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.

Winter Stream (2) (1 of 1)
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.

Fallen (ig)

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?

Planning or Reacting to the Scene?

I listen to a podcast fairly regularly called Lenswork by Brooks Jensen and earlier this week, an episode really made me think more deeply about reacting to a scene versus over planning or overthinking the scene.

As a landscape photographer and bit of a perfectionist, I have more than several times, gotten to a scene and scurried around trying to find the “perfect” composition. Or the composition that would make the trip worth it. My problem isn’t over planning as much as rushing, urged on by high idealism.

A benefit to this has been grabbing several interesting compositions and exploring many areas of the landscape. However, I believe this approaches reduces and minimizes the experience and can even be stressful.

In 2019, I want to practice more reacting to landscapes that I visit. This means slowing down and not worrying about taking the camera out. It means walking the edge of a coastline for an hour. It means sitting on a rock or bench listening to sounds and watching wildlife. It means slowing my pace and my breathing and letting creative wonder come to me, instead of forcing my own twist into the composition.

There is nothing wrong with scouting, planning, and thinking through a scene to produce a quality and professional photo. I will continue to do this. But personally, I want to slow down more and allow creativity to come to me through a slower and deliberate approach.

I really appreciate what they’re doing over at Slow Photography Movement and recommend their site. It’s much of the same vein as this post.

I’ll leave an example to close today’s thought. Last autumn along the North Shore, I was scurrying around trying to capture this island off the coat. I wasn’t very satisfied with my initial images so I stopped and just looked. I didn’t try to see a composition. I scanned the entire coast, taking in my location. It was at that point where I discovered an obvious beauty: lush red fall leaves in bunches just as the rocks met the trees. And when I went over to them, I discovered my composition.

the rock


Five Reasons Winter Photography is Attractive

I paid hundreds of dollars to attend my first photography workshop last February along the North Shorein Minnesota. I spent five days walking and sitting on ice, capturing ice, while my entire face but notably my eyebrows and beard, were completely transformed into icicles.

Ice here, ice there, ice everywhere, baby.

It might be safe to say that winter in Minnesota is my favorite season to photograph landscapes and nature, rivaling the popular autumn. Read my five top reasons for enjoying winter photography below!

1) Stillness

I don’t need to travel to a lost wilderness to understand the stillness winter brings. One of my favorite moments all year is after a heavy snowfall when a light snow lingers. The smooth, undisturbed blankets of snow contour intriguingly over the land, sparkling in pleasing ways to the eye. And it’s quiet. Many sounds are muffled. It’s like the earth has gone to sleep.  Even in the city, the effect is easily observed.

Winter Scale

2) Introvert, I am.

As an introvert who likes to recharge in nature’s solitude, winter is the perfect time to getaway from social occasions in life. I’ve been able to shoot during the morning when most people work. Even if they don’t work, frigid temperatures and icy roads dissuade much of the summer travelers. Therefore, I can take my time, exploring angles and details at my pace without worry of another disturbing a moment or being in my photograph. It’s a nice time to pray and reflect on life. The beauty of creation is intense and blanketing.

Ice Painting

3) Dynamic ice

Moisture, temperature, and sunlight constantly change ice formations. It’s one of the most dynamic subjects to photograph. I believe that taking photographs where ice is a dominant character, I’m likely taking photographs never again repeated. It is a truly a frozen moment in time that will never be seen again. Ice can melt, shape, form, cut, or stack in so many ways. I just love the different times ice appears also: the initial thin layers across shallow lakes, the coating on frozen trees and plants, the deep, thick boulders along Lake Superior and ice caves.


4) That Blue Hue

Winter brings forth blues that I don’t see at other times of the year. Blue hour at both ends of the day is a favorite time to photograph. Being my favorite color, winter blues are just really attractive to me. Combine that with ice and it’s winter delight!

Willow River Winter

5) No Mosquitoes

The unofficial state birds are not swarming me when I am trying to set up my tripod, work the dials and exposures, causing those still moments eyeing the viewfinder to be risky ones. Nope, they’re just dead. And that’s great cause for winter cheer.

Of course, winter is just darn, stinkin’ cold in Minnesota.

  • I did jumping jacks in Grand Marais as the wind battered me with -25 F temps…
    • But I captured the best sunset of my life.
  • My hands froze at Willow River State Park, slowing down picture taking…
    • But I spent four hours in a magical place with mist, icicles, and waterfalls.
  • I must have walked in hundreds of circles in Grand Portage, daring not stop…
    • But I photographed floating pancakes with my crazy friend along orange skies.

Yes, I do ask myself if it’s worth it in the moment and sometimes want to flee to my car. Most of the time, however, I find a way to cope and it’s always been worth it for me.

How do you interact with winter?