Tips for good Bonsai photography

written for beginners using a smartphone camera
by Sherri Rutten

Key things that make for a good photograph:
Lighting, angle, focus, background and of course, the subject ☺

• Outdoors in natural light is usually best.
• Time of day is important. If using sunlight, early morning or evening when the sun is lower and less intense can help illuminate the trunk and lower parts of a tree as well as not overexposing parts while leaving others in deep shadow.
• Overcast days also make for good photography. Does not create high contrast of bright areas and really dark shadows. Alternatively, photograph in light shade such as on a porch.
• If photographing indoors, turn off your flash or use good studio lighting.
• Pay attention to the shadows. A tree’s own shadow or yours can distract from the tree.
• Avoid backlighting (unless that’s the intended look)

• There is usually a front to the tree and the trunk is very important, shoot the tree at the ideal angle for viewing.
• Keep adjusting the angle and take a new shot, a little higher, lower, more left more right, closer and farther away. As a general rule, shoot from an angle that is near the ground of the tree, but where you can still see the top of the pot and soil (see reference below). Make small adjustments to the angle; moving the camera even a little can reveal or cover a key branch
• Do not digitally zoom in as the resolution will degrade. If your phone has the option, use 2x camera enlargement as a farther distance will minimize distortion.
• If you are photographing for yourself rather than submitting a formal view, have fun! Don’t get stuck just shooting the whole tree from the front, get some detail and fun shots too. Jam the camera down by the trunk and get a view looking up into the canopy. For a landscape or forest, try to get the camera down into the scene. Use the suns natural lens flare to backlight and create drama. Try all sorts of things, get creative, learn from the results and have fun.

• Be sure your subject is in focus by holding the camera steady. Sit down, use a tripod, steady your arm/hand, do what you need to do to be comfortable and able to hold the camera steady without straining.
• If you wanted to experiment more with lenses like macro, wide-angle and fish-eye, there are some good lens kits you can get off of amazon.
• Don’t be too quick to move the camera away after hitting the shutter button, some cameras take a second to capture an image (especially in lower light).

• Avoid distracting backgrounds
• Contrast is key to highlight the tree’s characteristics. Using a considerably lighter or darker background is ideal.
• If the camera has a wide depth of field (the area that is in focus, as is with most smartphones) the background will be in focus and competing with your subject. Try moving the tree farther away from the background, change the background or use the portrait mode if available on your smartphone.
• Use neutral colors such as black, white or gray. Contrasting colors can also be fun, consider a red or orange background to make green foliage stand out.
• Homemade backdrops can work well. Try a blanket or unwrinkled sheet, large piece of paper, plastic or foam core, a piece of felt or cloth, a cushion, or wood (painted or not, just be careful there is enough contrast to see the tree). Could even use the side of your clean stucco house.

Shoot a lot!
The more the merrier!
• Again, keep changing the angle, wait a few minutes for the sunlight to change, reposition yourself etc. Take more pictures than you think you need as subtle differences can make a big difference.
• If possible, preview and select images on a device with a larger screen such as a computer, laptop, ipad/tablet or even your TV.
• Utilize your smartphones ability to favorite a photo or start an album to make it easier to find, select and edit images.
• If your first photoshoot session did not produce the results you want, try again. Take note about what you don’t like about the photos and try to correct them.

Most photos aren’t 100% awesome right from the camera.
• Do not over-process or add filters and effects. Don’t shoot with filters and effects.
• Get familiar with the editing tools in the default photo app
• The Snapseed app is very helpful and easy to use (my personal favorite)
• Common adjustments include:
– Cropping and rotation
– increase in saturation
– adjust warmth
– adjust contrast
– lighten shadows
-add a vignette or selective focus

A note about resolution
• Do not decrease the resolution of an image. The higher the resolution the better.
• Typically the newer the smartphone is, the better the camera it will have. • • Using a flip phone will not produce a good result.
• Facebook photos: Facebook reduces the resolution of images upon upload. • Anything saved from Facebook will not be high res.
• If you are emailing a photo, select “original” size

Photos taken on a patio chair with a cushion as a backdrop. Shot in the evening when the sun was low.

Poor Image

Poor Image:
• Distracting and busy metal mesh surface
• Branches and trunk not fully illuminated
• Stand does not add value to photo
• Hard line shadow on right side
• Phone shadow in lower left corner
• Bottom of the cushion visible and not level
• Not framed nicely

Good Image:
• Nice clean background and wood surface
• Foliage and trunk nicely illuminated
• Bright color and good contrast
• Natural vignette and soft variation of shadows on backdrop
• Framed nicely
• Could do without the tree shadow on the backdrop but it’s off to the side and not interfering with the tree

Good Image

A good resource for more advanced techniques

Jonas Dupich article in Bonsai tonight on finding the right height to shoot