“Landscape photographers have a love affair with trees,” notes Charlie Waite, the celebrated British photographer whose scenic studies over many years reveal his deep reverence for the subject. Here he tells us about his distinctive approach to picturing trees in the landscape
Whether en masse or standing nobly on their own, trees play a huge environmental and emotional role in all of our lives. The tree, in many parts of the world, is our seasonal barometer. If we are lucky enough to have a tree in our garden, we will know its character and personality and enjoy a real and meaningful relationship with it. Because of our familiarity with trees—their height, girth, color, and shape—they play a crucial role in providing the viewer of a landscape photograph reference points for depth, distance, and dimension within the image. (I call this DDD.) Trees help to delineate the landscape and, as with cloud shadows, can create a three-dimensional effect in photographs.
ENTER OUR JANUARY PHOTO CHALLENGE: TREES
Framing It Up
A tree needs to express its character, its setting, and its sense of nobility. Trees in random volume don’t speak to me. But trees in an orderly, regimented design do. Therefore, I am always looking for the tree that stands alone or trees in an organized collection. There is no telling where those might be, so I often spend hours driving in search of them.
There is no typical shot setup: Each potential image brings with it a different set of considerations involving design, shape, pattern, color, relationships, depth, and so on. Symmetry plays a role, too. I am careful to avoid verticals bisecting horizontals, if I can. In all situations, a tripod is mandatory.
A wide-angle lens can suggest that the area being photographed is more expansive than it really is, and the eye and the brain can detect whether the lens used was extremely wide. The lens that I like to use, and did for many of these images, is the 50mm lens on a 6x6cm camera (roughly the equivalent of 28mm on 35mm format) because to me, it seems to equate to human vision.
My other lens preference is short telephoto, as I don’t care to compress planes within a landscape too extremely. I want viewers to feel that if they were standing by my side, their vision would match my own. Many of my landscape photographs are in a square, or nearly square, format. The square promotes the tree as a center-stage player, given that space above, below, and to the sides can be of even proportions.
Damme, Belgium. Trees fade into mist for the shot, center, made with a Nikon D3S and 24–120mm f/4G AF-S Nikkor lens, at full tele for mild compression. Exposure: ¼ sec at f/22, ISO 200.