From the ebook: The PhotoBotanic Guide to Photographing Roses, Chapter One:

Working in the Garden

Looking for photos is one of the great joys of garden photography.  It can be a meditative process, as you distill a grand garden experience down to images that tell a story of how the garden makes you feel.

Wide garden border with bi-color red rose Large-Flowered Climbing Rose (Rosa ) 'Fourth of July'

High Resolution View:

Wide garden border with bi-color red rose Large-Flowered Climbing Rose (Rosa ) 'Fourth of July'

Photographing roses in the garden is its own special pleasure, but the techniques for photographing gardens apply whether or not you are looking for roses.

I have written a series of garden photography books called the PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop to help photographers “see” the special challenges of photographing a garden, and how to develop one’s own style.  Let’s summarize some of those basic techniques in the new book book – except using roses.  Later in the following chapters, we will talk quite a bit about close-up and macro photography, special techniques, and the individual roses, but in the landscape, learn to appreciate how roses fit into the garden.

Keep these basic ideas in mind, be conscious of taking photos.

> Appreciate the garden and how the roses are used.

> Compose a good, balanced picture using the whole frame.

> Learn how to use the light.

> Tell a story, don’t just grab a shot

We are not looking just to capture the flower but it’s context. Try to communicate something of the garden’s story and of its design. We saw in the opening photograph beautiful lush rose garden with a pathway leading to the back door. That pathway is part of the story of the garden and you could imagine yourself walking down the path admiring the roses.

Learn to appreciate the many ways a garden can be put together and look for how the roses contribute to the particular garden you are photographing.

Red flower Rosa 'Sophy's Rose' in California garden of English (Austin) roses, spring flowers

When you see this beautiful red ‘Sophy’s Rose’, it is in context of the garden area with the cushions on the sofa beyond. This evokes a sense of being out in the patio, a lifestyle, it’s not just a picture of the rose.

In this country garden, at the height of summer, we see roses and other perennials bursting out of the garden.

Old fence with flowers and roses (pink American Beauty) and drought tolerant plants (Phlomis) Maile Arnold California country garden

The big red rose is the climber, ‘American Beauty’, and understanding that it’s a climber helps to appreciate it sprawling over the fence. In making this tighter photograph I was sure to include a bit of the fence to show that it was in the garden – this is not just a close-up picture of a rose.

Pink flowering climbing rose (rosa) 'American Beauty' cascading over old fence

Gardens are often complex combinations of plants, borders, and garden rooms – be conscious of what’s going on.  Pay close attention as you move slowly looking for photos, watching for various elements of the garden change in relation to each other as you move.  Photos will click into place.

While we rose lovers may look at the roses first, they are only part of the garden.

Terra cotta water fountain in lawn framed by rose garden.

In this grand garden, the statue in the fountain is the focus, but it is the roses that make the photograph, framing the view.

When looking for a photograph of the rose try to appreciate how it’s being used in the garden. Allow the eye to move through the photograph and the garden.

Composition and Balance:

The first thing I always tell my photography students is to fill the frame.  Think of the four edges  of your camera viewfinder as a canvas that you can fill up as would a painter.  Don’t waste any space – work with intention.

Don’t just grab the first shot you see, think about how you want to fill the entire viewfinder, remembering the background is part of the composition.

I love this ‘Eden’ rose.

Pink flowering Meilland rose; 'Pierre De Ronsard' aka 'Eden' on fence in California country garden

Studying the scene, I want to simplify and get rid of some of the distracting background. I moved to my left a little bit and shot back toward the other, out of focus rosebush, and now the ‘Eden’ flowers really stand out.

Pink flowering Meilland rose; 'Pierre De Ronsard' aka 'Eden' on fence in California country garden

Here, in the next example, I like the way this yellow ‘Flutterbye’ rose is tucked into the shrubs in this garden.

Sally Robertson's California cottage garden; 'Flutterbye' Rose.

To capture an image of just the rose however, I need to come in tight and fill the frame.  Notice how the use of a telephoto lens helps create one precise area of focus that draws the eye to the flower.

Sally Robertson's California cottage garden; 'Flutterbye' Rose.

