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How to take amazing photos of plants and gardens

Want to improve your garden photography? An RHS competition judge shares insider tips.

Think your outdoor photos are the bee’s knees? Now’s your chance to prove it to the RHS.

The charity’s free annual photographic competition is now open, offering cash prizes and the opportunity to have your work exhibited.

But how do you improve your winter shots? Chris Young, chair of the judging panel and editor of RHS members’ magazine The Garden, says: “Choose the right day and the right light levels, and stunning images can be taken. Focus on what you want to achieve in your image – a large-scale statement or close-up detail – and think of the colour combinations, as well as how the different focus can change the feeling to a photograph.”

Here, he talks us through why these three garden photos work so well…

1. The essence of a garden

Frost in The Dry Garden in winter at RHS Garden Hyde Hall. (RHS/Lee Beel/PA)

Frost in The Dry Garden in winter at RHS Garden Hyde Hall

“This shot of our RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Essex shows the stark outline of the different forms and shapes of plants in January. With winter stripping back some of the leaves and many of the flowers, we are left with a composition of foliage, spent flowerheads, stone boulders and the rolling landscape in the background. Even though some of the plants look like they should be in a warm climate (the palm for example), there is a clear chill to the shot. Using the camera in landscape form widens the horizon of the shot and ensures the maximum view is taken.”

2. Colour your senses

Iris 'reticulata' in Harlow Carr winter garden. (RHS/Lee Beel/PA)

Iris reticulata in Harlow Carr winter garden

“Winter doesn’t mean ‘no flowers’. There are many jewels in the plant crown at this time of year, including iris. This bulbous Iris reticulata ‘Pixie’ is a small plant often used in winter walks – as can be here at RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Yorkshire. This image ensures the focus is on the deep purple flowers, blessed with yellow splashes of colour, while the foliage in front and behind is out of focus. This centres all attention on the clump of flowers and brings their welcome joy to the viewer.”

3. Not just plants

A robin on snowy seedheads. (RHS/Paul Cumbleton/PA)

A robin on snowy seedheads

“The trusty robin always makes a picture-perfect subject for a photograph. By creating a shallow depth of field around the subject, we can focus all our interest on the robin sitting atop a spent seedhead. The background is a muted colour, while the orange of the birds’ breast tonally links to the browns behind.”

How to enter and what you can win

Winning photographs will receive cash prizes from an overall prize fund of £10,000, and feature in a new exhibition to be held at the RHS London Plant and Art Fair (Jul 11-12), followed by a touring exhibition across all four RHS Gardens at Wisley, Hyde Hall, Rosemoor and Harlow Carr. The winning images will be selected by the judging panel for their originality, creativity, artistry and technical excellence. Entrants must submit their photographs online by 10am on Thursday, March 1. To enter, visit rhs.org.uk/photocomp

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