence is part of a previous post on ground-level perspective—a point of view where the flower lives.

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Ground-level point of view of windflowers emerging in spring.

Certainly there are many times when you will want to shoot straight into a flower, such as highlighting the dramatic seed spiral of a sunflower, but whenever you can get eye level with any subject, be it bulbs, babies, or bird nests, you and your viewers will make a more direct connection to the subject.

Tulip Festival, Skakgit Valley

When you go out with your camera to practice this lesson, take the best advice I ever had from a photo editor: “Get inside the garden.”  Don’t let your camera simply look at the garden: go into it and look out, get down low at least once, look up at trees or back into the sun. Envelope yourself in whatever garden moment you stumble upon.

Autumn leaves scattered across a path? Get down, get into it:

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Berries hanging on a tree? Get behind them:

Crataegus phaenopyrum-Washington Thorn with berries; Filoli garden winter
From under a Hawthorn tree in winter looking out past the red berries.

Experiment with how you view the light. We will have an extensive lesson on light later but recognize different points of view. Once upon a time, long before cameras had sophisticated light meters, the simple instructions Kodak gave with every box camera to find a point of view was “The sun should be behind your back or over your shoulder.” Try something different.

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Looking toward the sun is a dramatic point of view and offers interesting shadows

As you try different points of view, think about what the camera will capture, and what story you will tell. Use all the composition tools of previous lessons to carefully put your photo together. Think carefully about a precise message – your point of view.

I will finish with two photos of the same scene. The physical point of view has not changed very much, but the stories are very different.

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Flowering maple by stone seat in drought tolerant garden

Or:

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Stone seat by path with flowering maple

In the first photo the flowering maple (Abutilon) dominates the scene. The second one leads you through the garden from the vantage point of the stone seat. Always carefully consider what point of view you have about the garden and what point of view to put the camera to tell exactly that story.

Supplemental Posts:

Point of View – Belly Photos

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