From Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem entitled Trees:
“I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.”
Here’s my photographic take:
“A classic branch, a swirling limb
In spring, in winter and fall,
A wonder of nature in all its glory
Provides beauty for us all.”
I don’t proclaim to be a poet—I suppose that’s obvious! What I do take responsibility for is sharing a few tips to help you make better photos of the trees. Follow them and do justice to the words Joyce Kilmer so eloquently penned.
Moods: Trees have numerous moods that coincide with the seasons. Winter brings a solemn feeling, spring provides rebirth and warmth, summer fills them with contentment, and autumn displays change. Each season’s mood lingers until it transitions to the next. The weather during each season determines the daily mood. Different lighting, cloud and storm conditions offer a temporary respite from the overarching aspects of each season. Fog is a big determiner of a tree’s disposition. It adds tranquility, mystery and the unknown to the standing giants. Track the weather to see if fog has the potential to set up in your area overnight. If so, take advantage and make photos of your favorite tree enveloped in a shroud of mist. Snow provides a very different mood as does rain and a clearing or impending storm. Use all to enhance the mood of your favorite tree.
The Seasons: For obvious reasons, my favorite time to photograph trees is in the fall. As a given trees’ leaves begin to turn, a different photo can be made of the same subject every day. Each day, as the color intensifies, a new mood is created. Once it peaks and the leaves begin to fall, continue to make photos to show the entire progression. If you have the motivation, the drive and access to a lone standing deciduous tree, make a daily autumn image using the same composition at the same time of day to create a time-lapse. Continue until the last leaf falls. I’ve never done this, but I have photographed the same tree using the same composition in the spring, summer, fall and winter, and created a panel of four images.
Composition: Find a classic tree that grows alongside a windy path or curvy stream. Use the leading line to steer the viewer’s eye to the tree. Use the rule of thirds to dictate its placement. Find a different tree that sits in isolation and photograph it in early morning or late afternoon light. The more dramatic, the better. Let the clouds dictate where you place the tree. If the clouds are dramatic, emphasize the sky. If the light is ordinary, make the tree the dominant focal point. Find a pristine forest and photograph the patterns of trunks. If it’s winter, incorporate the shadows across the snow into the composition.
The Light: Light is a critical factor that determines the success of any image. That being said, exploit it in as many ways as possible. Definitely photograph your tree at sunrise and sunset. I always profess to Exhaust All Possibilities, so with this in mind, photograph the tree backlit to create a silhouette. Hustle to the other side and work the early light that falls on the tree. Finally, run to the side of the tree, thread a polarizer onto your front element, and get some gorgeous side-lit shots with a deep blue sky and enhanced color saturation. The polarizer will have its maximum effect when shot 90 degrees to the sun.
Get In Tight: A whole is the sum of its parts. The above examples talk about photographing the entire tree. Don’t overlook the intimate portrait of the tree—make a close-up of a single leaf. Don’t neglect the fallen leaves that create a nice pattern at the base of the trunk. Look for a branch that makes a nice line and offset it against a colorful sky. And always point your lens at the texture and framework of the bark. Find an interesting focal point and use it to your advantage in the composition.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.