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Tip 2: Plan your lighting

Good lighting makes the difference between a mediocre photograph and a good one. I like to use natural light, though with a high-quality artificial lighting setup I could probably do even better. Under natural light, I find that I get my best results when I position the tree in the shade on a sunny day or a bright overcast day. I bounce light back onto the tree with a set of reflectors; this creates a sense of depth. You can either buy a set of reflectors at any good photography store, or you can make your own by taping crumpled and re-flattened aluminum foil to a piece of posterboard.

Accounting for natural light, our previous setup diagram might look something like the following:

Photography lighting

(To avoid lens flare, be sure that the camera lens is shaded from the direct sun.)

Some enthusiasts suggest shooting at night by flash, with nothing in the background. While this works in a pinch, I find that the flash-by-night approach creates an image that is too flat and too high in contrast. Compare the photographs below. The top one was taken with a black backdrop under natural daylight; the bottom one was taken at night with a flash and no backdrop.

Comparison of flash with daylight+backdrop
Look at how much the lighting affects the texture of the tree. In the upper photo, the tree is soft and lush. You could almost nap among the boughs. In the lower photo, the foliage is spiky and harsh. The photos were taken 12 hours apart, and the tree hasn't changed at all --- it's all in the lighting. Sometimes you may wish to achieve something closer to the spiky appearance of the latter photograph, for artistic effect. Even if you do, direct light or strong reflected light is probably preferable to a head-on flash.

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Last modified December 27, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Carl T. Bergstrom
cbergst@u.washington.edu