Trees are something nearly all photographers use in their images at some point. They add interest to landscapes, are used as backgrounds for fashion shoots and nature photographers get up close to the bark and leaves which are various animals and insects call their home. If photographing a tree's not something you've done before or you're looking for a little inspiration on how you can shoot them differently take a look at our top ten list of effective/interesting ways to photograph trees.
Photo by David Clapp - www.davidclapp.co.uk
1.Include The Foreground
Before you head for the centre of the forest take the time to walk around the edge of it to find a good spot where you can capture a few shots that have foreground interest. By adding detail in the foreground you add depth to the image and give the shot a sense of scale which gives the composition more impact.
If you're working with just one tree try positioning it in the left or right third of the frame. As well as using a field as your foreground, which works particularly well in winter when there's a fresh covering of snow, try and find a lake or large pool of water which can add another dimension to the image with the reflection of the forest in it.
2. Take A Look At The Roots
Look out for patterns created by roots, especially those from beech which are often unearthed from weather erosion of the soil. For a more unusual perspective, use a wide-angle lens as in the shot below to curve the background. You can get colour cast from the green canopy above your head as the image below right demonstrates. If you find a tree on it's side try filling the frame with the patterns created by the overlapping/twisting roots. You may also find insect activity you can photograph in among them.
3. Get In Among The Trees
Use a long lens in dense wood to create a dramatic perspective, making the tree stumps look as though they are stacked on top of each other. These areas will make interesting patterns just remember to use a telephoto lens to compress the trees. Overcast days when the light is soft are good for this but don't overlook misty/foggy mornings later on in the year. This works particularly well when the wooded area's particularly thick but as fog acts like a soft box and can lower the contrast of your surroundings, you can end up with rather long exposure times. Trees in mist can look great silhouetted too but do take care with your exposure. Try opening up by one stop to prevent a dark grey sky appearing and a complete silhouette forming.
4. Add People, Buildings Or Other Structures
Give your image scale by adding other objects or people into the scene and look for man-made objects such as benches or even statues as these will contrast well against the soft colours of nature. If you're in a park try shooting a few candid portraits of the people walking through and under the trees. This will add an extra element of interest and get the viewer thinking about who they are, where they're going etc.
5. Focus On The Bark
The patterns in the bark vary from tree to tree. The smooth grey of beech, to the peeling white of silver birch, the cracked patterns of the pine and the deep rutted elm. Try framing very tightly so you don't see the edges of the tree stump and use a small aperture to cope with the rounded shape and ensure it's all in focus. Trunks made up of particularly thick bark that have deep lines make interesting patterns when you shoot with a tight frame. Bark also makes great textures which you can overlay with other shots. Finally, if you're using a compact camera remember to switch to Macro mode to get closer to the bark.
6. Take A Look At The Leaves
From the trunk, move up to the branches and focus on the leaves. Again you could move in really close and create patterns from the veins or step back slightly and record the whole shape. Maple like leaves of trees such as sycamore are the most interesting with their five tips, but great results can also be achieved from more ordinary oval and round leaves.
Try shooting with the sun behind the leaves which will make them glow. Position yourself so the sun is shielded from the camera by a branch to avoid flare or use your hand or lens hood to provide protection. Backlit leaves can look particularly amazing during the autumn months when the leaves take on their yellow and orange shades. Other close ups that are gagging to be photographed are the fruit, berries and cones.
7. Look For A Single Tree
Trees can be used as points of interest in wide, sweeping landscape shots of fields. They break up long, flat horizons, adding interest and giving scale to the shot. Just remember to keep the space around the tree clean and empty. Vibrant greens or fields of bright flowers or golden crops will give the image more punch while a stormy sky sat behind the lone tree will further enhance the feeling of isolation in the shot.
8. Get Up High
Gain a high vantage point and shoot a woodland canopy, again depending on the time of year you could either create a lush green spread or a wildly varied collection of browns in autumn. Try shooting from a nearby hillside and use a small aperture to ensure everything from the foreground to the background is sharp.
9. Try A Different Angle
Some nature reserves with woodland areas have bridges which take you along the top of the trees. Take advantage of this, shooting through the branches and leaves. You can use them as a natural frame to guide the eye to another focus point or just fill the frame with the interesting pattens you find from the branches twisting and overlapping.
If it's safe to do so and you're brave enough, you could try climbing up a smaller tree but don't put yourself in danger. Back on the ground look for trees decorated with dappled light or get low to the ground and shoot up into the canopy. If you have a blue sky, green leaves will contrast well against it and by using a wide-angle lens, the trunks of the trees will look like they're almost falling out of the image due to the effect wide-angle lens have on verticals. Don't think this is a bad thing as actually it can make a really interesting shot.
10. Timelapse / Seasonal Shots
Capturing the changes in the leaves as we move from season to season is an interesting project that just needs a bit of patience and a spot you can return to again and again to take your shots. It's often easier to focus on just one leaf but you can record more if you so wish. Make sure you use a tripod and try and make a note of the exact point you took your first shot from or, if you're in your own garden, you could always make a mark so you know where your tripod needs to be. It'll also help if the spot you pick is sheltered so the project doesn't come to an end too early if the wind blew the leaf off the tree prematurely.
Once you're set up you can record the leaf changing from the rich green shades we see in summer to the golden shades of autumn before it falls off during the winter months. As spring arrives and the buds break, you could try recording a sequence of photographs showing the various stages of the bud appearing, breaking and the leaf unfolding. Taking things a stage further find a position where you can fill the frame with the whole tree and photograph it as a lush green canopy, then the vivid autumn browns and finally a snow covered version in winter.
Photo by Joshua Waller
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