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  • Writer's pictureMichael Ashley Gallery

Trees of Japan: Portland Japanese Garden and the Peter Lik Tree

Proclaimed the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan, The Portland Japanese Garden is a traditional Japanese garden occupying 12 acres, located in Portland, Oregon. It is composed of five garden spaces; The Strolling Pond Garden, Natural Garden, Sand and Stone Garden, Flat Garden, and Tea Garden.

When’s the best time to go?

There really is no bad time to visit the garden. The flowers and leaves begin to bloom for Spring at the end of April and early May. At this time, the famous maple tree blooms a beautiful pink/purplish hue. Fall is my favorite time to photograph the garden, but that seems to be the case for a lot of people because it is the busiest time of year at the garden. This time is so popular because the last week of October will give you the best overcast and foggy days which aligns with the peak of fall colors.

With a yearly Photographer Membership, the Garden offers photographers early access to photograph the garden every day of the year. Purchasing this pass is a perfect way to get the shots you want without people walking through them.

If you can’t make it to the garden early, be prepared to deal with the crowds. Please be respectful with your tripods and try not to block the path of the sidewalks or cover the moss. The Portland Japanese Garden is one of the few that allows tripods into the garden during normal operating hours and as long as we (photographers) stay respectful of the garden and guest. If we abuse this luxury, we risk losing this rare privilege. Please be respectful!

What gear is Ideal for shooting the Garden?

· DSLR, Mirrorless, Medium Format Camera

· Wide angle lens (16-35mm, 24-70mm)

· Zoom lens (70-200mm)

· Polarizer Filter. I use the NISI filter and love it. This really reduces reflections and helps give the leaves a boost in color.

· Cable Release. You will most likely be using a low ISO so with long exposures, I like to eliminate camera shake with my clicker. Using your timer works too.

· Tripod. Keeping noise low will force a longer shutter speed. I love my Really Right Stuff tripod but anything sturdy will work fine. You might want to bring a table top tripod as well for shooting inside the Japanese maple trees.

· Microfiber cloth. If you have never been, it rains a lot in Portland. I always have a few in my bag at all times.

"Starburst" Canon 5dsr 16-35mm NISI Filters. 1 sec f/16 ISO 100

Photographing the famous Japanese maple tree

As every photographer knows, this is the most photographed tree in the world. The tree is over 100 years old and at first glance, you would think its a large tree hidden in nature. The tree is only about six feet tall and produces the most beautiful and vibrant colors. It was brought to popularity by photographer Peter Lik with his shot Tree of Life.

There are 3 popular angles to shoot the tree. In order to get these shots you must get low under the delicate umbrella like leaves and shoot up into the tree. Sitting on the ground looking up reveals a majestic scene which inspires a sense of calmness and serenity. Here is the best way to shoot this amazing tree

  • GET THERE EARLY!! This is the most photographed tree in the world which means lines! Not only is this the best time to shoot the tree but once the garden opens to the public the madness begins.

  • You will spend all you time shooting low to the ground so I normally bring something to kneel on. A towel, piece of cardboard or I have seen people using knee pads.

  • Have a good tripod that shoots low to the ground, Polarizer, and cable release and wide angle lens. I found my 16-35mm works best combined with my Canon 5ds r

  • Bracket your shots. I always play it safe and put my camera on aperture priority mode with 5 bracketed shots.

  • For good depth of field you will want to use a narrow aperture. I like f/16 and ISO 200. If the leaves are moving from the elements, this makes it a little tough to use a slow shutter speed and I'll drop to f/11.

  • Focus on leaves that are behind the tree to get the full frame in focus.

  • Move around and try to find unique angles. I sell my work so I have all the popular shots but I’m always looking for unique angles that aren’t all over social media or fine art galleries.


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