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Taking your time

Philip Smith
6 June 2012
Blog team: 
Philip Smith considers his recent workshops and lectures on the theme of 'Better Plant and Garden Photography' and notes that photography, like coffee, is better if it's not instant.

If I were to see a bandwagon rolling down the street I would be very tempted to jump up on it. Actually, I’ve been thinking of changing my name to Phil.i.ip. But then Ralph the village postman would doubtless make a rude joke about it – he is already in stitches every time I have to sign for a parcel for ‘IGPOTY’ – well, whatever gets you through the day.

Then I wondered if I could make the theme of this month’s blog the Jubilee and Olympics. You know – ‘Going for Gold’ with IGPOTY – or ‘we salute your 5 glorious years, your IGPOTY-ness’. But then everyone’s doing that.....  So I think I’m better off sharing some thoughts on garden photography.

A recent shoot in Dorset - Rodgersia by a pond . Time of shoot - 5.20 am.

Recent workshops

During the last couple of months, I have been doing quite a few workshops and lectures on the subject, and love every minute of it.

One thing I think about all the time is the fact that people come to these events with a very wide range of experience and expectation. On the one hand, there may be somebody in the group who knows more technical stuff than me – while at the same time there may be someone just starting out on photography as a hobby.

Surprisingly, there is always someone – at least one person – who does not know how to operate their camera. I don’t mean how to adjust the settings – I mean doesn’t even know how to turn it on. So it’s quite a stretch catering for both ends of that spectrum.

In response to this challenge, I try to look for the common ground and talk about aspects of photography that don’t have anything to do with what kind of camera you own, or your level of experience.


In a lecture we look at these two shots (above). On the left is an entry into the competition and on the right my simulation of what would happen if the photographer had filled the frame with the subject - taking maybe half a pace towards it and turning the camera round. Which do you prefer - and why?

Inspired in Devon

This all came to mind this week. My wife and I found ourselves on the edge of Dartmoor for a meeting. It was a lovely day so afterwards we decided to visit The Garden House near Yelverton. It is a garden I have photographed in the past – mainly in winter for the snowdrop collection that Matt Bishop has developed there. But today couldn’t have been more different – fiercely hot on the hilltop – bright midday sunshine. The garden was packed out and the plant sales were doing a roaring trade.

My wife was happy to add to that roar, and so I wandered off to sit on a bench and do some people watching. Lots of people taking photographs – on tiny cameras, on phones, on big DSLR jobs – the whole range.

In haste

I reckoned that on average people were spending about 8 seconds on each frame they shot. What that implies is that the photographers were thinking that the camera would transform the 3D view in front of them, experienced by the incredible technology of our brains and eyes, into a 2D rectangle without losing any of the atmosphere or visual impact of the outstanding planting at the Garden House.

And the time spent on the shot was the same regardless of whether the camera was big or small. Very few people looked at the image after they had clicked the shutter – and if they did – it was a cursory glance – as if to see whether it had ‘come out’ or not.

So in the workshops and lectures we talk about spending more time considering the shot, we look at composition, light, your position relative to your subject (99.5% of photographs at the Garden House that day were taken at eye level – standing up with the camera held out in front, or up to the eye – why?). We talk about the way the brain can edit out the irrelevant stuff when looking at a flower border, but the camera can’t - unless you work at it and develop your techniques.

We talk about things you can do to ensure that – within that 2D rectangle – you can bring home some of the feeling, the atmosphere, the colour and vibrancy of your day at the garden.

And all of that applies whether you have spent £2000 or £200 on your camera gear.

Time, consideration, some simple techniques, looking at the light – the simple truth about all photography regardless of equipment.

So please come and join the IGPOTY bandwagon. Our next lecture is at Rheged Discovery Centre, Cumbria, June 24th.We are also at Wakehurst for a one day workshop on the 18 October.

- Philip -


Find out more

The 2012 IGPOTY competition  is now open with over £10,000 worth of cash prizes on offer. Go the website to learn how you can enter – or just benefit from being on the IGPOTY bandwagon!


23 May 2013
As to your observation that people tend to spend far too little time on each shot when taking (plant) pictures: I couldn't agree more. As it happens I published a post on the same subject two day ago called "Relating to your subject".

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