holt_789_332_1920(c).jpgWe continue the assignment theme where I ask you to use your own knowledge of gardens and trust your insight to make photos in your own style, communicating in your own voice. When next you go out with the camera, use a garden’s hardscape as your theme.

To get a good garden photograph, look for hardscape elements to help define your composition and tell the story—a story about the structure of the garden, how it is put together, what non-plant elements make it work. Allow the gardener in you to inform the photographer in you to become a garden photographer.

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Hardscape is what physically defines a garden—the bones. For landscape architects, it is the frame upon which the plants are draped; look for it as you consciously compose your picture. The bones of this urban garden, designed by Thomas Church, are the paths and patios. The hardscape defines the garden.

The assignment, then, is to use a garden’s hardscape as the main element of your photograph. In previous chapters, we have talked about composition, about shapes and lines, focal points and balance, color and light. Apply all those lessons as you look at hardscape, and find a story to tell.

In this photograph above, the hardscape elements (pergola and brick patio) define the composition. The composition makes for a strong photograph because of the good light, the lines, the shapes within the frame. But it all starts with the hardscape.

No matter where you are, you should be able to find good gardens with strong hardscape features.

Most parks and civic gardens have been designed by landscape architects to include strong hardscape elements that can accommodate all the people using the sites. Allow the hardscapes to be part of your story of these public garden spaces.

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Paths and courtyards in the gardens at Disney Concert Hall, design by Melinda Taylor.

And for garden photographers outside the city, the smallest amount of hardscape will go a long way to helping to define a photograph.

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I love the simplicity of these few stone slabs, making steps up to this meadow viewing perch. In this garden, the designer leveled an area for a meadow and cleverly took advantage of the excess soil to create a mound. Without the hardscape element to define that mound, there is no good photo.

Indeed, in most gardens the hardscape defines the garden. Sometimes, it is easy to forget about it, to only see the beauty of the plants. Just as it gives a garden its structure, hardscape can give structure to your photographs. For this assignment, look for it as a way to structure your photograph.

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In this image of fall foliage, the story is not just about the autumn color of the Japanese maples. Incorporating the lattice fence and entry makes it a garden photo. We are here to make garden photos, not just tree photos. The hardscape can be a crucial part of telling a garden story.

Begin by paying attention to the physical boundaries of the garden: the building, walls, and fences that enclose the space. Most gardens have these. Then look for pathways that connect to the boundaries and lead into the garden.

Pathways are classic elements of hardscape in gardens and can provide excellent opportunities to compose with leading lines, as we saw in the previous section (Think Like a Camera, Lesson 2.3). Depending on your point of view and how you position yourself, a path offers many ways to compose a photo.

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As garden hardscape, they connect the design to the space (Remember our last lesson, 3.1) As a tool for a photo composition, they provide lines and create spaces within the frame.

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In this simple yet beautiful vegetable garden, the paths give it structure and define the garden beds. For this assignment, I recommend starting with pathways as elements of hardscape, because they will certainly help in the composition.

This delightful path leads from the front of the house through a side yard past a small bench.

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As hardscape, the path helps organize an appealing composition, but it is also a garden story. The story is about being led through the garden; it is not about the path.

Let’s look at other examples of hardscape helping to define the garden.

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Without seeing the rustic arbor and a small segment of the path, this insectary garden appears to be just a collection of plants. With these hardscape elements, the photo is improved and tells a more compelling story. And, they become the focal point. The hardscape is only a small element of the composition, but, without it, the photo tells a less focused story.

Again, in this next photo of a spring meadow garden, the hardscape of the patio seating area is only a small part of the composition, but the photo is all about imagining yourself sitting on it.

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In this next example, the picket fence is the story, but to make it a garden story it is shown in context of the house and garden, both in front of and behind that single hardscape element. It is not just a fence picture.

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There are also two elements in this next photo. The stream is the main element, just as the fence was the main element above. The house is a small but important part of the composition.

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The stream is the major hardscape feature, but, by showing a small piece of the patio and the house, the image becomes a stronger garden photo.

In this next garden, I did not need to go looking for hardscape to define a garden element. The boulders are unavoidable; the garden was designed around them. They become the story.

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Here, a tiny patio of recycled material is the story.

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The story I see here is really all about the hardscape, a patio within the garden, so I don’t show many plants at all. But I do show just enough to be sure you see it as a garden photo. When you tackle this assignment on hardscape, don’t forget that you are looking for a garden photo.

For some, a garden is all about the hardscape. A “garden” may simply be an outdoor living space, outdoor kitchen, a swimming pool surrounded by lawn, a patio—a space where plants are minor elements. When faced with an over abundance of hardscape, your garden photograph simply needs to acknowledge the situation and find a way to incorporate whatever plants are available.

In the tiny patio within the garden, above, I composed enough vegetation to show the garden. In the big raked gravel patio, below, I was sure to show enough trees to evoke the sense of a garden. Similar compositions, similar stories, but decidedly different gardens.

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You should now have lots of ideas for this assignment. Try to use as much hardscape as possible in your next photographs. Think how the garden uses its hardscape elements.

In this final photo we see a lot of hardscape elements – the pathway, the terrace, a fountain, a pergola, the brick walls. Any one element could be a small story; together, they make a complete story.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I really enjoyed this lesson Saxon..I wish I’d read it before I went to GC Open Day in Mendocino County this last weekend! I am often distracted by the garden I am visiting and don’t take the time to focus on composing the image as well as I would like. This is a lesson I will return to. Incidentally, that top photo has Gary Ratway written all over it. How I love his work !

    • Isn’t Gary’s work amazing ? Was that garden open too ?
      Hardscape gives you ready made features for composition and are often a key to understanding and telling the story.

      • It was open Saxon, and if you haven’t been for awhile the back veggie garden has really had lots of changes -no caution tape ! The nice thing about GC Open days is that they open the private garden around the house too, which is usually off limits during their normal business hours. The DD gardens are in my top-5 nationwide. I try to go at least once a year. Also open was Kate Frey’s garden in Hopland …wow-you would love that if you’ve never been.

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