Project TREE is a collection of images that were all taken with the help of a spotlight attached to a DJI drone and won third place in the SONY World Photography Awards 2022 Landscape category.
DJI sat down with creator Gareth Iwan Jones to find out more…
Who is Gareth Iwan Jones?
I am a UK based freelance photographer specialising in portraiture and documentary photography. My personal work focuses on quirky British subcultures and long term documentary projects. Commercially I produce advertising and editorial content for a diverse range of clients, including international publications, advertising agencies, charities and start-ups.
When did photography first come into your life/how did your interest develop?
I’ve never formally studied photography, but had a keen interest in the visual arts from a young age. Whilst at university studying Politics, I often found myself neglecting my studies, instead drawn to the world of digital photography, often immersing myself in experimenting with inexpensive cameras and photo editing software. Career wise my first big break was the Times Young Photographer Of The Year in 2006. That set me off along this path. From there I assisted a few photographers in London before landing my first paid photography job at a family photography studio in Essex. I worked there for a year before moving to a large news/media agency in Bristol and then went freelance four years later in 2011.
Tell us more about your project TREE?
This photographic project was born out of the UK Covid 19 lockdowns and the ensuing impact upon my work as a freelance portrait photographer. I was inspired in part by my home county of Wiltshire, where the distinctive landscape features many knolls with lone or small groves of trees raised above the horizon line. Unable to photograph human subjects, I turned my attention to my love of trees. I wondered if it was possible to photograph these quiet giants in a unique way. I chose to photograph against dawn or dusk skies and lit the trees with the assistance of drones to create an otherworldly impression of my grand subjects. As the pandemic took hold, so did this project. I started looking into every field and up every hill I passed with a view for potential aesthetically interesting scenes. Reading more about trees further connected me to my subjects as I learned about the mycelium network and the abundance of life each tree supports. I felt humbled to spend time with these elder beings and wonder what adventures and escapades they have witnessed during their lives.
Where did the idea of using a drone to provide the light come from?
Lighting the trees with a drone was really a practical solution to the problem of making the trees stand out against their environment. If you’ve ever tried to photograph a nice looking tree in broad daylight you’ll know that they can get a bit lost to the background. I had considered giant canvas backgrounds to put behind the trees but that was not going to be practical. Lighting the individual trees seemed like the obvious solution. Taking the shots at dawn or dusk just allowed me to use less light to overpower the ambient light.
What did the drone enable you to do that you couldn’t before?
The first time I flew a drone with a spotlight attached to it I could see immediately that the aesthetic effect on the tree was pronounced and enchanting. Tilting the light source just a fraction one way or another gave each tree a completely different atmosphere and personality. This was something I had never achieved in my photographs of trees before.
What did it mean to you with your fantastic achievement of coming third in the World Photography Awards 2022 Landscape category?
It came as a complete surprise and I was thoroughly chuffed. Especially in light of the pandemic and the devastating effect that it had on my usual portrait workload. The award was a positive note to what had been a tricky time.
Have you used drones in any of your projects before?No. I own a Mavic Pro which I’d used for fun little personal bits like holiday snaps but that was about it.
Your commercial work is predominantly ground based, have you considered aerial photography?
I hold a Powered Paraglider Licence and I use to take cameras up on my flights to take photos. I had considered that it might be a professional photography opportunity, but this was about the time drones with cameras came on the market and that quickly put paid to that idea! Much easier to fly a UAV than a manned aircraft. These days my ground based work takes up all my time.
Will you be experimenting with drones in future?I should think so. I have another idea that I think could work well and again would involve photographing inanimate objects using a drone mounted with spotlights.
How do you feel about aerial photography?
I love it. I think it offers a fantastic sense of perspective that can help tell stories in single images that might not have otherwise been possible from the ground level. I also love how accessible it has become, it is a fantastic technology.
Take a look at the full collection of award-winning images here.