Thoughts and Tips on Garden Photography, with Rich Pomerantz

While many photographers would deem themselves landscape photographers, nature photographers, or outdoor photographers, Rich Pomerantz takes on the seemingly more specific title of “garden photographer.” Based on this description alone, one might conjure up images of lush, vibrant, kempt gardens of opulence, which he certainly does photograph, but that’s not the extent of his photographic range. For Pomerantz, his work extends to include all aspects of purposed nature, including, but not limited to, agriculture, horticulture, farm life, and gardening, as well as street scenes, landscapes, and environmental portraiture.

Rich Pomerantz Photography

Pomerantz will be leading a talk, on January 7th, at the B&H Event Space, focusing on his work and some techniques relating to garden photography. I had the opportunity to speak with him briefly beforehand on the topic of his photography and subject matter. Here’s what he had to say.

You have quite a varied and extensive background in gardening, horticulture, agriculture, and general farm life, but how and when did you decide to begin photographing these subjects that have long been a part of your daily life?

I learned a lot of my gardening skills and knowledge through photographing great gardens and meeting the people who create and maintain them. I have always been a gardener, even as a kid, and had a little exposure to farming when I was a teenager, but I was not aware of the scale of gardening that many people do, so when I got an assignment to photograph a prominent gardener and writer about 20 years ago, I was drawn into her world. From that first job, I was fortunate to meet many people who were able to help my photography career with contacts, jobs, and access. I am still exploring much of what I learned, but it's photography that has taken me through many gardens. 

Can you talk a bit about what your photography brings to these subjects? Do you separate photographing these places and subjects versus participating in them?

I don't see any need to separate myself from participating in order to photograph. It's the participation that informs the photography. 

Do you think there’s a discernable difference between photographing a garden (a controlled, manicured environment) and a wild landscape (natural forms and growth)? Would you approach photographing either subject in a different manner from the other?

Gardens are not all controlled and manicured. Some are, and a great many are not. Gardens tend to reflect the personality of the gardener. Not everyone is controlled and manicured. Also, I do not believe in any distinction between so-called "wild" or anything else. Every place is as wild as every other, and every piece of this planet has been touched or manipulated by the hands of men. It serves no useful purpose to create a false sense of separation of ourselves from the rest of the world (us = tame / everything else = wild). The best gardeners understand this and put it into practice in their landscapes. Our landscape is always a reflection of our practices, and we are always a part of the "wild."

Can you give me a few essential tips you'd pass on to someone just starting to photograph gardens?

The most important thing to remember about photographing anything (not just gardens) is the light. Once you understand that, and look at the light in the garden at any given moment, then you can figure out what you are going to do. Garden photography is often said to be best done in soft light found on an overcast day. There is value in that statement, but then it becomes very easy to never use any other kind of light, which is just wrong. I have always found it useful to think about why I am photographing there, before I start shooting, in order to help define my approach.
Taking your time is also critical. It's too easy, more so now in the point-and-shoot era, to rush through and snap away. A good exercise is to limit yourself to shoot only “x” number of images in a particular time frame. Really force yourself to slow down and look at what you are doing.