Terra Galleria Photography

Steps behind the image: Keno Road Fir


Although paved, the Keno Access Road, in the northeast corner extension of Cascade Siskiyou National Monument was so remote that I hardly saw any other car on it. This made it possible to drive slowly enough to look for photographs, a normally hazardous proposition for the solo driver. One of the advantages of going on a trip with one or companions is that you can have a designated driver, while others are free to look around.

Cascade Siskiyou National Monument doesn’t have too many roadside views, and the Keno Access road is no exception, as there are only a few spots where the horizon is not blocked by trees. I looked for smaller scenes, and since the monument carries one of the three most rich conifer forests in the world, I envisioned a portrait of a conifer tree. Those trees are often quite dark, but what struck me was how the greens of some of the firs had a bright, almost electric hue. Here is the wider scene, as almost seen from the windshield.

Is there a photograph here? To find out, you have to try, and after reading this post, you’ll know what I mean by trying. I made no fewer than eight adjustments. The first was obvious. After getting out of the car, I moved closer and cropped out the road:

Out of the trees present in the picture, the one that caught my eye was at the left, because its greens were so brilliant and it had such a regular and steep shape. In the previous composition, it is dominated by the other dark trees, so I moved to the right and pointed the camera left to remove them from the composition.

The base of the tree merges with the background forest in a mass of green. To detach it, I move in closer. This makes the foreground tree larger relative to the background, and also let the point the lens up. Notice that although the composition appears more tight compared to the previous image, I did not zoom in. In the previous image, the lens was set up at 70mm, whereas it is now set up at 55mm. Zooming in preserves the relative perspective, whereas changing the viewpoint changes the relative perspective.

Can the foreground tree be better separated from the background? Yes, by moving just a bit to the left, I introduce a bit of sky between the main tree and the one located behind and left of it. I liked that the inverse slope of the branches paralleled the slope of the background tree.

With that image, I achieved the goal of making a clear portrait of the tree that attracted me to the scene, but the image feels a bit too simple for my taste. From a visual point of view, it lacks a counterpoint to the main tree, one that would hint to the idea biological diversity. One of the components of my “style”, for a lack of better word, is my predilection for information-rich images.

I go back to the drawing board, and include again the dark conifer on the right. This time, compared with the initial composition, my closer position gives the main tree a prominent position in the image, and I like the contrast created by the darker greens.

However, the rocks at the bottom left corner are a distraction in a scene which is all about shades of green. Making it worse, they are brighter than the vegetation. Bright objects draw the eye, and those rocks are certainly not something I want to draw attention to. To hide them, I adopt a lower viewpoint sitting down on the pavement – thanks for the lack of traffic! Most of the rocks are now hidden by bushes.

Like in a previous step, there is overlap between the main tree and the one on the right. I moving a bit to the right, but I cannot totally eliminate it without introducing overlap between the main tree and the one on the left. At least I partially limit it by aligning one of the gaps between foreground branches with a background branch. At this point, I found the optimal camera position.

I finish by refining the framing. Moving to the right introduced some stray branches at the left edge of the frame. Often, elements like that along the edge detract from the composition by pulling your eye towards the edge and then outside the frame as the eye follows them, rather than keeping it in the picture. I zoom in a bit to clean up that edge.

Here you are, nothing “epic” or even particularly remarkable, but instead a mundate scene where composition choices, which are essentially limited to camera position, changed no less than eight times, made something (hopefully) out of a few trees and a cloudless sky.


  1. Mark Shaw says:

    My initial reaction was “meh”, a nice healthy tree. However, the thought process in going from image 1 to image 8 was well-conceived and well-explained. I myself am often too quick with capturing an image and then moving on. The subtle adjustments described in this series show a nice evolution of the composition to its final form. I employ some of these techniques and am reminded in this example how important even small adjustments can be in improving a composition, even if “just a tree”.

  2. Rita says:

    Intricate eye for the subtle details and a bigger picture behind the art of conceptualising and add finishing touches to the smallest details….Certainly much more than just a mass of green…

  3. Larry says:

    I like the image but especially appreciate the thought process behind making it and the attention to detail. It clearly demonstrates that just small perspective and camera position changes can make a difference.

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