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Plant Focus

Quercus stenophylloides is a medium-sized evergreen oak (15–18 m tall) restricted to central and northern Taiwan.

Andrea Jones: Capturing the Splendor of Oaks

Andrea Jones is one of the world's foremost garden photographers, whose pictures have appeared in many books, magazines and newspapers worldwide. In addition to her work for the press she has illustrated a number of books, and this year sees the publication of her latest: The Splendour of the Tree: An Illustrated History, with text by Noel Kingsbury—in the US it is published as The Glory of the Tree: An Illustrated History. This book recently earned Andrea the Garden Media Guild Award for Book Photographer of the Year. Visit her website for more information about her work and awards.

Andrea kindly agreed to an email interview which focused exclusively on her experience photographing oaks, adding another chapter to our series on oak artists.

Oak (Quercus sp.) at Trewithen, Cornwall, UK © Andrea Jones

What is different about photographing an oak as compared to other trees? 

Photographing oaks, English oaks especially,  feels like working with old friends who have always been there for you. Solid, strong and welcoming. They are usually home to a host of wildlife too, which I also enjoy.

Different parts of an oak tree must post different challenges. Which is your favorite?

Cork oak

Quercus suber, Kew Gardens, London, UK © Andrea Jones

I love to photograph and capture the solidity and shape of the whole tree. They are so imposing and make a strong impact on the environment around them, whether in the wild or in a domestic setting. I enjoy the sculptural form of the acorn and the gently curvaceous shape of the leaf of Quercus roburDepending on the species and age of the tree of course, but the bark of an oak can be amazing. The very old Q. alba in London Grove, Pennsylvania, is a good example. When I photograph very tall specimens I often use a perspective control (or shift) lens. This helps to prevent distortion and keep the tree shape true.

Do you prefer to photograph oaks in a garden/arboretum or in the wild?

I prefer to photograph most trees in the wild, but I think oaks can also look very much at home in an established garden and bring a sense of comfort and security. I grew up in Bournemouth in the south of England and at the center of our family garden was a huge evergreen oak (Q. ilex) that stood proud and tall and could be seen from miles away. Wherever I was in the vicinity I only had to look out a window and I could see our tree and know where home was. In the nearby New Forest there are many English oaks (Q. robur) and in the autumn the local small holders let their pigs loose to feed on the acorns. It's fascinating to watch and photograph them enjoying the feast. 

Where have you encountered the best oaks for photographing? Is there somewhere you have not yet been where you wish to go to see oaks?

I very much enjoyed photographing the Quercus lobata in the landscape of California. I have not yet photographed the oaks in North Cornwall at Dizzard Dwarf Wood. I would love to visit and photograph here. The lichen-covered dwarf trees sound fascinating. You can see a video about the Wood here.

Are any oak species particularly photogenic? 

One that springs to mind is Quercus lusitanica, whose leaves I photographed in the frost at Hilliers Arboretum (Hampshire, UK).

What is the best time of day to photograph an oak tree? And what is the best season?

Undoubtedly early morning in autumn. In late September or October especially when there is a mist and the light fights its way through the foliage in shafts. I have enjoyed many such mornings in areas of ancient woodland in The New Forest. 

San Marcos Pass
Quercus lobata, San Marcos Pass Rd., Santa Barbara, California, USA © Andrea Jones

Could you discuss one oak photograph in your portfolio and tell us about the process and results?

Not far from my home in South West Scotland is a private estate called Bargany where around the lake are many oaks reflected in the dark peaty water. I photographed this tree in early November when the leaves were still in the process of changing color. I thought it would make an interesting print for my collection on Plantation.uk.com. I learnt the art of printing in my Art College darkroom back in the late 1970s and have always enjoyed it. Digital technology brings a different process now, of course, but the magic is still there. I photographed this tree using my Nikon D3X and a 24 - 70 f 2.8 Nikkon zoom lens. I capture all my images in RAW and then convert and archive them in DNG digital Negative format after downloading. I photographed this on two separate exposures and then layered them together bringing out the colors and tones in the ferns and the bark they are clinging to. I convert then to TIFFS and then finesse the final digital file by checking colors and sharpening only very slightly on the areas of greatest interest. I then print using my Epson Stylus pro 4800 printer on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308gsm 100% cotton white paper. This gives really rich tonal range and an art paper quality finish.

Quercus robur by the loch at Bargany Estate, Ayrshire, UK © Andrea Jones

What have you learnt about oaks through photographing them?

I did not expect such diversity and I'd welcome the opportunity to photograph oaks in China where I understand there is a huge number of species to explore.

You can view other photos of oaks by Andrea Jones in a photo gallery here.

And more of Andrea's photos can be viewed on the Plantation website. Andrea has kindly offered a discount to IOS members. Send an email to website@internationaloaksociety.org in order to receive the code to use when purchasing a print.