Photograph the Magic of Longwood Gardens


PUBLISHED ON:  June 28 , 2024

Longwood Gardens is a sprawling wonderland of botanical beauty that intrigues photographers with vibrant colors, captivating landscapes, and awe-inspiring plant varieties. You're probably wondering how do you capture this magical place in photographs?

This article will guide you to unlocking the single most important secret of successful photography at Longwood Gardens. Additionally, you'll get to see my favorite Longwood photos along with helpful critiques of each image to learn from.

Longwood Gardens FlowersLongwood Gardens Yearly Tulip Festival

CRITIQUE: Using a telephoto focal length "flattens" the perspective in this photo of the tulips AND gives me a shallow depth of field, rendering the tulips in the background to be pleasantly out-of-focus. I chose a low-to-the-ground perspective so that the white lily flowers would be higher in the frame and be positioned against the red tulips.


To get the best photos of Longwood, you should vary your photography with different perspectives, unique camera angles angles, different lighting situations, different times of the day, and different times of the year. The more variety you shoot the more likelihood that you'll get some stunning photographs. There are 5 great ways to use variety to get great photos of the gardens. Enjoy the photos and critiques first or jump to the five tricks here.

First, take a quick look at the interactive map below if you're not sure where this horticultural delight is and how long it will take you to get there. It's an interactive map so you can zoom in or out on your view of the area. Longwood Gardens is located in Kennett Square, PA, just outside of Philadelphia and covers 1,100 acres.

The photo below was taken in mid September, well before the fall colors burst onto the scene. In my previous visits I spent most of my time exploring the amazing conservatory.  I had never visited the meadows before. The view was breathtaking.

Longwood Gardens meadowLongwood Gardens meadow
It was quite a surprise

In the photo above I moved to a specific spot to include the trees at both the left and right edges of the composition to act as framing devices to the main subject, the historical building in the distance. I used a 100mm lens to bring me closer to the building and also avoid any distracting elements in the foreground.

The weather was warm. The sky was blue and a few small puffy clouds danced slowly across the sky. There was a gentle breeze coming across the  field, creating brilliant yellow waves of yellow and filling my nose with a wonderful aroma. 

This photo below shows one of my favorite types of photos to take when I go to Longwood Gardens. Macro photography's two most popular subjects are insects and flowers.  Super close-up bug photographs are fascinating, no doubt, but can be scary to some. On the other hand, I've never met anyone who thinks flowers make a poor subject for photography.

Conservatory flower"rhyncholaeliocattleya"
Longwood Conservatory Flower

I am blown away by the intricate design and vibrant colors when I look at and photograph flowers.

I used my 100mm dedicated macro lens to get up close and personal with this orchid in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens. I was excited when I captured the tapestry of colors and  ruffled edges of this delicate and amazing wonder. I intentionally composed the image to include both the outside edge and internal details.

In the photo above I moved to a specific spot to include the trees at both the left and right edges of the composition to act as framing devices to the main subject, the historical building in the distance. I used a 100mm lens to bring me closer to the building and also avoid any distracting elements in the foreground.

The secret to photographing Long wood Gardens is to shoot variety. At first glance you may be saying "No kidding, Captain Obvious." But, it's much more than shooting a variety of subjects. Read on!

Yes, it's true.  Longwood has a tremendous diversity in the types of plants, both inside and outside the buildings to photograph, but shooting the different plants, trees, flowers, is just one aspe to explore when you're seeking to capture the variety. Scroll down and see the section on HOW TO GET VARIETY IN YOUR PHOTO GALLERY OF LONGWOOD below.

Longwood Gardens Water FountainsLongwood's Italian Water Garden

I positioned my self to a vantage point to highlight 3 areas of interest. I included the shadowed fountain in the lower left foreground, the circular fountain in the top right, and the wicket-shaped fountains in the top left. These 3 elements form a triangle of sorts and give the viewer's eye  a path to follow, not matter which direction your eye travels.

This is white text against a dark red background

Longwood Gardens is the perfect place to practice your compositional skills with your photography. The image of the bridge in the Longwood Gardens meadow is a classic example of one of the techniques you can use to take visually interesting photographs. Before you look ahead, do you know what technique is being used?

