Taking Bonsai Tree Pictures

Not taking enough bonsai tree pictures is the biggest regret of my early bonsai years.  To be able see the changes over the years is amazing.  

Blackthorn bonsai
by Tony Tickle

Sometimes we don't realize what a difference even a few months of work can make. I was so anxious to begin creating, I have very few "before shotsof my starter plants.

Take pictures, and lots of them! 

They will be good for showing where you've been and what you've accomplished.  Later, you will enjoy comparing the old bonsai tree pictures to the advanced outcome.  

Your photographs can be lessons in themselves.

Basic Bonsai Photo Tips

Eye Level

Looking down on this companion plant with bronzes, you may have missed the snails!  Let your camera look into the bonsai tree and/or companion, rather than down on it.  Either get the tree up to eye level or, if necessary, squat down to take the picture! 


Randall Moring photographing bonsai
Appleton Museum Exhibit, Ocala, FL

You may think a bright sunny day is perfect ... it's not necessarily so.  If it's really bright, you will likely get best results in some shade. Overcast days are often the very best ...  good light, few shadows.

Although your pictures may not be show stoppers, someday you may be glad you wiped off your bonsai pot, trimmed that scraggly branch and weeded your tree before snapping the shot.


Photographing indoors is a little more difficult. Turn lights on - lights off - place your tree near window in natural light.   Experiment.  Again, take lots of pictures.  With today's digital cameras you can always delete!

Plan Your Backgrounds

Carl Rosner in New Jersey, USA has a unique background technique. Carl is a professional artist and he often uses one of his own sky paintings.   Great idea!  

In this case, he has also inserted a before shot.

Taking photos in the yard?  The bonsai shown here fades into the background. Make your tree visible!   With other plants in the background, it's difficult to see which is which. If it's small enough, move your bonsai tree to a place where you can view it clearly.

Sometimes a clean wall is perfect for the backdrop when taking bonsai tree pictures.  If there's no wall available, a solid color cloth or even poster board will work.

Rick Jeffery's Bougainvillea bonsai has the sky as a background at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival.

Get That Picture While You Can!

Bonsai in Snow - Photo by Sean Smith

How many times have you said "I should get a picture of that."  Light changes, trees grow and snow melts.  Don't wait, take that picture!

Photo Editing

Sometimes you may want to 'crop,' 'straighten' and even change the color or add brightness.  Editing is especially helpful if you plan to publish your photos.

Pixie Bougainvillea Bonsai

Before and After Bonsai Tree Pictures

Over time, bonsai trees change more than you realize.  I always feel a little envious when I see the 'before and after' bonsai tree progression photos many bonsai artists have kept.

As you can tell from the Olive Bonsai photos above, Tony Tickle, a British bonsai artist, is very good about keeping track.

See More Before and After Bonsai pictures.

Photographing Compound Leaf Trees

I was looking forward to a photography session with my friend who had all the equipment to take a perfect shot, including an artistic eye. 

I worked on my tree -- weeded, cleaned the pot, even brushed the bark.  (We decided such an event called for a glass of wine and a delightful dinner first.)

When it came time to photograph, we found the Tamarind tree bonsai couldn't wait, it had gone to sleep - closed up tight.

Tip: photograph compound leaf trees during the day.

Include Other Objects to Indicate Size
in Your Bonsai Tree Pictures

In the case of Mike Sullivan's Neea bonsai, the shears are perfect to remind you of the small size.

(Notice how the solid color wall of the house is used as background.)

Without the fingers in this shohin bonsai tree picture, someone may think the plant is a large fruit tree. It's a miniature Fukien Tea bonsai.

Scale refers to the relationship between two or more objects, one of which is a commonly known size. Sometimes a cell phone or even a soda or beer can works just fine.

Suthin Sukosolvisit's signature can, leaves no doubt of either the bonsai size or who the owner is.

Other times, with a bonsai as large as  Jim Smith's Portulacaria afra (small leaf jade), a person standing next to it emphasizes just how big it is.

With today's cameras (including smart phones,) any camera is good enough to keep track of your trees.

Some of the starter trees you had so little confidence in, may be the ones you later decide to photograph more formally!

This black pine yamadori is in the early stages of development by Wolfgang Putz.  The egg tells you exactly how large the trunk is.  Be creative with items to show scale. This egg is subtle, but telling!

Many bonsai societies have "photo days."   They are usually run by either a talented amateur photographer (or if you're lucky a professional.)  

If you're fortunate enough to have such an event, prepare!  Don't let an opportunity like this be ruined by dirty bonsai containers, weeds or untrimmed trees. 

Reminder: Even a leaf out of place will show up in a good photograph. 

Where to Go From Here

Don't forget the before and after page!

Bonsai Tree Flowers

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