The Photographic Garden

A preview of Matthew Benson’s new book

By Matthew Benson

Photography by Matthew Benson


tell your garden's story through photographsIf a garden means anything, it is a wish for beauty, for order, and for connectedness with natural things. We are outcasts from the first Genesis garden, after all, trying desperately to be let back in, to find purpose and meaning in our relationship with creation. The garden photograph that becomes art is one that transcends time and place and says something meaningful about what it is to be human with all of our senses awakened.

The artful photograph isn’t a post-production trick in Photoshop or a clever manipulation that is an end in itself; it is at once deeply personal and universal. And because we live in a time where real experience has often been superceded by the image, and much of our understanding of life comes through a virtual filter, making the photograph that is not a counterfeit or borrowed idea is a significant challenge.

We live according to images in a way that was never possible before. Digital and social media and the Internet saturate us with such a high-def idea of life that the personal has become almost banal. If an image is to succeed as art, it needs to layer the known with what is unknowable, the material with the spiritual. It must reflect reality while at the same time transforming it beyond its literal prototype, so that the artist’s vision and the real scene are both reflected in the image.

Point of View
Always be open to a new way of seeing. Never just stand square-footed and click, and have that be your point of view. Change your perspective so that you’re shooting from below, from above, from in between, and from the side. Surprise yourself with a new way of seeing the garden by taking chances. Many of these photographs will disappoint, but for every dozen or so that don’t work, one will capture something fresh that you hadn’t anticipated. Allow the camera to see for you; it has its own point of view, after all. Take advantage of its perspective on the garden.

Digital photography allows you the freedom to explore possibilities, to make mistakes, to reinvent images after the fact in postproduction. The only constraints present are a lack of technical understanding and weak visual ideas. Every individual will develop his own way of seeing, his own affinities for color, light, and form. Just as gardens themselves differ according to the tastes and style of the designer, your garden photographs need to evolve out of your own visual interests. You may be passionate about color or pattern or close detail. These predilections will evolve the more you shoot in the garden and the more familiar you become with technology and the fundamentals of light and design.

The running joke with me is that no matter how grand or spacious the garden, I always find myself backed up into a thorn-armored rose hedge, or flattened against an uncomfortable wall or fence. The best shots always seem to demand some physical compromise, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay. I’m even willing to hang off the edge of a roof (assistant clutching my ankles!) to get a shot, or climb atop a high ladder or precariously perch myself up in a tree. The image you’re after is all that matters now, and you’re willing to do what it takes to get it. This is often what stands between a good shot and a great one: your commitment to being in the right place at the right time, no matter where or when that is.

Buy The Photo Graphic Garden now.