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December 18, 2018

How to photograph The Wanaka Tree at sunset 

If you're a photographer who has been to New Zealand, you've probably heard of the famous Wanaka Tree. Claimed to be the most photographed tree in the country, this little willow tree routinely draws a crowd because of its unique position in the water. Evoking feelings of extreme remoteness, this tree is actually fairly close to the town center is frequented by hundreds of visitors a day. 

During our visit to New Zealand, we made it a point to get some good shots of this famous little tree but because it's so often shot, we wanted to get something unique and a little bit different. 

photographers at that wanaka tree

Tips for getting the perfect shot: 

Use a tripod: you’ll want a sturdy tripod to help shoot the Wanaka Tree. A long exposure will help smooth out the lake water and give the water a milky, smooth texture. Our go-to tripods are the Peak Design Travel Tripod which is top of the line when it comes to weight, pack size and performance and great for photographers on the go. For a sturdier tripod, Manfrotto offers a great line up. 
Get yourself an ND Filter: We used an ND filter, often used for videography to make the frame lighter or darker. An ND filter is great for capturing long exposures even if there’s a lot of light present in the scene. We used a variable ND filter which means you can twist the filter when you get the shutter speed where you want it, instead of having to change the filter. Your shutter speed might be from 15 seconds to 5 minutes. Both NiSi and Lee make fantastic filters.
Composition: the tree is your focus so frame it how you like. The rule of thirds is always a good bet.
Winter tip: Often in winter the lake water levels dip so low that the tree isn’t even really in the water so be prepared to get creative if you’re looking for the classic reflective shot.
Get there early: No matter the time of the year, you’ll want to make sure you get to the tree plenty early. This is a popular place and you may need to stake out your

camera at that wanaka tree

The wanaka tree at sunset
Although not an original idea, we wanted to get a photo of the Wanaka Tree using an underwater housing, which can often cost hundreds of dollars. An underwater housing unit allows you to photograph a scene both above and below the water. Our plan was to get the shot on a budget.

What does that include?

  1. A $3 bowl 
  2. Gumboots
  3. A sturdy tripod 
  4. A little bit of patience

After a few attempts, we got a few shots we could work with. The dark skies made the underwater portion of the shot dark, which we were able to correct in post-processing. When we were satisfied with our results, we stuck around to see if we could get a bit of a light show. While not the most spectacular of sunsets, we were able to get some good shots with a subtle pink sky.

the wanaka tree under water

We hope you feel inspired to get creative in our photography, especially when shooting at overly popular places. A bit of creativity and persistence will give you some great results!

What’s the most creative shot you’ve taken? We’d love to see it! Tag us on Instagram or use our hashtag, #builtforwinter.

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Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, we will receive a small commission without any cost to you. We only ever recommend products that we have personally used and can stand behind. 

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