A trio of photographers, Lori Rowland, Helen Hall, and myself, planned an autumn photo shoot at the Boardman Tree Farm, near Boardman, Oregon in October, 2015. All of us had driven by the tree farm numerous times and had viewed spectacular images taken there by other photographers, particularly those from the Pacific Northwest who knew the potential for this unique location. Many varieties of poplar trees had been planted in thousands of evenly-spaced rows on the approximately 25,000 acre property. Prior to our visit, we contacted the owners of the tree farm and obtained the information needed to permit access.
An Early Departure
Before being allowed access to the tree farm, we needed to stop in at the company office and meet with people there. The office opened at 8 a.m. Because Boardman is a three-hour drive from home, I departed at 4:45 to allow time to meet Lori and Helen at a designated location and transfer our gear into a single car. We arrived at the company office right at 8:00, met with the folks who let us know where we were allowed to go, and then signed waivers. They generously allowed us to roam anywhere on the property except for the limited areas where trees were being cut.
The autumn day that we selected for shooting at the tree farm was mostly overcast and the sun was generally at a low angle for much of the day. We drove along roads that separated plots of trees. Autumn color was at its peak over much of the farm, although there were differences in the fall transition with some trees retaining green leaves to trees that had lost all of their leaves. Many areas had a golden carpet of fallen leaves with some gold leaves still clinging to the upper tree branches. Rows of trees made for interesting geometric patterns and opportunities for compositions. Lighting was soft and subtle lighting differences could be seen in different sections of the farm and from different angles. Rain made for interesting patterns of darkened wet bark on the tree trunks. We stopped at a few locations and experimented with focal lengths, compositions, exposures, and creative techniques. Rainfall became heavier at the perfect time to have lunch in the car, during which we strategized for our afternoon shooting. We were pleased with our morning photos and wanted to make the best use of changing afternoon light.
Variable light throughout the day gave us ample opportunity to create different kinds of photographs, even though we were shooting all day in plots of trees evenly planted in consistent rows. What caught each person’s eye? How did each photographer capture the scene in her own way? Lori – included a stump that provided a focal point to break up the geometric pattern of equally-spaced trees. Helen – took advantage of the long corridors of trees with an opening at the end that resembled a cathedral with three white trees visible within the opening. Adele – used an intentional downward tilt of the camera to grab the viewer’s attention with a large bed of foreground leaves, and corridors leading the eye back into the scene. As we experimented and shot, we each saw and photographed differently, and all of us tremendously enjoyed being there and being immersed in our work.
End of the Day
With the sun getting lower in the sky, some breaks in the clouds occurred, which gave us more direct sunlight. We began to look for different locations and angles relative to the sun to take advantage of the intensified colors in the leaves. Our last shooting location was accessed from the east-west aligned frontage road. We headed into the forest and were treated to a section in which the ground undulated more than in other areas, which gave us new composition opportunities. At one point, I looked up, saw both of my friends bent over their cameras with the sun shining through the trees above them. The spontaneous shot, using small aperture to obtain a sunburst, is one of my favorites from that day.
We departed, stopped for dinner on the way home, transferred people and gear back into two cars, and I went my way and they went together to their hometown. We came away from that day very happy and planning to go back the following year. Each of us were sure that we had wonderful photos that we could work on and share, which we did.
A Lesson Learned
The following year, 2016, the tree farm was sold, and the land was to be converted to other uses. Cutting of the trees began immediately and rapidly, with most of the trees being cut within one year of our visit. The tree farm had been a favorite place for photographers who were able to visit the location and get permission to photograph there. I had wanted to photograph it for a number of years, but put it off until Helen, Lori, and I went in October 2015. While there, we did not know that it would be the last opportunity to photograph the tree farm in peak autumn color. The takeaway lesson here: don’t put off shooting at a location that you really want to photograph. It may not always be there or some other reason may crop up to limit you.