How To Use Winter Trees As Great iPhone Photography Subjects

Do find yourself feeling creatively stuck during the cold and gray winter months? While many people prefer to stay indoors, this time of year offers a whole range of wonderful opportunities if you venture out into the cold. In particular, trees make an amazing photography subject during winter weather. Without their leaves, they reveal their fantastic shape and intricate branches which look stunning when captured in your photos. In this tutorial you’ll discover ten inspiring ways to take incredible iPhone photos of trees in winter.

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1. Capture Tree Silhouettes

Due to the autumn season of falling leaves, most trees become bare and sparse for the winter.

While trees seem lonely and barren during the cold months, they can be used as wonderful design elements for creating interesting images.

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One of the best ways to play with the different design possibilities is to photograph the trees as silhouettes.

A silhouette is where your subject appears very dark or pure black, with a brighter background behind it.

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A silhouette will emphasize the shapes and lines of the bare branches. And because you can’t see any detail in the dark silhouette, it will create a wonderful sense of mystery.

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To create a silhouette, ensure the sun or a bright sky is behind your tree. Tap to set focus on the part of the scene that you want to appear sharp, then swipe down on the screen to reduce the exposure so that the tree appears dark with little or no detail.

2. Take Look-Up Shots

Look-up shots are great for capturing branches and tree tops against the sky. Winter is the perfect time for creating this type of photo as there are no leaves to block your view of the sky.

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Dramatically altering your perspective often takes a scene from a documentary style photo to an abstract or fine art style of photograph.

By photographing upwards towards the top of the tree, you can easily remove unwanted elements on the ground. Doing this reduces the complexity of the image, which is usually a good thing in terms of visual impact.

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If you shoot a tree from a low position pointing skyward, the results should be minimalistic and powerful.

This technique works well when the sky is a uniform luminosity (brightness), such as overcast days. But a colorful sunset or deep blue sky will also look great.

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If there are low hanging branches, try standing directly beneath them and shooting upwards to capture their intricate shapes against the sky.

3. Photograph In Fog

Foggy and misty conditions are excellent for creating dramatic landscapes with bare, winter trees.

This kind of weather creates a wonderfully mysterious, dreamy, or even spooky atmosphere in your photos.

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Fog is also great for creating a sense of depth. The further away the trees are, the more they’ll fade into the background.

Photographing fog at dusk can work well when you’re in a location that has artificial light. If you position yourself so that the light is directly behind a tree, the billions of miniature water droplets floating in the air will bounce the artificial light around to create a ghostly glow.

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The reason dusk works well for this technique is that the darkened sky usually turns a deep blue, because your camera color sensors see a lot of warm tones from the artificial light, and purposefully adds more blue to the photo.

Shooting in low light can result in camera shake and blurry photos due to the slower shutter speeds that are required. So if you have a tripod for your iPhone, use it to keep your camera steady for perfectly sharp shots.

4. Capture Long Shadows

In the northern hemisphere the sun stays fairly low to the horizon in late autumn and winter. When the sun is low in the sky, you’ll get wonderful long shadows which is great for photography.

The longest shadows will appear around sunrise and sunset when the sun is very low in the sky.

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Whenever you spot a lone tree, check the ground to see if it’s casting an interesting shadow. Then experiment with your shooting angle until you achieve a pleasing composition.

Think about whether you want to photograph both the tree and its shadow, or just the shadow on its own. Both options can look great!

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You should be able to double your output of creative shadow photography during the months of low sun, simply because you’ll be walking around more often with beautiful low, soft light.

5. Look For Tree Reflections In Water

Winter months are generally quite wet, so keep your eyes peeled for tree reflections in puddles or other bodies of water.

Just like shadow photography, you can choose to photograph both the tree and its reflection, or just the reflection.

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This puddle reflection of a group of trees in winter is a great example of how you can easily create an eye-catching image with an abstract quality. The ripples in the water give it a beautiful painterly look.

You’ll also find great reflections on frozen water. When a lake or pond freezes in the winter, the reflective aspects of the surface become enhanced because the water isn’t in motion. It becomes almost like a mirror.

