In our February issue, Stephen Orr introduced us to Marion Brenner, a California-based photographer who expertly captures the character and beauty of gardens around the world. With nearly two decades of experience, shes bursting with tips and tricks for making green spaces look their best.
1. Equip Yourself
For her landscape work, Brenner uses a medium-format Phase One 645 attached to a tripod (it gives her photos a composed, formal look). But for more casual shots, she mainly uses two digital cameras. For professional images, she prefers a Canon 5D, which is much quicker to use and great for catching people or animals on the go. For snapshots, she also carries a Canon G10 point-and-shoot.
2. Take Control
Think like a stylist and physically arrange your shot. Says Brenner: There are some things you can control and some you cant, but if theres a leaf there thats ruining your picture, move it!
3. Think in 2-D
Photography flattens 3-D space, so pay attention to how elements in real life will align on the image. Look out for power lines or objects in the neighbors yard. Our brains tend to filter those things out when looking at the beauty of a flower bed.
4. Create a Pop-Up Studio
If you like doing close-ups, get a scrim. Its a lightweight, pop-up translucent fabric that diffuses light for a close-up and makes the shot look beautiful.
5. Light is the Most Important Thing
Dont try to photograph at midday or when its too sunny and there is excessively sharp contrast. Plants have a lot of visual information in their leaves and textures. The softer light during the magic couple of hours at both ends of the day smooths out harsh edges.
6. Bring the Outdoors In
I deal with natural light, even when Im shooting indoors, Brenner says. Use longer exposure to capture the necessary light.
7. Tell a Story
You know you can take pretty pictures, but you also want the pictures to tell a story, to be about something, says Brenner. Its something to keep in the back of your mind when youre trying to describe a garden.
8. Wait for the Right Shot
When shooting in a public park with groups of people interfering, patience is key. Its as simple as waiting for someone to walk by wearing the right color, says Brenner.
9. Find a Focal Point
Look for a path, a sculpture, or a large container, which can lead your eye into the photo.
10. But Dont Forget to Fill the Shot
Brenner composes from the edges in, and not the center out. You want to feel like youre in the space, she says.
Taylor Combs is an Assistant Digital Editor at Martha Stewart. Shes obsessed with neon and polka dots and loves cooking Mexican food at home.
(photos: Marion Brenner)