Beauty Spread Heavenward

April 25, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

Shenandoah SpringLIME LINESEarly spring color in the Blue Ridge Mountains at Shenandoah National Park creates interesting patterns in lime green. Dappled late-day light enhances the effect.

Near Rockfish Gap, Virginia
Tomorrow, Arbor Day is celebrated nationally (your state's date may differ). If you're looking for an excuse to get outside and appreciate some shade, I can't think of a better one. 

Better yet, plant a sapling to commemorate the occasion.

Having always loved trees, living in densely-wooded New Hampshire was, for me, an idyllic experience. Saying goodbye to all those majestic sentinels - especially the birches and maples - was one of the challenges associated with relocating to a semi-arid climate. There are forests here, yes. But they're not predominate, and the list of deciduous trees which are native to the area is a short one. 

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. For me and the woods of the Granite State, it's most definitely true.  

No matter how much you love and appreciate trees, though, it's not always easy to photograph them. They can be deceptively difficult to depict. Heavily wooded areas or forests are particularly challenging because they're so visually chaotic. 

If it's a struggle to find compositions, think about simplifying as much as possible. Subtract. Pare down. It's not necessary to show the viewer everything to get your point across. You know the saying: less is more. 

To create order in the scene, look for shapes, patterns, lines, repetition, and the relationships between objects. Don't forget details; perhaps you can tell a story using elements such as bark or lichen or leaves. 

Use the weather to your advantage. For example, fog will magically declutter the background - not to mention the assist it'll provide in terms of creating mood.

Sometimes a different perspective is helpful. Rather than standing in the midst of hundreds of trees, you might try working on the edge of the woods instead. Shooting from the "outside looking in," it's much easier to find the compositional elements I mentioned above. The photograph at the top of this post is an example of an outside-in viewpoint in Shenandoah National Park. It's easy to see the repeating lines of lime green, which were created by late-day sunlight peeking through otherwise wet and rainy conditions. The bottom left corner was more brightly lit and contained a hint of red, both of which provided emphasis and gave me a foreground element. 

You don't need to include the entire tree; it's often much more interesting to present only a fraction of the whole. The following photograph from the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park illustrates this concept:

LUSHLUSHHall of Mosses - Hoh Rainforest

Olympic National Park, Washington
When limiting your composition to just a handful of trees, be mindful of the spacing between them as you're arranging the composition. Give them room to breathe.

You may find that you have to do quite a bit of tweaking to get into the right position. 

Take your time. The trees aren't going anywhere.

The photograph below, made in Upper Michigan's Hiawatha National Forest, is an example of spacing. The foreground trunks each have their own "personal space" which is roughly similar in size. The little maple's trunk is centered between the two larger trees in front of it. Trunks anchor both the left and right edges of the frame.  

Non-ConformistTHE MAGIC FORESTA few maple saplings dot the woods otherwise dominated by a dense stand of conifers - making their brilliant autumn colors even more striking.

Hiawatha National Forest
Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Overcast days are great for forest photography; the light will be even and you won't have to contend with hot spots. I prefer working on overcast or foggy days - but obviously none of us can control the conditions. 

If it's sunny, look for interesting subject matter that's being nicely lit and use it to emphasize your focal point. Be prepared to hike a bit until you find something of interest. You can also use the sun as backlight (stay away from the middle of the day to get longer beams).  

Whatever the conditions, be aware of the sky. Even on an overcast day, it can easily be a distraction. Bright spots in the frame will draw the viewer's eye away from the subject. Try to avoid shooting up, or if that's not possible, you might be able to use elements (like branches) to block the sky.

Don't shy away from photographing forests. They're challenging; absolutely. But they're also magnificent and full of character. You can let your creativity loose there and make some truly unique images.

If you don't have heavily wooded areas nearby, try a park or maybe a tree-lined road. Scout your neighborhood. You'll find something.

In Local News

Grizzly 610, along with her three subadult cubs, has emerged from her den. One of 399's most well-known offspring, you might recall that 610 was hit by a car in Grand Teton National Park last autumn. The strike was serious enough that 610 did not move for quite some time; observers thought she might have been killed. Even when she did finally get up and take her cubs - who were huddled nearby - deeper into the park, there was concern that 610 might have sustained internal injuries. (The driver did not stop, by the way.)

The fact that 610 and her brood all appear to be healthy after their long winter nap is very good news.

The bigger headline, however, is that Grizzly 399, the Queen of Grand Teton National Park, appears to be alive and well. An adult and subadult grizzly were spotted Sunday evening in the northern end - which is where her den is located - and the park service says they're reasonably certain it was 399 and Rowdy. 28 years old and she's still with us. Now that is cause for celebrating!


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