What an amazing spring we had this year, and a better opportunity to enjoy it than ever before. At first, photography took a back seat for me. Uninspired and unmotivated, I busied myself with other things. But once the leaves started to come out, I suddenly remembered an idea I had last spring, and didn't get very far with. I noticed for the first time last year, that there's a period of 7-10 days when many of the trees have sprouted leaves, and they're greener than ever. In this brief window, after they're out but before the insects and invertebrates get to work on them, they're hanging on the trees in perfect condition; each one a work of art in its own right. After clocking this last spring, I only managed to photograph two or three species before I ran out of time. So this year, I picked up where I'd left off and built a little collection.
Firstly, here's an oak leaf, from 2019...
High-key portraits seemed like the obvious route, and the best way to tie in with my other nature photography, so I ran with that idea. It took a bit of trial and error, but I eventually found a process I was happy with. They're all the same 5:4 aspect-ratio (shape) too, which is a consistency I like, and something which hasn't always been possible with other projects.
I've photographed so many silver birch trees before. They're a photographer's friend because of those contrasty white trunks, and delicate branches. But the leaves are pretty great too. This was the smallest leaf I photographed. Not as iconic as the oak leaf, but a recognisable and pleasing shape, with tons of surface texture.
Having preached the message of bringing the outside in, and using nature for creative projects a few weeks prior, I was really pleased to remember I had this idea to go back to.
Next is a name everyone's familiar with, but I'd never known what they look look. It's a sycamore...
This was the perfect lockdown project really. I collected all of these leaves within a few minutes walk of my house, as I took my daily wanderings. No travel or planning required - just a case of getting out and seeing what I would find. And of course, as much as I enjoyed the photos coming together, it was the experience of engaging with nature and the natural processes that really excites me. Having a collection of the process documented in this way is the icing on the cake. I think this is hazel...
I found this leaf just over the road from my house, on a tree that's not particularly attractive. The tree itself is a bit shapeless and messy, but when I looked close-up, the leaves were absolute jewels. Like a miniature version of its Canadian cousin, these leaves are smaller than the palm of my hand. It's a field maple...
Half the fun of this project has been learning to identify tree species, which I've always wanted to be more proficient at. Below is a leaf that really intrigued me. It doesn't look like a native UK species, and it looks kind of like a maple leaf, but warped. When I looked closer at the bark of the tree it was like the gum trees I'd seen in Australia; peeling off in camo-style patterns. A really beautiful effect actually. After a little detective work, I learnt that this was a species called 'London Plane', which was introduced to London, and other urban areas of the UK in the 1800s in order to counteract the effects of the appalling air quality at the time of the industrial revolution. Planting went into overdrive shortly after, as planners were inspired by comparatively leafy streets of Paris. They offer shade and clean the air, and they're apparently now the most populous tree in London - and I'd never heard of them before! But I see them everywhere, now I know them.
A thank you to the people who helped me identify this one as Swedish Whitebeam...
This one's a tricky customer. Is this one leaf or eleven? Looking at it now, you'd likely say eleven, but on the tree this looks like one. Well I think it's an ash tree, and I think it looks pretty great.
If you like these leaf portraits, you can check out the entire collection here. They're available to order in print from today. I haven't shared them all here, as I wanted to keep this blog post to a tidy size.
As a bit of a test idea, I put my favourite dozen together to make this, which I think looks nice. It's the kind of thing I'd like on my wall, which is generally my benchmark for what I consider successful. It also reminds me of a retro tea-towel design, which should probably be a negative, but I like it!
By the way, if you think I've misidentified any of these leaves, please let me know. I'm definitely still learning.
Lastly, an honourable mention for the cow parsley. It didn't qualify for the leaf collage, as it's a whole different thing, but I think it looks nice, so why not share it here.
In my lockdown wanderings, I found two fantastic woodlands close to home, that I've never noticed before. One of them in particular, I'm hoping will become the focus of another project/collection over time.
Ah, here's the sliver birch I'm so keen on. Those white trunks interspersed with tiny flickering green leaves.
But look behind you. If you shoot towards the evening sun, they're back-lit and transformed once again.
On this occasion I went out to photograph the foxgloves, which looked fantastic against the dense green woodland. To be honest, like most things I've never photographed before, it was tougher than I expected, but I got this portrait shot, which I quite like.
Everyone likes a busy bee. Despite intending to capture some wider shots of the foxgloves, I was so distracted by the activity of the many bees visiting the flowers that I had to try and get a close-up. I would have been a nicer shot if I'd had a longer focal length, but it's still nice to capture this bee alongside such colour.
The last two photos are quite different to my normal style. Instead of celebrating the beauty of the woodland, they're more like studies of the chaotic and overgrown. I'm always looking for order and tidiness in my photos life, so I've always found it tough to photograph ugly or messy scenes. But this natural woodland 'wetland' (swamp) is too interesting and unique not to try to capture. So I think I'll be back here, but this is a start.
The iron-rich peat creates these orange mineral deposits in the water. The combination of old-growth trees and ferns make this place look like something from Jurassic Park. Either that, or I just watched too many of the franchise's films during lockdown.
Overall it's been great to discover so much on my own doorstep, and as I come to terms with losing the grand travel plans I have for later in the year, I've been able to find interesting projects within a few minutes walk of home. I hope you've all been out exploring your local patch too.
Once again, you can find the full collection of Leaf Portraits here.
Quick Mention For Next Month
I'm always pleased to see artists rendering my photos in their own style, and as I mentioned on social media recently, I'm putting a blog post together to share some of those pictures that other people have made. So if you've ever drawn or painted one of my photos, or would like to do so in the next couple of weeks - please send me a photo of your work, so I can include it in my blog post. It'll be going out in mid-July. Get in touch here, or on all the usual social pipes.