Volunteering for IGPOTY

08 March 2016

Region: South East

Over the last eight weeks I’ve been helping support the International Garden Photographer of the Year exhibition at Sissinghurst Castle. Late last year the National Trust, hosts of the exhibition, asked a number of local camera clubs if anyone would be interested in helping out at the exhibition in the role of “photography expert”. In total fourteen of us took on this role.

I really enjoyed it. Sissinghurst is normally pretty quiet during January and February as the gardens are closed and, unlike many other National Trust properties, there isn’t a large house to visit. However with the exhibition on, visitor numbers went up 200% over the previous year.

The role was to be on hand to talk about the photos with any visitor who wanted more information. In practice this meant simply enjoying and appreciating the excellent photos with visitors. Although questions were asked, mainly about how much manipulation was done to the photos (answer – very basic), visitors simply wanted to enjoy the wonderful display. There were photos across seven categories including wildlife in the garden, wildflower landscapes and breathing spaces.

As a club photographer I get very focussed on making sure there are no blown highlights or blocked shadows in my photos as you know that this is what the visiting judge will focus on in competitions. Visitors to the exhibition couldn’t care less about this. What they do is appreciate a good photo, whether it is a close up of bees on a flower, a garden in the snow or early morning sun streaming through the trees and bathing a garden in wonderful light. This was probably the most enjoyable part of the role – seeing the visitors smiling and appreciating good photography. It has reminded me that there is more to taking photos than processing them in order to satisfy a club competition judge.

Spending so much time with the photos has also heightened my appreciation in a number of areas. Firstly, there is nothing to beat the printed photograph. Projecting a photo digitally does not offer the same opportunity to closely study the photo, taking in the detail that the photographer thought important to include.

Secondly I have come to appreciate the patience often required to produce a great photo. Standing in front of a photo studying it closely has made me think what the photographer had to do to achieve the photo. For many it has been lots of visits back to the same place to get the ideal light. Or the patience to spend hours waiting for a bird or a bee to land in a particular spot. Good photography can be about luck, being in the right spot at just the right time, but most of the time it is about patience, effort and skill.

The International Garden Photographer of the Year is the world's premier competition and exhibition specialising in garden, plant, flower and botanical photography. It is run in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, United Kingdom. The main exhibition is held annually at Kew, with a rolling programme of touring exhibitions in the UK such as Sissinghurst and all over the world. The competition is open to everyone anywhere in the world and there is no distinction drawn between professional and amateur photographers.

Sissinghurst is hoping to get the exhibition back next year and, if it does, I’ll certainly volunteer more of my time.

Images and article by Colin Smith LRPS