The Tree Whisperer
Leah Flickinger: The Tree Whisperer by Natalie M.
Leah is one of the very first people that I started following on Instagram. I was instantly drawn to her photography and then came to realize what an amazing, genuine person she is. I feel instantly at peace when I see her beautiful landscapes. It is like I am riding my bike right alongside her. It seems the goal of many artists is to reveal some sense of feeling to their audience. If Leah is anything like her photos, I am hooked.
N:Natalie L: Leah
N:Hi Leah! Lets start off with a few formalities. Where do you live? What do you do? Who is Leah really?
L: I live in eastern Pennsylvania, in a rural area called Bucks County. I’m married and have a 13-year-old daughter. I’m an editor at Bicycling Magazine, which is pretty much my dream job since I love to ride bikes and I love to make magazines.
N: When I first found your feed on Instagram, what feels like ages ago, I felt that you possessed a really special talent for capturing the beauty of nature in a way that nobody else can really duplicate. What do you think has contributed to that special ability?
L: I live in typical mid-Atlantic countryside. It’s very lush with lots of woods and farmland. I’m surrounded by forest and fields and sky, so that’s mostly what I have the opportunity to photograph. And it’s what I see as I’m riding my bike, which is when I do a lot of shooting. I’ve also been influenced by other Instagramers who do nature (and other stuff) really well, including @gregsweney @janske @tazcal @lachlanpayne @sulu1 @kerewin @benjaminhole @beardofbeez @skwii @darrenerbe and many others.
N: Do you edit your photos or do they just come out of the lens looking that way? If yes, what are your favorite tools?
L: I try to do as little to the photo as possible. My goal is to always get a good composition straight from the lens and to make it work with minimal filtering. But that’s not always possible… plus, I like to play. When I have time, I like to make subtle tweaks to brightness, tones, contrast, white balance, etc. using Snapseed. Or convert to black and white. I really like the bw filter options on Snapseed. I also use Snapseed’s Center Focus feature quite a lot to darken or lighten the inner and outer brightness of a shot. It can add that last little kick of depth and drama to a photo. I’m partial to the Amaro, Rise, and Valencia filters on IG. Or no filter at all.
N: What is with your draw to trees? When and how did this happen?
L: Trees are the most ever-present subjects at my disposal—more so than people or structures—so it’s easy for me to shoot them. When I first started using Instagram in earnest in January 2012, there were several tree tags including one started by @kerewin called #ilovebaretrees and another started by @x80sgrl called #treeveins. I tagged my pictures to these galleries and got exposed to lots of other people’s work that way, and started developing my own style. The funny thing is, I love to shoot structures and people, too. I’ve taken some of my favorite pictures in New York City, Paris, airports—no trees involved!
N: Tell me about your #solo_tree project. How did it get started? What significance does it have to you?
L: I have always been charmed by the lone-tree image. It reminds me of the first artwork we make when we are children. The lone tree is iconic in children’s art, and so imbued with potential meaning. Is it a symbol of the self? A statement of independence? A manifestation of loneliness? Anyway, it took me a while to figure out how to get a really good #solo_tree shot, and once I did, I got a little obsessed with them! I started the project on a whim with another IGer, @mungodog. I posted a picture of a lone tree and she casually mentioned I should start a tag. I’d been thinking about starting something, and asked her if she’d want to do it with me. So we started it together.
N: I noticed that you have participated in some “Insta Meet.” How was that experience? Have you been involved in any other community photoshoots or projects?
L: It’s a lot of fun to meet up with like-minded people you’ve met on Instagram. It’s a great way to expand your social circle with other people for whom iPhone photography and IG are common denominators. This summer, I traveled to Paris for work and met up with someone I knew from IG. It was a fun way to connect and see the city from an insider’s perspective.
N: Is there a particular photo that you are most prod of? Can you tell us why it is your favorite?
L: This is hard, but I really like some of the black and white photos I’ve done. They aren’t as well received on my feed, but I feel like they’re some of the best examples of how I see things. This is one of my favorites. It’s a field on a farm about a mile from my house. I pass it every day on the way to work. The way it looks seems to change all the time. It doesn’t look quite like this now.
N: Can you show us a few more that you love and the significance or them or what you particularly love about them?
L: This was one of my first solo trees, and people seemed to like it. I love that it looks so serene and sophisticated, yet it “lives” at a local shopping mall. Ha!
As I mentioned, I love taking pictures of people and structures, and I love to shoot in urban settings. This one was taken in Grand Central Station in New York City. There’s something very Sopranos about it.
I was in Spain earlier this year for work and saw this tree while I was riding my bike up a long climb in the Spanish Pyrenees. I passed this tree, then doubled back so I could take the picture. I love the sea in the background. It’s the Bay of Biscay.
This last one was taken over the summer in Paris along the Siene, where the city sets up a faux beach called Paris Plage. I love the composition of this shot, the juxtaposition of the pedestrians and the umbrella, and the moment when they notice the little girl building a sand castle.
N: Do you have any plans of pursuing photography further?
L: I sometimes imagine that! But for now, I really enjoy taking pictures with my iPhone and encouraging my daughter to make art.
N: Can your work be found anywhere else that we should know about?
L: Not at the moment!