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Elevate your bonsai photographs: Tips from the backcountry

By Dan Wiederrecht of Backcountry Bonsai (

Hello RMBS!

I’m saddened that we won’t be able to join face to face at the show this year, but I’m happy that we’re still afforded the opportunity to share our common passion via the Virtual Show! Ps… join us in the Zoom meetings if you haven’t yet. 😉

It’s my understanding that there will be pop-up photo booth’s available in various locations, however, here are a few pointers to help those of you who may not be able to make the trip to a booth.

1) The most important key to capturing a great photo is a decent camera; ideally a DSLR or high-quality compact camera. If you don’t have something of sufficient quality, consider whether you have a nearby friend or family member who is into photography, that might lend a camera or help you out. If all else fails, do the best with what you’ve got! Tip: If your camera has image quality settings, make sure you select a high-resolution setting.

High resolution shohin limber pine on the bathtub

2) Next, let’s consider the photo backdrop. If you recall last year’s photographs, the background and tablecloth theme for this year will be similar with a grey backdrop and white tablecloth. You can use anything from curtains to tablecloths, a blanket, or even blank wall to accomplish this. If you don’t have anything handy, a grey photography backdrop can be purchased from Amazon for $25-$35. If necessary, you may also substitute with a black backdrop or a cream-colored tablecloth. Tip: Make sure your table is fully covered so that it doesn’t show up in the final photo.

Photo backdrop highlights bonsai features

3) Now, let’s talk about lighting. Good lighting is essential to capturing a great photo. The correct lighting will make your display pop out from the background and give your photo a sense of depth. I’ve used everything from simple garage fluorescent lights and inexpensive photography lighting kits, to my personal favorite, natural light! (Tip: when using natural light don’t use harsh direct sunlight. Light shade or a cloudy day are best.) Ideally, the light you create will originate from at least two separate angles. The first light should be positioned a bit closer to your display to highlight the trunk and details. The second light should be placed further away and at an angle, so as to light the whole display and lessen shadows from the other light(s). Tip: You can play around with your camera’s flash as well, but don’t use the flash alone as it will create washed out “flat” photo.

Lighting enhances the drama of this small shimpaku juniper from Dave Kuntz

4) It’s all about perspective! Many people forget to photograph from the actual ‘front viewing angle’ of the tree. Consider how you want others to experience your display, and be sure to photograph from eye level. Don’t shoot from above or below as your display will look distorted, and the tree will not be clearly visible. Tip: Use a tripod or sturdy surface to capture a steady and clear photo.

Two lodgepole pines in the same photo with different perspectives

5) Finally, a little bit of editing goes a long way. Whether you utilize an advanced editing program like Photoshop or Lightroom, or you prefer a less complicated (and free) program like GIMP or Adobe Photoshop Express, a few simple adjustments will make your photo stand out. Play around with the Auto Adjust, Lighting, Levels, Saturation, and Vibrance settings. Remember, keep things simple, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing! If you don’t have the tools or the confidence to do this part, I’m sure there are several members who would consider lending a hand. I’m happy to do as much as I can. Feel free to contact me for editing and tips on the RMBS forum (Dan W.) at , or email: . You can also call me at 307-359-2063 with any questions.

Common juniper bonsai by Steve Varland

Here’s to hoping we’re all healthy, happy and together come show time 2021!!!


Dan Wiederrecht

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