Here’s what I learned about trees when I was on retreat up in Santa Cruz earlier this month:
Trees are very, very hard to photograph.
First, there’s the difficulty of fitting the whole thing in the frame. Impossible. Oh, maybe if you have the right really-wide-angle lens you can do it. But on the whole? You just can’t do it.
This problem is especially acute when you are trying to photograph redwood trees, which are impossibly tall – even the not-giant sequoias that they have in Santa Cruz. How can you reasonably be expected to capture one in a single frame?
At best, you can only hope to capture portions of them with your lens, and hope that your framing and composition suggest what is not actually shown. (This technique is remarkably similar to advice I offer to fellow writers in critique. You don’t have to show me everything in detail. Give me a hint of what’s going on, and let me fill in the rest of the picture on my own.)
(In retrospect, this would have been the perfect opportunity to try out the panorama feature on the iPhone. Well, that’s one excuse for going back next year, right?)
The other complication about photographing trees is that they are, for the most part, located in forests. The lighting in forests, while beautiful and dreamy, makes getting the right exposure tricky.
4 out of 5 photos I took in Santa Cruz were underexposed and/or blurry because the exposure was so long movement was inevitable. (Note to self: next time you go photographing trees in the forest, take your tripod – it will be worth it!)
Even if you’re properly prepared for the necessity of long-exposures in the shadowy woods, you have to decide what part of the scene you are going to target. Set the white balance on the tree, and the sky peeking through the trees is likely to be blown out. Meter for the sky, or on the beam of sunlight striking a limb, and you will lose the beautiful texture of the tree’s bark in the shadows.
Fortunately, Photoshop allows me to make up for any number of sins in the original photograph.
While photography purists might not like these “rescued” images, to me they are a more intimate expression of my experience in the woods that weekend. Because I didn’t just “capture” these images. I made them.