Capture autumn on camera

Garden photography

Autumn is a glorious season offering plenty of opportunities for garden photography enthusiasts to capture bold-coloured trees, shrubs and fallen leaves.
To celebrate the beauty of the outdoors, the RHS is urging budding photographers to brave the cold, venture outside and be inspired by nature to capture beautiful gardens.
Garden photography
With this in mind, acclaimed garden photographer Marianne Majerus, who has illustrated more than 200 books, offers the following tips on how to get the best pictures of autumn:

Spot spider webs

Don’t sweep away spider webs this autumn. Consider incorporating them into your photographs, as they can add a sense of mystery, particularly to Halloween-themed photos. At dawn on sunny autumn days, flowers and foliage will be dotted with dew and cobwebs. If there is little or no wind, you will have time to compose your images and won’t have to change aperture to compensate for subject movement. When photographing spider webs, experiment by including more details in the frame to add context or create a focal point by capturing a spider.

Get creative with seasonal fruit

Keep your eyes peeled for seasonal fruit and berries which might make great close-up shots. Wild berries can make inspiring subject matter, with their voluptuous forms and the strong colour contrast between the leaves and the fruit, adding dramatic tension to photographs. Include more detail, such as the path where they are found and their surroundings, which adds a story to your photograph. Autumnal forests can have a magical ambience which can produce fairytale images.

Play with autumn light

Make the most of the beautiful misty morning light, which gives this season its character. To avoid camera shake when the light is low, try propping the camera against a tree trunk or alter your ISO rating to achieve sharper images. As with most photography, the nature and direction of light falling on a subject is crucial. Soft, side-lighting will give good modelling, while keeping shadows delicate, whereas stronger, low-angled side-lighting is good for emphasising the texture of bark and leaves.

Look out for back-lit leaves

Back-lit leaves, whose colours and cell structure are enhanced by the sun, can offer great subject matter and create strong graphic images. When photographing close-up flowers or leaves, do not fixate on the subject to the extent that you forget the background. Try using the depth of field preview lever on your camera to see what is visible behind your subject and consider using a larger aperture to make out-of-focus background. Try moving around a subject to find a pleasing background.

Discover garden wildlife

Mild autumn weather can offer the perfect opportunity to seek out garden wildlife including hedgehogs, birds and insects to create stunning images. To attract wildlife to your garden, sprinkle food such as seeds, nuts and fruit on designated patches of grass or use feeders, which work particularly well for birds. Attract hedgehogs by leaving a small gap in your garden fence to allow them to get in and out with ease. Garden ponds can attract a wide variety of amphibians and frogs. Once you find your subject, start experimenting with staging a photo by adding one or two random objects to the frame, such as a gardening glove, and watching how they interact.
Entries to this year’s RHS Photographic Competition, open to both amateurs and professionals, can be submitted online until February 28, 2017. For details, visit

Best of the bunch – Crab apples

The malus is among the best tree for small gardens, offering interest for much of the year. Birds will be attracted to the smaller crab apples such as M. x zumi ‘Golden Hornet’, while if you just want to enjoy the view of the ornamental fruits, try M. x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’. Crab apples are available growing on dwarfing rootstocks, so you can specify a tree that stays small, around 3m x 2.5m, although most are larger than that. Ideal as specimens in smaller gardens, the crab apples range in colour from yellow to red, while the leaves turn yellow and orange too. In spring they bear masses of blossom, ranging from white to pink and purplish red. Grow in any fertile, well-drained soil in sun and prune in winter to remove misplaced shoots or dead wood. Other good varieties include M. ‘John Downie’, which grows up to 10m tall, and M. pumila ‘Cowichan’, which produces vivid red fruits.

Good enough to eat – Jerusalem artichokes

These knobbly tubers, a member of the sunflower family, are ideal scrubbed and roasted, peeled and added to soups or mixed with butter and mashed. They are ready for harvesting in autumn, but should be lifted before the weather turns wet. The tubers should be dried thoroughly before storing in trays. They are best grown in a sunny spot in well-drained, moisture-retentive soil which has been enriched with organic matter, but the plants will also tolerate heavy shade and dry situations, so can be grown where other crops won’t survive. Buy the tubers from the greengrocer or specialist supplier and plant in spring, each tuber 15cm deep and 60cm apart. They grow to around 3m high, so make sure they’re not going to cast shade on other nearby crops, but stake them and they can make an effective windbreak planted in rows. Once the plants are 30cm tall, pile up earth around the roots to secure them. If you don’t want to stake them late on, cut back any stems over 2m by about a third, although this may result in a lower yield. There will be plenty of foliage, but in summer the tubers swell and have developed by mid-autumn. When the stems die back in late autumn, cut back the plants to 15cm above the soil. If you are going to leave them in the ground, place a mulch of straw or newspaper over the plants to protect them. Good varieties include ‘Fuseau’ and ‘Stampede’.

What to do this week

Keep tidying borders, clearing weeds, cutting down perennials and raking leaves from the area.
Cut back tall shrubs including lavatera and Buddleia davidii if they have become overgrown and straggly.
Create new strawberry beds and plant young plants raised from this year’s runners.
Finish picking maincrop apples including varieties such as ‘Spartan’ and ‘Sunset’.
Dig up a few roots of outdoor herbs such as parsley and mint, transplant into a small pot of compost, water in and stand on a bright kitchen window sill, to give you fresh herbs in the cooler months.
Continue to dig over ground in the kitchen garden after you have harvested vegetables, breaking up the soil and exposing it to winter weather conditions which will break it down and help make good planting beds in spring.
Prune late-flowering climbing roses and repeat-flowering old-fashioned roses.
Dig up witloof chicory and force it if required.
Pick the last of the runner beans and if they are not too big, blanch and freeze them.
Leave the roots of runner beans in the ground after you have harvested the last of them and cut them down, as the roots return valuable nitrogen to the soil.
Finish planting spring bedding before the soil cools too much.

Written by Andrew Moore