Photographing Trees, Part 2--Composition

TreesIn my last post, we looked at the exposure challenges when photographing trees, especially in forests.  But the benefits of addressing these challenges are tremendous.  There is such a great diversity of compositional styles for trees in forests that I won't be able to catalog them all.  There are simply too many different ways to approach the subject matter.  Of course, this means you have the opportunity to create your own style while learning from the approaches of others.  I would like to offer here a few things to keep in mind when developing your own style.

  1. Tripod.  You'll need your tripod, especially if you shoot in the early morning to avoid the problems that I described in my last post.  But tripods have another benefit beyond keeping your camera still--they slow you down.  By slowing you down, they give you time to think more creatively about your subject.  Don't just take one picture of a
    scene and move on.  Try lots of different things.
  2. Merging Trees.  You know that when you move your camera to the left or right, the trees in the foreground will appear to move further in the frame relative to trees in the background.  Use this to your advantage.  Does your composition appear to be too cluttered?  Try "hiding" trees behind other trees.  Do you want more trees in your composition?  Make sure that these trees don't merge together.    
  3. You Don't Need the Whole Tree.  It's common for people to pull out their widest lens to capture the whole tree in your photograph.  But there's no need for this.  Some of the best compositions intentionally avoid including the whole tree.  Look for designs, shapes, textures, patterns in your scene to photograph.  Thee trees are the "canvas" upon which you can paint your picture.
  4. Variety of Focal Lengths.  Forests are great places to pull out your widest lens.  You can look up with a 15mm lens and see all the trees converging above you.  You can shoot a fern in the foreground and a forest in the background.  But don't limit yourself to these compositions.  Great photographs also zoom in on a cluster of tree trunks or even a single maple leaf.  Give yourself an exercise.  Find a great spot to shoot trees, and set your tripod.  Don't move it until you've used every lens you own.
  5. Variety of Angles of view.  Most pictures you see were taken between 5-6 ft above the ground.  People stand and shoot.  So put your tripod 1 ft above the ground and shoot up.  Angle your lens downward with a wide angle lens.  Look down from a hill at a clump of trees.  Try anything you can to look for distinctive points of view for your subject.  
  6. Color and Black & White.  Here I'm writing to myself as much as anyone else.  Don't limit yourself to color or black & white.  Both are fantastic formats for trees in forests.  
  7. Watch Your Step.  While looking at trees, you might be standing on wildflowers or mushrooms.  You may even be causing erosion in some terrain.  Be careful that that your photographic interests causes no damage.