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International Garden Photographer blog

Find out about the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition and how you can get involved. It’s the world’s premier competition for garden, plant and flower photography and culminates each year, in an outdoor exhibition at Kew Gardens.

In this blog we will be helping you to get the best out of your photography – both at Kew Gardens, Wakehurst and other locations. We will pack it with ideas for creating your own projects, plus give you professional tips on how to improve your picture-taking.

International Garden Photographer of the Year website

Last call for International Garden Photography competition entries

By: Philip Smith - 09 Oct 2013
There are just three weeks to go to get your entries in for this year’s International Garden Photographer of the Year competition - deadline 31 October.
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We get a lot of people come to us at shows or workshops who say ‘I wish I’d entered’, or ‘I’ve only just got my first camera so I’m not really good enough’, or simply ‘We’re just not brave enough to enter’!

Actually, IGPOTY is an ideal competition for first timers as we have a special New Shoots award which is specifically for people who have not entered IGPOTY before, or at any time in the last three years.

Read more about the New Shoots category of the IGPOTY competition

We are looking for photographers who have only recently been inspired by the world of gardens and plants. We want to encourage emerging talent – and you can be any age to enter. You don’t need a fancy or expensive camera - many of our New Shoots images are taken on compact cameras and that’s absolutely fine.

Primula Vialii by Zoe Ferrie

Primula Vialii by Zoe Ferrie

And don’t forget, everyone who enters IGPOTY can request personal feedback on their images from the judges (after the competition), so you get a full critique of your pictures and tips from the professionals on how to improve your photography.

If you’re still not sure, Kew is an ideal place to start – why not visit the IGPOTY exhibition which is currently on show in the Nash Conservatory for inspiration - plus there are endless opportunities within Kew to shoot great pictures.

The grounds, plants, flowers, textures, buildings and more – all make fabulous subjects. If you need a little focus, try shooting for just one specific IGPOTY category – edibles, flowers, or perhaps trees - and set yourself a mini challenge to shoot pictures specifically to enter the competition.

Tender vegetation by Diane Varner

Tender vegetation by Diane Varner

Often less is more, so think carefully about composition, check that everything in the frame deserves to be there, and ensure your image is as good as possible technically. Check for sharpness on key elements and work hard to get a good exposure – it really can make a lot of difference.

This time of year it’s worth getting up early too – early morning mist and soft light are perfect conditions!

Go on, go for it!

- Philip Smith -


Related links


IGPOTY 6 book 


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Finding inspiration

By: Philip Smith - 16 Sep 2013
As the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition deadline - October 31st - approaches, Philip Smith offers a few tips about photographing autumn
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We are coming into the final run-up for the seventh International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) competition. There will be a lot of photographers still wondering which photographs to enter – and equally there will be a lot of people planning to create some new material just for the competition. As IGPOTY 2013 draws to a close, there is still plenty of time to produce that award-winning image – all we need is a bit of inspiration!

Autumn in Europe is a fantastic season for photographing plants and gardens – arguably the best. There is still an abundance of colour and texture in the garden. Seedheads add graphic and structural interest. The low autumn sun can glow with a warm richness – at any time of the day.

Photo titled Bound to Prosper

Bound to Prosper by Diane Varner. Second Place 2008.

But where to look for inspiration? Obviously, a good place to look for ideas is the International Garden Photographer of the Year website. Here you will find a feast of photography from some of the best photographers in the world – these images can really set the juices running!

Visiting gardens where you know there is good autumn colour is a good idea – Wakehurst Place looks wonderful at this time of year.

Photo of trees in Utah

Trees in Utah by Micha Pawlitzki. Commended 2009

Autumn colour is not just about trees - late-flowering plants like Crocosmia and Helenium provide vibrant and dramatic colours just waiting to be captured in camera!

Photo of flowers in rain

Summer in rain by Magda Wasiczek

But here are some suggestions to help you find inspiration that may not be too obvious at first:

  • have a look at historical photography - for example Karl Blossfeldt, Robert Mapplethorpe's tulips, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston's bell peppers, or Man Ray's calla lilies – all masters of the photographic arts who found flowers to be stimulating and rewarding subjects
  • don’t forget painters through the centuries – we can learn a lot about composition from the exquisite still-life arrangements of past centuries
  • go on a workshop to meet other photographers, see their work and share experiences
  • make the best of misty autumn mornings – spider webs look magical in early morning dew
  • insects are still around, but they move more slowly in the cooler temperatures – making it easier to frame up that winning shot

- Philip -


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IGPOTY exhibition at Wakehurst Place

By: Philip Smith - 18 Jul 2013

Come and see the International Garden Photography of the Year (IGPOTY) exhibition at Wakehurst Place. And Philip Smith offers some top tips for photographing plants and water.

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IGPOTY at Wakehurst Place

It was hot, my goodness it was hot, when we set up this year’s Wakehurst Place exhibition in the Millennium Seed Bank this week. It opened on July 17th and runs until September 20th. 

Photo of IGPOTY exhibition in the MSB at Wakehurst Place

Exhibition in the Millenium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place

The exhibition showcases winners and finalists from four IGPOTY categories – the Beauty of Plants, Macro Art (winners only), Beautiful Gardens, and WiIdflower Landscapes. It’s always wonderful to come to Wakehurst – the wildflower landscapes in high summer are really among the most exciting places we visit. They shout ‘biodiversity’ in a riot of colour. But a very calm, quiet and wonderfully textured riot.

Visitors often take their cameras to Wakehurst in the autumn to capture the leaf colour but a visit now – when it first opens up in the morning – will provide you with a huge number of opportunities to photograph a vast range of wildflowers. Look out especially for the wildflower meadows on the way to the MSB - on your way to the exhibition in fact! 

Photo of Dew-drop mini-daisies

"Dew-drop mini-daisies" by finalist; Alan Bryant 

Plants and Water macro project

We are now well into our new photo project category, Plants and Water – ironic as the weather here in the UK is turning into a long, hot, dry summer. But we always have the water lily collections and the plants at Kew are second to none. 

Photo of Waterlily

"Waterlily" by Tony Keene. Commended. 

Top tips for photographing plants and water

  • Go out first thing in the morning to capture dewdrops. By 7.30am they will be gone.
  • Reflections create symmetry but make sure the symmetry is well composed in the frame of the image
  • Don’t wait for rain – it might not get here this month!
  • Create still lifes with water indoors – get creative with soaked coloured papers, submerged plants, even iced flowers
  • Try not to use a glycerine spray to mimic raindrops – the magazines often advise this technique – don’t – it’s rubbish!
  • Don’t forget seaside and coastal plants – sea holly and horned poppies are strong shapes and are very photogenic 

- Philip - 



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July news from the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition

By: Philip Smith - 08 Jul 2013
As Summer finally arrives, I thought I'd update you about a few of our activities here at IGPOTY.
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The Plants and Water project

The seventh annual International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) competition opened in March 2013 and the deadline for final submissions is October 31st 2013.

Alongside the main competition we also run three Photo Projects: seasonal competitions based on specific themes. The third and final one of these opened on 1 July and the deadline is 31 August. The theme is Plants and Water. 

Water plants, bog plants, plants by the sea, and by rivers and lakes. These specialist plants can take the most beautiful forms, from water lilies to sea hollies - and can be photographed against harmonious and beguiling watery backdrops. And if you live nearby, don't forget the wonderful water lilies at Kew!

More details about how to enter are on the IGPOTY website.

Photo of a lone lilypad

 Lone Lily pad by Deborah Casso


Winners exhibition at Wakehurst Place

An exhibition of a selection of winning photographs from IGPOTY 6 opens at Wakehurst Place on July 17th.

The exhibition  focuses on entries in the 'Beauty of Plants' and 'Beautiful Gardens' categories.

Entry to the exhibition is free with your admission to Wakehurst.

More information about visiting Wakehurst Place


Photo of an orchard Path 

Orchard Path at Sunrise by Carol Casselden

IGPOTY 6 at the Bankside Gallery

From 10-14 July we will be at the Bankside Gallery, just along from Tate Modern on London's south bank. We will be showing all of exhibition 6 - the first time we have been able to exhibit in London with free admission! All of the team will be on hand during the show and we would love for you to come and say hello.

Open daily 11am - 6pm

Admission Free

48 Hopton Street, London, SE1 9JH | 020 7928 7521

More information about International Garden Photographer of the Year at Bankside Gallery

Misty mountains

Misty mountains by Gloria King

If you can make it along, I hope you enjoy one or both of the exhibitions - but whether you can or not, why not have a go at entering the competition?

Good luck!

