Some garden photography tips are timeless, some are a matter of knowing what to see, and others use the magic of the digital age.

Rhododendron ‘Bibiana’ flowering in Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden near Fort Bragg, California has a very distinctive climate, being right next to the Pacific Ocean, where the marine influence keeps it from ever getting much below freezing, and coastal summer fogs keep it from ever getting truly hot.

This temperate climate allows for a vast variety of plants to thrive, and it is especially known for its large collection of rhododendron, but also a wonderful collection of Heathers, and even a Desert Garden with a summer-dry plants.

The casual photographer might think bright sun would be best for photographing desert plants and succulents, and while there are special cases to shoot a landscape in bright sun, generally the first rule of garden photography is to always avoid shooting in bright sun.

The shadows are too deep, the highlights burn out, and colors take on a harsh almost metallic look. Wait for soft light, even if it means returning to the scene at dusk, as I did here.

Another tip for photographing gardens is the simple recognition that you are photographing plants, and when you find a plant combination you like, often you can walk around that combination and find different views of the same plants.

Here, I love the red Leucadendron ‘Winter Fire’ and it especially looked nice with the chartreuse Euphorbia characias ssp.wulfenii, so in order to get an nice shot of the Euphorbia I realized I could walk around the backside of the scene, look back, and use the red of the Leucadendron and as a soft background.

The next tip is purely a result of the digital age. This next photo is one I would have never taken if I had to use film and did not have the ability to retouch. This beautiful golden Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Aurea’) is right by the road and entry to the botanic garden, thick utility wires run behind it.

Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Aurea’ – Golden Monterey cypress tree in Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden

But with the eraser or healing tool that I use in post production ( I use Adobe Bridge) it’s very, very easy to clone out the wires and replace them with the background right above or below. In this case, is particularly easy because the background is in soft focus and there are no sharp lines that would give away the cloning technique.

Almost like magic.