Published 4/23/2015 | Updated 6/27/19

For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about taking photos of trees and plants.

The thing that was on my mind was that I spent all winter waiting for spring to arrive so that the trees and plants had their summer clothes back on so that I could take a photo showing what the tree looked like for my plant profiles on Plants Map.

What occurred to me is that only a few of the photos that I take of plants actually are pictures of the whole tree or plant. Most of my photos are interesting close-ups of only part of the plant. I very rarely stand back and take a shot showing the whole tree.

The cool thing about is that you can document a plant over time and add photos of the whole tree in the summer when it has all of its leaves but also take pictures at any time showing only parts of the tree.

I’m told that in order to properly identify a plant or tree from photographs, it almost always requires multiple views of the plant.

15 ideas for documenting your plants and trees with photos:

  1. Overall shot of showing the shape of the plant or tree. Photograph it from several angles at different times of the day. I like to shoot overall shots very early in the morning when the light tends to be nice and has a warm color. At least if the tree isn’t that spectacular from a distance, the scene will be visual. Photographs showing the colors of leaves on a tree in Autumn are very helpful in identifying some trees.
  2. Photograph the bark and get a shot showing a “normal” view that looks representative of the species.
  3. Get in close and shoot interesting sections of the bark that make an interesting visual image.
  4. If you are photographing a tree, try to take a shot showing the branching pattern where they grow out from the main leader or trunk. If you are trying to identify a Dawn Redwood or a Bald Cypress, this shot will be one of the telltale images to help with identification.
  5. Photograph one leaf.
  6. Photograph several leaves with their stem and how they grow from a branch.
  7. Photograph a bud and flowers in various stages of opening and growth
  8. Photograph cones on a conifer. Look for the male and the female cones and document both. In the Spring, the cones will be radically different than the same cone in autumn. In the winter, cones will have opened and look different again. Document them all year around. Here is my page on Plants Map for “Uncle Fogy” showing different views of the same conifer. 
  9. Photograph berries, nut, seed pods or fruit (or if you are a plant geek: acorn, achene, key, drupe, capsule)
  10. Photograph the root flair
  11. Photograph any unusual growths on the plant.
  12. Photograph bugs, birds, bird nests, butterflies and insects you find on the plant.
  13. Document pest infestations. You may need the close-ups to get someone else to help you identify how to correct a problem.
  14. For perennials, document the surrounding area when the plants are growing so you know where they are in the winter when you can’t see them!
  15. Use a tripod and get in close and take macro shots.

Back in my younger days as a photojournalist, there were often times when I received a photo request to shoot pictures to accompany a story but I arrived at the scene I just wasn’t inspired by the subject for the day.

My practice at the time was to quickly shoot a few shots from a very wide angle showing the overall scene. Then I’d move in closer and take some medium shots that showed the view as if I was the reporter just documenting what I saw. Once I had those two “in the bag” (I started out in the Kodak and Fuji days) I would move in close and spend most of my time shooting close-ups with a variety of lenses.

I would constantly tell myself if the pictures weren’t working that I needed to “Get closer.”

I find with taking photos of trees and plants that getting closer always helps make more interesting pictures.

Give these tips a try and share your photos on your plant profiles on Plants Map!

Bill Blevins

Also see my collection of Light Painted Plants

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