Printer Friendly

How to take creative forest photos.

Joyce Kilmer wrote, "I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree. . . " Perhaps he should have taken up photography. With the right approach, and regardless of equipment, photography can come close to matching the beauty and emotions one experiences in the company of trees.

From tiny seedlings to towering giants, trees provide us with unlimited visual pleasures. Winter hardwoods stand starkly silhouetted against the twilight. Backlit autumn leaves glow like stainedglass windows. Translating these wonders to film is easier if you know some "secrets" of the pros.

People often ask professionals what kind of camera they use-as if cameras take pictures all by themselves.

Ansel Adams, the master of landscape photography, wrote that the camera, "an electronic and optical miracle, creates nothing on its own!" Cameras don't make photographs; people do. Whether your camera is the envy of NASA or a point-and-shoot disposable, the most important ingredient in the final photograph is your own creative input-the choices you make before you hit the shutter.

Your creative process begins with choosing a subject. Photographic subjects abound in nature, but they're not always obvious, especially when your time is limited. You can improve your chances by boning up on natural history. Just flipping through field guides will increase your awareness of the variety of flowers, fruits, seeds, leaves, bark textures, and tree forms in your local woods. For example, knowing that the witch-hazel blooms in the fall or winter may lead to an interesting photo of the yellow flowers combined with autumn colors or snow.

For the observer with an eye for the abstract, trees offer an astounding variety of forms, colors, patterns, and textures. The object photographed may be recognizable as a leaf, for example, but if you eliminate the leaf margin, the graphic design of the veins becomes the subject.

Nature photographs are more interesting when they show the best, the unusual, or a new perspective. This implies a more-than-casual search.

On your next photographic foray into the woods, spend some time actively looking for that perfect or unusual specimen. When, for example, a pattern of sycamore bark catches your eye, spend time just looking at sycamore trees. Chances are you'll find a pattern even more pleasing or unusual.

It may help to first ask yourself what it was that made you choose a particular subject. Was it the soaring height of the redwoods? The moodiness of a tree in morning fog? Or the delicacy of raindrops on the tips of pine needles? Whatever the attraction, keep it in mind as you look for situations that emphasize those qualities.

Once you decide on a subject, the next step is composition-personalizing your photo by choosing a perspective, format, framing, and design that impart the emotions and impressions of your experience.

Perspective is determined by where and in what direction you set or hold your camera. Sometimes the subject is good but the best angle isn't immediately apparent. At this point, put down the camera and visually explore the subject from all sides. Walk around the tree, look at the seedling from ground level, imagine how an insect would see the fruit dangling from the end of a branch.

At all costs, avoid the temptation of eye-level, bulls-eye, easy-to-set-up shots that look like everyone else's. The more you move around, the more possibilities you will discover, and the more dynamic and interesting your photographs will be.

After you decide on the camera position, you now have the choice of format-horizontal or vertical. Because it seems easier to hold or mount a camera horizontally, the vertical format is usually overlooked. Let your subject, and what you want to say about it, dictate which position you use. The expanse of a forest is best shown in a horizontal photo, but the height of a tree is emphasized by the vertical format.

Now you must decide how to frame your subject. Again, think, or even say out loud, exactly what you want to photograph. Look for the picture within the picture. Then move forward or backward, or change lenses, to eliminate everything else.

A revealing lesson is to look at photos you've taken in the past and see how many things you can find that detract from or don't relate to your subject. Telephone wires, a road edge, and bits of woods, spend some time actively looking for that perfect or unusual specimen. When, for example, a pattern of sycamore bark catches your eye, spend time just looking at sycamore trees. Chances are you'll find a pattern even more pleasing or unusual.

It may help to first ask yourself what it was that made you choose a particular subject. Was it the soaring height of the redwoods? The moodiness of a tree in morning fog? Or the delicacy of raindrops on the tips of pine needles? Whatever the attraction, keep it in mind as you look for situations that emphasize those qualities.

Once you decide on a subject, the next step is composition-personalizing your photo by choosing a perspective, format, framing, and design that impart the emotions and impressions of your experience.

Perspective is determined by where and in what direction you set or hold your camera. Sometimes the subject is good but the best angle isn't immediately apparent. At this point, put down the camera and visually explore the subject from all sides. Walk around the tree, look at the seedling from ground level, imagine how an insect would see the fruit dangling from the end of a branch.