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As long as the ice surface is free of snow, you should be able to create strong and colorful abstract reflection photos using the trees that are either submerged or on the bank.

The best time to get shots like these are in early winter when new ice is just starting to form, as the ice will be clear and clean.

6. Shoot Through Ice Or Raindrops On Windows

When a cold winter rain hits your city, don’t press pause on your creativity. While driving in your car, safely pull over to the side of the road when you spot a great looking tree.

Make use of the rain-soaked windshield or side door windows to capture some intriguing abstract tree photos.

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The raindrops will visually warp the scene, creating a painterly style photograph that will look great hanging on your wall.

If you have trees outside of your windows at home, you can take stunning photos like this without even leaving the warmth of your house!

If you have frost on your windows, photograph the bare trees outside through the ice crystals at sunrise or sunset.

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The background colors will be stunning during these golden hours, and the ice will add beautiful patterns and distortion to the image.

7. Shoot In Snow

Snowy winter scenes are great for tree photography because the color palette is limited and the scene will be wonderfully minimalistic.

When you reduce color and visual elements in a scene, and prioritize contrast and simple compositions, you can introduce a “less is more” strength to your photos.

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Snow is usually only one tone – white. And winter trees usually have a dark tone. The mixture of the two creates a scene that exhibits strong contrast, and will instantly catch your viewer’s eye.

These kind of photos will look great in black and white. Or maybe by adding a bit of blue color balance in post-processing, your winter scene will appear even colder and more dramatic.

While strong contrast is striking, if you’re photographing in a snow blizzard you’ll be able to capture dreamy low contrast images where the trees fade into the white background.

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8. Include A Person In The Scene

Adding a human element to a photo is a good idea for a number of reasons, and it works especially well in tree photography as it introduces a sense of scale.

Sometimes it’s difficult to assess how large or small an object like a tree really is in a photo, unless we have a recognizable object next to it for reference.

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Humans work well with trees in terms of visual impact as we tend to have a poetic relationship with trees. They act as metaphors – especially cold winter trees.

People help to tell stories in your photos, connecting the viewer to the image. So the combination of a tree and a person can really pull the viewer into the story of your photo.

By adding a person to your winter tree photo, you’ll instantly increase the value or interest level of your photographic scene.

9. Look For Fallen Leaves With Frost

Now it’s time to cast your eyes downward, and search the forest floor for fallen leaves early in the cool morning. When a frost hits overnight, everything on the ground gets covered with a layer of frozen mist.

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This is great for photographers as it creates a glistening sheen on the foliage and berries that have fallen to the ground. And in the right conditions you can capture stunning ice formations.

Fortunately, frost on the forest floor looks great in both overcast and direct sunlight, so you can get out and photograph regardless of how much sun is visible in the sky.

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10. Photograph Wood Piles & Logs

During the winter months many people rely on wood to heat their homes. Photographing piles of logs is a great way to document the relationship between people and trees at this time of year.

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In the autumn and winter you should be able to capture great images of neatly stacked logs or cut-down trees that are ready to be chopped into logs.

You can create wonderful abstract images full of patterns, lines and textures by filling the frame with a stacked pile of logs or tree trunks.

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Alternatively, your photos could include people chopping logs outdoors or using the wood in their homes.

Documenting physical work done by humans is an interesting sociological endeavor, and provides an important historic and cultural value.

However you decide to photography them, wood in all of its forms will give you many opportunities for excellent pictures!


I hope these tips and photos have inspired you to venture outdoors to photograph in conditions that you might normally tend to stay away from.

Yes it’s cold outside, but this is when photographic magic happens! As long as you dress warmly, you’ll have loads of fun using winter trees as your subject matter.

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  • Thanks for these inspiring tips Mark. Trees are my favorite iPhone photography subject! 🙂

  • Carin

    Fantastic encouragement – there *is* art out there somewhere in all this dreary monotone! Thank you, Will definitely be trying some of these tips!

    • Mark Hemmings

      Thanks Carin! Have fun photographing 🙂

  • Patti Suzi’sMom Jarrett

    We might get frost tonight, now I have a reason to get out there early. In the cold!

    • Definitely a great idea! It’s the best time of day for photography – especially in cold weather 🙂