Jeffrey Byrnes Photographer Fashion + Portraits + Travel

Travel Photography: The Photographers Guide to Getting a Christmas Tree

In our house, in our families we have Christmas Trees. For the last few years me and my fiance have gone out and purchased the real deal. We aren't into the pre strung LED light plastic wanna-be trees that are sold in box stores for a premium. If that is your thing, cool. We enjoy the search, the tangibility of a real tree, the scent of a real tree, and how going to find the right tree makes for a better experience than pulling out a musty box or a dust covered bag that hides your faux Christmas Tree. I have heard people cry of spilt pine needles. I have heard people wimper at the idea of watering a tree. I have even heard people moan at the idea of a tree smelling like, well, a tree. For us it is simple, a real tree makes for a better Christmas.

This year I am doing something different by writing, "The Photographers Guide to Getting a Christmas Tree. If you are in the Northeast Corner of the U.S. or upper Mid-West, possibly the Western Corner of the U.S. as well, you might find this helpful.  

Things to know about a real tree:

Christmas Trees come in a variety of shapes and sizes. When I say variety, I mean a lot. Just to make sure I didn't get things wrong I did a bit of googling. Well, more like looked at one site. There literally is a website called, " National Christmas Tree Association." I know, crazy, huh! According to their site there are 5 types of trees with another 16 breeds. Or is it tree ethnicities? 

Trees range in color from greens and blues to browns. Stay away from a Christmas Tree that has brown on it. Those are uglyier than Charlie Brown's tree. Just think, 'brown-bad' 'green-good.' 

If you want a great tree for ornaments, you'll want the "White Spruce, The white spruce is excellent for ornaments; its short, stiff needles are ½ to ¾ in. long and have a blunt tip. They are bluish-green - green in color, but have a bad aroma when needles are crushed. They have excellent foliage color and have a good, natural shape. The needle retention is better in a white spruce than it is among other spruces." If you want something with awesome "needle-retention," then consider the "FRASER FIR: The Fraser fir branches turn slightly upward. They have good form and needle-retention. They are dark blue-green in color. They have a pleasant scent, and excellent shipping characteristics as well." If the largest tree with the softest needles is what your heart yearns for, the "WHITE PINE: The largest pine in the U.S., the white pine has soft, flexible needles and is bluish-green in color. Needles are 2½ - 5 inches long. White pines have good needle retention, but have little aroma. They aren't recommended for heavy ornaments," is the tree for you.

Those are just a few of the 16 possibilities you can have. Now on to the fun stuff, the guide!

Step 1. [You must be a photographer] Step 1 is pretty self explanatory. In order for this guide to work you have to be a photographer. If you aren't and you have a camera or a phone with a camera, stop reading and go learn how to be a photographer. Once you have mastered all the cool things and have an made "photographs," then you'll be ready for this guide. If you are a photographer and you're reading this guide, chances are you're looking to score the perfect Christmas Tree. Like a bully making you lick a medal pole during a snow store, I am to make you uncomfortable and sad by saying you're never going to find the perfect Christmas Tree. Perfect doesn't exist. You can come close, but you will never find it. 

Step 2. [Go Far Away] For the last few years I have wanted to have the most photographic Christmas Tree experience imaginable. For this to happen you will have to travel. The parking lot of Walmart isn't going to cut it. Find a place that is remote, down a dirt road soaked in mud and snow. Preferably on top of a hill or mountain some where. That is where you will find something photogenic. We took the advice of someone that suggested a Tree Farm that was featured by Martha Stewart. After selecting our tree I later joked that she must have reviewed it from from prison, as we were disappointed. 

Pardon me while I take a moment between steps. Last year my friend and I purchased our trees at a Polish Farm in Hadley, MA. It was nothing short of epic in the sense that it was thee epitome of the perfect expereince. The snow as falling, the farm was lit by a fire, music was playing, and the fresh smell of cut pine trees filled the air. After taking time to select our trees we found ourselves sharing a glass of blackberry brandy with the farm owner. The intermixed dialects of old polish and new polish was communicated in the small barn out back. It was the kind of scene you'd find in a movie. It was an incredible experience. Before I continue, I will say one more thing, we chose this year not to go there, not because we didn't want to support them, but to find a new adventure. 

