Tower Grove Park features open natural spaces, wide array of interesting subjects

May 18, 2018

Although it doesn’t display any exotic animals or acres of beautifully designed plant exhibits, Tower Grove park, a large park located around the Missouri Botanical Garden, is still an amazing place–not only to photograph, but to visit as well.

The park is very large, and every part of it is filled with something that could make a great photograph. There is tons of open, natural space with plenty of scenery elements just waiting to be part of a photo. There are also plenty of man-made aspects of the park. It features many colorful, beautifully and distinctively designed pavilions. Among them are multiple “candy cane” pavilions- ones with large, striking roofs painted with red and white stripes. There is also one by the pond influenced by oriental architecture, known as the “Lily Pond Shelter”, and it composes a beautiful scene blended with the waterside. I recommend taking landscape-style shots where you integrate the structures into the environment. You can also get some artsy, abstract shots with more closeup photos using unusual angles and showing the patterns in the architecture.

Natalie O’Dell
Photos of various structures at the park.

My personal favorite part of this park is a structure called “ruins”. Like the name suggests, it looks like ancient ruins. It features a broken wall around a large pond centered by a fountain, and you get in through a broken opening, which makes for an excellent framing device. There are so many opportunities here. It is a great place for reflection shots. When I came to photograph this park, it was in the winter, and although it was a nice day, the pond was still frozen over and created all sorts of structures in the pond. I’m sure that other seasons would make for their own set of great opportunities.

Natalie O’Dell
The ice formations at the ruins. Notice the use of reflection on the bottom left photo and the use of texture in all of the photos.
Natalie O’Dell
Photos of “Ruins”. This site is great for scenery shots. Several background objects have been removed from the photos.

Two spots that showcase natural beauty here are the tiny creek behind the Pool Pavilion and the water lily ponds. The former has many spots where its banks are spotted by stumpy cypress roots. If you crouch down low, you can take some beautiful, almost surreal looking photos. There are several other parts of the park with cypress trees, but this spot is by far the most picturesque. The latter is, as well as making for great scenery shots, full of beautiful water plants, even in the winter. The can both add to the scenery and make for great close up shots. They tend to be unique, and it is easy to spot patterns that can be used artistically. It also attracts some small animals you’d expect to see in wetlands. Geese are the most prominent example of this. When photographing small animals, I recommend crouching down and getting on their level. It makes for a much more interesting and dramatic perspective. This is also a technique that can be applied to plants, like the cypress roots in the creek.

Natalie O’Dell
These photos of cypress roots are appealing because the subject’s surreal appearance. The colors have been shifted from the original photos.
Natalie O’Dell
Photos of the geese by the pond. Notice the use of the lower perspective and how it adds to the images.
Natalie O’Dell
A few of the water plants at the lily pond.

Any outdoor photography site would be bound to be influenced by the weather and seasons, but this is especially true when it comes to Tower Grove Park. Pretty much any given spot in the park will depend strongly on the season. Keeping this in mind when you go will help you get a better idea of the kinds of photos you want to take and what specific subjects you’ll want to focus on. Think about how you can incorporate the season-specific things into your photos.

Natalie O’Dell
These photos of dead leaves demonstrate the importance of seasons at this park.

One downside of photographing here is that it is a popular hangout spot. This makes it difficult to keep people and cars out of your shots. It is hard to avoid, and there’s not a lot you can do to fix it. In some cases you can use perspective and angle to keep them out of view, but even then, it makes it hard to take the photo you want to take. In many cases, the best tool you have at your disposal will be Photoshop. This is a huge drawback to an otherwise amazing photography site.

However, there are good things that come out of its popularity. People often bring their dogs to this park, and many park visitors would be happy to let you photograph them. Sometimes they will even pay you for the photos, so not only could you have fun taking photos, you might even make a little bit of money.

Natalie O’Dell
A dog by the lily pond. The owners were very enthusiastic about my interest in photographing her. They gave me explicit permission to use the photo in this review.

The park also has a farmer’s market in the Spring and Summer. Although that may not sound exciting at first, it is actually a huge market with a variety of food items to buy, not just produce. It is very fun to browse through the different booths. I’ve never brought my camera there, but I imagine there would be some opportunities here for photography, and if not, at least there’s great food.

Overall I highly recommend this park. It proves to have just as many great photo opportunities as the Botanical Gardens and the zoo, but its openness actually gives it an advantage by offering more creative freedom. With only one significant drawback, it is definitely worth any photographer’s time.


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