If you’re a follower of Bodnant Garden on social media you may have seen the work of photographer Julie Pigula – most likely through her pictures of dog Bailey, one of our regular #WagWednesday visitors.
Here Julie talks about her passion for garden photography, why Bodnant Garden provides so much inspiration, and offers some tips for others keen to capture that perfect image:
I was born into a world of flowers. My father was a keen horticulturist and we had a large cottage garden and two very large greenhouses where dad used to grow his prize-winning chrysanthemums to show. As a little girl, I was always down the garden helping out in the greenhouses. I loved getting my hands dirty, transplanting the seedlings out ready for a new season. I actually bought my first camera just so I could take pictures of our garden and the flowers in it and it wasn’t too long before I became hooked on photography, and it has been my passion been ever since.
I attended night school for photography, joined a local camera club, and then became a member of the Royal Photographic Society, achieving first a Licentiateship, progressing onto Associateship and finally gaining my Fellowship with a panel of twenty macro images of flowers, frost and ice. I am also a member of and supporter of the Disabled Photographic Society, of which I also hold a Fellowship.
I have visited many of the National Trust gardens, Bodnant Garden being one of my very favourite places to spend time with a camera, and especially now it is truly a garden for all seasons. The garden is ever changing and this is one of the things which keeps me coming back year after year. There is always something new to see and photograph.
Bodnant gives you the opportunity to do all types of photography, from close up pictures of the amazing array of plants to beautiful vistas taking in the whole of the garden. But where do you start? Today there are so many books about garden and flower photography, and even more articles on the web, that it is easy to get lost without even ever taking a picture. These are just a few things that go through my mind before I press the shutter.
Do I want to photograph just one flower, a group of flowers or a garden scene? Deciding what aperture to use: Do I want all the scene to be in focus using a small aperture, or isolating one element by opening up the lens and using an aperture of f4 or less? Remember also that the larger the length of the lens the shallower the depth of field will be.
When you have found your subject, look around the frame before you press the shutter to see if there are any distractions in the background. These days we can always fall back on photoshop but it is so much easier, and rewarding, to get it right in camera.
These are a few of my favourite pictures which I have taken over the last few years at Bodnant using a range of lenses and apertures.
Macro Lenses: These, of course, are specialist lenses but are well worth the investment if you like flower photography. Roses must top the list of the most photographed flowers with the range of colours and shapes, Bodnant has two wonderful rose terraces. I used a 100mm macro lens with an aperture of f11 for the picture of the rose because I wanted to get most of the flower in focus. A good thing about roses they do not blow about in the wind too much.
Zoom Lenses: Of course, you do not have to have a macro lens, lots of zoom lenses have a macro setting, so you can get in close and fill the frame. The picture of the Red Poppy was taken when there was an annual selection of flowers on the Canal Terrace a couple of years ago. It was taken at the 300 mm end of a 70 – 300 mm zoom lens. I used an aperture of f5.6 because I wanted a shallow depth of field to give a softness to the picture with just the poppy in focus. Poppies have such vibrant colours and have such wonderful detail in the stamens and in the centre of the flowers. They are however very delicate and are easily moved by the slightest wind.
Wide Angle lenses: This is the classic picture of Pin Mill which everyone takes. It was taken using a 17-40 mm zoom lens using a low viewpoint and focussing on the water lilies in the foreground. The focal length was 17 mm I used an aperture of f9 to get most of the scene in focus.
Of course, there is not just flora in the garden there is also lots of wildlife too, blackbirds and grey squirrels scurry through the leaves under the trees and scrubs. If you’re lucky a robin will pose on one of the gardener’s spades for you. There are Yellow Wagtails near the top of the garden and dippers in the Dell. During the spring and summer months, both the Lily Pond and Pin Mill have mayflies and dragonflies hovering over the lily pads and by late summer you may even see a few butterflies on the terraces.
Garden photography is not just a summer hobby; Bodnant Garden is now open all year round. Spring brings not only daffodils but trees with beautiful blossom. Who could resist the swathes of azaleas and rhododendrons or the beauty of emerging new leaves in pristine condition to be captured by a lens? Summer and the garden is filled with colour in the Rose Terraces; autumn is also a great time to be out with the camera and the Acer Glade, in particular, looks spectacular. Winter brings snow and frost which bring a whole new dimension to garden photography and the Winter Garden has been planted specifically to show off winter trees and shrubs. From the beautiful barks of the white birches to the red stems of the dogwood. You will be amazed how much there is to photograph.
On the subject of weather; it’s a very British thing to quote John Ruskin: “There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather”. However, for outdoor flower photography, it is a lot easier if it is not raining or blowing a gale. Little or no wind makes close-ups of flowers so much easier and early morning and late evening are often the best times of day when the light is softer. Take advantage of the late opening on Wednesdays in summer when the garden is open until eight in the evening.
There is so much more I could say but the most important thing is to have fun, after all, that should be what photography is all about.
A Passion for Flowers by Julie Pigula FRPS FDPS
Thanks Julie for sharing your images – and your advice! For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram