Tall Trees, Towering

I visit the Redwoods whenever I can. I’ve talked about my history of swinging through the trees in a previous post (click the link to see it). Here, there are some bay trees in the mix; they’re the ones with broader leaves and thinner trunks in the foreground. They smell awesome and add some nice variety to the leaf/needle visual mix. There are a few tricks to photographing in forests. And since, in a world of possibilities, you may well find yourself wandering through one some day – here are some things I keep in mind.


FIRST, however – and as Queen of Preface – I have to add that everyone has their own vision of how to shoot a forest. I can only speak from my own. This is NOT torn out of some textbook, only out of my head. heh.
Ok, the Queen is done prefacing… here’s my general rundown:

1. Shooting-wise: Find some really strong lines to help make sense of all the leafy madness. You really have to consider that first – because no matter how much you love standing in the middle of the forest, that feeling won’t translate into an image without really strong structure. Foundation, foundation, foundation!

2. Decide if your frame works better as a vertical photo or landscape orientation. In this case, both ways actually looked good. But I rolled with vertical, because any good redwood story includes the part about how incredibly tall and towering they are. Even when other species of trees mix in with them – it seems everybody ends up towering. It’s still a pretty picture in landscape orientation – but vertical really popped for me.

3. I used a tripod for this, since it was a darker day (it had been raining), with more filtered light. I have to play with ISO in these situations sometimes. It’s a constant experiment when it comes to the elements, especially when it’s breezy. For this, I went with ISO 400. I’d always prefer to shoot ISO 100, but the leaves and branches were moving just enough that I had to up the ISO to make them stop. I went with an f-stop of  f/8 for a reasonable depth of field. On a completely calm day,  I might have been able to go up to f/11 or 14 for an even better depth of field, but this combo felt like a reasonable balance for my camera (Canon 5DIII), the light and overall conditions. For a decent DSLR, ISO 400 is generally for this and doesn’t add too much noise in this situation. And with all the details in this photo, a little noise can help with add to the yumminess of the texture.

4. Processing-wise: If your greens come out looking too saturated, lower the Yellow color channel. Amazingly, that’s the color that typically makes greens look too neon or iridescent in foresty or green-laden photos. I use Photoshop, but you can also use Lightroom sliders for this.

5. I like to do clean up and one level of sharpening before I add effects or do any detail work. Did that here too.

6. Once I have the sharpness and detail I like – here, I selectively added some glow. (this forest IS magical, after all!). There are so many ways to do this… you can use gaussian blur layers if you’re good with that technique, or use one of the glows in OnOne Software, NIK Software, etc. I used OnOne Software for this photo; Hollywood Glow in Normal Blending mode. Not too much, just enough for a little vibe.

  • NOTE: I brushed it in VERY selectively! More down the center of the photos (distance)… less toward the outsides of the photo (i.e. as it gets closer). I gave the moss a on the light side of the trees a little glow love too, since the moss always seem to glow on its own when light strikes it a certain way. 

7. I finished this one off with OnOne Software’s Center Spot Focus, for some pop. You want to use that one judiciously, since it can be kind of wild on some photographs. For this one, it only needed maybe 20-30% opacity, if that.

8. Depending on photo, I might go back and selectively sharpen certain areas. I did that here, although overall I wanted a softer vibe (like “soft eyes)… so didn’t go too crazy there. You can see the differences better when you click on the photo and then enlarge it. Lastly, I gave it the slightest vignette to draw the viewer’s eye toward center and called it good. “Good!”.

Results WILL vary; and SHOULD! My only point in telling you any of this is to (hopefully) give you some ideas to go play with on your own.

Now get out there, people! heehee.