Yard art: Find photo inspiration close to home

Chris Young

It’s not necessary to travel far to improve one’s nature photography skills. Great subjects may be as near as the backyard garden. Here are a few tips for making the most of your time, camera gear and budget.

THE ULTIMATE CLASSROOM: Photographing plants in your garden is an excellent opportunity to practice your skills in all types of lighting conditions and at all times of year. Your garden serves as an outdoor classroom. One of the biggest advantages is its proximity. There is no need to travel to a state park or nature preserve, or get a landowner’s permission. The garden is right outside your door.

IDENTIFICATION: Gardeners who also are photographers will learn to identify plants at all stages of development. Watching them grow from sprouts to flowering to seed, it is possible to learn to identify plants, even when they are out of flower. That’s a nice by-product of garden photography.

CAMERA EQUIPMENT: Do not obsess over the type of camera you are using. I always tell my workshop participants that it is what is in your head and your heart that makes good photographs. The camera is just a tool. Even today’s small point-and-shoot cameras capture extremely high-quality images. Do not underestimate them. Lastly, be mindful of the claims of a camera’s zooming capability. Do not fall for digital zooming. This is only cropping. You want optical zoom.

 IF YOU LOVE GADGETS BUT ALSO LOVE TO SAVE MONEY: Substitute tripods are everywhere. A sturdy walking stick, small beanbag, camera bag, tree stump, car hood or other steady surface can be used. The self-timer will prevent you from blurring the picture when you depress the shutter. A car window rolled partway down can steady a longer lens. Use a piece of white foamcore for a backdrop or as a reflector to bounce sunlight into shadow areas and enhance the picture’s lighting. An old blue sweatshirt makes a great dark background.

TRAVEL LIGHT: When you venture beyond the garden, leave the kitchen sink behind. The more complicated set-up that works well at home may not be so handy on a long hike with family. If it takes too long to get your pictures, the rest of the traveling party likely will get bored. Travel fast and light, and have some fun. That’s the main idea. Don’t let photography lapse into work.

Chris Young writes for the State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill.