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Taming Woodlands

Techniques for Photographing Trees

Paul Gallagher

Also using the word wood­land’ can also influ­ence the way in which we use our cam­era as we will be uncon­scious­ly telling our­selves that we are here to pho­to­graph a wood­land. The obvi­ous action then would be to fit a wide angle lens to our cam­era and fire away!

Aspen Colorado Paul Gallagher aspect2i

In my expe­ri­ence, this is often a great way of mak­ing images that will spec­tac­u­lar­ly let you down by being incred­i­bly com­plex. Fur­ther­more, when we humans are stood in a wood­land, we use our three-dimen­sion­al vision to make sense of the place whilst con­stant­ly send­ing infor­ma­tion to our brains which breaks down the scene. A cam­era is a monoc­u­lar device and can nev­er repli­cate what our eyes see so the result­ing pho­to­graph in its splen­did two-dimen­sion­al form will do lit­tle to rep­re­sent the spec­tac­u­lar sur­round­ings of a wood­land of trees.

There are two main prin­ci­ples in which to pho­to­graph trees and wood­land and they are to begin with a long lens, and sec­ond­ly, look for shapes rather than the trees them­selves. We actu­al­ly do this with our eyes when we are there. Our human vision takes hun­dreds of snap­shots’ of the sur­round­ing trees and our brain process­es them into a less chaot­ic, cohe­sive vision of the place in which we are stood. The long lens will almost dis­al­low you the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pho­to­graph the entire tree and force you clos­er’ through mag­ni­fi­ca­tion. Rather than being put off by this, try to embrace it and allow your­self to har­ness an inti­mate com­mu­nion with the trees. Rather than treat­ing it as a moment where you are look­ing’ at trees up close and per­son­al, try to relax with the com­plex­i­ty and begin to see’ the rela­tion­ships of the branch­es and limbs as they inter­act and live symbiotically.

It is this dis­ci­pline of dis­tilled vision and free­dom to explore shapes that will be the mak­ing of your wood­land images. As the light changes and moves through­out the day, you will see the rela­tion­ship of light and shad­ow change con­stant­ly and the limbs will appear very dif­fer­ent­ly even by mov­ing just a metre or so. Last­ly, take your time. This is a process of slow con­tem­pla­tion and, if you have not approached wood­land pho­tog­ra­phy in this way, it will feel rather odd that you are set­ting out to ignore the entire tree struc­ture, but trust me it will serve you div­i­dends. Slow­ly, after you are feel­ing com­fort­able with the rela­tion­ship you have forged, then allow your­self to widen your field of view, and only allow enough into your frame so it that con­tributes to your com­po­si­tion. Land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers are known for work­ing with wide angle lens­es and near/​far com­po­si­tions, but this approach throws away that thought process and chal­lenges the mind.