Backpacker Photo School: Capture Your Favorite Trees

Trees do more than keep our ecosystem in balance with oxygen: They bring nature closer to our lives, especially when we can't escape the bustle of daily city life.

Updated: 10/25/2011

The Cultural Landscape Foundation and American Photo recognize the importance of trees in our daily lives and our country's history. They sent 12 photographers to document a few of the most important and at-risk trees in the country. The result: "Every Tree Tells a Story."

Last fall, American Photo showed off some of the best images and summarized the dangers each tree or group of trees faces. Online, the stories are more developed and there is a larger selection of photos from each location. (Click here to see the photos and read the stories:

The Cummer Oak (above) has stood in Cummer Gardens in Florida since before the mansion was built. As the surrounding grounds have changed from unknown southern landscape to formally landscaped gardens now included in the National Register of Historical places, the tree has silently grown each year as a grand focal point of the gardens. It is threatened by it's own age, and the tropical storms that blow through the region.

Other trees in the photo essay include those in the Olmsted parks of Louisville Kentucky (below), the Aoyama Tree, now surrounded by parking lot in Los Angeles, and the Rio Piedras Ficuses in San Juan Puerto Rico.

As I looked at the pictures and read the story of each tree, I couldn't help but think back to a mini-documentation I did of my favorite tree back in high school. The huge oak tree behind my family's property had been a destination for Thanksgiving Day walks since I was little. Like many of the trees in the photo essay, it was at risk because of its age. The weight of its huge limbs—which I grew up climbing—threatened to pull the tree apart. Of course, I never thought of that until one day I went out and about a third of it had broken off under its own weight. I wanted to capture its beauty and magnificence before anything more happened, and to show the tragedy of its breaking. Check out the photos below.

As we move towards Thanksgiving, think about what trees you're thankful for in your life. Maybe your favorite is the last tree before treeline on your favorite mountain, or the one under whose shade you ate lunch on particularly hot hike this summer, or maybe it's your own backyard that offers respite every evening after work. If you're inspired by TCLF's photo essays, send us photos and a story about your favorite trees to and we'll build a slideshow showing off the best submissions.

Want to see the photos in large format and in-person? Through January 8, 2012 the show is at 21c Museum in Louisville, KY. Stop in to see the gallery of 25 pruned originals before January 8, 2012, when it moves on to Southern Pines, NC (Feb 15-April 30) and then to Nashville, TN (May 26-Sept 3).

–Genny Fullerton

Images courtesy of the Culural Landcape Foundation (above); Genny Fullerton (below)