The Tree - this stately Japanese maple is over 100 years old and can produce some of the most beautiful colors found in nature. At first glance you would think you are looking at a very large tree tucked away in the middle of a hidden forest.
In reality, the “tree” as it is known, is only about eight feet tall located in the beautifully manicured Portland Japanese Gardens near the Portland zoo – across from the city tennis courts. I walked by the tree three times before realizing this was the famous tree I had seen in so many photographs. Sitting on the ground looking up reveals this majestic scene which inspires peace and serenity in an otherwise busy world.
The Portland Japanese garden is said to be the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan and there are many, many other great photo opportunities while visiting.
Trail Difficulty (1 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 1 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). This location is an easy 300yd. walk from the parking lot.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
553 ft. Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click on image to enlarge
CLICK HERE to get driving directions the Japanese Garden parking lot.
The Japanese Garden is in the heart of Portland, OR, near the downtown area. The parking area for the garden is small and shares space with the tennis courts and the International Rose Test Garden. If you arrive at opening time, you will not have much of a problem with parking. Otherwise, you will have to be patient.
From the parking lot, walk up the sidewalk to the Japanese Garden. After paying the admission fee, walk through the entrance and turn right for about 15ft. Then turn right and walk down the paved walkway for about 15yds. and “The Tree” is on your left. The tree might not look like all the pictures until you get down low (sit down) and look up through the tree toward the bridge.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
Most photographers prefer the morning to mid-day to shoot the tree. During the fall, the afternoon sun is directly behind the tree, which makes it virtually impossible to shoot the tree in the afternoon unless it is cloudy/overcast. Overcast or rainy days are good times to shoot.
If the weather is clear, I would suggest arriving at the gardens as soon as they open. In the early morning, the direct sun is blocked from the right and can provide a good shoot. What you are looking for is good light when the sun does not silhouette the tree. Any time of day that produces those conditions is good.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
The early spring and the peak fall are the best times to shoot the tree. During the late spring and summer, the leaves are a muted, rusty brick color with little wow. The peak fall season makes the tree surreal and absolutely magical and you quickly understand why this simple little bush looking tree is so very popular with tourists and photographers.
It is worth noting that the Fall colors on the tree can be different from year to year. Some years are okay, most are great, but some are boring. I would always suggest calling the Japanese Garden in advance of your visit for advice on the colors and condition of the tree.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
The tree is not very tall, but you will need to shoot from directly in front of and below the tree to get the perspective you want. For this reason, most photographers shoot with an ultrawide to wide angle lens (11-28mm). You can also use a 35-50mm lens if you are looking for a compression shot.
No special permit is needed other than the entry fee to the Japanese Garden. The gardens does offer special membership including a photographers membership for an annual fee ($50-$150). The annual membership fee of $50 allows you to enter the garden 2 hours before the public. To me, this is well worth the price.
Direction of the Shot
The direction of the shot is west at 250°.
Special Nuances of Shot
The Tree is a fairly small Japanese maple that stands only about 8ft. high by 12ft. wide and is located directly next to the paved walkway. The primary shot you are looking for is while sitting down on the paved walkway, as close to the tree that is allowed (you are not allowed to sit or even put your tripod on the grass under the tree).
What makes this shot special is the colors of the leaves and the surreal shapes of the tree limbs. Under the tree, the area to shoot is only about 7ft. across—room for 3 photographers at a time. Each of the 3 positions (left, center, and right) produces a totally different perspective of the unusual configuration of the limbs.
Try all three spot to get a different composition. I find the best spot is the 3rd place to the right. I find this location produces the wild running perspective of the limbs.
Special Equipment Needed
Focusing is critical, which is why most photographers will use a tripod. Also, a polarizing filter is very helpful when shooting the gardens - as it will reduce reflections and really saturate the colours.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
“The Tree” is said to be the most photographed tree in the world. Luckily, most tourists don’t realize this normal looking Japanese Maple they just passed was the world famous "Tree" they have seen in countless images. That being said, depending on the time of year, you may see a line of 2-10 photographers.
The Japanese Garden is in the city of Portland and there is strong cell coverage.
The Japanese Garden is close to downtown Portland, OR – which is a very urban area. Camping is not available in the city and lodging of all kinds is abundant, so there is no need to list hotels in this summary.
One of my favorite things about Portland is its great places to eat. The Japanese Garden is near downtown and Old Town Chinatown. The eclectic culture provides for some excellent places to eat and have a cold refreshment. I have enjoyed Eat Pizza on Morrison St. after a morning of shooting. This is a nice little pizza joint where you can buy by the slice and enjoy a view of the fast paced Portland lifestyle.
If you like sushi, my personal favorite is SuBe on 3rd Ave. down the in the Old Town Chinatown district. They have EXCELLENT sushi and are across the street from the world famous VooDoo Donuts. Also, they are just a block over from the Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a local coffee favorite.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
40 SW 3rd Ave, Portland, OR
2037 SW Morrison St, Portland, OR
Tasty n Alder
580 SW 12th Ave, Portland, OR
There are an abundance of laundry mats in Portland.
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest airport is in Portland, OR. Portland International airport (PDX) services most of the major airlines in the US.
Area Guides and Workshops
If you were looking for a GREAT photography guide for Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington areas) - I can highly recommend Mark Metternich. I have taken workshops with Mark in the past and he has been hosting workshops in the Pacific Northwest for many years.
Mark knows all the VERY best places to take you and just the right time to be there - to help you get the shot. He is a great photographer, an expert at photoshop, an excellent guide/instructor and a super nice guy.
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise/moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.