Sunday, 22 April 2012

"Being at the right place at the right time" with Andrew Lawson

Andrew Lawson in the garden at Great Dixter
Last week I spent a day at Great Dixter with Andrew Lawson, the celebrated English garden photographer. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from a man who has captured more different gardens on film than I will ever have the chance to see and to hear a little of his story, as well as having the chance to listen to his advice on taking better photographs. Andrew knew and worked with Christopher Lloyd (who created the garden at Dixter) on numerous occasions, and had many anecdotes about both the man and his garden.
Light shining through the trees early in the morning in Cienfuegos, Cuba
Andrew says that "garden photography is all about being at the right place at the right time", and that a successful photograph depends on the quality of light. I'm sure that all of us who try to capture gardens as images will agree with him. There are days when it's impossible to get good photographs of gardens, however spectacular they may be, because a dull, overcast sky will bleach out any contrast, and the resulting pictures will be flat and uninteresting. And I'm certainly not sufficiently skilled to 'Photoshop' my way out of trouble!
Rain showers give plants a whole new perspective, especially if you can catch them on camera
Interestingly, Andrew Lawson did not start out as a photographer. He studied medicine at university and then went on to art school. He's an accomplished painter to this day. His foray into the world of garden photography began with a magazine commission when he was 40 and he hasn't looked back. He's captured hundreds of gardens on film, but is the first to admit that he never thought he could earn a living from his lenses. Now, nearly quarter of a million images later, he knows he was wrong.
"Being in the right place at the right time" - fallen rhododendron petals in late May
Quality of light is essential in garden photography, claims Lawson, and he is also a strong advocate of "atmosphere being determined by depth of focus". Time of day has a huge impact on the end result and he's the first to tell pupils that photographs taken at midday in the summer will not produce good pictures. First morning light and soft evening tones produce the best images. It's just a shame that so many gardens don't open till after 10.00 in the summer, because by then it's almost too late to get good photographs.
Gardens provide subject matter throughout the year - winter colours at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, Hampshire
Andrew is a keen gardener himself  and is very enthusiastic about the concept of community and "Guerilla" gardening, or as he says, projects that bring everyone together. He spends a lot of time in his own garden, which opens every year for the NGS and if you want to see it for yourself, it's open as part of the Charlbury Open Gardens group next weekend - Sunday, 29th April from 2.00 - 5.30. 


  1. I read your post with interest, what a super opportunity to learn from an expert, the point about time of day having a huge impact on the end result is so relevant to all forms of nature photography. Not known as an early riser I favour golden glow of early evening light.

  2. Oh Charlotte I would loved to have been a fly on the wall listening to that conversation. I hardly bring the camera outside now at midday and would rather get up early or wait until the golden hour and then the blue hour windows of opportunity open up. I get all excited when it's a misty or foggy morning as I love the diffused light against the flowers.

  3. What a wonderful opprotunity! Mr. Lawson has been one of my favorite garden photographers for some time. Light is crucial, as well as an understanding of the flow of a garden through time. Capturing all of those fleeting garden moments is my goal.

  4. Very interesting. I so agree, the weather light,position of the sun and more make for such different photographs. I too cannot use photo shop but in many ways glad I don't as I like my pictures to be genuine.

    Love Dixter, one of my favourite gardens and it was great in the days when Christopher was alive and wandered the garden answering questions.

  5. This rings so true, Charlotte. I'm always so excited to have a day off in the springtime and summer, so I have time to sneak outside at dawn to capture plants in the morning light. Great images! Thanks for the tips from Andrew and from you.

  6. Wonderful profile, Charlotte of one of the best in the business!