I’ve always been quite fond of landscape shots (or paintings for that matter) consisting of lone trees on a clean background.
This seems to be a peculiarity of mine – the current landscape shot of choice for amateur and indeed many pro snappers is of a bleeding rock in the foreground of a milky beach or lake and sky shot or similar. Do flick through any copy of “Outdoor Photography” in your collection, or on the shelves at Smiths – and count the foreground rock (with water behind) shots – there will be many in each issue – there are always many!
Anyway… back to my lone tree shots.
Yes, I like clean, uncluttered landscapes shots with a lone tree in them somewhere. Even better if the photographer can take the shot with a rising moon or setting sun behind the tree.
But that would take planning.
Or a hell of a lot of waiting around. Months of waiting perhaps. Years even.
Step one would be to locate your lone tree of choice. I’ve been on the lookout locally for one since Anna and I moved across Berkshire.
Your tree really needs to be deciduous (to provide a skeletal silhouette in winter) and on its own (of course – nothing on the landscape nearby, or not obvious anyway) and preferably you need to take any lone tree photo of it, from the west(ish) or from the east(ish) (not north or south as then you’ll not have a rising moon or sun behind said tree, if that’s what you’re after).
Your BEST bet is to find a nice lone, deciduous tree on a bare landscape that you can shoot by pointing your camera pretty well DUE EAST at it (then you’ll have a couple of rising suns to choose from and more rising full moons behind the tree).
I’ve found a tree that almost fits that bill. It’s a little too big to be contained within a rising moon or sun, it’s a little too high (its on top of a very small hill) to grab a shot of it with a dark red nascent rising sun behind it (by the time the sun gets behind this tree from where I’m shooting from, the sun is very bright – even 2 minutes after “sunrise”) but I can shoot due West of it.
So – that’s step 1 completed. (Completed that several months ago to be fair).
Step 2 is working out WHEN (exactly when) a rising sun or a rising moon will be behind your subject (tree, building, rock formation etc).
Now you can do this (of course) by patient, repeated observation and guesstimates, or you can download a little “app” onto your smartphone or tablet, called “The Photographer’s Ephemeris”.
An ephemeris is simply a table or calendar or diary which gives the exact position of naturally-occurring astronomical objects and satellites (and these days, man made satellites often too) at any given time on any given year. For naturally-occurring astronomical objects and satellites, ephemerides can give you their position thousands of years in advance. VERY useful for many people – including landscape photographers.
The biggest part of any photograph I think is not the subject…. But almost always the LIGHT. The term “photograph” should give that away.
Landscape photography (in which I am certainly no expert or even have much experience) can be made or broken by good or bad light – and that is almost always a result of planning rather than luck.
This website (HERE) shows you what I mean.
Well, I’ve downloaded quite a few useful apps onto my android smartphone – one of them being “The Photographer’s Ephemeris”.
I originally downloaded it as I had in mind to take a shot of a little owl perched on a cattle shed gutter, but silhouetted by the full moon behind. I needed to know when the moon would be behind (from where I’d be with my camera) the owl’s perch then – exactly when.
I haven’t been lucky with that particular shot, as of course luck comes into play even if you plan to take a shot of a full moon or rising sun behind a silhouetted subject – especially in Britain – you need the sky to be clear!
I also downloaded it onto my phone to be able to predict when I might get a chance to shoot a plane in front of any full moon – something that regular readers of my blog(s) or old flickr account might remember. I used to do that via trial, error and lots of patience – but the app takes that hard work out of the equation!
Back to the lone tree shot and my Photographer’s Ephemeris App – on pinning our new 2015 wildlife calendar to the back door on the 1st January this year, I took an hour and using my Photographer’s Ephemeris App, wrote on our calendar exactly when (date and time) a full(ish) moon would be rising behind my lone tree in 2015 and also when the sun would be rising behind the tree. Lots of dates to play with – the first being this morning, at dawn (sunrise I suppose – which was at 06:53am).
A screenshot from my phone showing the App in play is below. (I’ve blurred out the grid reference though). You’ll see the lone tree – the yellow line is a line from my position (at the edge of the field) and the rising sun at 06:53am. There are many coloured lines on the display depicting sun rise and set, moon rise and set etc… but I’ve simplified the display for you in the screenshot below, to just show sunrise. You CAN work out height of sun also (from your position, i.e. above or below YOUR specific horizon level) but that’s another story.
Anyway… first chance in 2015 for a sun behind the lone tree shot today.
But I needed the sky to be clear of course.
AND IT WAS.
Now as I’m no expert in this type of landscape photography (or any photography to be frank) – and as this was my first attempt on the very first day I could attempt such a shot, I used today as a recce really. I only took my old bridge camera. Didn’t take a tripod. Didn’t take wellington boots (I should have as I had to swim through a cattle field to get the sun exactly in the right spot when it came up) and didn’t expect to get any shot really – just a lot of information which I could take away. Things like angle of sun climb at this time of year, how many minutes I’d get before the sun got too bright. Would a little cloud help to dull the sun? Where would the best spot for me to take the shot be exactly?
I managed to answer all those questions and get a shot or two.
Nothing spectacular and I think I may have to find another tree (it isn’t quite good enough in terms of being low enough or small enough) but it’s a start.
The shots are below. Like I say, nothing earth-shattering at present, but something for me to work on.
I actually (after this morning) DO think I need a little cloud (or even pollution!) in the sky to turn the sun red, I need a deer standing beside the tree, or I need to concentrate on moon behind this tree shots, rather than sun. I also need to work hard on composition and framing rather than zoom right in. But hey… that was the whole point of this morning – to get all this in my head.
Anyway… that’s my app of choice at present - the Photographer’s Ephemeris – and that’s why I think it’s really useful to have in your photography arsenal – especially if you’re snapping lands(scapes).