Step 3. [What To Bring] You'll want to bring someone really attractive, duh! Oh simmer down, we are all beautiful and this is a politically correct guide. A dog of course because they know how to hunt for the perfect Christmas Tree. If not for the sake of vanity and a great prop for a photo shoot, your significant other and your pup will keep you company as you photograph everything to death. Money is a vital tool to the economic exchange of a Christmas Tree. Have cash.. Rope, twine, chains, bungee cords, duct tape, all things you will need. See step 7. Do I even need to say it, yes, have your camera with you. Another given...

Step 4. [Walk Around] Clark Griswold knew what he was doing when he nearly killed and froze his family to death searching for a Christmas Tree. Walk. When you're tired of looking at green needeled pointy cones, keep walking. The right tree for you is out there. The more you walk, the more photos of your beautiful companion and your dog you can make and the more likely you'll find the right Christmas Tree. Plus it burns calories. Lets face it America, we could all use a good hike in two feet of snow.

Step 5. [Make Photos] Yep, another duh moment. We are all different, have different styles, but the approach is the same. We are there to make photos of every single thing we do, see, and say. Well, some of us anyways. Shoot between the moments. Shoot to capture the moments. Shoot to remember the moments. Shoot because you're bored walking through 2 feet of snow. Shoot because your dog did something cute. Oh, and, of course shoot when you find that tree you've been dying for!

Step 6. [That Tree, No, This Tree] Unless you live in a dorm room, who cares how "fat that tree looks" Seriously. It is better to have some girth than it is to have something too thin. Long and thin, no win. Nice and thick does the trick. You can always prune, chop a small piece of the bottom off, or move some things around the room. Pick a tree that you like. Pick a tree that will suite your needs, fill your hearts, and be the right size for the room. My parents one year had a tree that was about 10' tall. From floor to ceiling, it took up the entire room. I remember that tree as I am writing this guide. Do your kids a favor, give them something to remember.

Step 7. [Leaving] Most places will give you a tree wrapped up in twine. They will take a few moments and shove the tree through this oddly shaped, old as hell machine that shakes the tree and wraps twine around it. From there it is as simple as using the tools you brought with you, step 3, twine, rope, etc. You will want to securely fasten the tree to the roof of your car, truck, suv. If you have a flat bed, a pick up, or some kind of creeper van, and you want to put your tree inside, go for it. On the way home yesterday we saw a car that had a tree with nearly 3/4 of it hanging out of the trunk. What ever you do, make sure it is secure. The last thing you want is to give your kids, dog, significant other the memory of vehicular homicide during the holidays. 

Our Tree: My fiance and I went to Justamere Tree Farm in Worthington, MA at the suggestion of her co-worker. We drove for about 55 minutes to get to the location. The amount of snow fall we had last week, the day before Thanksgiving, was enough to coat the farm in a Norma Rockwell kind of fashion. The drive wasn't long. The location was accessible because I have an suv with a nice set of off road tires and 4x4. We both wanted something adventurous, exiting, new. We saw a lot of trees with holes in them. Some Charlie Browns and a few winners. We ultimately ended up with a really fat tree. I am glad that I had a bungee cord and a strap for my roof rack with me. Had I not had those I would have been forced to use just their "twine." Their form of twine was actually a nylon-like plastic string. It was not very supportive. It made for a slight reinforcement from the tie downs I did with my own tools. 

Having heard the farm was reviewed by Martha Stewart, I had an expectation. With an A list name such as that, there is a certain connotation that conjures a higher than average level of expectancy. I will say this though. We had our tree delivered to our car for us. It was a short trek from the roots to the edge of the creek where we were met by a staff member who had a 4x4 atv that drove it to our truck. We were let down when we realized they didn't shake the tree and wrap it up making it easier to move. The price though, a whopping $35.00 (sarcasm) was beyond fair. Last year's tree was $60.00. Which came in less than some of the other trees they were selling. So the savings was worth it. 

I strive to have moments in life that are worth remembering. Even when I have a camera with me and I have made photographs, it is still nice to have an awesome story to tell someone. For example: Lets say you have a house filled with guests. They ask you, "where did you get such a vivacious Christmas Tree.?" You and your significant other look over at each other and proceed to regale you guests in a tale. If it was a good experience they will be warmed. If it was a heinous and awful moment in your life, they will sympathize with you and make sure they stay clear of a place that will scar them for the rest of their life. 

Whether you take my advice seriously or not, if you celebrate Christmas and love going out and getting a tree, go and search. Go with the inspirations of Clark W. Griswold and find that damn near perfect tree. Search high and low and keep your camera close to you. I hope you have a Safe and Happy Holidays.