How to Take Better Tree and Plant Photos

Leaves, bark, moss, lichen, mushrooms, nuts, ferns, and seeds, to name just a few plant subject, all have beautiful details that are often ignored.

Many photographers focus purely on colorful flower photography. They forget about the surrounding plants, trees and other non-flowering flora, which can be equally colorful!

Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
An old gum on the Murray River, Australia.Soft, quiet and completely unreal - snow covered trees in Kakunodate, Japan.A summer park in Leipzig, Germany.Eerie tree shadows on shoji screens, Japan.
An old gum on the Murray River, Australia.
An old gum on the Murray River, Australia. | Source
Soft, quiet and completely unreal - snow covered trees in Kakunodate, Japan.
Soft, quiet and completely unreal - snow covered trees in Kakunodate, Japan. | Source
A summer park in Leipzig, Germany.
A summer park in Leipzig, Germany. | Source
Eerie tree shadows on shoji screens, Japan.
Eerie tree shadows on shoji screens, Japan. | Source

Tree connections

Trees can evoke deeper feelings than many flowers, growing majestically tall or tortured, twisted and gnarled over time.

The have a sense of history, photos feel like they tell only part of their story.

Children often have tree-friends, lending them a personality, telling them stories, playing amongst them and of course, climbing up them.

However, children may be terribly afraid of some plants, especially if they cast scary shadows in the moonlight.

Snow covered trees in winter lend a quietness to photos, and can make scenes feel unreal (at least the photos seem unreal to me as an Australian!)

In summer, vibrant greens and patches of shade can show both life and coolness.

Plant lighting - the golden hours

Dusk or dawn gives a more golden light and softer, longer shadows. In the middle of the day, the light is white, and the shadows are strongest.

Light seems softer on overcast days, allowing you to bring out details normally hidden in shadows.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Dappled light in a forest, Nikko, Japan.Soft, late afternoon light, Kyoto, Japan.Japanese maple, backlit on an overcast day.Sunbeams at dawn.
Dappled light in a forest, Nikko, Japan.
Dappled light in a forest, Nikko, Japan. | Source
Soft, late afternoon light, Kyoto, Japan.
Soft, late afternoon light, Kyoto, Japan. | Source
Japanese maple, backlit on an overcast day.
Japanese maple, backlit on an overcast day. | Source
Source
Sunbeams at dawn.
Sunbeams at dawn. | Source

You can create your own shade with an umbrella or a large piece of card or paper, but this often requires a second pair of hands.

Dappled lighting and soft light beams can be captured in a forest or a small stand of trees.

Strong outlines can be captured with back-lighting - use the sun or another bright object such as a sunlit waterfall behind the plant.

Or you can get close into the leaves letting the backlighting expose veins and internal structure in the plants.

The light during sunrise and sunset can have different colors based on the weather. A tree outline often looks beautiful against the rainbow sky.

Plus the softer warmer light deepens the colors of autumn leaves, making these times perfect for fall photography.

Lighting overview

Type of light
Effect on plant photography
Dawn / dusk
Plants appear warmer as the red/orange/yellow hues are stronger.
Sunset / sunrise
Capture a shadowed outline against a colored sky. Soft, muted colors, reflecting the sky's colors.
Midday or bright sun
Plants have strong, sharp shadows. The light is a strong and clear white.
Overcast sky or a shade 'tool' such as an umbrella
Softer shadows, less defined shadows and muted colors. Better for capturing fine details.
Backlit with the sun or another light source
Show veins in leaves, or a shadowed outline of the plant.
Photos taken with flash
Shiny surfaces in the foreground are highlighted, shadows are very strong.

Lighting tips

  • A camera's flash casts sharp shadows and provides a harsh, white light. It is easy to over-expose the details, and focus on the wrong subject. Of course, a flash photo can also show details that are normally hidden.
  • You can add warmth to photos by changing the white balance. Some cameras have settings for cloudy or overcast light, enhancing the yellows in the photo.

A mostly overcast sky, mid-afternoon, Birdsland reserve, Australia. The over-exposed sky turned the trees and their reflection into an outline.
A mostly overcast sky, mid-afternoon, Birdsland reserve, Australia. The over-exposed sky turned the trees and their reflection into an outline. | Source

Plant framing - find your emphasis

You don't always need to place the focus in the middle of the photo. Slightly offsetting the main subject in your photo can seem more professional and artistic.

