Project TREE is a collection of images that were all taken with the help of a reflector attached to a DJI drone and won third place in the Landscape category of the 2022 SONY World Photography Awards.
DJI caught up with creator Gareth Iwan Jones to find out more…
Who is Gareth Iwan Jones?
I am a UK based freelance photographer specializing 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 wide 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 never formally studied photography, but I had a keen interest in the visual arts from a young age. While studying Politics at university, I often found myself neglecting my studies, drawn instead to the world of digital photography, often immersing myself in experimenting with cheap cameras and photo editing software. Career-wise, my first big break was the Times Young Photographer Of The Year in 2006. That started me down this path. From there I assisted a few photographers in London before getting 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 TREE project?
This photography project was born out of the Covid 19 lockdowns in the UK and the resulting impact on my work as a freelance portrait photographer. I was partly inspired by my home county of Wiltshire, where the distinctive landscape is characterized by numerous hillocks with groves of solitary or small 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 silent 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 large subjects. With the arrival of the pandemic, this project also took hold. I began scanning every field and every hill I passed 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 honored to spend time with these elderly beings and wonder what adventures and escapades they have witnessed throughout their lives.
Where did the idea of using a drone to provide light come from?
Lighting the trees with a drone was really a practical solution to the problem of making the trees stand out from the environment. If you've ever tried to photograph a beautiful tree in broad daylight, you'll know that they can get a little lost in the background. I had considered giant canvas backdrops to put behind the trees, but that wouldn't have been practical. Illuminating individual trees seemed like the most obvious solution. Taking photos at sunrise or sunset allowed me to use less light to overwhelm the ambient light.
What has the drone allowed you to do that you couldn't do before?
The first time I flew a drone with a reflector attached I could immediately see that the aesthetic effect on the tree was pronounced and lovely. Slightly tilting the light source one way or the other gave each tree a completely different vibe and personality. This was something I had never achieved before in my tree photographs.
What did the fantastic result of coming third in the Landscape category of the 2022 World Photography Awards mean to you?
It was a complete surprise and I was completely satisfied. Especially in light of the pandemic and the devastating effect it has had on my usual portrait workload. The award was a positive note to what had been a difficult period.
Have you already used drones in any of your projects?
No. I own a Mavic Pro which I've used for little personal and fun moments like vacation shots, but that's about it.
Your commercial work is predominantly on the ground, have you considered aerial photography?
I have a powered paragliding license and use my camera on my flights to take photos. I had considered it as a professional photography opportunity, but this was around the time camera drones hit the market and that quickly put an end to that idea! It is much easier to fly a UAV than a manned aircraft. These days my work on land takes up all my time.
Will you experiment with drones in the future?
I should think so. I have another idea that I think would work well and that would, again, involve photography of inanimate objects using a drone mounted with spotlights.
What do you think about aerial photography?
I love it. I think it offers a fantastic sense of perspective that can help tell stories in single images that otherwise wouldn't have been possible from ground level. I also love how accessible it has become, it's fantastic technology.