I’ve commented before that one of the creative challenges I find particularly rewarding is making visual sense of the complexity in Nature’s woodland ‘designs’. Large branches creating a criss-cross of shapes, obscuring the view; thin twigs infiltrating any spare space between their larger brothers, colours that can either blend different parts of the scene together or keep them separate, the complex pattern of light and the layers of detail created as branches are swallowed into background shadows. The woodland photographer’s biggest challenge is to take all those complexities and create an image that is visually simple – something I find easier to say than do but I take some comfort there are photographer’s more experienced than me who agree it is a difficult challenge.
David Ward – one of my favourite photographer’s of ‘intimate landscapes’ – captures the essence of woodland photography in the foreword he wrote to a book called ‘With Trees’. Published in 2013 by Triplekite, the book showcases a series of woodland scenes taken by Dav Thomas – a Sheffield-based photographer and graphic designer. I wouldn’t say it’s a great collection of woodland photographs but there are some very good images. For example, ‘Baslow Dawn’ taken below Baslow Edge in Derbyshire has a ‘Constable-like’ feel to the trees (without the cottage and haywain!) and ‘Fallen’ taken at Yew Tree Tarn in the Lake District is a good example of how a tangle of branches in a fallen tree can be distilled from the complex woodland that surrounds it. Ward’s foreword to the book reveals his understanding of the complexity of woodland photography through a number of statements that will ‘strike a chord’ for many woodland photographers. He says:
… trees don’t easily give up their secrets to the camera. (Woodlands) are incredibly complex and chaotic, both facets that make it very hard to produce a satisfying photograph. Painters have the luxury of being able to bend the space to their will. They can easily omit any aspect of a view that offends them, move objects around the canvas and, perhaps most conveniently, change the way the light falls. No doubt this all requires great technical expertise to achieve convincingly. But a photographer’s task is no easier.
His comments confirm the point that triggered me to write this short post. In woodland photography, ‘making it simple is complicated’. It’s difficult but not impossible. I’m lucky the photograph in this post turned out better than I originally thought it would but to paraphrase the American President, Thomas Jefferson, “I find the harder I work (at woodland photography), the more luck I seem to have”. Still a long way to go on my journey to become a better woodland photographer so with Jefferson’s words ringing in my ears, it’s time to plan another trip to the woods!