Parks are great places for photographers! Even if you’re there with no one in sight there’s still going to be nature and the structural layout of the place to shoot. The pace of a park can change quickly.
It starts quietly, then speeds up as the morning goes on before slowing down as people come there to eat lunch. Then there is another busy patch in the afternoon, then a slow evening. All this means there will always be something to shoot and you can pick your style of shot.
There are some shots everyone takes: the perfect flower bed, the child eating an ice-cream, the dramatic avenue of trees, the dog chasing a ball, and so on. These are great subjects and I’m not saying you shouldn’t shoot these things.
What I am suggesting is to look for the unusual and different shots as well. For this article I spent a morning at the park and I challenge YOU to do the same! Look with fresh eyes and take some great shots to expand your portfolio.
A photography gear checklist
Your kit list is a short one: you’ll be using natural light so at a minimum you’ll bring a point and shoot camera set to Auto. If you want to take more kit then take a DSLR with a big zoom for the candid shots and your widest lens for landscapes and to stay inconspicuous.
Don’t take a tripod if you’re hoping for candid shots from your big zoom. Try to use other camera stabilizing techniques instead.
Leaning against a tree is a great way to steady your camera and the tree canopy can provide shade to reduce lens flare. Read on to see the shot I took.
1. See tree’s differently
Everyone knows what a tree is and what it looks like, so you’re going to have to start thinking. Try to get shots that show more detail; shots that describe the tree and show it in a way that makes your viewer stop and look.
Think about height, shape and texture in the foliage.
Get close to the trunk and look up, take your time to choose your composition.
2. Take Pond shots that count
I have fond memories of visiting the duck pond with my Grandma as a kiddie and wonder if you do too?
So for the next set of shots I will be focusing on the pond. Everyone shoots the ducks and the whole vista but I want you to look differently.
Think about the people that visit it and why they come there. Use the reflections in the water and show the animal life that uses it.
Stay aware of your motion and movement
Look for fountains and moving water so you can show this movement in your photos. Freezing then with a fast shutter speed or sports mode, or letting it blur with a slow shutter speed or landscape mode. You might need to wait for evening when the light is dimmer to get the blur.
Try some underwater shots!
If you’ve a waterproof camera try a few shots at or below the waterline, but please check if your camera really is waterproof and not just splash proof before you try it.
To get this shot I had to lay on the grass and shoot across the pond using a large zoom. Don’t be afraid of other people watching you, it’s okay to crouch down or lay in the grass to get your shot.
To get this shot another undignified shooting position was required, flat on my belly holding my Olympus tough in the pond. It’s a reasonably priced underwater camera and great fun if a little wet to use.
3. Don’t ignore the architecture
Every park will have some form of structure, even if it’s only an entrance gate, and these provide opportunities too.
Be ready to move around to get the best shots
A picture of a gate sounds a bit dull but a picture of a path framed by a gate sounds a lot better, so be prepared to move all over to make the most of what you find. The best tip I can offer is to raise or lower your camera. People expect to see things from eye level but that might not be the best way to get a shot that stands out from the crowd.
Try black and white
Remove the colour to make your shot all about the shape, texture and patterns in the architecture.
Even an everyday park bench can be beautiful if you stop and look.
War memorials are designed to look imposing and striking so they make great shots. Think how you can use symmetry and leading lines to get a magnificent shot.
#4 Look at the big picture
A shot of the whole scene will give a context for the set of frames you end up with, but don’t just point your camera and shoot anything. Think about what you can see and where to position yourself so the shot not only tells people where everything is, but has interest in its own right.
When choosing where to shoot from you need to get creative.
This shot was taken from on top of a car park, great places to gain height for all sorts of shots.
5. Spend time in the swing park
A swing park is a wonderful thing! Not only because it’s full of fun things to play on but because it’s going to be full of geometric shapes and bright colours.
Once you’ve had a good play on the swings try to get shots that show the lines, curves and patterns involved in the metalwork. These shots are going to be good ones to cross process or over saturate for added punch.
Head out early when the park is empty and look for bright colours and shapes you can oversaturate.
6. Show the people
Buy an ice cream or a coffee and sit down for a while. As you sit there look at anything that moves and think about how it would make a good shot.
Some things just won’t work but a lot of things will. You can get candid shots with a big zoom lens of all sorts of things going on; people eating, courting, getting drunk, playing football, taking their dogs for a walk, etc.
In fact people do literally everything in a park so try to respect their privacy but get those shots that are a slice of life in the outdoors.
7. Make the difference with processing
Just a couple of minutes spent processing the shots you bring home can make a huge difference! Try all sorts: black and white, sepia, or selective colour enhancements as a start.
If you’ve got Lightroom then give some of the Hacking Photography Lightroom presets a try, they’re great ‘one click’ adjustments that have been carefully set up and can give you some stunning results really quickly.
Time to come clean: not all my shots are great! Most photographers have some discards – yes even the pro’s. I rescued this lack luster lichen shot using one of the Evolution Lightroom presets.
Parks are carefully designed and everything is there for a reason. Use this to your advantage, but also don’t be frightened to go against the grain and take those different and unusual shots.