Friday, December 19, 2014

Recommended reading: “Photographing Trees”

the air frost and heavy mist offered the potential for creating a great winter scene ... I left lots of room around the tree to make the photograph more saleable.  There is space above and below for a title and sub-titles:
The title is apt.  Foreground, background, frame and viewpoint ... aperture, shutter speed, focus points and ISO ...  trunks, bark, leaves, trees and forests ... all are in Photographing Trees by Edward Parker.  He emphasizes that the book is for photographers of all skill levels and camera types, not just pros with expensive gear.  I agree; the discussions seem very accessible, and the book is full of encouragement and inspiration.
photographs that are useful for your own purposes and that give you a real buzz ... are marks of success
Boxelder in a sandstone canyon, Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.
Quaking aspen in the Enchanted Forest, Laramie Mountains.
You don’t have to own a DSLR camera to enjoy this book.  Much of the content also applies to compacts; phone photographers will find some useful tips as well.  Parker takes pains to explain when a compact works as well as a DSLR (and is easier to use).  He repeatedly points to the importance of the photographer’s eye and mind, rather than the camera.
Abstract image of ancient bristlecone pine, White Mountains, California.
The book begins with a brief introduction to digital cameras, followed by the first major section, HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS.  This currently is my favorite part of the book.  Composition, Light, Viewpoint ... these are things that make me look at the natural world differently, and make photography so satisfying.
It’s well worth spending time seeking out an interesting viewpoint ... 
Peeling bark of paper birch in Dugout Gulch in the Black Hills.
Foreground is important, even in great sweeping scenes ... [it] helps to make sense of the vast scale of the scene.
Sparky contemplates the vast scale of piñon - juniper woodland in the Great Basin.
line up the shot so the background is in deep shade.  This allows the brightly colored leaves to stand out against a non-distracting black ...
Vine maple, Lake Easton State Park, Cascade Mountains.
Take a friend with you ... to include as scale.
Coast redwood with friend for scale; Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, California.
I was surprised to find an entire subsection devoted to “Organisation and planning ahead” – not something I do before heading out with my camera.  But how obviously useful it would be to consider the weather forecast and time of day, and their effects on light.
I particularly like it when light from a low sun falls across a subject ... [making] for highlights and shadow areas, which provide visual clues to the let the brain understand a scene ... 
Dead bristlecone pine in low warm evening light.  Light and shade provide clues as to its shape, “helping the brain to understand”.

HOW TO TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR CAMERA is the second major section.  Parker makes clear that it’s not essential.  Everything in IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS can be done in automatic mode ... my usual strategy.  But the explanations of exposure compensation, aperture priority, shutter speed and other tech issues are clear and even persuasive.  I need to give them an honest try, having only dabbled in my DSLR’s technology so far.
When a scene contains a lot of white I find it's often best to overexpose by one stop (move the exposure compensation to +1).
The snow confused my camera’s metering system.  I should have helped it by using exposure compensation.  Some improvements were made with iPhoto, but not what was needed.

The final section, HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH TREES, is a series of photographs with explanations of  “decisions behind the final image” ... decisions based on knowledge from earlier sections.  It's organized by tree features: whole tree, trunks, leaves, bark, fruit, seeds and flowers, woods and forests.
Usually the most obvious approach to photographing a tree is to try and get the whole subject in the frame.  Publishers love this sort of image, but in many cases it can be quite difficult to achieve.
I’ve yet to get a satisfying photo of this contorted old limber pine growing out of a granite crevice.
Tree trunks are the tree photographer’s friend. ... It can be blowing a gale or as dark as night but it is still possible to get an interesting image.
Western red cedar; Ross Creek Giant Cedar Grove, Montana.
Filling the frame edge to edge helps to concentrate the eye ... 
Ponderosa pine cones – two from this season (purple) and one from last year; Laramie Mountains.
... consider clipping off a small sprig so you can set up the photograph indoors or in an area where the light is perfect or the wind less of a problem. 
Young leaves of my lanceleaf cottonwood – in the kitchen, out of the wind.
Parker's book is filled with photographs – beautiful, fascinating, awe-inspiring images of trees from all over the world.  There's nothing wrong with just looking at the photos.  They're full of ideas themselves, and maybe you're like me ... I pay closer attention when I ignore the text.

Photographing Trees costs $20 to $30 for new and nearly new copies.  Based on the number and quality of images alone, this is a bargain.  And the ideas and encouragement that it provides this particular aspiring photographer has made it a treasure.
... there is so much more to photography than just owning expensive equipment; it’s more a way of looking at the world.
Trail into a magical forest of coast live oaks, growing low and twisted to avoid sea winds; Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve.
Grassy foreground leads the viewer to a coast live oak and memories of childhood; near San Luis Obispo, California; courtesy Giovanni LoCascio.


  1. Oh my goodness! I need this book. I especially like the fact that it's written with pros AND amateurs in mind. Thanks for the recommendation and the great book review!

    1. I hope you find it useful, PP. I always worry a little about "recommending" books I'm excited about ... maybe it's just me. You might look in the library first to be sure (that's what I did).

  2. Thanks for the review, it sounds like a really good book. I'll have to look out for it.

    1. You might try the public library first -- that's what I did and found the book would be very useful to me, so bought it.

    2. Will do - most of the books I review come from the library :)