Photographing Beauty in the Winter Garden #lovelydeadcrap

It’s that time of year on the east coast when everything is primarily brown. The garden is filled with stems, dried leaves, seedpods, and all things crunchy! It may seem like the worst time of year to photograph in the garden, but it is when I have captured some of my best images. 

During my first winter living back in Virginia, I was desperate to be outdoors with my camera. I took many nature walks and began to explore what was available to shoot. As I took time to study the “crunchy brown” things in the garden and use available winter light, I was surprised by how I could showcase the beauty of the winter season. Taking time to see the plants’ structure, lines, and form opened up the season’s beauty. The light in winter on overcast days is a perfect time to bundle up and get out with your camera. I love the warm glow it provides and the lack of harsh shadows. I am not alone in. my love of crunchy things in the winter garden.  

Many photographers have also found beauty in all the lovely brown things in the garden. There is an Instagram hashtag just for showcasing lovely dead crap, #lovelydeadcrap. Check it out for some amazing inspiration. One of my favorite flower photographers, Anne Belmont, embarks on an annual winter dancer photo project each year, embracing the winter browns and the last dance of flowers found at the Chicago Botanic garden.  I hope you will join us this winter to find beauty in the winter garden. 

Here are my tips to help you capture some #lovelydeadcrap this winter. 

  • Take a nature walk anywhere with foliage left behind—a nature park, community garden, or botanic garden. 
  • Overcast days are the best! The light will be soft and warm in tone and reduces shadows and glare. 
  • Take time to study the plants, and look for interesting shapes, lines, and forms to compose your shot. 
  • Manage your aperture setting to soften the background or to bring out details in the plants. I like to shoot between F2.8-F4 for these images to keep the background and light all soft and warm. 
  • Get close if you can. I love to use my macro lens for these images, but often I cannot reach the plants I want to capture; using a telephoto lens like a 70-300 works great. It allows you to zoom in on those macro details and still have a soft background. So think about lens choice when you go out. 
  • Take it slow - part of the fun is slowing down on a cold winter day and exploring the bare bones of a garden.

All of these images were taken in one photo shoot. The light was overcast on this day in the garden. I used a combination of a macro 85 lens and the Lensbaby sol 45 lenses with macro filters. Most images were shot at F2.8-F4 as I wanted to capture the beautiful soft light surrounding the subject. As I walked the garden, I looked for branches and seed pods that were expressive or interesting in their lines, curves, and shapes. Images taken on overcast days in the winter require little editing. I brought out the details with texture and contrast and added any light on the edges to enhance. 

I encourage you to bundle up this winter, visit a local nature park and enjoy the beauty of this season. Appreciate the shapes and light that you find in the garden.

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