Want Your Trees to Stand Out? Here's 3 Tips to Help You Take Stunning Bonsai Photos
The most underrated way to improve your bonsai skills is to take great pictures.
You should share photos of your trees and solicit feedback, but the feedback you receive will only be as good as the photos you take. All too often I see new enthusiasts share a photo of their tree, asking for help, only to see the photo filled with so much background noise that providing good advice is not possible.
Here’s 3 quick tips for taking better photos of your trees.
1. Use a Clean Background
In order to see the details of your tree, you need to place it in front of a clean and crisp background. Taking photos right off the bench runs the risk of having the green foliage of your tree compete with the green background of your yard. This green-on-green creates too much background noise.
A brick wall or other static background is better, but still not great. In the picture below, the red brick blends with the branches and doesn’t give that crisp feeling. It's difficult to see the details of the tree.
This final photo is clear and crisp. I can see both the foliage and the branches clearly. I take my photos using an empty wall in my garage. If you don’t have a wall like this, you can easily build a backdrop with a piece of drywall from your local hardware store. Or purchase one; something like this. It's important that you create a photo studio or photo shelf for your pictures. This ensures consistent backdrops & allows you to see your trees develop over time.
2. Use Great Lighting
There is nothing more important to taking photos than lighting. If you take your photos outside, consider waiting until the golden hour. You can find your golden hour here. Experiment with shade vs daylight. Night photos are difficult to pull off, so keep it during the day until you’ve mastered the basics.
If you choose to take photos inside, I suggest purchasing a lighting kit. I use soft lights purchased from Amazon. I’ve had these for years and they work great. I see this as an investment in my bonsai journey.
3. Add Simple Editing
I take 99% of my photos on my Iphone. All smart phones come with basic editing tools, like crop and filters. Here’s the two I use most often.
The key to cropping is to place the tree slightly off center. This places the tree in the crosshairs and draws the eye towards your tree. The use of negative space, when used appropriately, gives your tree that little something extra. I use the direction of the tree to dictate the negative space I want to highlight. Of course, you want to crop out anything that might be distracting to the viewer. In the photo below, the red bench is too loud for this composition, so I’ll crop everything but the grey background.
Once the crop is sufficient, I’ll move to filters. 90% of the time I use the “vivid” filter on my iPhone. Focus on the area of the tree you want to highlight and run through the filters. Which one gives your photo the “pop“ you’re looking for?
The photo is now ready to share!
Background, lighting and a little editing will get your photos looking great. Use these three tips to take better photos. And be sure to share them, it's the best way to get better. Ask for feedback and opinions. When you take good photos, you get good feedback.
What tips do you have for taking great pics of your trees? Share them below and don't forget to subscribe to my monthly newsletter for all my bonsai related updates. Until next time, Peace Love Bonsai!