M.P. Osborne landscape photography Isle of Wight
Categories: Landscape, Photography

The Tree

Sometimes you have to just do things that feel right.

I drive past this tree twice a day. It’s a rather nice, twisted old oak that stands alone in a field. It’s suffered a bit in its past, but still going strong. As the seasons changed, I noticed patches of bright green leaves appear and decided that it would probably make a nice photo. A nice morning one at that. Back in the early days of my photography I happily called myself a landscape photographer *. I would yearn for winter light and long late-spring shadows, heading to the coastline of the Island at every opportunity for the evening light. In my early 20’s I was not a morning person. Fast forward 20 years, I’m now very much a morning person (a 2-year old will do that) so thoughts of photographing a tree at 5:30am doesn’t fill me with a sense of dread.

It was one particular 5:30am I decided that the weather was acceptable enough; high cloud in a mostly clear sky, and headed out to photograph this tree. Driving there I thought I could even get lucky and have a bit of low-lying mist. After parking nearby and a short walk to the tree, the sun had just about risen. Luckily the tree sits in a low-lying field with a wooded hill to the east, so I had more than enough time for the walk, scout about for where the sun would fall on the tree and realise I needed to waterproof my shoes from the dewy long grass before the sunlight hit the tree.

As most landscape photographers will know waiting is part of the game, but within 10 minutes golden morning light started to light up the top branches, then slowly work down the trunk. The low-lying mist providing an extra ethereal quality. A few different views to cover all bases an as my watch ticked over to 6:30 I decided to head home for breakfast.

The conditions had been perfect. However, on the way home I started to doubt my choice of subject matter. My early foray into landscape photography over 20 years ago ended up leaving me uninspired and disillusioned. Since then I have found my niche with a more documentary approach firmly grounded in photographic theory. Despite the lack of a picturesque aesthetic surrounding what I now consider my way of photographing, I feel I have a style. The tree however, I felt did not fit in with this.

I decided to spend time processing the image. A lot more than my usual minimal approach. Even the Wacom came out. The result came out well; my wife wants it printed for the house and preferred it over my ‘boring’ photos.

I was torn.  Making this image was an enjoyable process, from initial conception though to the final image, but I also felt that it was too left-field compared to anything I’d shot in the last few years. I sat on the image. Pleased with what I had taken, but not sure what to do with it.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I ended up on YouTube watching a little video by Peter McKinnon. In it he went out to photograph a sunrise – a subject that he would usually not photograph – but thought about it as a sort of ‘creative reset’, just going out to photograph something just because you want to and to have some fun. This made me think about the tree photo a little bit differently. Does it fit in with my current practice? No. Did I have fun making it? Yes. Did I enjoy the process? Yes. Do I think it’d hurt my (I must admit, very, very low-key) recognition for what I do? Extremely doubtful. Even Martin Parr shot fashion.

Now I can think of my tree photo as a fun shoot, a mental and creative reset. It was refreshing to be out early surrounded by trees and nature. It felt right to photograph it. At the end of the day, I am pleased with my image. Even if it doesn’t fit in compared to my other work. My wife likes it enough to want a large print of it, so at least we will have a nice photo of it up in the house. Until I can persuade her a shopping trolley in a puddle commands the same attention that is. Who knows, maybe I’ll be known for tree photography…

*You are on a website with the tagline is ‘landscape photography’. Generally I sort of consider myself a landscape photographer, however as I’m sure you’ve probably figured out by now, they are not the ‘traditional’ picturesque landscape photography that people generally first think about. Honestly, even ‘Photographer’ is probably pushing it, but unfortunately we live in an algorithm controlled world where specifics help, and landscape photographer works better as a definition.