Tree Photography – Top Five Photography tips for getting great pictures of trees. or forests.
Trees are literally everywhere we look so how come the market isn’t saturated with a ton of great tree pictures, autumn not included? No one ever says they’re a tree photographer do they. So why is this such an untapped niche? Could it be as simple as they’re just too common to catch the eye of most photographers? Or is it possible that the reason you don’t see a lot of great pictures of trees is because photographers can’t seem to see the tree for the forest. Well composed hard hitting “wow” tree pictures are hard to come by so it helps if you have some preconceived ideas on what you’re looking for and what constitutes a great tree photograph or forest photograph.
1. The Seasons:
Autumn: Sure you take photographs of pictures all the time in Autumn, who can resist given all the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. I have provided tips for capturing those tree images in the Fall Pictures section of this website. But autumn is a very short window of opportunity so what about the other 48 weeks of the year?
Spring: Probably the second seasonal event that comes to mind for most photographers are the blossoms of Spring. Trees in blossom make for very powerful photography, I especially like to take panorama’s of these scenes to give the viewer a sense of the vast beauty and color across a larger scene as it often provides that “wow” impact we’re looking to achieve. Warning: the window for Spring blossom photography is very short so when you see a scene, stop and get your photo while the opportunity presents itself as wind and rain can very quickly erode what was otherwise a picturesque scene only hours earlier. And don’t forget to add a macro lens to the equation and capture close ups of blooms.
Winter: Yes it’s cold, let’s get that out of the way upfront. But let me tell you, after a snowfall, especially wet snow, trees are covered in snow and for my money these scenes make for some of the most spectacular tree photographs I have ever seen. So if the forecast calls for snow overnight, set your alarm clock to “sleep is over-rated mode” and take a drive. If you really want to take full advantage of the moment you will have already scoped out a location and arrive at the moment of golden light to capture the magic.
Summer: The one season that can throw just about anything at you. From lush green leaves, to rain soaked water beaded leaves to drought where leaves are literally falling off the trees. I always keep my eyes open for the unique in summer as all too often trees blend into one another and we lose sight of some real gems that would make for great tree images. Isolated trees in vast fields are a personal favorite of mine.
2. Light: There’s just no escaping the impact light has on a photograph and trees are no exception. Aside from the usual reference to the golden hours of dawn and dusk and you’ll want to experiment with all types of lighting conditions. For example: back lighting can provide exceptional detail in isolated leaves or make for a stunning silhouette of an isolated tree with or without leaves. Shadows caused by side lighting reveal details that can create striking tree photographs that otherwise would hardly be worth photographing. Moral of the story here is experiment with all types of light, not just the standard frontal lighting which tends to be the default for most photographers.
3. Adverse Weather: Pictures of trees taken during periods of fog, heavy mist, in stormy conditions, etc. create a sense of story for the viewer. We can all relate to the mood or feeling of being there in that moment, the smell in the air, the tingling sensation on our skin and it connects us to the image in a very powerful way. Once again a little careful planning by watching the weather patterns in your area can help you predict when these magical moments might present themselves.
4. Motion: To show motion or not to show motion that is the question. Trees with leaves are heavily impacted by wind and you can capture that motion in your images should you choose to do do. Using a tripod, simply throw on a neutral density filter (if required) to slow the shutter speed down to 1/15th or slower and capture an image. Review and shoot again using different shutter speeds until you get a look that you find appealing. Of course if you wish to avoid motion blur use a shutter speed of 1/250th or faster and you’ll freeze all motion.
5. Isolation: Mentioned briefly above, when you can isolate a single tree in a scene that has a pleasing background and/or foreground you can come away with some very pleasing results. Very often those pictures of trees in isolation adhere closely to the rule of thirds but not always so dare to experiment. I often look for isolated trees that have no leaves and interesting branch patterns with back lighting. No to be contradictory but pictures portraying entire forest landscapes can be just as pleasing so keep an open mind while scouting for photo opportunities.
Close-ups: Take the time to study any tree close-up and you’ll notice things about it that you never saw before, patterns in the bark, fungus formations, vein-like tubes throughout single leaves, the rings of a fallen tree. We all know what trees look like so when you present your audience with a picture that represents a portion of a tree they can fill in the rest of the image on their own and that allows the viewer to use their imagination. Alternatively, the image may be so abstract the viewer can not tie it to the source right away which once again allows the viewer to use their imagination and further connect with your image.