The golden rule of thirds

To make your photo more interesting, position your subject at either 1/3 or 2/3 in the frame (vertically or horizontally).

Of course, this is a soft suggestion, not a hard rule!

An offset autumn maple, at Tamozawa villa, Nikko, Japan.
An offset autumn maple, at Tamozawa villa, Nikko, Japan. | Source

You can fill a photo with tiny details in a macro shot, or with the landscape, capturing how the plants interact with their surroundings.

Wider landscape photos allow you to capture trees as they march in rows and gardens as they display their harsh (or soft) edges.

A small plant can be overpowered by hard concrete, or a tall tree can tower over a small building.

Avoid capturing anything that distracts from your subject, or crop the photo in an image editing program.

Macro photographs are perfect for displaying details such as veins, hairs, patterned bark, needles, woodgrain, water droplets, and new shoots.

Landscape photos are best for capturing forests, hedgerows, manicured gardens and streetscapes.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Midday in summer, trees march along a river, Leipzig, Germany.Macro shot of a geranium leaf, with a blurred background. Midday lighting - A church disappearing into trees, Quedlingburg, Germany.A very manicured castle garden, Germany.A vine covered building at dusk, Quedlinburg, Germany.Macro photograph of an indoor houseplant.
Midday in summer, trees march along a river, Leipzig, Germany.
Midday in summer, trees march along a river, Leipzig, Germany. | Source
Macro shot of a geranium leaf, with a blurred background. Midday lighting -
Macro shot of a geranium leaf, with a blurred background. Midday lighting - | Source
A church disappearing into trees, Quedlingburg, Germany.
A church disappearing into trees, Quedlingburg, Germany. | Source
A very manicured castle garden, Germany.
A very manicured castle garden, Germany. | Source
A vine covered building at dusk, Quedlinburg, Germany.
A vine covered building at dusk, Quedlinburg, Germany. | Source
Macro photograph of an indoor houseplant.
Macro photograph of an indoor houseplant. | Source

Plant perspective - play with it!

Tilting the camera so that upright plants are shown at an angle gives a feeling of freedom or movement, such as when the wind blows. For more solid plants, such as huge trees, it lends an other-worldly air.

Get down below low-sitting plants, or high up in a tree for an uncommon perspective. We see trees and flowers from eye level and at a distance every day, so an unusual angle is more interesting.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Looking up a gum tree, Melbourne, Australia. Getting this close causes splinters!Dew covered moss on a rock, Tasmania, Australia.A fir tree, protected from deer and the winter cold, Himeji, Japan.Mossy rocks and a waterfall, Otways, Australia.A scary caterpillar on a geranium stem, Australia.
Looking up a gum tree, Melbourne, Australia. Getting this close causes splinters!
Looking up a gum tree, Melbourne, Australia. Getting this close causes splinters! | Source
Dew covered moss on a rock, Tasmania, Australia.
Dew covered moss on a rock, Tasmania, Australia. | Source
A fir tree, protected from deer and the winter cold, Himeji, Japan.
A fir tree, protected from deer and the winter cold, Himeji, Japan. | Source
Mossy rocks and a waterfall, Otways, Australia.
Mossy rocks and a waterfall, Otways, Australia. | Source
A scary caterpillar on a geranium stem, Australia.
A scary caterpillar on a geranium stem, Australia. | Source

Highlights - animals, water and more

In macro shots of plants, insects, spiders, or other animals, can make photos come to life. They draw the eye to notice details that are normally overlooked.

Water droplets lend freshness to the photo, and also work to highlight delicate details. A spray bottle of water is a useful tool on a sunny day, if you want water highlights!

Blurred backgrounds

If you are taking macro or close-up photos, you want to blur a distracting, cluttered background to keep the viewer focused on your subject. Most macro or super-macro functions choose camera settings that will give you a nice blur in the background.

A photo with foreground details in focus and a blurry background is closer to how we see the world - we focus on a point, and the rest is smoothed over.

Type of camera

Which type of camera do you have?

