The Tree

As I began to see the colors finally change in the Portland area this autumn, I started to see the annual train of photos from "the tree" at the Portland Japanese Gardens showing up on social media. For those who may be reading this who aren't Pacific Northwest photographers, the Portland Japanese Gardens has one specific beautifully manicured Japanese maple tree alongside a paved path which looks unassuming at first glance, but when this tree is seen from underneath its maple canopy, especially when the tree is decorated in rich autumn burnt orange color, the tree comes alive. The wandering direction of its trunk and branches create fascinating photographic lines. This tree is simply a work of art, a natural piece of art that many a photographer shoot each year. And by many photographers, I mean hordes of them.

For the week or so in autumn when the tree's fall color is peak, a dozen or so photographers can often be seen squatted down under the canopy of the tree to get their own photo of this classic subject. It's quite the site for passersby who aren't aware of the celebrity status of this tree in the world of photography. For this very reason I have been hesitant to bother getting out to shoot this maple tree in the past, let alone standing in line and battling the hordes to shoot it in autumn.

This leads to the broader topic of photographing scenes which countless other photographers have also shot. Delicate arch is a legendary American landscape photography location. I've heard stories of a hundred or so photographers gathering at Delicate Arch for sunset on many evenings, to each capture this now famous scene for themselves. I experienced a line of fifty or so photographers capturing sandhill cranes coming in to roost at sunset at the Bosque Del Apache NWR. Every fall photographers flock to the Columbia River Gorge to shoot the waterfalls surrounded by golden color. When the full moon rises behind Portland, photographers gather at Pittock Mansion to make a classic postcard style photo of the city. It's discouraging to a degree to get a great shot that is just the same as everybody else's great shot. It simply points out such a photo is not unique, but is instead normal for that location or subject. The world isn't clamoring for MY Japanese Garden maple tree photo, and it probably doesn't need your photos from popular locations either. But fortunately I don't believe that's the point here.

These popular locations are just that for a reason, and a very good reason; they're AMAZING!!! When I got to the front of the line at the maple tree, set up my tripod and composed and made my photograph, and then saw it on my camera's LCD, I got a huge smile on my face. That tree, the tree, is really special, it's a piece of art. Experiencing it that close, studying it, working with and making the most of the current light and conditions, and then processing these files with your own style and preferences is very rewarding. Experiencing these treasured locations and subjects for yourself, experiencing a place at the optimal time of day and season of year is the peak moment of a successful hunt for beauty. While I enjoy the hobby of photography, I wish I could share such moments of shooting with those who enjoy my photography. The odd time that I do get the chance to share a shoot, that photo means so much more to that both other person, and to myself.

I would encourage you then from resisting not shooting something or some place just because it is overshot. Go add it to your portfolio. Don't dismiss others' photos from such places, but rather look for ideas and inspiration from their work to incorporate in your own work, both at that overshot location and at others as well.  When I shot last month at the Japanese Garden, the fellow just to my right that was hunkered under the tree's canopy next to me said that he had driven all the way from Los Angeles just to shoot this very tree. And here this tree was just five exits down the freeway from my house and I hadn't bothered to photograph this treasure up until that day. That's a shame, but I'm glad finally made the small effort to get this shot now. And, I'll be returning in years to come to improve upon my work, just like every other photographer in line at the tree.