Taking pictures of bonsai

Taking a good picture of your bonsai can be very usefull. Think of situations like submitting your tree for an exhibition. Submitting a very good, clear picture of your tree can hugely improve your chances of the tree being accepted. But also if you are placing a picture online on a forum to get advice on how to style the tree, you need to provide a good, clear image. Finally, good pictures are a great tool to monitor progress of your tree over the years. All in all, more than enough reasons to take a look at ways to maximize your imaging capabilitites.

Characteristics of a good picture

Picture with a black background
Picture with a black backdrop

Take a look at this image of my potentilla bonsai. (Click on the picture to see the full image). You can recognize a number of things that make this a good picture to assess the quality of the tree:

  • The full tree is in the picture
  • This picture was taken from pot-level
  • The background is homogenous and of a neutral colour (typically black, white of blue)
  • The tree is lit up homogenous

The full tree is in the picture

Detail opname
Detail shot

It may seem strange but.. This is not obvious for all people. If you only include a part of the tree, it is often hard to assess the tree. Of course, a lot of reasons exist why one would prefer to only show apart of the tree. As an example, take a look at the image here. This is shot aimed at showing the deadwood feature. And the same might be done to show the roots, or an insect infestation. Also in these situations, it is usefull to still apply the other points of attention. It will help to improve the overall look and feel of the image. Also, by taking a bit longer to think about the best picture, you will get a better feeling for your tree. After all, you will spend a bit more time looking carefully at the bonsai.

The image is taken at pot-level

By taking the picture from pot-level (Or even a little lower than that) you get a clear view of the trunkline, side-branches an structure of the canopy. This is view you would normally also have at an exhibition, and the angle at which your tree should look at its best.

The background is homogenous and of a neutral colour

Usng a tarp as background
Using a tarp as background

By using a homogenous background, it is clear what is part of the tree. Often pictures of bonsai feature other bonsai or shrubs in the background. This causes a fuzzy delineation of the tree on show. The picture of my potentilla was taken with a black piece of cloth as background. The cloth is mounted on a few pieces of wood that stand against the garage door. The shadow of the garage door frame make the cloth even darker in comparison to the tree, which is nicely lit up by the sun. The combinations creates a nice black background. Have a look at the picture to see the full setup.

Provide homogenous light on the tree

Light is very important. Try to avoind having one part of the tree completely overexposed and white, and other areas black from underexposure. This is not always easy to do without fancy equipment. There are fortunately ways to avoid the worst problems:

  • Take picture at the beginning or end of the day. The sun will be lower, is less strong and will sweep between the branches, providing shadows and light spots within the tree canopy.
  • Take pictures on slightly clouded days. This will reduce contrast, the light is more diffuse and provide a more homogenous lightning overall.
  • Provide light from the side. Sun directly from the front or front the back will give a tree fully in the sun or shade. By providing light from the side, sun and shaduw will intertwine in the caopy, providing a sense of depth.

I guess that’s it for now. Good luck!

Tell me what you think!