Winter in the garden is a time of clarity – at least in terms of light, colour and texture. Gone, for now, are the gentle swathes of summer meadow grasses, the drifts of pastel colour in
the cottage garden and a sense of hazy timelessness that only summer can bring.
Instead, on those days when the sun does shine, we’re treated to long, raking shadows,
crisp light and patches of vibrant colour that stand out from the dark decay and
dormancy all around.
For the photographer this opens up a host of new opportunities, so now is the time to wrap
up warm, brave the elements and photograph your local parks and gardens in winter. Here
are seven tips and ideas to get you started…
1. Show texture and form.
Summer flower heads and the fruits of autumn, when they’re allowed to remain over the
winter, take on a graphic, textural quality as they whither and dry. Hardly pretty, they
nonetheless make fabulous subjects for photography, especially in toned black and white.
Look out too for strongly textured surfaces such as tree bark, which takes on a particularly
sculptured, 3-D look in low-angled winter sun.
2. Capture Jack Frost
A sharp frost can bring even the most mundane subject to life. Frost-tipped leaves and
stems can take on a pseudo ‘rim-lighting’ appearance, the crispy white edges providing
beautiful separation from a dark background.
3. Find winter colour.
Even in the depths of winter there are still plenty of colourful flowers around, especially in
specialist all year round botanical gardens such as those at Ness on The Wirral and the
National Trust winter garden at Dunham Massey. Many late-summer flowers can easily
hang on until the first frosts and it’s not long before the first bulbs start to show their faces.
There are a surprising number of popular flowering shrubs around in the winter and one of
the most striking when caught by the winter sunshine is Hamamelis – more commonly
known as witch hazel…
Hellebores, snowdrops, heathers and ….there’s plenty of colour around if you venture
outside to look.
4. Ice and Snow
Many formal gardens are closed in the winter (one notable exception locally is Trentham
Gardens) and when the snow does fall there are the obvious logistical problems of how to
actually get there. If you are lucky enough to be in a picturesque garden during or after
snowfall then make the most of it. Shoot plenty and be careful not to underexpose your
photographs – all that bright white snow can fool the camera’s built-in exposure meter into
thinking there’s more light around than there actually is.
Look out too for close up details such as these intriguing ice sculptures caused by spray
from a cascading stream caught up in a bitterly cold breeze…
5. Shoot Indoors
Winter is a great time to experiment with some indoor flower photography and to learn
about light. All you need is a window where the light is soft and gentle (north-facing is
usually best) and a reflector, such as a large piece of white card, to bounce some light into
the shadow areas if needed.
Try photographing the flower from different sides and observe the different effects you get
when photographing with the window behind you, in front of you (in other words behind the
flower), or at 90 degrees.
6. Stay Warm and Dry
As well as choosing the right clothing – obvious enough – you’ll also need to make sure that your equipment is well prepared, with plenty of fully charged batteries. Make sure too that you’re familiar with your camera settings in order to minimise contact with the cold surfaces.
I’ve found that fingerless gloves inside a large pair of easily removable mittens can be a
boon, as is a tripod that has foam-covered legs – so much more comfortable to carry
around than one with legs of cold steel. Don’t forget your kneeling mat too – soggy knees
in the summer are one thing, but on a cold winter’s day they’re quite another.
7. Photograph Winter Trees
Our native deciduous trees take on a different aura in the winter, their leafless branches
revealing all kinds of interesting shapes and forms. On a bracing walk they make an
interesting subject that doesn’t involve getting down on your hands and knees or specialist
equipment. A good case for point, shoot and carry on walking – photography doesn’t
always have to involve complicated technique.