How To Photograph Trees | Elevate Your Art

Four Tips To Elevate Your Tree Photography

I am, and always have been, captivated by the duality of trees. A living organism that is both simple and complex by design, is for some a symbol of life itself. With the ability to strengthen and embolden the spirit or to calm the soul and encourage rest, trees are an endless river of inspiration for artists around the world. As a nature photographer with a strong passion for trees, I have dedicated much of my career to showcasing the beauty of these natural wonders. Today, I am going to help you to elevate your photographic art by sharing some of my tips for capturing the spirit of the trees.

A twisted Japanese maple tree during fall inside Portland's Japanese Garden.

A small twisted Japanese maple tree shows off its autumn color inside the Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon. Fine Art Limited Edition of 50.

1. Create The Sensation Of Movement

The branches of a tree typically display a natural sense of movement, yet paying attention to this design and learning how to enhance it can make the difference between capturing a simple snapshot and creating a dynamic work of art.

Before settling on a composition, take a few moments to follow each of the major branches of the tree, paying close attention to those most visually interesting to you. Notice the twists and turns of each branch, identifing those that mirror and compliment each other horizontally from side to side. Move around, into and away from the tree, pausing to take in the visual changes that you see along the way. Just A few feet to the left or right can have an transforming impact on your composition, changing it completely from one step to the next. Utilize the ends of these major branch patterns to fill your frame, stretching each all the way to the corners whenever possible. A successful composition will naturally draw the viewers eyes up through the trunk of the tree, extending out to each of these points in your image and back again, beaconing them to follow the lines, like a roadmap to the life it has lived.

A photograph of a Japanese Maple tree with expansive branches and red leaves during fall.

The Portland Japanese garden boasts multiple maple trees, but none more famous than this lace leaf maple photographed at the height of autumn. Fine Art Limited Edition of 200.

2. Enhancing Visual Depth

Enhancing visual depth in a photograph is a powerful tool with any genre of photography. When it comes to nature photography, creating the perception of a three dimensional scene inside the frame of a two dimensional photograph is a powerful opportunity to draw in those who are viewing your work. This visual depth can be created a number of ways. One of the most simplistic ways to show depth is to simply line up elements in your frame that naturally fade into the distance, coming together at a common point in the scene. This type of composition can utilize a mirrored appearance as shown in the photograph above or as a stair stepped pathway highlighting various elements as you mentally build your composition from front to back. Either way, using leading lines to invite a viewer to take a journey through your photograph has an immediate impact on the way your work is viewed.

A look up at a canopy of aspen trees against a blue sky with yellow autumn leaves.

A vertical look into the canopy of a small aspen grove near Leavenworth, Washington. Fine Art Limited Edition of 50.

Visual depth can also be enhanced by your choice of aperture. With a small aperture of f/16, a large portion of your frame will be sharp, or in focus from front to back. While this is typically a goal to be achieved in landscape photography, it can also have an unwanted side effect, reducing the visual depth in your image. In contrast, a large aperture of f/4 can enhance the depth in your photo by keeping your main subject in focus, while allowing the background, or even the foreground to fall out of focus in a soft culmination of shapes and colors.

A photo of a long tree tunnel with red autumn leaves located in North Bend, Washington.

A long tree lined driveway boasting fiery reds of autumn welcomes visitors in the town of North Bend, Washington. Fine Art Limited Edition of 50.


3. Contrasting Color And Texture

Using contrasting color and texture to create visual interest in a photograph is another powerful tool in nature photography. Trees typically showcase both of these naturally in the difference between the bark and the branches and the leaves and the flowers of the tree. Placing these natural elements in targeted, prominent areas of your composition can create a high level of drama and interest, aiding in the story you hope to share with your audience. These areas of contrast can be balanced throughout the frame or simply displayed once.

A photograph of white aspen trees in fog with red ground foliage located near Leavenworth Washington.

Stark white aspen trees blanketed by fog and contrasted by autumn undergrowth in this small aspen grove near Leavenworth, Washington. Fine Art Limited Edition of 100.

A grove of redwood trees in the fog and flowers inside Damnation Creek in California.

The wonderful mystery and mood of the coastal Redwoods in the state of California. Fine Art Limited Edition of 50.

4. Follow The Light

Oftentimes, when finding it challenging to identify a successful composition in a particular scene, simply following the light can make all the difference between oh man, and OH MAN! For example, a tree that is backlit, or illuminated from behind, is one sight I will never grow tired of. When illuminated by beautiful light, even the most ordinary tree can transform into a superstar.

Light can be used to enhance texture, color and shape or used to display shadows in the immediate area surrounding it. Light, and the atmosphere that typically comes with it, can be used to create depth and to showcase the natural dynamics of a tree, injecting energy into an otherwise flat and lifeless scene.

Dreams Of Lucidity

To see more of my tree photography or to learn more about the limited edition prints I sell to collectors around the world, I invite you to follow along on my journey with a camera in hand.

A Japanese maple tree displaying beautiful fall color stretches its branches inside the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon.

A legendary Japanese maple at the height of its autumn spendor sits on a hillside inside the Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon. Fine Art Limited Edition of 100.

Posted in Inspiration and tagged Tree Photography, Wall Art.