Forest photography is arguably one of the most intricate and beautiful types of photography. However, it is not entirely obvious how one should go about getting those magazine-worthy shots.
A nice walk in the forest can bring calmness and it’s a great way to reduce stress. Photography in nature has always been for me one of the best ways to find inner peace and relaxation. Forest photography is definitely one of the highest expressions of nature photography. Being able to enjoy the beauty and the tranquillity of a forest while practicing your hobby is priceless.
Forest photography is as rewarding as can be challenging. Compared to other forms of landscape photography, you deal with completely different light conditions and instead of capturing wide-open spaces and majestic landscapes, you seek to compose in an intimate natural space, among layers of trees. An environment that is as still as visually chaotic at the same time.
In this article, I’ll try to unveil the best tricks of this gorgeous sub-genre of landscape photography. Let’s explore the secrets behind stunning forest photography.
Related: Landscape Photography Settings
Forest Photography Composition
Let’s start with the question I get asked the most: how to create a good photography composition in the forest.
It can be hard to know how to compose good images in the forest, but you can use this as a general guideline to get some wonderful shots.
- Try to find order in the chaos
- Use leading lines and vertical lines
- Try to capture depth in your images
- Search for color contrast or luminosity contrast
Composing a photo in the forest may seem like a daunting task at first. What tree do you shoot? What do you put in your foreground, and what about the background?
Immerse Yourself in the Experience
Don’t rush. If you look carefully around you, you’ll start noticing a group of trees or openings among the trees that can serve as subjects to find harmony in the disordered space. The good news is that you are surrounded by vertical lines that help to bring a sense of stability and strength to your photos.
Lead the Viewer’s Eye
When composing your photo, your goal is to make a two-dimensional image look as three-dimensional as possible. To add a sense of depth means to make the viewers feel as if they are there. Create some background blur to highlight the foreground and make it stand out from the rest of the image. A wide aperture will help.
Forest Photography Gear
For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about forest photography is a wide-angle lens. While that is important, there are several other things to consider as well. Moreover, in my opinion, you shouldn’t be limited by the thought of what focal length to use. Sure, if you are reading this article you’d like to know a precise answer, but keep in mind that even a smartphone can do the job.
To be detailed, here is a list of the essentials to carry when shooting in the forest.
- Obviously Your Camera: you can take a look at this article to see some of the best cameras for landscape photography. I like to use my Sony A7RIII since it’s great in low light conditions, but sometimes I love the challenge and use my Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II for its great image stabilization.
- Wide-Angle Lens: It is the bread and butter of every forest photographer, and should always be in your kit for most visits to the forest. A 12-24mm or even 16-35mm lens will.
- Telephoto Lens: While the perspective obtained by the wide-angle lens is certainly one of the most popular ones, a telephoto lens must not be forgotten. A huge number of exquisite forest photographs have been taken on a lens with a 50mm (or even longer) focal length. 24-70mm or 70-200mm for creative close-ups.
- Macro Lens: The forest, being rich in small flowers, insects, and other miniature subjects, lends itself to excellent macro photography. You can get several tasteful close-up shots, giving you a whole new aspect of photography to explore.
- Lens Cleaning Kit: Always have a microfiber cloth with you, don’t use towels or anything else if you don’t want to scratch your lens.
- Tripod: When you’re under trees, it can get quite dark even on a sunny day. This can make it exceedingly difficult to take crisp shots without a tripod. It is always recommended to carry a tripod when you go out to shoot.
- Polarizing Filter: a circular polarizing filter is a great tool that reduces glare and reflections if you come across water bodies, or on moist vegetation. Moreover, it also lets colors pop and brings out some lovely color contrast to your forest scene.
Forest Photography Camera Settings
While there are a lot of settings that you can play around with, I recommend that you experiment with the aperture and the shutter speed. These two settings can create the biggest impact on your shot, adding a lot of character and definition, or creating a nice background blur.
Related: Landscape Photography Settings
Know Your Location
It is very important for you to spend some time in the forest, and get a feel for the area. You must observe and study the place before you begin shooting.
Try and find interesting colors and shapes that catch your eye. Each area that you spend time in will change as time passes. Figure out which time of day best suits each spot that you visit. Carrying a notebook or making notes in your smartphone is a great way to keep track of these aspects.
Best Light for Forest Photography
In general, for outdoor photography, the ideal times to shoot are early in the morning, or late in the evening. The afternoon is usually avoided. However, when it comes to forest photography, you can get great photographs even in bright and direct sunlight.
This is primarily due to the dense canopy of trees that filter out a lot of the intense sunlight. This barrier of trees gives you lighting very similar to what you would expect from the fringe of the day. Having said that, the beauty of the light early in the morning and late in the evening is just something else. It can give a magical feel to your shots and also add a lot of mood to it.
How to Post Process Your Forest Photos
While you can use the typical workflow that you use for post-processing, there are a lot of extra things that you can do that will take your forest photography to the next level.
Due to the canopies of trees in the forest that act as a filter to sunlight, most scenes in the forest tend to have very dramatic lighting. This can be boosted by increasing the contrast where the light hits the ground. You can also tweak the hue and saturation a bit, to achieve a vibrant look to your image, and also enhance the natural feel of your photograph.
When you work on the contrast of your photo, try to use the tone curves and achieve that “S-type” curve as a starting point. Tone curves are a much more precise tool to control the contrast of your photos in Lightroom.
Extra Tips for Forest Photography
Let’s see some extra tips to step-up your forest photography.
Create Abstract Photos
By experimenting with your shutter speed, you can create stunning abstract images. You can also play with textures and light to bring attention to small details and create appealing images.
Respect the Forest
Nature offers so many beautiful and inspiring patterns and forests are full of possibilities when it comes to photography. Make sure you leave the environment as you found it. Don’t break branches or don’t forget to respect the quietness of the space and the animals that inhabit the woods. As landscape photographers it’s our duty to respect nature and spread the message.
Forest photography can be challenging if you aren’t aware of the nuances that go into it. I hope that this article has given you some insight into how to get some great shots in the forest.
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.