I do love trees, but their beauty is pretty hard to capture in photographs.
I feel much of monochrome photography is similar to producing ‘line drawings’ and one of my favourite artists producing really great pen and ink drawings of trees is Sarah Woolfenden.
Here’s one of her exquisitely detailed pictures, of a Yew:
Incredible detail in Sarah’s drawing. Sarah has the artists’ advantage over the photographer…she can ignore the background. Us poor people behind cameras haven’t got any easy ways to eliminate confusing backgrounds, so we often turn to choosing subjects where the background just doesn’t exist.
Michael Kenna has made some truly wonderful pictures of a single ancient oak beside Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido by making them in the snow, sometimes against misty backgrounds.
What a stunning ‘minimilist’ image, but then Kenna encouraged a whole genre of photography didn’t he. He certainly makes this withering tree look like an ink drawing.
Back to Sarah Woolfenden. She doesn’t ignore ‘the background’ that often in fact. Here’s a wonderful image of an oak.
A large oak in it’s forest setting and a photographer would have to catch it like that as well.
I can see that there would be a predominance of mid-tones in a monochrome photograph of that oak and Sarah chooses to make much of the background lighter than it would have been. The photographic trick to achieve this is by using filtering and a green filter would render the foliage lighter than usual. There’s an even more extreme trick the photographer can play…but it leads to troubles if not carefully used. That’s Infra-Red.
The American photographer Beth Moon started taking pictures of some of the ancient trees we have in the UK and often used a Pentax 6×7 camera loaded with Infra-Red film.
Her images are extremely powerful, like the wonderful oak ‘Majesty’ at Nonington in Kent above. She went on to record some of the ancient trees in the US National Parks and in Africa, like these Baobab’s.
In the oak image, the Infra-Red has rendered the green leaves as white. That’s what happens when you use IR to capture leaves full of chlorophyll, as they will be on a bright sunny summer day. The Baobab’s however don’t have that bright green chlorophyll soaked foliage and it is rendered somewhat more realistically. The give away is the sky, that the IR has rendered as black.
I’ve tried using an IR converted digital camera to capture trees and to make them ‘stand out’ in monochrome, but I’ve done it in the winter. No green leaves to turn white, just some grass and ivy on the trunk to render lighter…just as Sarah did in her oak drawing.
The IR camera turned the sky really dark….and I love dark and stormy skies and this is about a close as I’ve been able to come to matching the ‘intensity’ that an artist like Sarah Woolfenden can produce with her meticulous ‘pen man ship’.
Here’s a few more stunning tree images from Beth Moon:
Less obviously an Infra-Red image, but the yew isn’t ‘big on chlorophyll’ , but the softness of the image says IR I’m sure. Here’s another:
Normal film I’d say, however it’s best if IR doesn’t show it’s self too heavily I believe.
I’d say that was also on normal film, and here’s one by Michael Kenna that certainly is:
That’s a really great image and he’s managed to get the trees ‘upright’ without leaning. I can’t work out how long a lens as there’s still lots of ‘perspective’ there so possibly he used a ‘FlexBody’ tilt-shift adapter on his Hasselbald.
Here’s another one from Kenna that I haven’t managed to work out how he got that ‘inner glow’ as trees that are densely growing don’t let much light past their crowns do they:
From the same Abuzzo set of images and I think the magical light is just glorious.
NB: See note below for reply from Michael Kenna about this:
Mist is good to isolate trees of course, and here’s another attempt of mine:
A silver birch ‘quivering’ in the breeze that was present, along with the mist.
Sarah Woolfenden’s tree drawings are one her website:
https://www.sarahwoolfenden.co.uk/ with a list of galleries stocking her prints and cards.
Sarah Moon’s tree images were printed in ‘Ancient Trees-Portraits Of Time’ published by Abbeville Press.
Michael Kenn’s Kussharo Lake Tree was published in a book of that name, along with many others of the same tree taken over a number of years but it is old out. It was also included in ‘Forms Of Japan’ published by Prestel. Now that’s a book that every landscape photographer should own.
His 2016 Abuzzo pictures are in the book ‘Abruzzo’ published by Nazraeli Press.
He is represented in the UK by the gallery Huxley-Parlour and there is shortly to be an exhibition ‘A 45 year Odyssey Retrospective’ at the small Bosham Gallery on the Sussex coast, who I believe are now representing him as well. I wish I had the money for a few of Mr Kenna’s Limited Edition prints!
Michael sent me the following note regarding my queries about his two Abruzzo tree images:
Poplar Trees was probably made with the 250m lens. I don’t keep notes and freely move between lenses so I’m not 100% sure.
Stone Pine Tunnel – again probably 250m. Yes, the light at the top was being blocked by the tree canopy.