As the name suggests, when you walk into a formal garden you won't find a leaf mind about a flower out of place. All the plants are neat, tidy and often ordered in straight, perfect rows. These gardens are the places you know a gardener has spent hours with a spirit level and a pair of scissors meticulously trimming away until his bushes are just right.
These symmetrical gardens that are often bursting with colour and texture exist in most parts of the world. Go to Japan and you'll find meditation gardens while European gardens are more rectilinear and often have an axis which the rest of the design follows. You'll also find gardens that are centred around buildings and others where paths of gravel and neatly mowed lawns surround pools, fountains and statues.
A lens such as the Pentax DA 50mm f/1.8 will be ideal for showing the garden as you can see it through your eyes. A wider angle lens, such as the DA 12-24mm f/4 will enable you to capture wide angle vistas and exaggerate the size and shapes of structures in the gardens. A telephoto lens such as the DA* 200mm f/2.8 ED [IF] SDM will be ideal for capturing the symmetrical lanes of trees while a macro lens like the HD DA 35mm f/2.8 macro limited will enable you to capture the smaller details, such as the flowers and textures in the garden.
A polariser might help to get rid of excess glare in images, and a small reflector may come in handy if you need to shed extra light on a subject. A tripod might also be a useful tool if you are allowed to take one into the garden for slow exposures to create movement in shots on windy days.
As formal gardens are full of lines and symmetry that lead the eye down paths and along hedgerows use a small aperture to get as much of the garden in focus as possible and general views of the garden will always work better if your image has a distinct back, middle and foreground.
Of course, there will be an abundance of hedges, trees, and other plants forming symmetrical rows just crying out to be photographed but also look out for paths and bridges to lead the eye into the frame.
Look for reflections in windows of buildings or on the surface of a pond and while you're near water take some time out and slow your shutter speeds right down to turn a cascade of water into something a little more tranquil.
Don't think this means your macro lens is made redundant however, as there's always some form of architectural detail that's waiting to be photographed. Iron gates, stone walls and fencing all have interesting patterns that look great under a macro lens.
If you have a large building or some tiny stepping stones, put a person in your shot to give your image scale and if you want to photograph a statue or two, use your wide angle lens to get both the garden and statue in frame. Watch your backgrounds and eliminate any unwanted objects from the scene – you don't want the leaves of a palm sticking into the side of your framed English garden now.
Use your imagination, start thinking out of the box a little and try shooting from a different perspective. Get down low or if you have a hill or a building you can get on the top of shoot down on your scene. It's a great way to photograph the turns and twists of a maze or to demonstrate the sheer size of the garden you're in.