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Picture Perfect
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Picture Perfect



It’s unfortunate, but all too often watershapers and landscape professionals go to extraordinary lengths in designing and building beautiful spaces – then don’t take care of business when it comes to capturing those spaces with quality photographs.

This is despite the fact that photography is hugely important to so many of us, if only to give us a worthy photographic record of our work to use in marketing and selling future projects.

These images make up our portfolios, dress up our offices and showrooms and serve as highlights of our brochures, direct-mail pieces and web sites. They help us win awards and occasionally get us ready for submission of articles for publication in magazines such as WaterShapes. Yet for all that utility, photography too often comes as an afterthought.

There are two ways to obtain these representative photos of our work: We either take them ourselves or hire a professional. Not being much with a camera myself, I’ve always gone to the expense of bringing in a real photographer. Through the years, however, I’ve found that, even then, it’s still necessary for me to communicate clearly with a photographer to define what I’m after.

This give-and-take requires me to have at least a basic understanding of picture taking – or I’ll run the risk of paying significant sums of money for images that won’t show the work the way I’d like it to be seen. In that respect, the do-it-yourself option has real advantages, but if that’s your approach, it’s self-evident that you need know your way around a camera.

In other words, no matter which way you go, capturing exterior spaces in pictures means taking photography seriously. To help on this front, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Garden Photography: A Professional Guide by Tony Cooper (Photographic Institute Press, 2004). As one might expect, the 156-page text is filled with terrific landscape images and information about how they were achieved.

I found Cooper’s approach to the subject particularly helpful because the level of technical information he offers goes well beyond the basics without becoming so advanced that it’s difficult to understand.

The first of the book’s two sections covers techniques and equipment, with in-depth discussions of cameras, film, formats, exposures, lenses, filters, tripods and light meters. (Helpfully, he goes into detail on digital photography, which he endorses as a viable alternative to the traditional technology.) He also offers useful tips on the basics of photographic composition and ways of taking advantage of depth of field.

The second section covers the specific challenge of landscape photography, including approaches to taking portraits of specimen plants, structures and garden ornaments as well as water (although in a limited way). He offers case studies, too, in which similar images are described in terms of the different techniques used to capture them. There’s also a comprehensive bibliography that identifies additional resources.

One of the book’s strengths is that it provides useful information both to photographers and to those who hire them through its discussions of scores of compelling examples. To my way of thinking, this is terribly important stuff: If we’re going to go to all the trouble of creating works of art, we owe it to ourselves to record those projects in images that truly step up to the level of our best efforts.

Mike Farley is a landscape designer with more than 20 years of experience and is currently a designer/project manager for Claffey Pools in Southlake, Texas. A graduate of Genesis 3’s Level I Design School, he holds a degree in landscape architecture from Texas Tech University and has worked as a watershaper in both California and Texas.

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