What makes the difference between a family snapshot in the garden and an award-winning photograph in the 'People in the Garden' category of International garden Photographer of the Year?
This month, the People’s Choice winner is Steve Satushek for a photograph of his daughter in Washington, USA. It was striking that Steve’s portrait was way ahead of all the other contenders in this month’s vote – it really struck a chord.
Steve Satushek, Girl in her Garden, Finalist, Competition 3
In the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition, 'People in the Garden' is a popular category. So what makes the difference between a family snapshot and an award-winning photographic portrait like Steve’s?
Well, a lot of it is about the relationship between the subject and the photographer. If the subject is not in a mood to be photographed, then the result will look artificial, however skilled the photographer is. As always, light is important; in Steve’s photograph the soft overcast light does not bleach out the child’s delicate features and enables the photographer to render the pastel shades of the flowers with great delicacy.
Then there is that elusive quality called ‘mood’ – the point where subject matter, composition and photographic technique come together and allow an image to ‘speak’ to the viewer without words or explanation. We are fortunate over the years to have seen many good examples; in last year's competition, Gösta Lindbom’s ‘Autumn in the Garden’ is my personal favourite; it’s like a Beethoven quartet – sad and nostalgic but with a heartfelt peace and appreciation of the moment.
Was this luck or judgement? Certainly photographers can capture the ‘decisive moment’ by just pressing the shutter at the right moment; but a great portrait is also the right combination of instinct and skill. Photographing people in the garden is often quite a difficult task since it is so easy for the background to distract attention fro the central subject. Note how Steve Satushek has handled this; he has allowed the foreground flowers to go out of focus so that they become daubs of colour that lead the eye to the subject. The dark foliage in the background does not compete with the light tones in the foreground.
- Better Plant and Garden Photography by Philip Smith is now available from Kew's Online Shop, the Victoria Plaza shop and from the International Garden Photographer of the Year website.
About Philip Smith
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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