Getting Started with Backyard Photography

We all have days when we’re stuck at home with nowhere to go. And as photographers, there will often be that itch we need to scratch by using our cameras. While I love traveling and get a lot of my portfolio-worthy photos when I’m away from home, there’s something to be said about rediscovering your current surroundings and seeing them from a new perspective. Finding beauty in your own backyard (or your neighborhood, if you’re like me and don’t have a yard) will help you see your own space in a new light.

Here are some tips as well as some inspiration to help you get out your door and discover the beauty in your own backyard.

Camera and lens considerations

Macro lens: My lens of choice is the Fujifilm 60mm macro. The front yards and gardens in my neighborhood are always bursting with flowers and bustling with bees and other small creatures. Using a macro lens is a fun way to explore a different world, and the narrow field of view helps remove distractions from my images. Different times of the year are going to give you different subjects, too! Here in the Pacific Northwest, summertime means the lavender starts to bloom. And if I can find a patch of it in my neighborhood, there’s a very good chance it will be flooded with bees and other insects.

Wide-angle lens: Depending on your location, personal style, and gear on hand, you may want to try a wide-angle lens. Wide-angle lenses allow you to capture more of your surroundings and can be great when you want to get a photo of a full tree or the front of a building, for example.

Telephoto lens: If you enjoy working with longer focal lengths, backyards and neighborhoods are great for that as well. A longer focal length really lets you blur and compress your background while eliminating distractions, allowing you to create some gorgeous images.

Mobile phone photography: Another option is to use your mobile phone. I do this often when I’m walking my dogs or just taking a leisurely walk through my neighborhood. Plus, I nearly always have my phone with me, so I tend to get the majority of photos in my neighborhood using my iPhone. There are also lenses and cases you can purchase to extend the capabilities of your phone. One of my go-to add-ons is a case and lens setup from Moment. I love the macro lens, which allows me to create close-ups with my iPhone.

Composition and technique tips

Lighting and shadows: Photographers are aware that lighting is very important to photography. Good lighting can make any subject look superb, while bad lighting can do just the opposite. Early morning and late evening light are both good contenders when the sun is out, but overcast days tend to be my preference. The light is diffused and even, letting the subject shine through.

Find (or create) a clean background: When photographing close-up images, such as with my macro lens, I’m usually going to want a clean, simple background. This can be achieved by photographing the subject against a solid color, changing your settings (using a wide aperture) to blur the background, repositioning your composition so the subject has nothing busy behind it, or even bringing a small piece of paper or cardboard to place behind the subject.

Create patterns with natural or man-made objects: Nature is filled with patterns; it’s just a matter of finding them. I like discovering groupings of flowers and other plants and photographing them top-down to create a frame-filled nature pattern. Or I set my focus on one element and blur the rest of the frame with a wide aperture.

Play with color: Colorful images have a big impact. You can look for complementary colors (colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as blue and yellow) and photograph them together to create contrast, or you can find subjects with similar colors grouped together.

Subject ideas

You may already know what you want to photograph in your backyard or neighborhood, but if you’d like some inspiration to get those creative gears churning, here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Flowers and bugs: These are beautiful subjects to look for and can make for colorful and vibrant images.
  • Textures: I like to collect textures, and when I see an old rusty car or a scratched-up dumpster, I photograph it and add it to my collection.
  • Weather-specific imagery: Have you ever looked out the window and noticed that the weather is unique? Such as on a very foggy day or during a sudden freeze in the winter? These moments are fleeting, so try to make the best of them by getting outside (but not far from the house) and photographing the moment. Right after a rainfall is also a great time to get outdoors with the camera. There will likely be raindrops on foliage and other areas, and the streets and sidewalks will still have a nice sheen.
  • Buildings and urban life: If you’re a fan of street photography and live in a city, then don’t be afraid to look for subjects in your neighborhood! Maybe you’ll find a building with an interesting sign or a person walking their funny-looking dog down the street.

Depending on where you live, you’ll have different subjects and environments to photograph. But ultimately, it’s all about your creativity. Every location on the planet has its own beauty, whether it’s gardens lush with flowers and plants, open fields with a great view of the sky, or an urban environment with buildings and street life. The key is to keep your eyes open to the possibilities that are right in front of you.

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