At all costs, avoid the temptation of eye-level, bulls-eye, easy-to-set-up shots that look like everyone else's. The more you move around, the more possibilities you will discover, and the more dynamic and interesting your photographs will be.

After you decide on the camera position, you now have the choice of format-horizontal or vertical. Because it seems easier to hold or mount a camera horizontally, the vertical format is usually overlooked. Let your subject, and what you want to say about it, dictate which position you use. The expanse of a forest is best shown in a horizontal photo, but the height of a tree is emphasized by the vertical format.

Now you must decide how to frame your subject. Again, think, or even say out loud, exactly what you want to photograph. Look for the picture within the picture. Then move forward or backward, or change lenses, to eliminate everything else.

A revealing lesson is to look at photos you've taken in the past and see how many things you can find that detract from or don't relate to your subject. Telephone wires, a road edge, and bits of trash are some of the more obvious intruders. Look closer and you may find a stick that leads your eye off the picture, or a sapling that detracts from the ancient feeling of an old-growth forest. In the field, make it a habit to check the edges of the viewfinder.

Now that you have eliminated distractions, the element of design enters in. First, where do you position your subject? Beginners fall into the bullseye syndrome. Centering the subject or horizon implies a symmetry that usually isn't there, and it gives the viewer nowhere to go. Instead, off center your subject to force a slight imbalance that encourages your eye to move around in the picture.

One solution is to mentally divide the frame into thirds, horizontally and vertically. Then position your subject near the intersections or along the lines. However, use this grid only as a starting point; let the subject matter and your sense of aesthetics reign.

It's the personal effort you put into composing that will make the difference between an inspiring photograph and a mere record of what you saw. But be careful about arranging compositions by manipulating the scene. One exception you might make is to include people or recognizable objects, like a tent, to create a sense of scale.

When you begin to feel satisfied with your composition, seek ways to simplify. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it doesn't have to have a thousand subjects. Less is more in photography.

Now all you need is the right light. If you want your photos to stand out, take advantage of the emotional impact of different lighting conditions.

Inside a forest, the feelings of serenity, delicacy, and openness are best conveyed when the light is soft and even. This situation occurs when the scene is lit by the sky while the sun is blocked by clouds or the horizon. Direct sunlight filtering through the trees creates bright highlights and dark shadows that obscure detail and draw attention away from the subject.

One time you may want direct light in a forest is when there is fog or dust in the air. Then the shafts of light become a dramatic component or even the main subject.

Your first lesson in photography probably began with the words, "Keep the sun over your shoulder." That's fine for snapshots, but the front lighting it gives is less emotional and dynamic than other options.

Strong side lighting, when the sun is low, brings out the three-dimensional qualities of the land or the texture of a surface. It denotes action, the feeling that something is about to happen.

Backlighting can be even more dramatic. To create graphic silhouettes, look for isolated winter trees on the crest of a hill. Let backlight stream through leaves to better highlight the intricate patterns of their veins.

The best light occurs within a few hours of sunrise and sunset. To add wonder and feeling to your pictures, do most of your photography during the magic hours when the light is warm and the shadows are long. Use midday to scout out locations to return to in better light.

And finally, don't let bad weather stop you. Snow on tree limbs, frost edging autumn leaves, and raindrops clinging to maple seeds are only a few of the jewels waiting for you when others have put their cameras away and gone inside.

On your next forest outing, take your camera along and see what you can discover. With a photographer's mentality, you'll see more. And with a photographer's skill, you'll share more of the beauty and inspiration of trees. AF
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Bronaugh, Whit
Publication:American Forests
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Words:1713
Previous Article:Ecotourism: new hope for rainforests?
Next Article:The family hike.
Topics:


Related Articles
Environmental aesthetics: recreating the rain forest.
The great green East: lands everyone wants.
100 years of American forests.
The forest products lab - giving its work away.
Reinventing the forest industry.
Atlanta's changing environment.
Beyond the door.
Investing in natural capital. (Clippings).
Award-winning Taking Montessori Home displays aesthetic and financial benefits of two-color printing. (Graphics).

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters