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Bonsai Photography Section 1 - Introduction

  • Wednesday, 30 April 2014 00:00
  • Written by

James Antrim has been interested in Bonsai and has been growing bonsai and following the art form for more than 20 years.

Photographing Bonsai - Hints and tips

Welcome to these pages on bonsai photography, I have collated some of my thoughts and pictures on the subject of bonsai photography and will be adding to them in the near future. This is a work in progress.

Even before you pick up a camera and start photographing, you should consider what you would like to achieve and observe the strengths and aspects of the subject that you would like to emphasize or portray.

I have documented a few things to consider including;

Potted tree on stand example - bonsai in training, used for examples of lighting

These trees that are pictured are quite often in the early training stages. This image has a single light source from the above left with a reflective material on the right to fill in some of the shadow. Some tips to note, which will be covered later, on this image are: There is quite a lot of shadow/loss of detail on the front of the stand. This could be rectified with a front reflector, and the shadow on the right of the pot is quite dark,not to the point of being detrimental, but again more reflected light or another light source on the right could rectify this issue.


When you are considering your bonsai tree and pot, consider the stand or base you may wish to sit it on, if you propose to include that in the image. Also consider the background colors that would best compliment the tree.

a well lit ground and ground cover can provide reflected light and added interest to the image. Also it is important to consider the point of focus if you have a shallow depth of field.


If you are using a natural background, consider the best placement of the tree and any distractions that may appear in the background.

Now that you potentially have a start in mind, experiment and see where that path leads you. The beauty of digital photography is that the creative process can be much more dynamic with instant feedback on your images. So you can be more creative as you find what does and doesn't work for you as you go.


You don't always need fancy equipment to take bonsai photos, you don't even need a light meter, it just means that you will have to be a bit more creative.

View more on Bonsai Photography Section 1 - Backgrounds

View more on Bonsai Photography Section 1.5 - Work spaces

Click here to view the next section on photography workspaces here



Bonsai Photography Section 1 - Backgrounds

  • Saturday, 26 April 2014 00:00
  • Written by

Photography Backgrounds for Bonsai photography

Welcome to hints and tips on bondsai photography. I have described below some hints and tips on using backgrounds when  photographing bonsai. 

Sometimes there is a bit of trial and error when taking these photos but with digital photography you can experiment much more freely.

If you start off with some basic goals to achieve when photographing bonsai you can improve each goal as you learn and practice. For example your first goal might be to nicely frame the bonsai without distractions behind it. So to do this a background is a great help. Read on to learn more about backgrounds.



Background general tips about backgrounds for use in Bonsai photography

The background is not the star of the image, the main goals for the background are to compliment the tree and composition, remove or hide  distractions from the background and to allow the eye to focus on the bonsai first. You should;

  • ensure the background is of an adequate size to suit the largest bonsai you intend to photograph

  • make sure your backgrounds are clean and do not detract from your tree

  • remove unwanted creases and folds in any background material before shooting

  • ensure the background colour and texture is in keeping with the tree

  • ensure the any background seasonal colours match flower and foliage of the tree

  • Ideally backgrounds should flow from the foreground under the tree and up and back in a graceful curve

  • Otherwise for starters a piece of black card behind smaller bonsais may be enough.


    bonsai photography background example
    You can use plain backgrounds to help define the focal point of the image, ideally the bonsai, as opposed to the miriad of things which may exist in the background. For example this background paper rolls over a cross bar at the back, rolls down and below the bonsai and off the front of the table. Secured at top and bottom and on top of a sturdy table.

Background supports- How to hold the background up.

  1. You can use professional supports. These come in portable and fixed solutions.

  2. Portable versions include two tripod/light stands with a horizontal bar across the two.

  3. Fixed versions are normally attached to a wall and roll up like a blind.

  4. You can use pegs/clips/clamps to hold it to a secure attachment

  5. You can use a curtain rail type arrangement.

  6. Basically the background and holder needs to be secure and level so it will allow you to present the background without creases and will not fall on your tree and camera or people.

  7. For small items you can use a pop up photo tent which gives soft all-round light with a a generally white background.

 bonsai photography backgrounds setup


Different ways to drop the background for bonsai photography

The simplest way to place the background is straight behind the bonsai vertically up and down. This can be done with various different materials.

1) Card

2) Timber

3) Foam with material strung over it

4) Photography backdrop material on a frame.

Here is an example of how backdrop material could hang over the frame with just a plan vertical drop. Using this method you will see some of the table surface as well, depending on how you frame the image.



Example of Vertical backdrop straight to the floor.


