OUR LATEST PRO ACADEMY theme is trees and, while they’re all around us, they can be a subject that’s all too easy to take for granted. Just focus in on them for a moment, however, and you’ll quickly realise the incredible potential they can have as pictorial subjects. Move in close and you can work with a macro lens to explore textures and form, step back and they can become an integral element of a stunning landscape. They can have sinuous, twisting branches that lead you into a picture or be silhouetted against a sunset to provide fantastic patterns.

In summer they’re a splash of green, in autumn a glorious cascade of colour, while in the winter their skeletal form carries all kinds of exciting creative possibilities.

If you’ve been following this series you’ll know the ground rules by now. We’re running Pro Academy in tandem with the excellent Nikon School and the good news is that we’ve now extended the series by a further six challenges, so as we head into 2022 you’ll have plenty more chances to earn those coveted certificates! As always, you’re cordially invited to enter just one challenge or, if you fancy, you can go the whole hog and take part in them all.

We’re inviting you to send across your best single shot from the assignment to our expert team at Professional Photo and, if you’ve met the required standard, we’ll send you back an e-certificate to prove the fact. Let us know that you’ve successfully completed the first six assignments and you’ll receive a further e-certificate to confirm that you really are an excellent all-round operator, and there’s now the prospect of receiving an extra one if you’re one of the heroes managing all twelve! It’s not a competition, there are no prizes to be won but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that your skills have been recognised and it’s a chance to dip into some fresh genres.

How to Take Part

You don’t need to be a professional photographer or a Nikon user to take part in Pro Academy, and don’t feel shy about sending in the best shot you’ve been able to achieve, even if it’s perhaps not up to the high standards of the work you can see here. It’s all about learning and rest assured we will be making allowances for newbies! Enter your photo below by clicking on the green submission box.

Challenge number Eight


AS A PHOTOGRAPHER there are so many ways to look at trees, and this really is a subject you could keep coming back to over and over again while still achieving something different each and every time.

There is something a little primeval about a forest even in this sanitised, modern world that we all live in, with the rustle of life all around and the sense that nature is still in control here. If, like this month’s expert Neil Burnell, you choose to focus on some of the more ancient trees you encounter they will often consist of a jumble of wild and twisted forms, with vidence of the storms they’ve survived over the years and coated perhaps in a layer of soft green moss that makes them appear mysterious and other worldly. Throw a little natural mist into the equation and you can almost start to believe in fairy tales, with the imagination of those who come across your pictures invited to run wild. The great thing about trees, however, is that they can also be pictured in an alternative way to create an entirely different impression, and as a photographer it’s within your gift to interpret them in any style that suits.

Technical Tips with Neil Freeman

CHOICE OF LENS will have a huge influence on the kind of tree images that you end up producing, and Neil suggests that you should explore a selection of different approaches to discover what might work best for you.

“If you fit a very wide lens then you can move in close and really play around with the way that an optic such as this can create distortion,” he says, “and you can work with the leading lines of branches to draw the eye into a picture. It will also allow you to separate an individual tree from the forest that’s around it.

“Using a much longer lens, say a 200-300mm, will allow you to take the completely opposite approach, where you can stand further back and then focus on a section of forest from a distance. The characteristics of a longer lens will be to pull up a more distant part of the scene and the trees will then appear to be condensed and closer together.

“On a recent Nikon School trip to Northern Ireland we set up a shot where we were looking down an avenue of trees known as the Dark Hedges in Co Antrim, and by effectively squeezing all of these very characterful trees together we produced a very powerful image.”

Learn with the Nikon School

WITH MANY OF its courses now online, training via the Nikon School really is open to everyone, with a wide range of well-priced learning available to photographers at all levels and using any brand of equipment – although Nikon users will get particular value from the content. Head to the Nikon School website to take a look at what’s on offer and to see what you could sign up for, with everything from lighting technique through to running a digital darkroom, mastering as particular piece of Nikon gear, filmmaking and even one-to-one tuition all available, along with location courses and experience days in the UK and overseas


Submit your photograph here.

Nick Burnell Landscape Specialist

Each month, we’ll feature a top professional from the genre we’re covering to get some idea about what they find so compelling about their chosen speciality.

NEIL’S INTEREST IN photography began in 2010 when he acquired a DSLR to take along on fishing trips as he travelled with friends along the southwest coastline in Devon in search of bass. However, it wasn’t long before he became more interested in photography than fishing, and he then purchased a tripod and filters to shoot the glorious coastline he found himself travelling around. As a result his early subjects were mainly landscapes, but from there he developed an interest in atmospheric imagery.

“I recalled visiting a location called Wistman’s Wood while on a school trip to Dartmoor,” he says, “and it had left a lasting impression on me. As I grew more serious about photography, I knew I wanted to return. Any woodland photography is a challenge, but shooting in this location and in other similar gnarly, condensed areas proved very tricky. During the first year of my project I really struggled, but over time  I was able to create my series ‘Mystical,’ and I consider this to be my proudest achievement to date. The images have since featured globally in publications such as Wired and they’re also exhibited in a selection of top galleries.”

A long time Nikon user, Neil moved across from the D810 to the Z Series a few years back and he’s now a fullyfledged Nikon Z Creator, and enjoying the flexibility that a mirrorless way of working is giving him. Recently he’s become interested in incorporating an infra-red approach to tree photography and to help with this he’s converted his Nikon Z 7 so it can see the full spectrum of light, something impossible to pick out with the naked eye.

“If you simply shoot a straight full spectrum image it doesn’t look particularly special,” he says, “but by cutting out certain wavelengths of light you can create some interesting effects. At the moment I’m experimenting with various filters and colours to create surreal worlds that appeal to me.”

Ask Neil for his tips on how to get started with photographing trees and he explains that it can be a little overwhelming to head straight into a patch of woodland and to then start looking for subjects. Rather it makes sense to hone things down to a specific area and to then fully explore what this particular patch might have to offer, and to be prepared to return several times before you get the shots you’re after.

“Once you’ve found a scene make sure you take the time to check out various ngles,” says Neil, “and also take a few reference shots, so that you’re fully prepared for when the conditions will be absolutely right. When you first start shooting woodland scenes don’t expect to produce keepers from day one. Yes, it can happen, as in every genre, but I almost guarantee it will take time and several outings for your confidence to grow.

“Also, check on prevailing weather conditions. Fog and mist are essential ingredients in the majority of my atmospheric woodland images, and these conditions also help dramatically when it comes to picking out compositions and isolating subjects of interest. The time of day is crucial: I prefer the softer muted light of blue hour, especially when the objective is mood but, of course, there are other ways to isolate subjects, such as using fast lenses wide open to create a shallow depth of field.”

Camera Gear

Neil is currently working with a Nikon Z7 II, which he’s using in tandem with a 14-30mm f/4, a 24-70mm f/2.8, a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6. For his infra-red work he’s utilising an adapted Z 7, paired with the 24-70mm.


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