Plant Photography: Techniques at Kew Gardens
Producing stereotyped pictures from a clear-cut brief, with a list of species that can be ticked off, makes the photographer’s job easy since you simply work through the list until it is complete. Ideally, the plants should be photographed as and when they appear especially photogenic. Yet, I soon found that having access to 120 hectares (300 acres), with 37,000 species of plants, proved daunting to say the least. Where do you begin? For one thing, obtaining striking plant pictures is not a question of applying a specific formula. It may involve luck; invariably it will take effort and time – time in casting a perceptive eye to select a perfect (and accessible) specimen or waiting for the optimum lighting (or perhaps modifying it in some way).
I have professionally taken pictures at Kew Gardens on many occasions. First, I photographed anything which caught my eye because of the way it was lit or because of its texture or pattern. Second, I did a lot of homework. I spoke to people who alerted me to subjects worth considering. Also, whenever I saw a plant that I knew to be particularly interesting, I made a note to return when it would be at its best — when it was flowering, fruiting, or maybe turning colour in autumn.
However long the day, it was quite impossible to cover more than a small area of the Gardens, so that sometimes, when I returned to a glasshouse, I found that plants in bud just a short time before had bloomed and faded. On the other hand, many glasshouse staff made a point of letting me know where and when I would be able to find a plant with a particularly spectacular flower or fruit.
A glance at the date given in each picture caption will show that some days proved to be much more productive than others. Surprisingly, the clemency of the weather and the length of time spent in the Gardens bore little relation to the number of acceptable pictures achieved.
At first sight, there may appear to be some obvious omissions. For example, some of the best-known tropical flowers such as bougainvillea and frangi-pani, as well as temperate cultivars such as hybrid tea roses and lilacs, have been excluded in preference to other specimens which are perhaps less familiar. It is hoped that these pictures may encourage readers to seek out and see plants for themselves.