Nature's Skyscrapers

April 27, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Emissaries From AntiquityEMISSARIES FROM ANTIQUITYCoastal redwoods (Sequoia Sempervirens) grow in a narrow strip along the Pacific Ocean. The tallest trees on earth, they reach nearly 380 feet in height. Here, two of them create a frame through which more of their cousins are visible in the magical fog resulting from heavy rain.

Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
Redwood National and State Parks, California
Tomorrow is Arbor Day: a great idea born in Nebraska and exported worldwide.

Plant a tree! (If not that, how about photographing one?) 

Trees are worthy of admiration any time of year; it's nice, though, that Arbor Day focuses attention on these fascinating, multi-dimensional living beings. 

They're the stately sentinels of the natural world, majestically reaching skyward.

They're air conditioners. Who hasn't found welcome relief from the summer heat beneath a tree's canopy at one time or another?

They're magicians. Watch with wonder in the spring as temperatures moderate, buds begin to emerge and then - seemingly overnight - shade appears where there was none before.

They're entertainers. Each autumn, deciduous varieties stage a spectacularly colorful show, free of charge. This is especially true of sugar maples, the extroverted show-offs of the tree world.

They're musicians. Convince me there's not a soothing song in the sound of fluttering leaves.

They're time machines, connecting us to the past - and to the future. Many species of trees far outlive humans. 

They can be mercurial. Some days trees are gentle companions: limbs swaying dreamily in the breeze, we sit beneath them and find peace. Other times, they might frighten a little - like when a tree situated near your house is being flung about violently by a rough storm. 

They're ecologists. Trees prevent soil erosion, filter pollutants from the air, and help conserve water by providing shade to soil and thereby reducing evaporation.

They're social beings. Truly! Scientists have observed that trees can - and do - communicate with and assist one another. A tree that's being attacked by insects will warn others nearby of the danger. Trees share nutrients to maintain the health of the forest.  

They're healers of humans, too. Spending time among trees can improve our health by reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.

Come to the woods, for here is rest.
John Muir

There are more than 800 species of trees in the United States. The red maple (Acer rubrum) is the most common of the native species. Coming in at number six on that list is my favorite: Acer saccharum - the sugar maple. I don't think it's possible to live in New England and not be enamored with sugar maples.

As much as we love them, trees can be a challenge to photograph. Forests - beautifully chaotic and filled with visual clutter - are even more difficult. There's also the issue of enormity and scale.

How can you capture what you're seeing in a meaningful way?

Riotous RedsMAPLE'S MAGICExeter, New Hampshire

Simplify
Sometimes the answer is to isolate; you don't have to show everything. The entire tree needn't be included in the frame. If you're considering a wider shot, you might edit hundreds of trees down to a handful.

This doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't go big, but if you're struggling to see something more than a snapshot, simplification is often the solution.

Construct Order
One way to make order out of chaos is to look for patterns. Whether you're shooting wide or tight, patterns can be useful tools with which to organize the scene. 

Create Visual Emphasis
Another method to organize the composition is is to use elements like light or fog to emphasize or downplay various features. Color can be a DELICATE DRAPINGDELICATE DRAPINGHall of Mosses, Hoh Rainforest

Olympic National Park, Washington
good organizational device, too.

Remove distractions
Be mindful of the edges of the frame: things like errant branches or logs and foliage strewn on the ground can lead the eye astray and/or detract from the main subject. 

When you're working in the midst of a forest, softer light typically produces much better conditions than bright sunshine, which can create hot spots on tree trunks, foliage, and the forest floor.

Likewise, the sky is often visually distracting. Even relatively small bright patches can compete for attention in an oversized way. One solution is to completely eliminate the sky from the frame, either with a longer lens or by shooting from a higher vantage point.

If you're unable to completely remove the sky, try modifying your position to downplay any brightly contrasting spots overhead.

Placement
Be aware of how trees are arranged within the frame. Give trunks space between one another - even if only the slightest amount. Pay attention to their placement at the edges, too.

Take your time. Move around. Even the smallest adjustments can make a big difference. 

Trees and forests aren't the easiest subjects to photograph. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. More often it's the reverse that's true: you can't see the trees for the forest. The big picture is so mesmerizing (or overwhelming) that simplification and finding visual order is tough. 

Once you begin to get the hang of it, though, these types of images can be very rewarding to make. 

In Local News

Though it was snowing aggressively in Teton Valley, Idaho (and Jackson, too) just a few days ago, temperatures this coming weekend will climb nearer to where they ought to be this time of year. As a result, a flood watch has been issued for the valley along with much of the southeastern portion of Idaho through May 2nd due to snow melt.

Grizzly 863, better known as Felicia, was spotted with her two sub-adult cubs last week. Felicia is often seen near Togwotee Pass, just outside of Grand Teton National Park. If you're in the area, please be careful. Keep your speed down and pay attention as you head through Buffalo Valley and up toward the pass. Don't stop anywhere but a designated pullout to watch her, and do not get too close to her. Vehicle strikes are a very real danger, as is the possibility she and/or her cubs might become habituated to humans. Obviously neither of those situations will end well for the bears. 

I haven't seen any mentions of 399 sightings. If she made it through the winter, she'll be 27 years old this year. Here's hoping she is alive and well.

Yellowstone's west entrance is now open for the season. The east entrance will open on May 5th with the south following on May 12th. Beartooth Highway and Dunraven Pass bring up the rear on the 26th.


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