Go out on a limb to capture images of trees in as many ways as possible
Text Photography By Russ Burden
Updated April 25, 2022
Although the theme of this week’s tip is trees, it can be applied to many subjects. Press on and apply much of the advice and particulars to whatever you photograph. I begin with a teaser: Why did the tree take a nap? For rest.
Trees became a poplar subject for me when I got into a photo funk. I got caught up in the doldrums, I wanted to make photos, but nothing excited me. One day, I opened a magazine and a gorgeous photo of a tree was on the page to which I turned. That was my motivator. So much so, the next time I got stuck in a rut and felt stumped, I opened a different magazine to a page and told myself that whatever nature subject I first saw, I would make it a priority to create a portfolio. If the same happens to you, adopt this rut buster and utilize the idea.
Trees are very diverse both as a species and as photography subjects. Entire forests that dwell on hillsides make wonderful images. A single tree that stands alone has unlimited potential. A solitary leaf that dangles from a branch or has already fallen can wind up as a wall hanging over your fireplace. The potential is endless. Each season introduces variations, and dramatic weather provides even more. There are aspects that dictate what trees we photograph. The primary one is deciduous vs. coniferous. For the sake of simplicity, this week’s tip focuses on deciduous.
How wood you best capture a tree in spring? Trees in spring offer a wide variety of subject matter. Flowering deciduous provide photographers with subject matter that ranges from macro to forested hillsides. As buds morph into flowers, break out the macro lens to zero in on individual blossoms. Use flash to soften the contrast. In mid-day bright sun, I don’t often make photos. Contrast is elevated, the color is cool in tone and the sun’s angle is poor. But the world of macro can be augmented with flash. Attach a macro lens and use flash as the main light. Use small apertures to get the entire blossom in focus. This benefits a photographer in that light from a flash falls off quickly so backgrounds tend to go dark. This makes for stronger images because background distractions that would otherwise show up are darker.
No conifers, so how would you spruce up a deciduous? Think green and think patterns. Green dominates the summer months. This can act as a negative as we don’t tend to view green as an exciting color. With this in mind, reserve the times you photograph summer trees for sunrise and sunset when light adds color to the scenery. The warm glow of rise and set helps bathe the trees in hues that evoke more emotion in the viewer. Look for patterns in trees at a local park, a forest or along a hillside. I live near the western mountains and often photograph aspens. An aspen forest is actually a single organism in that the forest originates from a single tree. Aspens send out root suckers from which new trees sprout. They often create patterns, especially in their trunks of white. Walk through the forest and seek out the patterns to add a different twist to your tree images.
What root do you take to make the best autumn image? Backlight is key, especially when autumn-colored leaves take on a semitransparent look. The light radiates through the leaves and provides a glow. The light is dramatic and emits oohs and aahs from viewers of backlit fall-colored foliage. Sidelight at sunrise and sunset should also be sought after when you make tree images in the fall. When side-lit, on a clear day, the sky is often its bluest. This works well if you know color theory. Yellow, orange and red are opposites of the blue spectrum, so when they’re juxtaposed, the warm colors come forward and the cool tones recede. This gives the viewer the impression the leaves have three-dimensionality.
How does one log in to obtain the best winter tree image? Silhouettes are the name of the game in winter as are frost or snow-covered tree skeletons that have character, shape and form. Isolate and simplify your composition by singling out trees that have a unique structure. Photograph them against a colorful sunrise or sunset to create the silhouette. If dark clouds are behind the tree, move to your left or right as you don’t want the dark branches to create tone mergers with the dark clouds that often lack vibrant color. Monitor the weather and if the forecast calls for overnight snow followed by a clear morning, visit your favorite tree early in the day and work the backlit silhouette, the early sidelight with the tree against the blue sky and then repeat the backlight to capture the frosty glow of snow on each limb.
As I mentioned in paragraph one, many of the tips and techniques I explained can also be applied to other subjects. Think about how your favorite one can benefit from what I shared. I’m rooting for you to make some great images!
To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.
Originally Published April 21, 2022