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Many nature photographers love to photograph trees. Whether grouped in a forest, standing solitary in an open field, or ablaze in autumn tones, they often make an attractive subject. They exhibit color, texture, form, shape and beauty. As the seasons change, so do the trees. The amount of intrigue they possess keeps photographers shooting them again and again.
Read The Light: As with every subject that’s photographed, the quality of light is key to creating a successful image. Early-morning or late-evening light work the best. The color is warm, and the side lighting possibilities bring out the textures and shapes of leaves and trunks. Avoid midday when the trees are top-lit by the sun. The light is flat and cool in tone. The exception is in the fall when the sun is lower in the sky and the autumn colors can be backlit.
Look for unique light. In the accompanying photograph of the silhouetted trees, I shot it looking east before sunup. The sky had a warm tone so I knew it would make a nice wash of color as a background. Knowing the area well, I dropped to my knees, metered for the sky, and shot the two trees from a low angle to not merge them with the ground and completely offset them against the sky. The moon was added as I double-exposed it onto the same frame as the trees.
Frame It: Trees can play a subordinate role in creating a successful picture. Use branches of trees to fill in blank areas of a composition to frame the main subject. Look for an overhang that conforms to the shape of both the blank sky and main focal point. Try not to merge the tree’s branches with the main subject, as you want the frame to enhance the picture, not create a distraction.
Experiment: Trees are stationary items, so it’s tough to portray motion. But, by waiting for a windy day, leaf movement can be depicted using a slow shutter speed. Another technique to show motion is to pan the camera up or down the trunks to create a painterly effect. Try using a one- or two-second exposure on an overcast day to create some unique effects.