Photographing Trees in Winter

It’s harder than I thought.

This somewhat surprises me. They are just trees, silent and aloof, moving only when wind passes through. We see them every time we go outside. When I approach they don’t flee but pose tall and proud.

The challenge, I found, is photographing them in a way that transfers the mood I felt in their presence to the viewed photograph on screen or in print. How to transfer mood? This isn’t unique to trees as this is the essence of photography, inviting the viewer into the experience. However, the trees don’t usually have the same wow factor as a sunset, mountain, or waterfall, for example. For me, there is more of a challenge to evoke emotional reaction with an object we view as more mundane.

How to transfer the mood of trees?

Let’s briefly take a look at the following photos and see if they speak for themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASnow has recently fallen in the woods with dozens upon dozens of red pines. It blankets the ground, clothes the branches of all trees. But the quiet is striking. I pause my boot crunching steps and observe. Dark trunks contrast mightily against the white glare. The woods seem to contain a slight fog, but it’s the snowfall muting the landscape.

Fallen Tree
Fallen Giant

Nearby, a massive tree has taken over the ground, its limbs sprawling among the still standing community. In a grove with so many standing trees, a fallen giant is notable.

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Peaceful Winter

A stream curves through the woods, leading to a beautifully white-coated tree with dark, thin and young trunks. The power of the stream with the quiet woods is a powerfully peaceful spot.

Winter Pillars (2)
White Pillars

Tremendous contrast on these “white pillars” in a small, composed bunch. They withstand the winter conditions beautifully.

Winter Pillars
White Pillar Grove

A wider look at the grove of white trees, with a fallen comrade beneath them and some color splashing subtly behind.

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Fallen

In pine alley, one small oak kneels.

Through the trees

A bit more abstract, the white path weaves through the young growth.

These pictures are a result of four outings specifically photographing trees. So tell me, after viewing the pictures above, how did I do? Did you feel the mood of any place, or were they easy to scroll past?

Scouting Whitewater State Park

Whitewater State Park might be in my top three favorite parks in Minnesota. A huge reason is that the conditions aren’t ideal for pesky mosquitoes due to cold-spring fed water that is constantly moving.

But it’s the bluffs that capture my heart.

Once more, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and drove two hours to catch a state park sunrise. This morning treated me more colorfully than the visit to St. Croix State Park.

Coyote Point Sunrise

I had hoped that the color would expand into the clouds but it mostly stayed behind the ridge. And yet, it was a gorgeous scene.

After sunrise, I quickly transferred to the eastern Chimney Rock where I watched the sun burn the shadows away.

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Chimney Rock View

The five bluffs at Whitewater State Park are close enough to one another to climb all of them in one day. At Chimney Rock, you can view the widest part of the river offering a swimming hole for campers. I love the reflections here.

From here, I went south along the Chimney Rock Trail which bordered farmland and you can see where dried, small gullys zigzag down into the banks of Whitewater River. The sun burst through the trees and illuminated the yellow leaves all over.

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Then I discovered Inspiration Point and wonder if it’s my favorite part of the park. It reminded me of the North Shore without Lake Superior.

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Whitewater State Park

But of course, it is not the North Shore. It has its own beauty and another reason to love Minnesota and our state parks.

Have you visited?

Autumn Bursts in St. Croix State Park

While I made plans to capture autumn colors this year, I made note of fire towers in state parks and St Croix State Park made the list. It’s about two hours from the Twin Cities, including a slow drive on a dirt road. At the time, the roads were bursting with every fall color.

Autumn Roads in St. Croix

I arrived at the fire tower at 6:45 a.m. after leaving the house two hours earlier.

I climbed slowly.

After climbing a more rickety tower in Grand Portage, Minnesota, this one’s stability helped with my fear of heights. I ended up staying on the top platform for an hour watching and waiting for color. I’ll tell you three tips that really helped me become absolutely (well, mostly) comfortable with fire towers:

  1. Go slowly, and make several stops. Take in the all scenes, bend your knees, and pause, allowing your mind to grow comfortable with the heights.
  2. Stay awhile. This, too, seems counter intuitive, but the more time passes, the more I relaxed. I found my mind went overboard with every creak in the boards, every wind gust, and several movie scenes. I quickly realized how much of my physical responses were from my irrational mind. The more I relaxed and took in deep breaths, the more I felt fine. After an hour at top, I nearly felt as  secure as being on the solid ground.
  3. Climb several towers within a short time of each other. Climbing one in Grand Portage two weeks prior really helped me with the one in St. Croix.

While the clouds didn’t allow much of a sunrise, the trees beneath me were nicely represented in the low, even light.

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Fire tower view

After climbing down, I started driving back and in the immediate 200 feet or so, stopped my car, got out, and took pictures five times of the wrapping color around the road. Just stunning. I recommend St. Croix State Park for the scenic drives on these dirt roads if nothing else. I even got to see my first wild porcupine cross the road.

Porcupine Crossing

When I entered the park at 6:00am, I couldn’t see any colors but upon exiting, it was red everywhere and colors layered and filled in everywhere. Below is an example of the color burst.

Color burst

I was so enamored with color, I returned with my wife less than twenty-fours later. Shockingly, in that brief time, much color was lost and now lay on the roads and paths. I couldn’t believe how it changed so dramatically after one night. There remained enough color to enjoy the park, but it was a different experience for me and a bit of a letdown since I brought Sarah to enjoy it.

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But we did enjoy all of it.