Garden photography includes photographing flowers and insects. It is very common to see these subjects photographed using a macro lens. This enables you to get close and show a lot of detail. A macro lens tends to be a telephoto lens. For example, mine is 105mm. This enables you to isolate the subject from its background with a shallow depth of field. The image of a Tortoiseshell butterfly here shows the kind of effect we are all familiar with. The background is soft and the subject is sharp. This type of photo lets us look closely at the subject, whether it is an insect or a flower. However, it can obscure the context around it. The blur can leave us guessing what was in the background. The perspective is also quite flat and familiar. One way to try and create something a little different is to use a wideangle lens for garden photography instead of a telephoto or macro lens. Most wideangle lenses can focus very close so you can still get near to your subject. The rest of the images on this page were taken using a 10-24mm wideangle zoom lens (on a cropped sensor DSLR).
A wideangle lens doesn’t just allow you to get more in the frame. It also lets you play with perspective in a different way. Small objects near the lens can be made to look much larger than normal yet still with a lot of background visible. You can blur the background enough to help the viewer know where to look. But, it doesn’t go as smooth as with a telephoto. There is still a broader sense of space and you reveal much more about the context. For example, the flower in the first image could have been taken using a macro lens. This would have enabled us to take a good close look at the flower without any distractions. However, for garden photography, sometimes you want to show it in its context. In this case, the flower was part of a planted bed in the gardens at Sandringham in Norfolk. The house can be seen in the background and the image gives a feel for the gardens and not just the one flower.
Neither approach is more correct than the other, of course. It all depends what effect you want and what the image is for. For many photographers, it is easy to fall into predictable patterns and just photograph everything the same way. Once we find something that works, we sometimes forget to experiment any more. Using a wideangle lens for garden photography is just one way to break out of a rut and explore your creativity.
When photographing insects with a wideangle you find there is the opportunity for some shots to feel more dynamic. It is easier to convey a sense of the insect’s journey around the garden, perhaps. The subject won’t be as large in the image as with a macro lens, but that doesn’t always matter. Garden photography is more about finding an essence of the space. You are trying to convey a feel for the habitat that you have found the plant or insect in. An unusual perspective also helps the viewer to engage more. If an image is very familiar then we don’t look so closely. A different approach can help your image get more attention and maybe also a stronger reaction from your viewers.
One bonus of using a wideangle lens is that it can be easier to photograph insects in flight than when trying to follow them more closely. Wideangle lenses have a larger depth of field so it can be more forgiving if you don’t get your timing 100% accurate. With a shallow depth of field, the insect rapidly moves out of focus, so timing is even more critical.
So, I would encourage you to try using a wideangle lens for your garden photography. You will have to think creatively to come up with something interesting. It is not an easy option. If you don’t have a dedicated wideangle lens then you could even start by trying it using your phone or a compact camera. These normally come fitted with fairly wide lenses. You will not find you have as much control over depth of field as with a DSLR. But, at least you can experiment with composition.
If you do use a specialist lens with a DSLR the challenge is to create images that don’t just look like snapshots. Can you find a way to create something that you couldn’t do with a phone, for example?
To grow in your creativity you need to take time and practise. Give yourself plenty of time to look round a garden and explore as many angles as you can find. Learn from any mistakes or images you don’t like.
So, next time you think about doing some macro photography in a garden, don’t forget your wideangle lens as well! Try garden photography to add context to your detailed close-ups.
© Joe Lenton, September 2015