Back of ginkgo leaf with male flowers in background
Ginkgo biloba

Learn how to beautifully capture your backyard oasis or neighborhood park no matter what kind of camera you own. Join Smithsonian Gardens’ Living Collections Photographer Hannele Lahti as she shares tips on lighting, positioning and developing your own creative point of view. Open to shutterbugs of all levels and ages.

Webinar Video



Q–What 2-3 lens sizes would you recommend for a newbie photographer? 

It depends on what you like to shoot. If you’re planning to photograph gardens, I would recommend:  

  • Wide angle lens (24mm/28mm) – for landscape views 
  • Standard telephoto lens (40-60mm) – for general purpose  
  • Telephoto lens with Macro capabilities (100mm macro) – for close ups 

A good 24-70mm zoom lens is also a good staple. It would cover the first two options I have listed and then you could just add the macro lens to complete the kit.  

I always recommend investing in good lenses rather than camera bodies. Camera bodies change out frequently, but you can hold onto a good lens for a long time. 

Q–Do you use a tripod? 

Generally speaking, no, I prefer to shoot handheld so that I can maneuver more freely. The only times I use a tripod are when I’m shooting in low light and need to have a long exposure or when I’m shooting video footage.  

Q—Do you shoot in RAW and do you have any tips for editing photos? 

Yes, I always shoot in RAW because it provides the best file with which to edit and archive. All DSLR or mirrorless cameras have the ability to capture in RAW format. Mobile phones only capture jpegs, as far as I know.  

I use Adobe Lightroom for basic exposure/tonal/color correction and Photoshop to clean up distractions if needed. For mobile phone photos, I also use the Lightroom app or the phone’s editor. There are plenty of apps out there for basic tonal, color and exposure adjustments. Pick one you find easy to use and go with it. 

My goal is always to make the best image I can while I am in the field so that I don’t have to sit at my computer any longer than I have to! My philosophy with editing is to keep it simple and authentic. It’s easy to add filters and other effects to images but I usually find them a little too candy-coated for my style. However, I encourage you play around with the tools out there and see what works best for you. The way you edit is just as important as the way you make the picture. It all connects.  

Q—Many of your photographs call attention through depth of field management.  Could you speak briefly on that.   

I frequently use shallow depth of field alongside compositional tools to draw attention to my subject, good catch!  

Depth of field refers to the field of focus from foreground to background in your image. This field is controlled by three factors: your aperture setting, the focal length of your lens, and the distance at which the camera is focused. It sounds confusing but generally speaking: 

Using a low aperture value––f/2-f/5.6, narrows the amount of focus in your image (less is in focus). 

Using a high aperture value––f/8-f/22, lengthens the amount of focus in your image (more is in focus). 

When photographing specimen images in the studio, I want as much in focus as possible so I shoot at f/25-f/32 with a 100mm macro lens. When I’m out in the garden and there are a lot of competing elements, I prefer a narrow depth of field (focus) so those distractions blur, becoming color fields in the foreground and background.  

Q–Do you have any tips for photos in low light like under a canopy of trees? 

Using a tripod or monopod to steady the camera would help in this situation because you may have to use longer exposures. Be mindful that any wind may blur your subject when photographing at long exposures.  

Another option would be to bring a small LED light, flash or, if you have sun streaking through the forest, a reflector to send light back into your subject.