A Morning Photographing at the LA Arboretum


I have been to the LA Arboretum once in the 10 years we have lived here, even though it is just 15 minutes down the street.  So I decided to break out of my rut and check it out, it was an unexpected adventure.

I recently read an article that really spoke to me.  It basically said “stop whining that there have been no wildflowers, or flower fields near you, go to the local gardens.  They have great displays”  I was geared up to photograph the “usual”, cactus and succulents, and maybe a few flowers.  What I didn’t expect was architecture, posturing peacocks….and not many flowers.

Photo Capture

Equipment and preparation:

  • Long telephoto lens: I noticed many people photographing birds here, especially humming birds and the peacocks. I wish I had brought this gear.
  • Macro lens:  Its an arboretum, there are plants and if you’re lucky some flowers, a macro is a must.
  • Wide angle lens:  If you are interested in the architecture you will need this.
  • Tripods. It was busy when I went, but I didn’t feel crowded or in other peoples’ way.
  • HDR:  If it is bright, you have a large range of tonality, and your subject is not moving, you might want to try HDR capture.

Note:  The arboretum opens at 9:00 am, which means harsh light, especially in the summer.  I would focus your time on subjects in the shade, and shoot infrared if possible.  The grounds are 127 acres, I would recommend breaking up your visits, so that you are not shooting in the harshest light most of day.

Shot List

During my visit, I covered just a fraction of the arboretum, heading left from the entrance I focused most of my time in the Baldwin Lake area.

Queen Anne Cottage Area

  • Look for interesting patterns and reflections in the water
  • Take a wide shot of the cottage and its reflection in the lake
  • This is a great opportunity for infrared
  • Look for details within the structures and isolate elements and patterns – like the stop sign below, or the wagon wheels in the Coach Barn
1304_MFA_Portland Infrared_001-Edit


  • Look underneath leaves and capture the lines and shapes as the light reflects through
  • Focus on the forms and curves of the plants, like the agave below.  It was sitting in an un-planted area near the lake and kept me captivated for 20 minutes.


No visit to the arboretum is complete unless you are chasing a noisy peacock around begging it to display.  They do disrupt the tranquility of the gardens (when I first entered I muttered something under my breath to the effect of “what’s making all that racket”), but when they start fanning their feathers you no longer really hear them.

  • Because the tail feathers are not dense, make sure the background behind is colorful.
  • Go for a different angle.  I found the back side as interesting as front side (not sure what that says about me)
  • Create an abstract from the patterns in the tail feathers.


Peter and I were lamenting the absence of poppies this year in Southern California.  I found a patch in the arboretum and redirected my pent up energy.

  • Try close-ups since the natural surroundings can be distracting.
  • Find angles that allow you to photograph the orange/yellow poppy against the blue sky.


Because you will most likely be shooting in the bright sun, think about turning your images to black and white, or using one of the creative retro effects. This will help neutralize the bright white spots and other distracting elements.

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