One of the biggest mistakes many photographers make is not coming in close enough to the subject. Fill the frame with just the part that contributes to your story. The subject here is the rose arch covered with the hybrid climbing rose ‘Berries ‘n Cream’ at the entrance to the garden.

Magowan Garden

Don’t waste extra space, come in tight on the arch. Note how I’ve put the arch slightly off center to create a more interesting composition, and allowing the path beyond to create some movement into the garden.

Hybrid Climbing Rose (Rosa ) 'Berries 'n' Cream' bi-color rose on entry arch over path into Magowan country garden room

Composition can be a jigsaw puzzle, trying to put various elements and shapes together to make something pleasing and balanced. Think about how the shapes and blocks of color are organized within the frame, using the four edges of the camera to contain the shapes.

Pink flowering shrub rose 'Cornelia' in mixed border with rosemary and flowering geranium sanguineum sprawling groundcover; Gary Ratway garden

This rose ‘Cornelia’ occupies its own space within the composition and the photo is carefully cropped to show the rose’s place in the garden.

Working with Light:

Good light is the elixir that can make a photograph sing. Photographers are always in search of good light. When photographing gardens stay away from any hot, sunny, contrasty light, which will make colors harsh and metallic.

Peach colored Floribunda Rose 'Tuscan Sun' flowering shrub in patio garden in California country garden

Roses often come in soft delicate colors, such as this ‘Tuscan Sun’, which looks fantastic in the garden with the other roses, the clear blues, and multiple greens of the garden – tones that can only be photographed in soft light, here, with high clouds on an overcast day.

When you find a rose you want to photograph in the bright sun, you can use a scrim to soften the light, which I will talk about later in the book, or simply wait for some shade. The color of the light changes in the shade, and that too, I will talk about later, but see how much nicer this rose looks in the shade as opposed to the hot contrasty sun.

Before and After Slider

My favorite time to photograph a garden is early morning. Late in the day is also a great time for good light but I really like the morning because the air is often clearer and the roses are more perky.

David Austin English Rose (Rosa ) 'Christopher Marlowe'; dawn in California rose garden.

I photographed this English rose ‘Christopher Marlowe’ in soft light just after dawn and was able to capture the sunburst through the distant trees.

A fun technique for making interesting photographs is to try to find some provocation or intrigue, something interesting, whimsical, distinctive or unexpected in the garden.  Investigate the details, look for the unusual, challenge yourself to see things new.

On a rainy morning this rose ‘Young Lycidas’ this was falling all over under the weight of the raindrops, and I found it against some blue pansies in the distance. An unexpected view, intriguing, fun to look at.

Rosa 'Young Lycidas' Austin Rose flowers, drooping with rain drops, Filoli garden

Or this ‘Handel’ rose, photographed with the sun right behind it creating a provocative looking picture – fun to look at. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your camera, break the “rules” in trying to capture your feelings.

Rose, climbing 'Handel'

Let your pictures tell a story.  A good picture is not simply one that is technically correct or easy to look at, it should invite the viewer to learn something about the garden as you see it. Be conscious of taking a picture and think about what you are saying.

Statue of classical woman as focal point in axis of rose garden; Magowan garden

The focus of this photograph is clearly the statue, but unmistakably we’re in a rose garden, it is more than just the roses.

The story here, of the rose ‘Constance Spry’ is about the bench not just the rose.

Pink flowering English Shrub Rose, 'Constance Spry' on garden bench

Don’t you just want to sit here and be here enveloped by this rose?  Actually, if you are a photographer, you probably want to be here with your camera.

Roses can be used many ways in the garden. Think about what pleases you as you hunt for pictures, and tell your story of the rose. Look how great this Salvia ‘Caradonna’ looks with the Rose ‘Strawberry Hill’.

Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna', Garden sage aka Meadow Sage or Balkan Clary, with Rosa 'Strawberry Hill' English Rose in mixed border

One photograph tells a story about the blue-purple Salvia, and how a pink rose can blend with it.  Another photograph shows the rose blended with the salvia.

Rosa 'Strawberry Hill' English Rose with Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' Garden sage

As a rose photographer, trust your instincts about beauty and carefully compose an image of the rose as an essence of the garden.

Have fun and be grateful you are a photographer working with beauty.