Another way to place the background is using a curve from the back onto the table and then over the table and curving down over the front of the table.

This gives more gentle transitions at two points, where the table would normally meet the back ground and the front of the table.

Here is an example of how the background could curve. Note: in both cases the backgrounds should be secured with the appropriate clips or fixings at the top of the bars.


Bonsai Photography Section 1.5 - Work spaces

  • Sunday, 27 April 2014 00:00
  • Written by

Workspaces - tables, bonsai platforms and where you take the photo

You should have a clear and open safe workspace to work in, free of obstacles and trip hazards.


A nice flat level area with protection from direct sun


A living room, kitchen or garage where you will have lots of space to place a good table and have room to move around the table to adjust the tree and lights if you are using them.

If you are using natural light indoors, place your table or work surface with this in mind.

You can take photos with a single light source like a window or a skylight. Using everyday materials as diffusers and reflective material to bounce the light around.

View the next section on Bonsai photography backgrounds

Bonsai Photography Section 2 - Lighting your Bonsai

  • Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00
  • Written by

Lighting for Bonsai photography



Lighting in its simplest form can be natural sunlight, Here are some of the types of light you can use including

  • Natural light; Daylight or sunlight (direct sunlight can be harsh,high contrast and dramatic)
  • Filtered Natural light;  light or light passing through a medium for example a window or curtain
  • Artificial light always on; flourescent tubes, worklights, tungsten lights
  • Artificial light flash photography; on camera flash, off camera flash
  • Reflected light; any light source reflected off a wall,or sheet, or card or other object

and various combinations of the above;


Example of Artificial light - Bright Frontal lighting (red eye for plants)

frontal lighting, dark shadows

This is the classic result of a frontal flash with little or no other natural or artificial light. Note the dark

shadows behind each branch.


Finding a balance

Depending on your style it is important to consider the light parts of the image and the dark parts of the image.

Generally speaking it is the ratio of the light and dark parts of the image as well as colour which will affect the overall mood significantly. If you imagine a picture of a tree being light and bright versus dark and shadowy, you can evoke different emotions and interpretations of the same image using two different lighting methods.


 Shooting inside next to windows. 

Shooting inside next to a window can be an easy way to start. The light coming in from a window is often soft and filtered. If the light is coming in from the left hand side of the photo, you may need to place a piece of white paper / cardboard / sheet on the right just out of the photo to reflect some light back to the right hand side of  the bonsai and balance things up a bit. Just be aware that external light can change with clouds coming over and reducing the amount of light coming into the window. So if you have a manual setting that worked with one photo it may change if the light changes over time. 



Bonsai Photography Section 2.1 - lighting reflectors

  • Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00
  • Written by


Lighting modifiers

Lighting modifiers are a broad category including reflectors, diffusers, gels, physical modifiers of light like barn doors and cones or snoots to direct and focus light. This is not a complete list, but more of a start into some of the basic tools which can help with photographing bonsai.


Lighting reflectors

You can use lighting reflectors to bounce light, absorb light

Simple reflectors can be made of card, paper, cloth, board, polystyrene foam like packing foam from a dishwasher or flat pack furniture pack.

The whiter or more mirror like the more reflective. Just be aware that the colour of the reflector has an effect on the mood or colour of the subject. The reflector can cool the image down or warm it up or give it a colour hue.

Reflector performance can be affected by distance to the subject, distance to the light source and reflectivity and texture.

It is useful to have a variety of reflector sizes, for example a small reflector placed in front of and below a bonsai can fill in unwanted shadows and show more detail which may have necessarily been hidden without the reflector.


Lighting diffusers

You can use lighting diffusers to soften and widen light. To spread a single light source and to reduce the intensity of light.

A lighting diffuser can be as simple as a curtain on a window a sheet in front of a window or



Please note that care should be taken using light modifiers near hot and cold light sources as there is a risk of fire/electrocution. Always use the appropriate non-flammable, non-conductive light modifiers for your choice of lighting. Reflectors should always be secured from being knocked or blown over by gusts or drafts.


Bonsai photography - controlling your exposure - aperture

You can control the exposure (how bright or dark your image is) of your bonsai photograph by adjusting several factors.

Three of the main factors you can control on the camera are;

  1. Camera Aperture
  2. Camera Shutter speed
  3. Camera ISO Speed

There are other factors that affect exposure you can sometimes control, depending on the environment including;

  1. Light intensity, how bright your lighting is if indoors, or how you modify the light if you use natural lighting.

In this section I will cover aperture.


What is aperture. Aperture is a number representing the size of the whole in the lense that lets the light through.

You can modify the size of the aperture.

The smaller the number, the larger the amount of light that comes in.