Meadow bridge LongwoodMeadow Bridge at Longwood Gardens

This is a solid example of how you can use the technique called leading lines to guide you with framing in your photo just right. Look for ways to include elements that have straight, diagonal, or curved lines, that lead your eye into the photograph, often toward the main subject or point of interest. In this case, the curve lines from the bridge railing lead your eye directly to a point of interest, the people walking toward the bridge. 

How To Get Variety in Your Photo Gallery of Longwood

In addition to photographing the many different subjects, there are other ways to insure that you'll get the variety and success you want with your photography of Longwood Gardens. Here are 5 techniques oh how to get an abundance of variety in your photos of Longwood Gardens and a much greater chance of coming away with truly stunning photos.

1. Perspective

Longwood flowerVertical Composition

Failing to photograph your subject while using a variety of perspectives is the biggest mistake newbie photographers will make. This is so important that it's the first chapter I wrote in my book on improving your digital photography techniques.

With photography, composition is dramatically altered when you change your focal length. Wide angle lens setting emphasize foreground elements. Middle range focal length renders your subject to what we describe as a normal perspective, a similar rendition that we perceive with our eyes.  Telephoto focal lengths "flatten"

Hold your camera to shoot subjects with both vertical (portrait) and horizontal (landscape) orientations. You'll see good examples of both orientations in this article. See the post on perspective on my sister website: Perspective and Composition

2. Lighting

Photography has often been defined as "painting with light." The truth is that the type and quality of light striking your subject has more impact on how your subject renders than any other factor. I'm a huge fan of soft light that still has direction, but bright sun can also give you appealing photographs.

The photo above of the Longwood Gardens meadow came out great because of the brilliant sun blasting the yellow flowers and contrasting with the blue sky. The flowers below rendered better with soft diffuse light inside the conservatory.

Pavonia multiflora - Brazilian CandleSoft lighting on Pavonia multiflora
Brazilian Candle

The composition above broke one of the "rules of photography" that says you shouldn't divide your photo in half by including complete horizontal or vertical elements from edge to edge of your photo. In this case I liked the symmetry of two blossoms on each side of the stem.  I counteracted that with the asymmetry of the softer-focus blossoms in the top left and bottom right.

3. Seasons And Weather

Any season is a good season to shoot photos at Longwood Gardens. There are photo ops both outdoors and inside as well during all four seasons. The conservatory and other buildings present you with climate-controlled shooting conditions.

Spring and Fall are known for their vastly different colorful palette. Summer is known for full levels of growth and plenty of insects to photograph. Winter is known for unique stark, but still beautiful landscapes as well as occasional snowy opportunities.

Mother Nature rules. We can't control the weather, but we can control the choices we make on timing our photography with respect to the weather. When it's wet outside, colors become deeper, richer and more saturated. This provides you with a way to look at the great outdoors in a “different light.” Sun angles are lower in the cooler months and the light is much more frequently overhead in the summer months.

4. Camera settinGs

The two camera settings you need to know about for photography at Longwood are aperture and shutter speed. You can certainly get by with your cameras set to automatic, but if you take a little more control of aperture and shutter speed settings, it can have a big effect on how your photos come out.


Use different f/stop settings to control the range of things in focus. You can use a large lens opening ( a small f/stop number) to limit the range of things in focus within your photo. In the photo below I used this technique to emphasize the one red bloom up close and de-emphasize blooms in the background.

Flower large apertureLarge Aperture (Small f/stop #)
Blurry background

In the photo above the subject is in sharp focus and the background is intentionally and pleasantly out of focus because I used a large aperture. This is known as narrow or small depth of field

I used the opposite technique in the photograph of the Conservatory below, a small aperture (large f/stop #) so that things close and far are in sharp focus. This is know as getting a large or deep depth of field.

Small aperture flowerSmall Aperture (Large f/stop #)
Everything in Focus

I chose a small enough aperture (use f/11 or f/16) to make sure that everything both close and far from the camera is in sharp focus. Also, I used the composition concept of symmetry  where the left side and right side of the image are almost exactly the same. The other thing that helps the composition of the image is the diagonal lines of the post and the edges of the glass ceiling that lead you into the yellow floral display in the background.


The other camera setting that you may want to know more about is shutter speed. It's a number that tells you how long the shutter is open and allowing light to strike your camera sensor. Typical shutter speeds in normal lighting conditions typically range from 1/40th second up to 1/250 second, but depending on the conditions and aperture being used can range quite a bit slower or faster than those numbers.