  • Cell phone - easiest to carry everywhere!
  • Small point and shoot - light to carry, but takes better photos than my phone.
  • Mid-sized compact with zoom lens - with macro and zoom settings, but without the hassle of multiple lenses.
  • DSLR - I need power and quality, and I don't mind swapping lenses!
See results without voting

Tips for a blurred background

  • Get close to your subject.
  • Avoid the flash.
  • Stay completely still or use a tripod and a timer.
  • Use a macro or super macro setting.
  • DSLR cameras - Aperture Priority (AP) mode, select a wide aperture (small f-value).
  • DSLR cameras - Manual mode, select a wide aperture, increase the ISO and decrease the shutter speed.

Post-processing plant photos

Use photo processing software to enhance your shots - there are many available for free online.

Both software (Photoshop, Gimp, iPhoto, etc) and online photo tools, have many filters and settings that you can use to change colours, lighting, crop and tilt photos, get an antique or black and white shot, and much more.

Work on an extra copy of your photos, so you always have the original, and don't need to worry when playing with filters and settings.

At the top of a leatherwood tree, Tasmania, Australia.
At the top of a leatherwood tree, Tasmania, Australia. | Source

Keep on photographing!

Look through inspiring image galleries and useful tips from pro-photographers, such as those at the National Geographic, for ideas on how to capture unique and beautiful photos.

However the best way to capture good plant and tree shots, is to take a lot of photos, and take them often.

As you photograph more, you will get used to your camera's settings, and your skills will improve.

Free online courses

  • Stanford has made their course in digital photography available online for free. With demonstrations of key concepts covered in lectures, and photo assignments, it's a great, guided push to improve your photography skills.
  • The Digital Photography School blog has organized hundreds of tutorial posts into a variety of fantastic guides, including one for beginner photographers. I could get lost in this blog - chock full of great information!

Comments

What are your favorite plants to photograph, or your favorite times to capture photos of trees?
Let us know in the comments below!

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12 comments

Robin profile image

Robin 4 years ago from San Francisco

Your photographs are amazing. Maybe, just maybe, if I use a few of your tips I could take such pictures. I tend to use Instagram for a quick photo enhancement, but I'd like to learn to use Photoshop better. Great advice!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Robin - thank you! I don't actually use Photoshop (I found the image library easier to use in iPhoto), although I'd love to use it some day. But I never seemto find the time!


bridalletter profile image

bridalletter 4 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

Thank you for sharing such details about the lighting differences based on the time of day.


Vanderleelie profile image

Vanderleelie 4 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada

An excellent outline of photography practice. I enjoy shooting outdoors on overcast days, just after a rain - it seems that each leaf and bud is intensely coloured under those conditions. Voted up and useful!


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

I'm just eating up your photography hubs. :) I'm treating myself to a really nice camera for my birthday. I'm having such fun experimenting and I'm finding out it just takes a lot of photo-taking to get better and really develop an eye for it. Even with my cheap-o camera right now. Thanks for sharing this. :)


Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 4 years ago from Hawaii

Thanks for all the information about photographing plants. You're right, it can be easy to forget about the non-flowering plants. Voted up and useful (and bookmarked).


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Vanderleelie - overcast and just after rain is the perfect time for colors, and for beautiful water droplet highlights! Thank you!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Natashalh - thank you! I think I wrote this partly as a reminder to myself -- I've been focusing on too many flowering plants recently!


klarawieck 4 years ago

I'm a huge fan of photography and so is my husband. We often go on photoshoots to the Everglades, the beach, or even parts of the city. His photography often inspires me to write and I've included some of his photos in my hubs.

You, Kimberly (I finally got an easier name to call you!), are a very talented woman. Your photography is beautiful, and your writing is superb. You must be a teacher, too, since you have a very methodical approach to explaining how it's done. This is a wonderful hub which I'm planning to share with my husband and some other friends who are into photography. Great job!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany Author

Klara - thank you so much! I've been teaching different subjects from programming, computers, web development to technical writing, music and English for nearly 20 years now (eeek!)

I hope your friends and husband enjoy the hub too.

Shortest and easiest is Kym ;-)


Melis Ann profile image

Melis Ann 4 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

What beautiful photography. I will try to use these tips to photograph my vegetable garden. I've been documenting my progress in photos as the season progresses. Perhaps I will use them in a future hub. Sharing this with my followers.


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 17 months ago

Love that forest pathway through the trees in the German countryside.

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