Top Garden Photographer Clive Nichols Explains Why Close Attention To The Weather Forecast Is Your Key To Unlocking A Fantastic Garden Scene

November is one of my favourite months to photograph gardens because the weather is fairly predictable, and the changing season offers so much potential for drama. One of my favourite shots of all time is this picture I took in Gloucestershire at Chastleton Glebe, a private garden owned by the cook and author Pru Leith.

Taking pictures at dawn is a little easier at this time of year because it doesn't start getting light until about 8am. I hadn't been there before so I didn't know what to expect. All I knew was that the grounds had a lake, so I headed there first. The moisture levels around ponds at this time of year can create an eerie mist that diffuses the sunlight, and I thought I might find something like that.

I found more. All the elements were there for a perfect scene. Because there was no wind, the water was incredibly still, which allowed for a crisp reflection of the gazebo and the tree. Meanwhile, as I'd hoped, a strong mist emanated off the water, diffusing the sunlight, which meant I could capture this brilliant scene without burning out the sun. I bracketed quite a tot because I wanted to get it right. Using my Bromca SQ-Ai with Fujichrome Velvia 50,1 ended up choosing the shot that was half a stop underexposed because I liked the saturation and it silhouetted the gazebo nicely

This is one of the best shots I've ever taken at dawn. It is used a lot in calendars and cards, and if this is your

Talking technique

We often forget about the natural elements when we're considering the creative elements of our compositions, butthey're often as important as your focal length or aperture setting. Shooting close-up, the slightest hint of a breeze can shake a petal or a stem and disturb your carefully crafted scene. And when shooting at slow shutter speeds, the blur this will cause can ruin a picture. Shooting wider, the wind is less of a problem, but in this instance the stillness of the morning was essential to the power of this picture. Shooting at sunrise, you not only get great light, but also your best opportunity for little wind.

We've reproduced this scene (above) without that vital element of tranquillity, which is essential for capturing the strong reflections in the water. It loses a lot of its power, doesn't it? With strong light the scene still looks nice, but the still water and crisp reflection give it that something extra.

intention, too, then it helps to have an idea in mind beforehand what kind of scene you want to shoot - and then you need to do your homework!

I go out with a plan to maximise drama, and when you're shooting gardens this largely depends on the weather First, you should check the weather forecast the night before, and one of the best places is the Met Office website at www.metoffice.gov. uk. As I said, November weather is usually fairly predictable, so I like to do as much as I can this month. I check the national forecasts for places with wind speeds of 5mph or less because it's too difficult to shoot gardens when it's windy. I shot this scene at f/22 for lsec, but if it had been windy there would be movement in the tree, and I wouldn't have got such a sharp reflection because the water would have been rippled. Currendy, I'm sitting in my office waiting for the weather to get settled again. If we get a few days of high pressure I'll go out and shoot a number of scenes, and then it's back to the office. But in a way this routine keeps you fresh. If you go out shooting every day you tend to get lazy with the camera and witti your creativity. Having some office time builds the 'itch' back up and focuses you so that you're using your time wisely. These days I only go out shooting at the most opportune times, and if the light isn't right I simply don't bother! AP

To see more pictures by Clive Nichols visit www.divenichols.co.uk

Clive Nichols Garden Photography

Chris Gatcum explains how to change the sky in an image using the digital darkroom

Technique explained Dropping in a new sky

Before you start

Software Photoshop CS/ Photoshop Elements 6

System requirements Windows PC or Mac running Photoshop CS3, or Photoshop Elements 6 or higher

Skill required

Time to complete 30 minutes

UNLESS you set out on a shoot with a bag full of graduated filters, or have become interested in combining multiple exposures to create HDR images, it's highly likely that at some time you will end up with shots where the sky is a 'non-event'. This is due to your digital camera's dynamic range -in other words, what it can record in terms of the lightest and darkest areas of a scene. This will typically be in the region of 5 to 7 stops from the brightest to darkest areas, although cameras vary quite dramatically.

Often, when it comes to a landscape, for example, the land' part of the picture can be much darker than the sky, and if the difference exceeds the dynamic range of the camera you are likely to end up with an overexposed sky that lacks detail, or becomes a white 'nothingness'.

Traditionally, this would be dealt with by using a graduated filter. While I cannot argue strongly enough for 'getting it right' in-camera, if you don't, the digital darkroom can come to the rescue as you can add a 'better' sky later. This could either be a shot taken of the same scene at the same time, but exposed for the sky rather than the darker foreground, or - as in this case - a sky from an entirely different image.

The colour image we're starting with here isn't that bad, as the early morning view has a well-exposed blue sky. However, I took this image in Nevada, in the USA, with a view to producing a brooding black & white mountainscape, and in monochrome that flat blue sky will just become a featureless expanse of grey. The answer is to take a sky from elsewhere and combine the two images. In this case, the picture containing the sky I want to use was taken much closer to home - London's St Paul's Cathedral, in fact - and had already been converted to black & white. So now it's just a case of combining two elements that were separated by 12 months and several thousand miles...

\ Quick Selection Tool W Magic Wand Tool ^ W

Tools of the trade

The freehand lasso tool and the polygonal lasso tool are OK for quick selections, but they are a bit crude unless you have an ultra-steady hand. Similarly, the fixed-shape marquee tools are restricted by their regular selection shape.

The magnetic lasso is useful for selecting well-defined edges between low and high contrast areas. Similarly, the magic wand and quick selection tool are great for selecting an area that contrasts with its surroundings in terms of colour, but subtle gradations can confuse them. The same applies to the select color range option.

If you have a graphics tablet, the quick mask is an option for painting a precise selection, and as you can quickly add and delete areas, and change the brush size and hardness, it's just a question of taking care to make an accurate mask.

So which tool is 'best? The answer is the one or ones most suitable for the task. You can use more than one tool - hold the'+' key to add to a selection with a tool, or the '-' key to subtract from the selection - and press Q to toggle between the quick mask and standard edit modes.

7 The image is coming along, but the land and the sky clearly don't match so we need to convert the land (Layer 0) to black & white. With this image I selected Layer 0 and used lmage>Adjustments> Black and White, using a Custom conversion to selectively adjust the tonal range.

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How to drop in a new sky

Take a sky from one picture and combine it with the land of another in software

4 To fine-tune the selection, zoom in to the picture, choose a small brush and apply the quick selection tool again, holding down the + key to add to the selection. If you go wrong, just press undo (Ctrl/Cmd+Z). Adjust the brush size as you go, editing the selection until it looks good.

5 Once you've made your selection, choose Select>Modify>Feather from the menu and enter a value of 0.5 pixels. This will soften the edge of your selection by half a pixel, which may not sound like much, but it will make the blend between the land and sky more subtle. You can now remove the unwanted sky (Edit>Cut).

Feather Selection

100 Photography Tips

100 Photography Tips

To begin with your career in photography at the right path, you need to gather more information about it first. Gathering information would provide you guidance on the right steps that you need to take. Researching can be done through the internet, talking to professional photographers, as well as reading some books about the subject. Get all the tips from the pros within this photography ebook.

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