Composition for Garden Photography

About five months ago, in this column, I reviewed “Good Garden Photography,” which is the first e-book in Saxon Holt’s PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop.

To re-read that column, click Garden Photography.

Holt, as you might recall, is a very productive—and very successful—photographer who has provided stunning photographs for a long list of garden book. In several instances, he is listed with the writer, indicating the value of his photographic contributions.

Holt is also an active educator, offering workshops on garden photography for both beginning and advanced photographers. The e-books in His PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop extend his in-person educational offerings.

The second book in this series, “Think Like a Camera,” includes six lessons on rules for composing photographs. These lessons are more specific than the first book’s more general ideas for the artistry of composing images, which involve positioning the camera in three dimensions, and framing the image that you want to capture.

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“Think Like a Camera” complements the third book in the series, “Think Like a Gardener.”


According to Holt’s preview notes, thinking like a gardener involves “how to find the story to tell when you are overwhelmed by the possibilities…and how to find your own voice as a garden photographer.”

Here are brief notes on each of the chapters of “Think Like a Camera.”

Framing: This chapter addresses forced perspective, i.e., directing the viewer’s attention, and juxtaposition of elements, in which the photographer uses objects within the scene to support the direction of attention.

Focal Points: Here, the photographer chooses a plant, a garden structure or some other object to feature in the photograph. Presumably, every photograph should lead the viewer’s eye to a deliberately chosen focal point.

Leading Lines: The photographer should see fences, walls, streams, rows of plants, hedges, or pathways as lines within the overall composition of a photograph, and use those lines to strengthen the overall composition.

Points of View: In this chapter, Holt discusses the rationale for positioning the camera in three dimensions to create a desired composition. Like all techniques for image composition, deciding on a physical point of view could require study, experimentation or just a flash of insight.

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Space and Shape: When composing an image, the photographer views the scene as the camera does, in two dimensions, studies the spaces and shapes within the scene, and arranges them within the composition. Negative spaces, which can be distinct blocks of muted color or texture, or simply darkness, can be important elements of the composition.

Details and Vignettes: Close in, tightly composed photographs can convey more intimacy than wide-angle shots, and the rules of composition can be used to improve such photographs. (Another book in the series addresses extreme close-ups and macro photography, both of which require special equipment and techniques.)

Each chapter includes exemplary photographs that illuminate the content of the lesson, and ends with Holt’s invitation to take a break and take your camera into a garden to practice the lessons of the chapter.

If you are already pleased with your garden photography, you do not need Holt’s advice. But if you would like to be proud of your garden photos, these books will inspire and guide your shutter work.

The four e-books in Saxon Holt’s PhotoBotanic Garden Photography Workshop are available on his website, The fourth book is scheduled for release in October 2015. Here are images of the four books in the series:

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