Interview with Garden Photographer Nicky Flint

Marianne Stenger
1st July 2019

Garden and botanical photography is enjoying a surge in popularity, particularly in Britain, which is known for its serene woodlands, historic landscapes and lush well-kept gardens. To give you an insight into what it’s like to work in this area of photography, we spoke to Nicky Flint, who was the winner of this year’s International Garden Photographer of the Year competition in the Beautiful Gardens category.

These days, Flint primarily photographs nature scenes in and around the glorious Sussex countryside where she currently lives with her husband and two children. As a former gardener and designer, she has a sharp eye for detail and loves conveying the timelessness of the English countryside as well as the fleeting moments of light, movement and mood that can be caught by the camera in a split second.

Images © Nicky Flint

How did you first get started with photography and what made you want to specialise in garden photography?

I’ve always been drawn to photography. My mum’s an artist so if we saw a moment in the landscape she would want to paint it and I would want to take a photo. Whilst living at home I was able to play with my dad’s SLR but didn’t have the funds to really learn.

Fast forward a number of years and my husband began giving horticultural lectures on gardens and gardening for which he needed a library of images. I took to this task using a basic SLR and slide film, and I fell in love with it.

It was so exciting to get the slides back, weeks or even months after taking the shots, and seeing what you had. I tried my best but it was too expensive to properly practice or experiment, and the time lag was too great really to develop as a photographer.

Eventually we took the plunge into digital photography.  Yet again a basic camera, but at last I was able to practise and experiment, to be self-critical of the results and then to try over and over again. We now have a huge library of images for the lectures.  

Creating Sussex Stills, a range of botanical, garden and landscape greeting cards, evolved from this and the wish to share my photography with a wider audience. I love that my cards are now sent all over the world.

Images © Nicky Flint

Do you primarily photograph nature scenes in and around Sussex?

Yes, most of my photos are in and around Sussex. It is an astonishingly beautiful and varied county with beaches, dunes and cliffs, farmland, ancient woodlands, the Downs and marshes, wide-open vistas and little intimate corners.

I think knowing and loving the area influences much of my photography and is evident in the images. However, this was not a conscious decision as much as one of necessity and the need to fit photography in and around family life. My sons are older and at secondary school now, so it is getting easier to devote more time and energy to photography, and maybe even go further afield.

You recently won first place in the Beautiful Gardens category in the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition. Could you tell us about your winning photograph?

I was thrilled and absolutely delighted to win the ‘Beautiful Gardens’ category, especially with this photograph.  Great Dixter is a very special place and one that I know well having visited it over many years, both as a guest and with camera in hand.  

On that particular May morning the garden was breathtakingly beautiful. I arrived in the High Garden about 6am. Earlier it had been quite misty and the droplets condensed on the fennel foliage were sparkling in the sun that was just topping the nearby trees with its light softened by drifts of atmospheric moisture. It was totally bewitching, and I only hoped to do it justice.

Images © Nicky Flint

What is your process like? For instance, how do you identify new places to photograph?

To be honest I’m not sure I have a process as such. Some of my photos are ones that I’ve taken when out and about, maybe walking or driving somewhere.  Usually I see a shot, and if I have my camera with me I take it.

At other times I might see a picture and decide it would make a much better image if I go back under different weather or light conditions, or maybe even at another time of year.

My garden visits tend to be early morning, if it can be arranged with the owners. I’m not naturally a morning person, so I find this harder around midsummer when daybreak is so early. Having said that, though, once I’m out and about with my camera I love it and I certainly wouldn’t trade this time for bed and sleep.

It feels unique and it’s such a privilege to have such a private and intimate time in a garden or landscape. Under the fresh light of a new day it’s as if you’re the first person to ever see it.

What’s your go-to equipment for a typical photo shoot?

I keep it very simple as I don’t like to carry too much. My camera is a Canon 6D, which I recently upgraded from a 450D.  I have two lenses and lens hoods. One is an EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM and the other is an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM.  These cover most of my needs, although I would love to get a proper macro lens eventually.

I have a tripod, which is vital for early morning and evening shots with a shutter release cable. I also use a car-window shade to shade the camera lens when necessary. Finally, I find that a pair of fingerless gloves is a necessity as early mornings can be really quite cold at any time of the year.

Images © Nicky Flint

Do you have any advice for someone looking to get started in this area of photography?

As a self-taught photographer, my advice would be to practice as much as possible and always look at your results with a critical eye.

Think about why you like an image just as much as why you don’t like it.  What would you change: the focus, angle or exposure?  Would you zoom in or out or use a different aperture? Likewise, study other photographers’ work in books, galleries and online and apply the same criteria.

I’ve taken my best photos when I am relaxed, enjoying the moment and sense of place, so my best advice would be to make sure you are having fun and enjoy what you’re doing!

Images © Nicky Flint

Want to find out more about Nicky Flint’s photography or see more of her stunning images of Sussex and its surrounds? You can visit her website Sussex Stills or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.