Dramatic images of trees are powerful symbols of growth, shelter, change and endurance. Trees as a metaphor are popular for many brands and services. Beyond commercial use, many people have a somewhat universal emotional connection to trees that goes beyond simple awe.
Where I sit at my desk overlooking Puget Sound I can see probably 10,000 or more trees. How do you capture an image of trees that designers will want and how do you separate it from the forest? What trees and what images best evoke the emotions that designers and art buyers seek when they go looking for images of trees?
The obvious images : flowering trees for ‘spring’ and fall foliage or the composite of made of four images of the same tree taken in all four seasons. Trees at both ends of the life-cycle can be compelling: a young tree sprouting at the base of a huge old tree. Or photograph massive redwoods to evoke the strength and power of these giants of the forest.
Look for trees that evoke an emotion in you; that are powerful survivors or that have massive above ground root systems. Get down on the ground and aim your camera into the tree. Climb the tree (only if you are skilled and have safety measures in place!)
Two recent books have greatly sparked my interest in trees.The Wild Trees by Richard Preston has me looking up in tall trees wherever I travel outside urban Seattle. The recently published book tells a story of ‘daring, courage and adventure exploring the unknown world of the California Redwood forest canopy’. It tells of entire forest sprouting from the tops of a single redwood; of hanging fern gardens and huckleberry bushes 350 feet in the air. I will never look at a tree or a photograph of a tree in the same way again.
For astonishing photos of trees and to see the work of an extraordinary photographer of wild things and places go to the work of James Balog at http://jamesbalog.terriblyclever.com. I first met James when I selected his work for an agency that I owned years ago. I still remember one photo from his first review that has been re-created by others again and again: a climber in a red parka scaling up a frozen waterfall.
A few years ago Balog began work on a series of tree portraits, seeking out the oldest or largest trees in the United States and trying to capture their "individual personalities”. He connected with the individuals profiled in Preston’s book and has photographed one of the tallest of all trees, the Stratosphere Giant. The location of the tree remains a secret to protect it from being climbed except by the few that discovered and protect it. The book that evolved from these experiences is called Trees:a new vision of the American forest
Thanks in no small part to Balog and Preston, there is fresh awareness of the vital and rich ecosystem in tall tree canopies across the forests and jungles of the world. It is even more important than ever to document the remaining old growth forests and trees. But you don’t have to go to the deep forests to capture the mystery of trees. One of the images in Balog’s book was photographed in his backyard in Colorado.
Trees: a new vision of the American Forest by James Balog
The Wild Trees by Richard Preston
I have a favorite image of a row of trees by Dreamstime photographer, Terry Bain, on my personal website