Taking Beautiful Tree Photographs :: Digital Photo Secrets

Taking Beautiful Tree Photographs

by David Peterson 3 comments

Trees are one of those subjects in nature that change with the seasons and time of day, providing endless opportunities for fresh compositions. Trees have layers of texture and color that make them ideal for photographs. You can go wide to capture the big picture or get up close to focus on the fine details. Trees don't move so they must be easy to photograph, right? Well, not quite. It turns out trees often look flat and boring when photographed. If you want to really capture the essence and beauty of trees you need to also be aware of lighting and composition. Read on to see some beautiful tree photos and take note of what works in the images.

The Lone Tree on the Horizon

Let's start with a classic type of tree image. If you are just beginning to photograph trees, finding a lone tree is a great place to start. This type of composition evokes feelings of peace and solitude and takes us back to simpler times. This image makes good use of the rule of thirds. This rule basically states that the focal point of your photograph should be in one-third of the frame rather than dead center. You can apply this rule both horizontally and vertically. By placing your subject off-center, you add visual interest to your photo and draw the eye to your subject, in this case the lone tree.

The group of trees

Photographing a group of trees, especially a dense stand like you find in a forest, is a bit more challenging. One of the difficulties is that it is hard to portray the relative sizes of the trees and distances between them. If possible, isolate a tree to give a focal point in your photo. With some great lighting and creative editing you can help one tree to really pop. A wide angle lens is useful for this kind of scene. Also, shooting low adds to the impression that the trees are tall and powerful. Good, soft natural light is also key when photographing a forest. Picture images you have seen with a ray of sunshine coming down through a grove of trees. You can also look for forests with a clearing and capture the dappled light effect that comes through the tree canopy.

The Silhouette

Trees lend themselves to silhouettes, their distinct, bold shapes create fascinating images. Shots like the one above have a lot going for them with the lone tree plus great color. Whether you are photographing a Joshua tree in the desert, palm trees in Hawaii, or your backyard tree give a silhouette a try.

In order to accomplish a silhouette you need the light in the frame behind your subject, so get out there just before sunset to take your shots.
Try shooting in auto mode and trick your camera into underexposing by setting your light metering to ‘average’ instead of ‘centre weighted’. If your tree is still partially colored and not a complete silhouette, you can use your exposure compensation button in the - direction and try again.
If you shoot in manual, it is even better. Choose your aperture and then adjust your shutter speed to expose for the bright areas. The result will be a dark tree against a light background. Check your images and make slight adjustments as you go.


Photography is all about catching the different quantities and colors of light and taking pictures of trees is no exception. The photo below with the sun peeking between the trees on a misty morning is an example of this. Waiting for a moment like this, may take some patience.

Move in close

Hopefully you are itching to get out to photograph a tree, don't forget to try some tight shots too. Trees have so many interesting parts; leaves, berries, cones, fruits and blossoms, that make great close ups. Every season and climate has beautiful trees to offer from snow coated needles, fall leaves, spring blossoms, and summer foliage all have beauty, color, and texture just waiting to be captured. Head out with your camera on those days when snow has accumulated on branches or it is cold enough to capture twigs dusted with frost.

Avenues and Pathways

The path down the center of this picture leads your eye to a vanishing point. This type of perspective is very visually pleasing. When you are out and about taking pictures of trees, whether it is a tree lined sidewalk or a dirt trail through the forest, look for those leading lines. Try to include a person or building in a tree photo (or in this case, a path) as it helps your viewer gain perspective on the size and scope of the tree scene you photographed.

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  1. Derick says:

    Thanks for the informative post once again Dave. These are awsum pics! Needless to say, I'm a bit jealous too! ;(

    Think I need to find some time and get out there....and practice....

  2. Jim Hill says:

    David, I follow your posts avidly. You write so clearly and in a way that demands your posts are read.

    This posting on trees is of particular interest. I love trees and love looking at them. Sadly my efforts at creating that jaw dropping shot of trees hasn't happened yet. Perhaps your article will help me achieve it as you have reawakened the knowledge that I have about what to look for.


  3. Helena Heyns says:

    David, I just love your photographic tips and read them avidly. I immigrated to the UK from South Africa18 months ago leaving behind my wonderful friend and photographic mentor, also a David, David Moore of Creative Escapes. This was a great loss to me. However a friend recommended you. It has been an absolute joymany of your tips reflect some of things I learnt from David M making them come alive for me. But many of your tips are new too, I love it.I love your tree tipswe are surrounded by forests in Kent, England and I can't wait to get into the woods with a new eye for photographic opportunities! I would like to join one of your Dashes but am on Chemotherapy at the moment. The fatigue is too debilitating for me to get out so I am enjoying my passion for photography from my lap top!! Thank you so much.

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.