The Photographic Garden

A preview of Matthew Benson’s new book

By Matthew Benson

Photography by Matthew Benson


A unique garden in MaineWith a few exceptions, however, there’s something disorienting about the garden viewed from too high above, because it’s not how we experience it. Height flattens out perspective, and strips away our more sensual understanding of a place. It can be fascinating, but inhuman somehow and remote.

I once worked with an aerial photographer who was quite successful circling over cruise ships in a chopper or capturing golf courses from 3,000 feet, but on the ground he seemed less in his element, less able to make close connections. He would wear funny-colored suspenders and bright shirts to make up for his modest people skills.

Shooting from above also lacks intimacy, movement, smell, touch, and delicacy—all sensations we expect from a garden. Being in the garden at eye level with your camera, putting the viewer right inside the experience, is ultimately the most satisfying point of view. —Matthew Benson

Becoming a Storyteller

Technique: If visual narrative is the goal, work with all of your lenses in order to tell a complete story. Come in close, pull back, drop focus, and shoot deep. For a story to maintain a viewer’s interest, it needs to have multiple points of view. Use as many techniques as you can to convey meaning, or chose a particular story line and stick to it in order to make a singular statement.

Assignment: Choose any garden that intrigues or delights you and shoot images to explain what it is about the place that grabs you. Pick a very particular aspect of a garden and shoot that edited idea only, then pull back to tell the broader story.

Working with Point of View

Technique: If point of view is not only where you are when you shoot, but also your disposition toward your subject, then you need to remain flexible in order to find images that work. It’s your job to convey something specific about a garden, not just generalized loveliness.

Assignment: In the garden, choose a single planting and change your perspective after each shot. Shoot tight as well as pulled back, assessing the effect of each point of view. Every plant has an ideal photographic perspective that should be sought out, one that speaks to its character; your point of view should explore those ideas.

The Photographic Garden: Mastering the Art of Digital Garden Photography, by Matthew Benson, published by Rodale/Organic Gardening is on sale now.