The larger the aperture number, the less amount of light that comes in through the lense.

The aperture number is also referred to the F-stop number.  example f2.8

How Aperture affects exposure

The higher the number the darker the image (example f11 or f22)


How Aperture affects depth-of-field

Aperture directly affects the amount of the photo which is in focus. A simple example might be if you had 15 trees in a line leading away from you and you were photographing that line of trees you can choose whether you want one tree in focus and all the trees behind and in front of that tree out of focus, a narrow depth of field. Or you can choose to see a group of trees next to each other in focus in that line, in other words a greater depth of field.


A narrow depth of field is gained by a smaller aperture number e.g. f2.8

A larger depth of field is achieved by a larger aperture number e.g. f22.


Bonsai photography - controlling your exposure - shutter speed

You can control the exposure (how bright or dark your image is) of your bonsai photograph by adjusting several factors.

Three of the main factors you can control on the camera are;

  1. Camera Aperture
  2. Camera Shutter speed
  3. Camera ISO Speed

In this section I will cover shutter speed.

Shutter Speed

The shutter is what stops the light getting to the light sensor or film if you were using a film camera.

The shutter opens and shuts to let light in.

The shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter remains open to let light onto the light sensor which records the image.

Shutter speed basics

A normal shutter speed using flash photography and a tripod may be 1/60 sec or 1/100 sec.

Anything slower than 1/60 sec become problematic if you are trying to hold the camera. You may get blurry images from camera shake.

Slow shutter speeds

Slow shutter speeds allow more light to hit the light sensor and you can work with less light, combining this with a wider aperture.

Fast shutter speeds

The faster the shutter speed the less time the light has to hit the camera light sensor. Using a really fast shutter speed freezes action and reduces blurring when there is enough light.



Camera Modes

Cameras in automatic mode

You will find any modern camera manages shutter speed in automatic mode. You can adjust how the camera manages shutter speed by setting modes on the camera

Cameras in Shutter speed priority

When you set your camera to this mode, you can set the desired shutter speed and the camera will detect the appropriate aperture for the exposure, based on light hitting the light meter when aiming and focussing your shot.

Cameras in manual mode

You can control the shutter speed and aperture on your camera in manual mode. One way to think about aperture and shutter speed is a balancing act. If you don't change the available light, and you increase the shutter speed you will have to decrease the aperture to have the same exposure. You may wish to do this to change the depth of field.




Bonsai photography - controlling focus - point of focus or focal point.

The point of focus or focal point of the image, is where within the image is the clearest and sharpest in focus. Depending on the aperture and depth of field a small part, half the image, or the whole image may be in pretty clear focus.

You can focus the camera in one of two main modes, automatic and manual.

Both methods of focusing have their benefits. Depening upon the camera, the automatic mode may have more than one, a point and hold focus mode and a servo mode, which changes focus as you move the camera or the subject moves. Hopefully you won't have any moving bonsai, unless being moved around by wind of breezes.

The best way, on the camera, to check the image is in focus is to zoom in and check the image at 100% to see if

  1. There is a clear image that appears to be in focus
  2. There is good composition.

Tips for focusing

Select where you want to focus and ensure that you click on the shutter button you are point at this.

You can have the focal point of the image to the side of the shot or top or bottom and still be in focus using at least two methods including;

  • changing the automatic focal point on the dial in option on the camera. This will usually change where the viewfinder lights up when you click the shutter button.
  • pointing the camera at the point of focus, holding down the shutter button half way, moving the camera viewfinder off center and creating composition and taking the photo. (not in servo focus mode)
  • Using manual focus to focus on that point

Reasons for automatic focusing

  • Easy to use, generally push the main button down halfway to get the focus working.
  • You can concentrate on other things like focal point, composition, lighting, aperture, depth of field and shutter speed.
  • Digital SLRs can give you the option to dial in a focus point in the viewfinder, so it will always focus on the center or side or top corner of the screen for example.


Reasons for manual focusing

  • If you want to focus on a focal point that is partially obscured you can do so, because the camera may wish to focus on something closer or more prominent in the shot.
  • If your camera on a tripod is having difficulty focusing in low light conditions, you can manually adjust the focus in advance of the shot and be ready to take the photo.

The focal point on this image is in the main part of the trunk marked by the red indicators. You normally can see similar indicators through your camera viewfinder.

There is generally an indicator on cameras to indicate where the point of focus is as you focus in automated mode, as marked in red in the image above.

The focal point on this image is in the front part of the branch marked by the red indicators. You normally can see similar indicators through your camera viewfinder.




Bonsai Photography