In praise of trees

It might seem a bit odd starting an article on trees with something that is most certainly not a tree. But there’s a trunk, it has branches and a canopy. For me, it’s a tree in all but name. What it does have is the overarching cover: it has the lines I’m trying to find in the trees in our new very rural surroundings.

Metro Interchange, Manchester
Metro Interchange, Manchester

Trees are an obvious subject for the photographer. Large, ubiquitous, lots of structure, great colours, work well singly or in groups. What’s not to like? I find though it’s very easy to get carried away by a nice green canopy of leaves in the sunshine. Relying on a swathe of green across a landscape produces pictures that can be pretty but for me a little too obvious. I prefer to exercise a little curiosity on my viewers’ behalf.

Penken, Mayrhofn
Penken, Mayrhofen

Like this tree above Mayrhofen in Austria: clearly not long for this world with roots that are clinging on at the top of an exposed ridge, but for how much longer. The colours in this scene were as bleached as the tree itself so a monochrome version seemed more appropriate to emphasise the remains of the twisted branches.

The Clump, Hendersyde Farm near Kelso

Beech trees are probably my favourites. The trunks appear almost muscular, and they glow in a way no other trees do. Compare them with those spindly pines! They aren’t immune to the effects of the wind either despite their apparent strength as you can see in this picture at Birgham Haugh.

Birgham Haugh
Birgham Haugh

Here we can see the trees in early spring before the leaves appear, and we appreciate the branches getting ever finer reaching for the river. But trees can work in summer too – silhouettes make the most of the branches, and the leaves provide for more controlled dappled light as in this picture from Kinver Edge.

Kinver Edge, Worcestershire

You can use trees as frames too. Although in this next picture you can see some of the detail of the bark on the trunks, it’s the glimpses of the mist-shrouded countryside that attracts the eye as if seen through a window.

But I return to the beech trees in the Clump as my favourites. On the edge of the wood they catch all the light there is which shows off their curves and textures like skin.

Beech Portrait
Beech Portrait

Maybe the best time all of is in the spring, just as the leaves are foroming. You can still see the shapes of the branches but the outlines are softened by the new leaf growth. In colour you would see a faint green fuzz but as ever I prefer the black and white approach. It emphasises similarities of tone, downplaying differences of colour shade.

Mertoun Beat, River Tweed

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