If this is the case, what is the question? I’m sure there are plenty of Jeopardy-esqe responses to this, but the question I’m referring to is this: What is one of the most difficult common objects to photograph? One of the challenges of photographing trees comes in their grouping. A picture of a forest is neat, but unless there’s a subject, what’s the point of the photo? In Colorado, we’re definitely in a time of year where the fall colors can be the subject of a picture, but even this can sometimes be a challenge to capture without focusing on something specific.
Over the years, I’ve found a few ways to take pictures of trees to overcome this “subject-less” challenge. The secret lies in composition. Take the above photograph, for example, it’s a pretty generic photograph of some aspen in the fall. However, because the trees are backlit, the ones in the foreground are filled with vibrant color while the ones in the background are steeped in shadow. In fact, you could almost draw a diagonal line across the image and split the picture into these two dichotomies. By highlighting the contrast of the composition, there’s more interest to the photograph than just the fall colors.
Another trick to try is simply a matter of changing your perspective. Instead of viewing trees straight-on, try looking up! It’s easy to not be able to see the forest for the trees, but if you’re right in the midst of them, their tall and sturdy trunks can help create a vanishing point. If you really want to accentuate this style of composition, use a wide-angle lens to capture the exaggerated height of the trees around you (as seen in the above photograph). Even without a fish-eye lens, if you shoot right next to the trunk of the tree looking upward, you’re likely to get some good leading lines.
Finally, one way to make a tree a subject is to find one that stands out from the rest. This could be a lone tree on a prairie, or a dead tree in an overgrown forest, or even one tree highlighted by a ray of light. Whatever the reason, if the tree stands out from the rest of the forest, it can become the subject of the photograph while its brethren make up the background. If you really want the contrast between your subject and background trees to pop, try making the background black and white to accentuate the subject tree.
Hopefully, with these techniques, you’ll be able to shoot the trees instead of the forest.
As always, have fun!
– Benjamin M. Weilert