Photographing The Etoile Garden

Photographing the Clifton Show Garden

Jonathan Allin's picture
Posted Jul 3rd, 2015
by Jonathan Allin

The beautiful Show Garden at Clifton Nurseries Surrey is a challenging garden to photograph

To capture the essence and style of this amazing contemporary garden on camera we followed these essential but basic techniques.

Photographing The Etoile Garden

Photography - Light


Without a doubt light plays the most important part of photographing any garden. The soft early morning rays create the ultimate lighting conditions. The best garden photographers are early risers, but if like me you find it hard to get out of bed in the morning or you have other daily commitments, try to choose a cloudy day to pick up the camera. The clouds will filter the sun’s rays and act as a huge diffuser creating a balanced light. Try to avoid taking your photos in full sun as the shadows will be strong and harsh.  


When looking through your view finder always look at the whole picture. Look at the edges of your shot as well as your subject. The clutter in your shot will detract from a strong image. Always use a tripod to slow you down and take time to compose your image. If you are not happy with the position pick up the tripod and move. It can be frustrating at times – but have an idea in your head and don’t settle for less. I’m sure there are times when you have ‘clicked away’ randomly - the results will show! 

Photography - Backgrounds 

If the background clutter can’t be avoided try taking shots from a lower perspective or climb a ladder to look down onto your subject. I always feel a very excited climbing on our nursery aircraft steps, the views are amazing and worth the feeling of vertigo!

Photography - Changing the Perspective

Use a narrow depth of field to throw the background into a soft out of focus blur. Set the aperture of your camera to the lowest f-stop setting possible to allow more light into the camera and adjust your shutter speed and ISO accordingly. I love this type of effect… I have a really fast lens which is perfect for this look.

Photography - Depth of Field


Try to be inventive with your angle of view and think outside of the box and most importantly have fun. I have taken a couple of shots to show you as examples – These urns are stunning and the photos need to do them justice. One of the first rules I learnt as a photographer is the ‘Rule of Thirds’. By placing your subject off centre you create a balanced shot that is appealing to the eye. Try it – once you have mastered this technique you won’t look back. Of course everyone likes to break the rules… me included! 

Photography - Angles

Dressing the Set

Think of the garden as a stage… take time to reposition pots, plants or furniture to enhance your shot. Plant labels need to be removed or positioned so that they are out of sight. Large point of sale signs also have a nasty habit of appearing in the background. 

Photography - Dressing the Set

Attention to Detail

Try to be thorough ….. remove unsightly leaves and have a sweep up in the garden before you start. The more time you take in preparation for the photo the less time you will have to take in post-production work on the computer.  I’m old school… I remember only too well taking photos with my Mamiya and using transparency film. I don’t consider it cheating to use Photoshop but it’s so much more satisfying and rewarding to get your shot right first time without the digital wizardry.  

About the author

Trained at Kew, Jono enjoys combining his interest and expertise in both horticulture and photography. Many of the images on this website were created by Jono.