Aerial photography of trees and plants

Tips for shooting them from the air

There is no one right way that applies in all cases when photographing vegetation from the air. It depends upon the effect you are seeking and your sense of composition. You may be photographing dense bush on a mountainside, a solitary tree on a flat plain or a formal garden where the overall layout and geometric patterning must be captured on film. The time of year is a factor, since trees undergo so much change through the seasons. In spring, for example, many trees’ leaves will be lighter green than in summer (creating interesting patterns that won’t be there a month or two later), and some trees have bright blossoms that look stunning from the air. The same scene that looks crowded with foliage in summer may appear stark in winter.

The size of trees gives the aerial photographer an advantage over the earth-bound photographer since unusual and interesting patterns caused by the spacing, mixing of varieties and different heights of trees frequently cannot be seen from the ground. Although tree variety, height, spacing and topography are important elements in your aerial composition, reflection and shadow are the main considerations in aerial photography of trees and shrubs.


The leaves of many tree varieties can be highly reflective, resulting in glare that conceals the natural color of leaves. Removing leaf reflection through the use of a polarizing filter will bring out the color, but may also make large groups of trees too dark, reducing the scene’s contrast.

Fortunately, with through-the-lens viewing, the photographer can assess the degree to which a polarizer affects a scene’s contrast and select a pleasing balance between total glare reduction and increased color saturation.

In black and white aerial photography, a yellow-green filter will not only lighten foliage, but will also combat the effects of haze.


The amount of shadow cast by trees and shrubbery that will appear in an image is a function of the time of day and shooting angle. Too much shadow, depending on tree spacing, can make your scene too blotchy or too dark. Showing no shadow at all may cause a scene to be two-dimensional and dull.

Shoot aerials of treed areas in early morning or late afternoon if you wish to show their shadows. At midday, the high sun eliminates most shadow, reducing the appearance of depth.

Groups of trees should be photographed with the sun behind the photographer if their shadows are to be concealed behind the plants, however the scene’s three-dimensionality may be sacrificed by this flat type of lighting. Shooting side-lit trees when the sun is fairly low on the horizon will cause long shadows to appear on the ground in the image, but if the trees are closely-grouped, the effect of these shadows may be minimal.

Shooting in the direction of the sun when it is low may cause the trees to appear mostly dark (because you are shooting into their shadow side), but they will also stand out from one another due to rim-lighting of their outer surfaces.

There are probably as many ways to photograph trees as there are trees. Only you will know what effect you are seeking, but an awareness of the need to control foliage reflection and shadow will be of help in making fine aerial pictures.