Trees are never camera shy so they don’t get up and walk away, but that doesn’t mean they are always easy subjects to photograph. Let’s take a look at some very basic techniques.
You don’t need to head for wild countryside to photograph trees – they are everywhere in our towns and cities; in parks, gardens and gracing the sides of major roads. Sometimes the very strangeness of a tree’s position actually makes a picture worthwhile. Of course, trees – and their branches and leaves can be used to frame other subjects such as landscapes and buildings, but some are definitely worth attention as a subject in their own right.
Once again, I want you to think entirely in visual terms – don’t let yourself get carried away by the scent of a tree’s sweet blossom, or by the gentle rustling of the leaves in the breeze. Enjoy these things by all means, but your camera will not record smells or sounds.
Unless you are photographing trees in full blossom, or late in the year when their leaves turn to warm autumn colours, most trees have green leaves and brown branches – yes, I know there are copper beech trees and silver birch – so capturing a kaleidoscope of colour is not normally your main priority. Usually, shape, form and texture take over and become paramount. This means, of course, that the direction and the quality of the light are vital ingredients for successful photographs. Good composition plays a major role, too, and backgrounds must be chosen with great care.
It is not always essential – or desirable to include the whole tree in your picture. Often just a part of it can have a stronger visual appeal, so explore your subjects thoroughly, looking at them from all angles and thinking about whether or not to crop in tightly or include some of the surroundings to give the picture context. One of the best things about trees is that they cannot just get up and walk away (unless it’s an Ent*), so the chances are you will have plenty of time to consider your composition. Of course the light can change dramatically very quickly, so always be prepared to press the button when things are just right.
Normally, I like to photograph trees in winter when they are bare of leaves. Then you can see the shape and form of the branches. This is the same tree photographed both in summer and in winter from almost exactly the same spot. This time I prefer the summer shot ‘A’. This tree’s branches are far too symmetrical to be interesting when their clothing of leaves have been removed ‘B’. The summertime shot is also helped by the white puffy clouds in the sky and the intense green of the grass.
In ‘C’, sidelight has emphasized the shape of each individual tree in this long avenue. A small telephoto lens has been used to compress the perspective a little. I would like to have moved much further back and used a longer telephoto, perhaps a 200mm, to exaggerate this effect even more, but this was impossible due to the lie of the land. Despite the foreshortening of perspective, the curving shape of the road helps take the eye into the picture
* Purely for Tolkein fans.