Students Photo workshopI really have been having fun running garden photography workshops. Each class has become a lesson on one particular theme, and students always surprise me with what they find.

You too can learn – by giving yourself an assignment, something to work on – and just do it. I have books to help you if you can’t get to a workshop.

For instance “focal points”. Here, at San Francisco Botanical Garden we are using the Japanese lanterns as an element, a focal point to draw the eye into the composition.

Japanese lantern along shaded path, Photo workshop Mon Oct 4 2010

When finding a photo it can be really helpful to compose with some element that will help your viewer focus on the the image and consider what story you are trying to tell. It does not necessarily need to be an object, it can be a bold plant for instance, but something in the photo needs to be the key to understanding it.

Hand in hand with focal points comes “framing”, another common lesson in any workshop on composition. I actually stumbled onto framing as a teaching tool when I watched the students (in the first photo), and noted the tree was a key element in helping to define (frame) the focal point.

Begin to compose with the four edges of the camera viewfinder as a frame to contain the important elements of your photo.

Consider this next scene in the South African collection, also at San Francisco Botanical Garden where I lead many workshops.


The bold, variegated aloe, just beginning to put up its winter flower is an obvious attention grabber. But too often we are struck by the exciting potential of a garden photo and compose it too loosely. Here, the focal point is not well framed; and there is a tree sticking out of the top of the photograph; there is a lot of wasted space.

Consider for a moment what the story is, and make all elements of the composition work for you.


By coming in tighter and using the background shapes to anchor the corners, the aloe is framed and the eye wants to stay in the photograph.

Another classic composition tool is “lines”, a subject of other workshops. Often pathways and walls offer the photographer some simple tools that draw the viewer into and through the photo, connecting the elements into one frame.


Here, the line of the pathway that runs between these two sections of the succulent garden at SFBG help connect the left and right sides, pulling the eye into the focal point which is the beautiful gray Agave in the distance where the path disappears and the line ends. Note the other elements that frame the scene: the line of Agave at the bottom, the group on the left, and the little explosion of shapes in the upper right.

All these tools hold this fairly complicated photo together while the line pulls you into the focal point.

Used this way, the lines not only draw the eye into the photo, they carry the eye across the composition.

SFBG workshop Oct 18, 2010

In this photo, of a student at work using the camera to frame the scene, before she moves the tripod into final position, (you will use the tripod, right, Angela ?) note there are multiple lines. The pathway steps lead the eye from top to bottom, while the row of bromeliads and aloe lead left to right – directly to the focal point of the photographer.

Hmmm . . . . the wonderful hot pink spot of color in her scarf helps this composition as well. Look for future lessons on color as a composition tool.

Whether or not you can get to a workshop, there are many ways to improve your photography and many elements of effective composition. My Workshop e-books are designed to give you your own assignments.

Composite 3 covers of PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshops

Composite 3 covers of PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshops

Each lesson in the PhotoBotanic Workshop e-books gives you something to work on.  Don’t just read them, use them.

Experience is by far the best teacher and you learn by doing. Give yourself something to work on – and go do it.

Buy the e-books in the Store.