- Philip -

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The art of macro photography - top tips from IGPOTY

By: Philip Smith - 06 Jun 2013
The IGPOTY Macro Art photo project is open for entries until 30 June. If you're thinking of entering - or if you're interested in macro photography - IGPOTY director Philip Smith offers some top tips.
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Over the last twenty years the development of macro lenses has opened up a whole world of photo opportunities for those of us interested in the fine details of life – the tiny, the unexpected, the easily overlooked.

This is a photo of a Dutch Iris (Iridaceae hollandica Apollo) taken with a 185mm macro lens. The macro shot reveals the delicate pattern of veining on the petal. The background is a dark shrub - blurred to a subtle tone by the lens's high magnification. 

Photo of a Dutch Iris (Iridaceae hollandica Apollo) taken with a 185mm macro lens

Dutch Iris (Iridaceae hollandica Apollo) taken with a 185mm macro lens (Photo: Philip Smith)

Macro lenses can be very expensive. Do I need one to do close-ups?

Well, yes and no. You can do close-ups with a non-macro lens. But they will not be as close up as the close-up you get with a macro lens. A macro lens enables you to have subjects the same size on the sensor as they are in real life. So if you are photographing a 5mm bit of leaf – it will be 5 mm as the sensor sees it. A non-macro lens can’t do that kind of thing. And some macro lenses will do more than a 1 to 1 ratio – they will do 1 to 4 or 1 to 8 even. So yes, tiny things can look really big in the image.

Macro lenses come in different focal lengths – 50 mm or 105 mm or 180 mm – which one should I be using?

A lot of photographers feel that a 105 mm macro lens is really useful. Indeed, it is really my ‘workhorse’ for plant portraits. The longer the focal length the greater the degree of magnification; so if you have a 180 mm or 200 mm macro lens, you can really zoom in on small details.

That sounds really good – is there a downside to the big lenses (apart from the cost)?

Well, yes. The depth of field – the amount of the picture that will be in focus – is really small and so you have to be very careful with focusing. This can be tricky, but it does mean it's easier to get a really out-of-focus background – very useful if you are looking for a good separation between the plant and its background. This photo of a delphinium bud, taken with a 105 mm lens, shows how a macro lens creates a clear distinction between in-focus foreground and blurred background. It creates an image which takes us away from reality and into the world of imagination

Photo of a Delphinium bud, taken with a 105 mm lens

Delphinium bud, taken with a 105 mm lens - an image which takes us away from reality and into the world of imagination (Photo: Sarah-fiona Helme)

I’m using a small compact camera which has a macro setting – is this any good?

It’s better than nothing and enables you to get closer shots than you might otherwise do.

I’ve decided to enter the International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) Macro Art Photo project. The deadline is June 30th 2013. What do I have to remember?

  • Remember that detail is everything with macro. Don’t let anything be out of place – no stray foliage, no background light that you don’t want.
  • Aim for an even light over the subject. Use a reflector – a piece of card or foil if you don’t have a pro reflector – to bounce natural light into the subject.
  • Camera shake is a real issue with macro work because the scale is so tiny. Use a good sturdy tripod if possible. This is preferable to using post-production to image stabiliser technology.
  • Try to focus manually. Autofocus will often lock onto the wrong area of the image with macro shots.
  • Be bold. Go abstract, go wild and have fun. Don’t be satisfied with your first go. Keep at it and strive for perfection. Be critical of your own work. Flickr etc have us believe that every photograph ever taken anywhere in the world is ‘awesome’. Sadly the big news is that this is not the case. Get the detail right and everything else will follow.

The International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) Macro Art Photo project

The IGPOTY Macro Art photo project is open for entries until 30 June 2013.
The seventh annual IGPOTY competition has eight categories to enter and is open until 31 October 2013. Find out more about the competition and how to enter on the IGPOTY website.

The winner wins £500 cash and all finalists will be exhibited at Kew and Wakehurst in 2014.

Good luck!

- Philip -

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About Philip Smith

Philip Smith with his camera

Philip Smith is a professional photographer specialising in gardens and plants with 15 years’ experience. His photography has featured in many magazines and books including The English Garden, The Garden (RHS) , and Gardeners’ World. His work has also featured in exhibitions at Kew Gardens and the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley and London.

As co-founder and Managing Director of the International Garden Photographer of the Year Philip is responsible for the world’s premier competition in the field, which culminates in an annual exhibition at Kew Gardens and other venues. Philip is the author of Better Plant and Garden Photography.

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