At Home: Tips for taking better photos of garden, wildlife

Gauging the light, using tripods help improve images

So the garden you planted or enjoy each day is flowering. Birds and animals are busy in your yard or neighborhood. And you’d love to capture all this natural beauty in photos.


It’s so easy these days to pull out a smartphone and take pictures of anything anytime, but a little time and thought can produce better garden and wildlife photos.

“There’s a big difference between that for-the-record shot that preserves a memory and getting a really nice image,” said Brenda Tharp, author of the new book “Expressive Nature Photography” (The Monacelli Press).

Pause before pressing the shutter, she says, and consider: Is the light right? Can you give your photo a unique point of view by shooting from different angles and levels, moving to the side, crouching or standing on something?

Some tips from Tharp and other nature photographers:

n The rule of thirds.

Resist the temptation to center the subject, suggests Rob Simpson, an instructor in nature photography at Lord Fairfax College in Middletown, Va. Think of your photo as a tic-tac-toe board, and place the subject in one of the off-center thirds of the space.

“It’s going to make the photo more pleasing to the eye,” he said. “It gives it balance.”

n Texture is terrific.

One of the most exciting things about photographing flowers and leaves is capturing something that passersby won’t see — their textures up-close, says Patty Hankins, a floral photographer in Bethesda, Md., who sells her work and offers photography tips at

A camera’s “macro” setting lets you take an extreme close-up and keep it in focus.

n Staying still.

When using the macro setting, keep the camera as still as possible, Hankins says.

“If you’re taking a picture of the Grand Canyon and your hand shakes a little, people aren’t likely to notice,” she said. “But if you’re taking a photo of the center of a sunflower, they’re much more likely to see it.”

A tripod can help. Look for one that is lightweight and can lower to the ground, she says. If you don’t own a tripod, find somewhere solid to place the camera or set it on a bean bag or bag of rice on the ground, and use the timer to take the photo. Many cameras also have settings designed to reduce vibrations.

n Practice perimeter patrol.

Before you shoot, scan the edges of your picture for buildings, outdoor furniture or other things that could distract from your subject.

n Light matters.

Often, outdoor photos come out better on cloudy days or when the sun isn’t directly overhead, Simpson says. The soft light that comes through on an overcast day won’t cast harsh shadows, and may result in a more even exposure and better details.