Tips for Taking Better Plant and Landscaping Photos With a Smart Phone

A smart phone photograph adequately capturing a crop’s quality and consistency at a Hill Country nursery.

A smart phone photograph adequately capturing a crop’s quality and consistency at a Hill Country nursery.

Most growers and landscapers aren’t also photographers, but photography is an integral part of selling plants and landscaping services to buyers. Think about your own shopping and spending habits: Would you purchase an item without ever having seen it, especially knowing that the quality of the item can vary greatly seller to seller — or plant to plant, landscape to landscape? How many times have you thought you wanted one item, but came across something else during an internet search and purchased that instead, based on its visual appeal? People are stimulated visually — and so is their behavior.

Not having access to photos of plants they are wanting to purchase is one of the top obstacles buyers face when searching for available inventory — and one of the top obstacles sellers face when trying to turn inventory. Good photographs can significantly increase the amount of consumer interest in a product, diminish consumer uncertainty and increase the number and variety of products sold. Unfortunately, bad photographs can do the opposite. A poorly lit, poorly focused or poorly framed photography may result in potential customers shopping elsewhere. A customer may think a company has something to hide or lacks quality if photographed objects are lost in shadows, dull, or sloppy.

That’s why it’s so important that growers, landscape architects and contractors — anyone attempting to sell a product or service to others — take high-quality photographs of their plants and landscapes. Hiring a professional photographer on contract or investing and learning how to use a amateur-level DSLR (a digital single-lens reflex camera) — such as a Canon EOS Rebel t2i — can both offer a great return on investment for sellers and service providers. The quality of photographs and the ability to shoot diverse pictures will always be greater with a DSLR than with a point-and-shoot or smart phone camera. But many people aren’t comfortable with such a purchase and may feel like the cameras are too complicated, too bulky or too inconvenient. Fortunately, smart phone cameras have come a long way in the last five years and do offer small business owners a photographic alternative to the more complicated and professional options.

Here are some quick tips and tricks for taking quality photographs with your smart phone:

Take an inventory of your available smart phones and use the one with the highest-quality camera. Smart phone camera quality varies greatly between older and newer models. Using the most current smart phone available is probably the best bet. Make sure the camera's lens doesn't have dirt on it.

Get to know your camera’s features — and make the most of them. Some cell phone cameras now have infrared sensors to gauge lighting conditions for more accurate colors and allow users to pick a focus point and switch between different camera modes, such as the “Macro” mode — normally indicated by a flower icon because it's used for shooting items very close to the camera lens, such as flowers — and the “Landscape” mode — normally indicted by a mountain range because it's used for shooting many items covering a wide distance.

The future of smart phone cameras: The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom camera comes loaded with different camera modes, including HDR, Macro and Landscape.

The future of smart phone cameras: The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom camera comes loaded with different camera modes, including HDR, Macro and Landscape.

Many cameras also have an "HDR" mode, which is great for shooting both flowers and landscapes — anything, as long as the subject isn't moving and the camera isn't moving. HDR photos take longer to snap, because your smart phone is actually taking three different pictures at three different settings and slicing them together, so make sure not to move your camera until the photos have all been taken.

Making use of the different camera modes is similar to having a DSLR. The modes make the camera work according to different preset preferences regarding the depth of field and shutter speed. There are also a long list of smartphone camera apps available to try out.

Do not face the sun. When shooting a photograph of a plant or landscape, make sure the sun is behind you so that the sun’s bright rays don’t overpower and take away from the plant or landscape features. Try to time photography sessions for either earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, when the sun is lower in the sky and clearly pointing in one direction. Watch out for shadows.

Do not face the sun. Here, the sun is overpowering and creating shadows on the flower, diminishing the visible details of the flower.

Do not face the sun. Here, the sun is overpowering and creating shadows on the flower, diminishing the visible details of the flower.

Fill the frame with what you want your customers to see. Remove any excess equipment, trash or unnecessary items that can be moved.Always keep in mind the intent of the photograph. What are you trying to show? Are you trying to capture the size of a tree, the quality of a flower, the details of a landscape? When shooting a smaller plant or flower, get as close to the plant or flower as possible while still staying in focus. Fill the photograph with nothing but your subject. Try shooting smaller plants from a 30-degree overhead angle: not directly overhead but also not at eye level to capture as much of the plant as possible. When shooting larger trees or landscapes, try to get far enough away that the whole tree is in the photograph but close enough that additional items that may distract viewers from the intended subject are cropped out of the frame. If measuring the height of a tree,  make sure to keep the ground in the photograph to provide viewers with context.

On the left, I can’t really tell what I’m looking at or what the purpose of the photo is. Which plant is the focus? On the right, I can see the plant’s unique floral burst.

On the left, I can’t really tell what I’m looking at or what the purpose of the photo is. Which plant is the focus? On the right, I can see the plant’s unique floral burst.

If feasible, edit your photo. If you're taking hundreds of inventory photos for plant catalogues, don't worry about editing. But if a photo is going to be featured prominently on your website or social media or will have greater usage, you should take just 30 seconds or 1 minute and make basic edits to ensure quality results.  You can use either your smartphone’s installed photo editing features or a photo editing app. If you use an app, make sure it doesn’t add watermarks or decrease photo quality. The most important adjustment to make is usually increasing vibrancy and saturation. Even if the photograph looks bright and colorful to you, many smartphones now have high-tech screens that increase the vibrancy of what you see more so than other screens or computer monitors. A typical edit is to increase vibrancy and saturation by about 20 percent.

Don't under or over-edit your photographs. On the left, the photograph's vibrancy and saturation is too muted; on the right, the photograph is saturated to 100 percent — too high.

Don't under or over-edit your photographs. On the left, the photograph's vibrancy and saturation is too muted; on the right, the photograph is saturated to 100 percent — too high.

In this photo, saturation has been adjusted about 20 percent, making the colors more vibrant and lively.

In this photo, saturation has been adjusted about 20 percent, making the colors more vibrant and lively.

Send photos via email — never text. Sending a photo via text message automatically and drastically reduces the photo quality, making photos pixelated and impossible to enlarge. Sending photos from your smart phone via email might also reduce quality, but not as much. The best bet is to download photos from your smart phone onto a computer using a USB cable, then sending them via email.

Some real-world samples:

This is a good photo for showing plant quality and height. It was captured on a smart phone, then transferred to a computer via USB and then emailed.

This is a good photo for showing plant quality and height. It was captured on a smart phone, then transferred to a computer via USB and then emailed.

This photo needs a lot of help. It was taken with aged smart phone with a low-quality camera, then sent via text message, which further degraded and pixelated the image. The height of the tree is cropped out, and other trees in the image might distract the viewer. The photo should have been taken vertically instead of horizontally.

This photo needs a lot of help. It was taken with aged smart phone with a low-quality camera, then sent via text message, which further degraded and pixelated the image. The height of the tree is cropped out, and other trees in the image might distract the viewer. The photo should have been taken vertically instead of horizontally.

Have fun. Photography is an art. Try different angles or adding a purposeful prop to your photographs to increase customers’ interest in the photograph. Always feel free to take photos from multiple angles and different viewpoints — one photo of the whole plant, one photo of the crop and one photo up close. The more photos you share, the better!