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I’ve mentioned before that I’m quite keen on photography. I’m fairly confident about my technical use of the camera. I never shoot on full auto, however whilst I know how to drive the camera I’ve never felt that I have an artistic flair. This is something I’ve wanted to work on for some time. My wife is the opposite, she can instantly see interesting angles/shots, but struggles with the nitty-gritty of f-stops/ISO. Which is nice because we can help each other out, but still I would like to take better photos on my own. Last year I saw a great pie chart saying – How much is done by the camera vs the photographer, which had the camera showing only 5% and the photographer being 95%. Some wag had left a comment saying “Wow you must have an incredible camera”. And I’m sure it is true that a great image depends more on the subject and the composition chosen, not the camera it was taken on. With this in mind I thought it would be great to seek advice from a pro. Therefore last Saturday I spent that day at Painswick Rococo Gardens with the photographer Stephen Studd having a 1:1 workshop.

Stephen said that often it is more important about what to take out of an image than what to include. This is one of the first photos I took.

PainswickAs you can see it’s a bit of a boring shot, OK it tells you that I was there but it’s not really going to grace the cover of Gardens Illustrated.Β  I picked this angle so that I could use the foliage in the foreground to hide a bench on the path. To make it more interesting I decided to focus on a plant in the foreground and have the structure in the background out of focus, so this was the second shot.

PainswickHowever it’s still not right, the spikes on the top are cut-off halfway up. Stephen suggested that rather than include whole of them in it would be better to lose them completely, so this was the final image, in which I also threw the background further out of focus.

PainswickNote that all the images I have posted up are as they are straight out of the camera. I quite like how the eye is drawn from the flowers in the front to the structure at the back and then finally across to the urn.

I was expecting Stephen to make suggestions as to what to photograph, but he didn’t do that at all, he let me pick what I wanted and then made suggestions about things to think about whilst shooting. So after this we tried some photos of the wildflowers amongst trees, Stephen recommended that I keep an eye out for triangles which can lead the eye around the frame. We also worked on some plant portraits and I finally got an image of a Snake’s Head Fritillary that I am happpy with. I also got a nice shot of Lady’s Smock/Cuckoo Flower

The next shots that I took were of rows of lettuce, which sounds boring, but the lines of them planted up really caught my eye, and it was actually a really good exercise in looking at the subject from all angles. At one point I was thinking of giving up, but Stephen encouraged me to keep going and I was able to get a shot I was happy with. painswick lettuce

Once I cleaned it up a bit to lose some of the stones that draw the eye, I could really see it working as a stock image used by one of the gardening magazines. Whilst I understand the relationship between f-stop and depth of field, and can generally have a reasonable idea what will work where, Stephen recommended that I spend a fair amount of time getting to really know my lenses under set conditions. This means setting up a tripod at home and taking a series of images at different focal lengths and different apertures, so that I know exactly at any given distance to subject how much of the subject will be in focus for each of the lenses I have. This is definitely something I will be doing soon.

After exploring the kitchen garden we headed up to a fairly iconic structure of Painswick; the Exedra. I could vaguely remember this from our last visit, but I had no recollection of the flower borders in front of it.

Painswick exedra
This was the first shot I took. Thinking about the rule of thirds I decided to put the Exedra to the left of the shot. It’s alright, but the foreground is blank and messy, and the path in the bottom right-hand corner is visible, so at Stephens suggestion I moved a little bit over to the right. Here’s the second.

Painswick exedraBut whilst the foreground is better, the top left-hand corner isn’t well balanced. The spike is almost out of the image. Stephen says that a good portion of taking photographs and adjusting compositions is “sorting out the corners”. Here is my final image.

Painswick exedraVery similar, but I’ve sorted out the corner. Whilst superficially similar to the first image I do think it is the stronger shot.

We took various different shots around the garden. Stephen says that when you are at a location taking photographs it is important to “tell a story”. This can be in the one image, or it can be through a series of images. I won’t bore you with all my photos of Painswick, but I do think that if I was asked to illustrate a brochure about the garden in late spring I’d have enough images to do so.

I found myself often drawn to more abstract images. Below is the maze that Painswick is famous for. From above the hedges trace out the number 250, since the maze was planted in 1980 to commemorate the garden’s anniversary. Instead of going high up the hill and depicting the numbers I opted for this for shot.

Painswick mazeI quite like the abstract nature and the diagonal and the lines. This shot like many of the ones on the day was taken on my tripod. As well as providing a stable base for the shots tripods force you to slow down and really think about the composition. For some of my early handheld photos I would take the shot, step away to look at the image and then make an adjustment on the camera and then have to try to recompose again. With the tripod the camera hasn’t moved so you can make the slight adjustments to composition much more easily.

I really enjoyed the day, I would heartily recommend that if there is a particular aspect of photography then you should seek the advice from a professional. Stephen does photography holidays in the far east, group day workshops as well as 1:1 shoots. I am going to spend the summer trying to perfect my techniques and then would like to do another session in the autumn as a follow-up.