You need to use a shutter speed that is fast enough to freeze any blur caused by subject or camera movement. The wind in the outside areas, and the wind caused by fans in the indoor displays could make your subject appear unsharp or blurry. To prevent motion blur I recommend you start with shutter speeds of 1/125 second or faster and adjust if necessary depending on the strength of the wind.

Indoor Water FountainIndoor Water Fountain at 1/200 second shutter speed

I picked a spot of about a 45 degree angle to shoot this indoor water fountain in the conservatory. Camera settings were a shutter speed of 1/200 second to freeze the motion of the water, an aperture of f/8 to get everything in focus, with an ISO of 1250 to get a bright enough exposure.

Alternatively, you can intentionally use a slow shutter speed to get creative and artistic blur in your photos. You can experiment with this technique with or without a tripod, depending on the effect you want to get. Long exposure photos are often used for water fountain photographs were you want the water to appear super smooth and creamy.

I've not done any long exposure photos of the fountains at Longwood, but you can see the same effect you get with waterfall photography in the photo below taken at Ricketts Glen.

You can take the same type of photo at Longwood using a extra slow shutter speed and a tripod.

5. Custom CroppinG

This is likely the most underused (and powerful) technique to improve your images in the entire world of photography. It takes just a few seconds to crop your original image and improve its composition dramatically.  Some elitist photographers falsely believe you have to stick with the standard 35mm crop with a ration of width to height of 3:2.  Wrong!

Here's a few quick examples of changing the format by cropping of my images into a square design:

Longwood succulentSucculent

Longwood flowersOrchid

Bird of ParadiseBird of Paradise

Cropping also gives you an opportunity to eliminate distractions and simplify your compositions for more powerful images. See the uncropped image on the left and the much improved image on the right that was cropped.

Cropped orchidUncropped Orchid

Cropped orchidCropped Orchid

The cropped photo is simpler and more attractive.  The uncropped image has a big distraction in the bottom right of the composition.

Random FActs About Long Gardens

When it comes to photographing Longwood, it will be more interesting (and helpful)  for you to know a few random facts about this amazing place.

  • Longwood Gardens contains over 9,000 Species.
  • The name Longwood comes from "Long Woods," The area of land was  a stop on the Underground Railroad  before the Civil War.
  • One of the biggest projects to make the gardens more appealing to families with younger children was the building of three impressive walk-though treehouses.
  • The Conservatory gardens under glass take up 1.6 acres (expanding as this article is being written) with 13 indoor gardens and over 850 different types of permanent plants.
  • Longwood has many indoor and outdoor fountains.
  • More than 500 volunteers work at Longwood Gardens to keep everything maintained and updated.

I hope you enjoyed this photo tour and that this post has inspired you to come photograph Longwood Gardens too. Here's a link to the Longwood website and an article that you may want to visit:


Visit Longwood GardensVisit Longwood Gardens on Pinterest

Recommended Camera GEar

CAMERA. No matter what camera you use you can get great photos at such an enchanting location. most importantly, you need to compose your photos well and take advantage of good lighting situations. You can take photos with your smartphone, of course, but the best results will come from a camera with interchangeable lenses and a larger sensor.

LENSES. A zoom lens with a wide angle to telephoto range will be the most valuable to you in shooting the variety of shots you're seeking. A wide angle lens is good for shooting landscapes and a telephoto lens is good for shooting detail shots. A dedicated macro lens is the best choice for shooting flowers up close as a second lens to use, but any lens that focuses closely is fine. 

TRIPOD.  A tripod is very helpful for sharper photos indoors and long exposure photos, but indoor use of tripods is limited until 12:00 pm.

REFLECTOR. Small and folding reflectors are useful for bouncing light to lighten the shadow areas, particularly with close-up photos, and is also useful when you want to shield your subject from harsh sunlight.

I'm glad you made it this far! It's my sincere hope that this collection of my photos and the story of my visits to Longwood Gardens has inspired you to travel to this wonderful place. Whether you're using your cell phone , a simple point and shoot camera, or a DSLR-whether you're a beginner or an advanced enthusiast-everyone can enjoy photographing here.

Bruce Lovelace portrait

Bruce Lovelace is the publisher of Bruce shot portraits full time for over 35 years. Now he shoots more travel photography.  Read more about him on the About Page. He also publishes how to articles and camera gear reviews at the  Photography Tips and Canon Geek websites.

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