The Significance of Photography in Therapeutic Horticulture: Ethical Best Practices

Sometimes it’s hard to put into words the small but meaningful moments of progress and growth we witness in our work in therapeutic horticulture. That’s why photographs are so valuable. As participants interact with plants, forming bonds and experiencing healing, photos capture these memorable instances and the stories we are honoured to hear.

These images not only serve as reminders of the journey but also highlight the growth and positive changes over time. By documenting the meaningful connections between individuals and nature, photographs effectively tell the story of therapeutic horticulture, showcasing its impact and the special moments that define it.

In this blog post we dive into the importance of taking photographs in your therapeutic horticulture practices as well as the ethical best practices which you should consider.

Table of Contents

Why taking photographs is important in Therapeutic Horticulture

Visual Documentation

Photographs can help capture participants’/clients’ therapeutic journey and the growth of both individuals and plants, contributing to a comprehensive record of the therapeutic process. It also provides opportunities for reflection and visual data for reporting purposes. Keeping the participants’/clients’ loved ones and care team informed is important. One way to do this is by providing photographs of their experiences. This encourages conversations and rapport. It can be important for family members and participants/clients to be involved in their loved one’s care and therapeutic approaches. Photographs can serve as a record for participants’/clients progress reports, care plans, and more. 

Educational Purposes

Photographs can contribute to the much-needed growing body of knowledge in therapeutic horticulture. Utilizing photographs in therapeutic horticulture can enrich the learning experience. They can be used in presentations, training programs, courses, for research purposes and more. Using images within your practice not only illustrates the therapeutic process, but they can also stimulate thoughtful discussions. By viewing the direct impact of plants on well-being, students can better grasp the benefits of the practice. 


Photographs play a big role when seeking funding or support for a therapeutic horticulture program. Pictures show the real moments of people connecting with plants and benefiting from the program. When potential supporters or donors see these images, they get a clear idea of how their money will be used and the positive changes it will bring. A strong photograph can tell a powerful story, showing the happiness and growth of participants. So, when organizations or individuals see the direct impact of the program through photos, they might be more willing to help fund it.

Program Promotion

For potential participants, seeing these images can inspire and motivate them to join, as they visualize themselves in similar uplifting scenarios. For families, photographs provide reassurance, showing their loved ones engaged, happy, and benefiting from their interactions with nature. And for stakeholders, these visuals underline the program’s effectiveness and its positive impact on participants. Essentially, well-captured images can speak volumes, serving as powerful promotional tools that attract and convince a wide audience of the program’s value.

Memory Aids

Photographs have a unique ability to freeze moments in time, allowing us to revisit them whenever we wish. For participants in therapeutic horticulture, these images can be invaluable memory aids. A simple glance at a photograph can transport them back to a specific moment, evoking the emotions and feelings they experienced. Recalling these positive experiences can be a source of joy, comfort, and motivation. Moreover, as participants look back at a series of photos, they can see their journey unfold, from their initial days to their most recent sessions. This visual timeline encourages reflection on their achievements and personal growth, instilling a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Ethical considerations when taking photographs for your practice

Taking photographs of therapeutic horticulture sessions requires ethical considerations and the informed consent of participants. Here are some best practices: 

  • If you are working for an organization, familiarize yourself with their policies and procedures for photograph consent before ever taking any photographs of participants/clients.
  • If the organization does not have a process, check out the Consent for Photography form in the GrowTH Network’s Resource Library to help you determine what procedures you may wish to put in place to ensure ethical practice. A photograph consent form should be written in clear language and include:
    • Purpose of the photographs (e.g. documentation, education and/or research).
    • How the photographs will be used (e.g. presentations, promotions and/or social media).
    • Who will have access to the photographs (e.g. staff, researchers and/or people in participants’ circle of care).
    • The option to revoke consent at any time.
    • Contact information for questions or concerns.
  • In general, when taking photographs, focus on the plants, activities, and hands-on work rather than individuals. For example, to avoid taking photographs of participants’/clients’ faces, focus on photographs of hands working on activities like flower arranging or potting up geraniums, or take over-the-shoulder shots of what they are doing in the garden.
  • Make it clear that participation in photography is entirely voluntary. No one should ever feel pressured or obligated to have their photograph taken.
  • Be especially considerate when working with minors or vulnerable populations. Obtain consent from parents or legal guardians for minors, and ensure you are following appropriate protocols for other vulnerable groups. Additionally, consider the capacity of your participants to fully understand the implications of providing consent for photography.
  • Store photographs securely and keep a record of the consent process, including signed consent forms or documentation of verbal consent. 
  • Be aware of cultural norms and sensitivities around photography and privacy. Some cultures may have different views on being photographed or sharing images.

Photography is a vital aspect of therapeutic horticulture, as it serves many purposes, such as documenting the healing process and promoting the program. However, it is essential to follow ethical principles when practicing photography in this field. This involves comprehending the organizational policies and obtaining verbal/written consent from participants/clients and or their substitute decision-maker. It is imperative to prioritize transparency, respect for the dignity of participants/clients, and cultural sensitivity to ensure that photography in therapeutic horticulture is conducted respectfully, appropriately, and positively.

Tips and tricks for taking great photographs

In today’s digital age, you don’t need a high-end expensive camera to take great photos. Often, the device in your pocket – your smartphone – is more than capable. With a few simple tips and tricks, you can capture wonderful moments and turn them into profound memories. Let’s dive into some useful tips and tricks for taking photos of your therapeutic horticulture practice.

Understand your Enviroment

Understanding your therapeutic environment is key. Recognizing the areas bathed in soft natural light or understanding how the sun shifts throughout the day can dramatically affect the outcome of your photos. Every environment has its unique ambiance and charm. By understanding the lay of the land, you’re better equipped to capture photographs that genuinely capture the essence of your session.

Prioritize Candid Shots

By keeping a close eye, you can capture instances of genuine laughter, contemplation, or that intimate bond formed between participants and nature. These candid moments, free from staged influences, provide a real and raw insight into the therapeutic journey.

Focus on Details

The world of horticulture is rich in intricate details. The texture of soil, a droplet of water poised on a leaf’s edge, or the delicate pattern of a flower’s petal can all tell a profound story. By honing in on these details with close-up shots, you can convey the deep and intimate connection individuals forge with the natural world around them.

Use Depth of Field

Manipulating depth of field can produce striking effects in your photos. A shallow depth of field, where the foreground is sharp with a softly blurred background, draws attention to the focal point of the image, whether it’s an individual, a plant, or a therapeutic activity. It adds dimension and a professional touch to your shots.

Engage with Participants

Sometimes, immersing yourself in the moment can yield the most authentic photographs. By engaging in conversations and participating in activities, you build a rapport with participants. This trust not only makes them more relaxed around the camera but also provides insights into moments worth capturing.


Think of your series of photographs as chapters in a book. Each image is a piece of a larger narrative about growth, connection, and healing in therapeutic horticulture. By ensuring variety and depth in your shots, you create a visual journey that speaks volumes to viewers, offering a comprehensive glimpse into the world of therapeutic horticulture.

Photography examples from Katie's Horticultural Therapy practice

Article written by: Katie McGillivray, HTR, Courses and Community Lead.

Edited by: Sarah Shapiro, HTR, Horticultural Therapist Lead.