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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

8 tips for beautiful photos of trees

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

A Dartmoor landscape photo by Devon photographer Gary Holpin Photography

1. Remember the 'rule of odds'.

The so called 'rule of odds' states that we find photos of an odd number of objects much more interesting than photos of an even number of objects (try it, and you'll see that it's true!). Put simply, a photo of one or three trees (or boats, or bottles) is visually more interesting to look at than two or four. So the ultimate subject for a tree photo, is to find a lone tree on a hill (like in the photo above).

2. Don't forget the foreground (and the background!)

Although trees are inherently beautiful, photos of trees can still be dull! This is often because the beauty and interest of the 3-dimensional world doesn't always translate into an interesting 2-dimensional picture. One way to help is to ensure that as well as making a tree the star of your photo, make sure you have something interesting in the foreground, and if possible the background too. For foreground, move around until you find something that adds foreground interest, such as some ferns or some flowers. And for background, try and choose a partly cloudy day to photograph your favourite tree, when there are some clouds for interest in the sky; better still visit you favourite tree at sunrise or sunset so you can add some beautiful background sky colours too!

3. For woodlands choose a cloudy day

One of the main problems with photographing woodland scenes on a sunny day is the huge contrast that you can get between the dark shadows and the bright highlights. Although our eyes can deal with this contrast, camera sensors will struggle, and you will either end up with areas of shadow where there is no detail, or areas of bright highlights with no detail (or both!). A simple solution is to visit your local woodland on a cloudy day, when the clouds will act like a giant diffuser, creating more even lighting which is easier to photograph.

4. Look for a main subject

One of the greatest skills that a photographer develops with practice, is the ability to see simplicity within chaos. This is especially important with woodland scenes, where there is so much going on it can be difficult for the viewer to know where to look. This means that in a woodland photo, it's really important to find a focal point; a main subject for the viewer's eye to focus upon. This can be a single distinctive tree (perhaps one which still has its leaves when the others are bare) or a single tree that is nearer to you and more visually dominant than the rest. It could even be a tree stump within a sea of standing trees, or the last branch of green leaves within a forest of autumn orange leaves. Whatever you choose, make sure there is something that you want the viewer to focus on, rather than have their eyes roam around the picture not knowing where to look.

5. Use a shallow depth of field (Pro tip!)

A Pro method providing an even stronger main subject is to use focus blur by using a shallow depth of focus. If you already have a single tree or other main subject identified, you can visually strengthen that subject by ensuring you focus on it, and then throw the rest of the scene out of focus using a large aperture (e.g. f2.8). To do this you will need to both control where you focus (so as to focus accurately on your chosen main subject) and also choose a large aperture (using Aperture Priority or Manual mode).

6. Make sure you look up!

It's far too easy to take photos from eye level, looking straight ahead (as that's the way we normally see the world). So in order to provide a different view of the the world, get down low and take photos looking up at the canopy above, or if possible, do the opposite and get up high on a hilltop to look down on the canopy (if you're lucky enough to have a drone this becomes easy!).

7. Don't forget the details

As well as taking photos of your favourite tree or woodland from a distance, don't forget to take time to appreciate the details; from the beauty of a single leaf, to the rugged texture of the bark of an old tree, details can also provide beautiful photos of the world around us.

8. Bracket if you know how to (Pro tip!)

If you happen to be taking photos in a woodland on a bright, sunny day and know how to bracket, this can help to capture photos even when there is a large contrast between highlights and shadows. By capturing and blending multiple exposures, you can produce images that retain detail in both the shadows and the highlights, but if it's breezy you'll need to be mindful of your shutter speed, or else leaves and branches will move significantly between images and create strange edge effects in the finished photo.

Want to learn how to take photos like a pro?

If you want to learn more, why not consider one of my one-to-one courses, or if you're not local to Devon, one of my weekend residential workshops?

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