A maple in the communal garden surrounding my house has been a subject for me several times as it has very deeply textured bark and an interesting resident community of birds and insects, this would be the target! Light was not a problem as the Sun is currently so low, even at midday, that all I needed was an absence of cloud for a few hours. I spent most of a day returning to the tree as the light changed, but also after downloading and assessing the images so far on the computer. Using a local subject enabled a more thoughtful approach and the ability to gradually refine the images.
Here is the tree in question
5D2, 24-105mm, 24mm, f/4, 1/180s, ISO 100
For the remaining images in this project I have alternated between a 100mm macro lens and the long end of a 100-400mm zoom. The macro was selected to get close enough to the bark to image the texture, the 400mm lens to try and reduce flare in some of the edge/back lit images by reducing the angle of view to exclude the sun. Both lenses are also image stabilized which greatly helps in the hugely varying exposures used in this project.
This produces very flat images, but with good colour saturation and so really brings out the colour of the tree bark and the contrast between by the white/green lichens and moss versus the red brown of the tree itself
5D2, 100mm, f/8, 1/500s, ISO 400
As suggested in the text the challenge of this shot was to avoid casting a shadow. The sun needed to be directly behind me otherwise the effect would be more one of side lighting. In this case I could avoid the issue by simply pointing the camera slightly upwards.
Moving around the tree by 90 degrees I took the following image using side lighting:
5D2, 100mm, f/8, 1/180s, ISO 400
This part of the tree has the same texture as that with the frontal lighting, however, the deep fissures in the bark are now plainly visible and the image has taken on a much greater sense of three dimensionality. The exposure is now 1.5 stops darker due to less light being directly reflected into the camera.
Moving around the tree by another 90 degrees, I was able to position the Sun directly behind the tree. At this point exposure becomes largely a matter of choice, I could expose for the light reflected by the tree or for the light behind the tree. In the following image I have reduced the exposure significantly to create a profile
5D2, 100-400mm, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/750s, ISO 400
This photo is now highly under-exposed creating an almost 2-tone black and white image. This brings out the surface morphology of the bark at the expense of any other detail. To achieve the degree of whiteness I wanted in the background I have increased the exposure by 2 eV's in Lightroom.
This proved much more difficult to achieve than the previous 3 effects, edge lighting requires a degree of transparency in the subject to enable the light to shine through. The best way to achieve this on the tree was to find an area of mossy growth and let the light catch the edge:
5D2, 100mm, f/5.6, 1/30s, ISO 100
I particularly like this affect as it brings out the structure of the moss. It required a very close approach and thus the use of a macro lens to achieve the detail needed.
This was a very valuable learning experience, I spent much of a day working up different ideas, shooting around 150 frames at differing time of the day using different lenses and approaches. Sometimes I wonder what my neighbours think when they see a guy spend hours photographing a tree?
The frontal image was the easiest to capture, although the question was to find a framing that still yielded an interesting shot. Side Lighting was relatively straightforward although ensuring that the frame was in focus from edge to edge took a little experimentation with the combination of the curvature of the tree and the use of a shallow depth of field. This could have been simplified by using a greater depth of field and using a tripod. Back lighting was also fairly straightforward, although the final image required more "pushing" in post processing to achieve the affect I wanted.
The hard one was the edge lighting. Two problems existed, the first was technical, positioning the camera so that the Sun illuminates the edge of the tree frequently meant that the Sun was almost in frame and I started to get artifacts on the lens such as the one below
The other issue was simply framing, i.e. making an image that was interesting enough. The above image, captures the edge lighting effect, but even without the large bloom on the lens would be a fairly flat uninteresting image. Closing in and moving around the tree helped as the following image shows
However, moving to far around risked ending up with side lighting, Getting much closer and taking a more or less macro shot isolated part of the moss and brought attention to the edge lighting of a single piece of moss rather than the tree as a whole.