David Noton travels the world taking photographs, but one of his favourite images from 2017 – a picture of a majestic old tree in the heart of the English countryside – was shot moments away from his home in Dorset.
"I must have walked past this tree every week or more for the last 22 years," David says of the beech tree, which grows in Everlanes Wood, less than a mile from his home in Milborne Port on the Somerset-Dorset border. "I’ve always admired it."
"Beech trees are common in this part of the country, but this one is a particularly marvellous specimen," he says. "It’s such a wonderful shape. Beech can apparently live for hundreds of years with coppiced woodlands living for more than 1,000. My wife Wendy and I often speculate how old this one is – who knows?"
David has developed a real affection for the tree, which he describes as an endless source of inspiration. "A couple of years ago, I was commissioned by a local landowner [to show] how the landscape changes over the seasons. I did a ‘four seasons’ set of pictures of this beech tree, which is why I say I’ve built quite a relationship with it – I wonder what tales it can tell."
I came up the hill into the woods with the fog swirling all around. It was tremendously atmospheric.
On the day this shot was captured in early November 2017, David had set off with his Canon EOS 5DS R and an array of lenses, but hadn’t set out with the intention to revisit the tree. "I woke to a foggy morning and the autumnal colours were gorgeous," he recounts. "I came up the hill into the woods with the fog swirling all around. It was tremendously atmospheric."
To make the most of the "ethereal" scene before him, photographically, the trick was "to find some distinctive colour and a graphic shape to offset the misty backdrop," he says. "Almost by default, I ended up back at the tree."
Setting up his camera and tripod on a slight incline, looking down into the woods, David needed to shoot as wide as possible to capture the tree at its most magnificent. He used his Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens at its widest focal length and instinctively framed the shot with the tree in the centre. A polarising filter allowed him to subtly enhance the colours of the scene, while the camera’s high-resolution capabilities ensured the quality and clarity of the images would be "superb".
As soon as he looked through the viewfinder, David knew the image was working, and thought it might even be his shot of the year. "You just get that feeling sometimes, don’t you? I’ve used the wonderful shapes of the branches arching through the image and put the tree dead centre to create an element of symmetry. This image says growth to me, and maybe age, or wisdom."
Exposing for the shadow detail while holding onto the highlights, David says the image is about the beauty of the subject, adding that he relishes moments like this when he shoots close to home.
"I travel the world and yet so many of my favourite pictures are shot within a few minutes of home," he says. "This image is the product of my vision, my local knowledge, and my connection with the region... and that is so satisfying."
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