“As a homage to the mighty tree at Sycamore Gap, I take the time to notice and acknowledge lone trees everywhere”

Art of Seeing by Benedict Brain
(Image credit: Benedict Brain)
About Benedict Brain

Benedict Brain with camera

(Image credit: Marcus Hawkins)

Benedict Brain is a UK-based photographer, journalist and artist. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel. He is also a past editor of Digital Camera Magazine, and the author of You Will be Able to Take Great Photos by The End of This Book.

I am sure you were as shocked and saddened by the barbaric felling of the wonderful tree at Sycamore Gap in Northumberland as I was. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the news appeared on my social feeds in late September 2023. I initially thought it was an AI-created joke, until the reality slowly sunk in. 

It was one of the UK’s most-photographed trees, and instantly recognizable – a veritable rock star of a tree. It’s one of those honeypot locations that appear on the bucket lists of most photographers. I visited there several years ago for a feature when I was the editor of Digital Camera.

Thinking about this column with a view to discussing the iconic tree, I looked up the shots I made that day. They were OK, but not great. At the time, I was trying to force aesthetic aspirations that weren’t necessarily in line with my instincts onto my picture-taking. 

Instead of sharing a rather average image I’d taken of that famous tree, I thought I would look at my growing collection of lone trees, which I’ve photographed in various parts of the world during my travels. All of these trees are standing alone, often more humble than the Sycamore Gap tree, but they are an important part of our everyday landscape and should not be overlooked.

I’ve previously discussed my ongoing tree project in this column, highlighting one tree in Bali. Here are another 17, taken in a range of countries, from Tahiti and Tokyo to Iceland, Alaska, Papua New Guinea, and many other places. Stylistically, I’m conforming to a creative approach inspired by the work of the New Topographic photographers, which suits me, my creative aspirations and my ideology. I don’t always work this way, but it feels right for this collection.

As a homage to the mighty tree at Sycamore Gap, take the time to notice and acknowledge lone trees everywhere. In car parks, shopping centres, roadsides and roundabouts, there is beauty to be found in all trees! 

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Benedict Brain

Benedict Brain is a UK based photographer, journalist and artist. He graduated with a degree in photography from the Derby School of Art in 1991 (now University of Derby), where he was tutored and inspired by photographers John Blakemore and Olivier Richon, amongst others. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and also sits on the society’s Distinctions Advisory Panel.

Until July 2018 Benedict was editor of Britain’s best-selling consumer photography magazine, Digital Camera Magazine. As a journalist he met and interviewed some of the world’s greatest photographers and produced articles on a wide range of photography related topics, presented technique videos, wrote in-depth features, curated and edited best-in-class content for a range of titles including; Amateur Photographer, PhotoPlus, N-Photo, Professional Photography and Practical Photoshop. He currently writes a regular column, The Art of Seeing, for Digital Camera magazine.