The lone element in a minimalist landscape is hardly a new device. Popularised by the great painter and printmaker Edward Hopper, known for his solitary figures interacting with their environment, this great device has carried over into photography – particularly landscape photography.
For landscape photographers, using a single tree as a point of interest in your photos can be a great way to add drama and scale to your images. But how can you follow this great tradition and take pictures of trees on their own that stand out from all the others?
Below we offer 10 great tips for making your pictures of lone trees more creative.
Tip 1: Seasons
Capture a lone tree in all its seasonal glory. Get to know your surroundings, pick a number of trees and shoot as the seasons change. It’s quite possible to shoot stunning images in city parks or even by the roadside. Good imagery is simply about seasonal awareness and perfect timing.
Tip 2: Clouds
Clouds can make all the difference. Set the camera and wait for the right arrangement or cloud patterns to appear, because this will make or break an image. Try and get an even balance of clouds and sky, and then shoot images as they move across the frame in both landscape and portrait orientation.
Tip 3 Black and white
Monochrome imagery subtracts the colour and helps the eye explore textures and form. Trees work beautifully in black and white, but remember this isn’t just a resting place for drab uneventful images; effective use of this medium requires good light. Desaturate in RAW software to see results before conversion.
Tip 4: Infrared
Slip into a dream with infrared: it’s a brilliant medium for lone trees – see example shot below. Leaves appear snowy white and so does any grass surrounding the tree. Check whether your camera can support a screw-on infrared filter – or simply try playing with a colour image and an infrared software plug-in.
Tip 5: Golden hour
There’s nothing better than a riot of colour as a backdrop for a single tree. Use a colourful sunset and position the sun in the centre of the trunk to reduce its intense light – see below. Meter for the sky and you’ll avoid losing detail in the clouds. Stay until it gets dark, as clouds light up at different times depending on their height.
Tip 6: Moonlight
For an image with a unique twist, try shooting under a full moon. Choose manual mode, set your camera to ISO800 and f/4 and expose for 30 secs. It’s always better to have moonlight falling on the subject from the side – this helps give flattering shadows, just like daylight. Try to frame some constellations in the image too.
Tip 7: Light painting
Another night-time activity to master is light painting –see below left. A white head torch and a full moon are almost the same colour temperature, so try shooting into the moonlight and using a torch to light the subject. Again, ISO800 and f/4 for 30secs is a great place to start. Use the torch to light the subject and check your focusing meticulously, either in the viewfinder or in Live View. There’s nothing worse than the entire shoot being out of focus.
Tip 8: Sun-stars
This seems a very tricky technique, but set the camera on a tripod and hide the sun behind a thick branch. Move the tripod into the sun, so a small percentage is now visible. Choose f/16, meter and take a shot, as this will produce a wonderful starburst effect. Recompose and try f/22; some lenses can produce spectacular results.
Tip 9: Polarisers
Polarisers cut reflection from moisture particles in the air, revealing the true blue of the sky. There’s nothing better for increasing contrast around clouds and reducing the reflection from leaves and surrounding grasses. The effect works best at 90 degrees to the sun, but watch the corners for excessive darkening when using wide-angle lenses in particular.
Tip 10: Silhouettes
Compose an image into direct sunlight and meter on the sky. The excessive light will force the tree into silhouette and leave it looking menacing or perhaps even like an ink blot. Think about the composition in a new way, by framing with an even spread of lights and darks, rather than placing features using the rule of thirds. Let instinct direct you towards a harmonious balance.
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