I love aspens. Who doesn’t? But if you’ve tried to photograph trees, maybe you know that getting a shot you really like isn’t as easy as you think it’s going to be. You pull out your camera in front of all that golden glory, and the resulting image just doesn’t do the scene justice. So, how do you go about getting the shot you want?
Start by thinking about the most important element in your image. What are you trying to show? Is it the sweeping landscape? The beautiful mountainside? Or is the most important element of the image the colors themselves? In this case, I really wanted to show off the details on the trunks of the trees – but I also wanted to make sure that the colors were an important part of the photo. And I am almost always looking for a minimalist composition – so of course, that was part of my planning as well.
The first step was to find the right aspen glen. 🙂 I know – that seems kind of obvious… but the thing is, it isn’t that easy. Notice that there’s no bright sunlight coming through those leaves. And notice that you can’t see the base of the trees, the ground, or any canopy or sky. Those are important details. The elements you don’t include in a photo are just as important in the planning process as the things you do include.
I needed a high vantage point with trees growing below me. Standing on the forest floor would put me too low – I’d end up with ground in the photo if I pointed my camera downward or even straight ahead. And I’d end up with sky in the photo – and distortion – if I angled the lens upward. No good. When we drove past this glen, I knew we were in the right place. The road was high enough, and the bases of the trees were low enough. And behind my scene was a vast mountain that blocked the brightness of the sky. Perfect.
The next step was to find the right tree for my “point of interest“. I walked up and down the road searching for the best one – but each time, there was something distracting behind. A trunk that tilted at an odd angle – calling attention to itself. A broken branch. Too much white trunk behind and not enough golden color. And often, trees that were too close to let just one stand out on its own. This tree was just right – but only if I stood in just the right place. There’s actually a dead trunk just behind this one, but I chose an angle that hides it. No distracting elements allowed. 🙂
We were in this spot for about 20 minutes, and I have just one image to show for it. But it’s the photo I wanted.
When I finally found my composition, I took a few shots to decide how much depth of field I wanted. I chose an aperture (f/4) that would allow me to smooth the details in the background as much as possible – while keeping the tree in the foreground nice and sharp.
The most important step in post-processing was getting the color balance just right. A slight color cast would be enough to leave the whole image feeling dull. A bit of contrast, some targeted sharpening and a little more brightness just for the tree trunk… and that’s about it.
So, there you go. These are the kinds of things I’m thinking about when I’m taking a photograph.