Visual impact

DSC_1181aWhy don’t more firms in the landscape sector use professional photographers to promote their work? OK, as someone who gets paid to take photos I declare a certain personal interest. But seeing good landscape work poorly communicated is so very frustrating – and this is not just my view.

I know for a fact that awards judges and competitions judges find it exasperating to be presented with a landscape project that clearly has merit, is well designed and well executed, and generally ticks all the boxes – but is accompanied by poor images that fail to communicate the design intent or the work put into its creation. I know because they have told me, often, over years of working in landscape communications. And not just judges, but journalists, magazine editors, news websites and people who really want to promote your work – but can’t, when they don’t have quality images to tell the story.

Landscape is a visual experience. Yes, there are important other sensory elements – scents, sounds, tactility. But for most people landscape is about colours, textures, harmony, contrasts, light and shade, seasonal changes, composition, order and the unexpected. So why do those who design and create visually beautiful places for people to enjoy often fail to convey all this in images?

My totally impartial advice? Hire a professional photographer who gets landscape and can appreciate and communicate the fantastic work you’ve achieved. But if you prefer to or have to do your own promo images, here are my tips for really getting your work across.

Number one, you need an actual camera – sorry, but your phone won’t do. And you need editing software. Can’t afford Photoshop? No problem: there are plenty of free image editing tools like Pixlr or Picasa that offer enough features to really improve your shots.

Next, think what it is you specifically want people to appreciate about your work – and make them see it. The planting? Specific design features? Particular functions? Whatever it is, make sure that people can’t help but notice it – make the focal point, literally.

All seasons can be good for photography. You don’t have to wait until spring or summer; soft light on an overcast day can capture colours to great effect, and subtle planting palettes are better appreciated in subdued light. Early morning and late afternoon light are also more evocative than direct overhead sun, especially the ‘golden hour’.

If you have to shoot in low light, forget flash – discover your camera’s exposure and ISO settings instead. You’ll get more professional-looking results if you find out what depth of field means and use the Aperture setting. Leave your Auto comfort zone.

Don’t stand back from your subject – get in close, crouch down, climb onto something, find an angle, but don’t just stand there. Everything in the shot should bring something to the party. Don’t bother with sky, unless it’s stunning or unavoidable; everyone knows what sky looks like and it’s easy to get wrong, colour-wise. Look for contrasts in colour or texture, and interesting details. And take several different shots – you rarely get the best one the first time.

And when you’ve got some shots you’re happy with? Edit, on a big screen, with care. Cropping and cloning are your friends – get rid of anything that distracts from the point of the image, whether it’s a piece of litter in the background or a stray leaf in the foreground. Use the straighten feature if your horizon is at anything other than 180 degrees. And don’t be afraid to boost the contrast and colour saturation and use the sharpen tool to give your image a little extra zing. You want people to be impressed by your work? Start by impressing them with your images.

A version of this article appeared in Pro Landscaper magazine November 2015