What do you think of when you are taking photos in the middle of the forest? Do you admire the greenery? Do you sit and watch the unaware wildlife that runs through? Forests offer so many unforgettable moments of peace and pure nothingness. That’s what we all want at some point, right? A moment to breathe.
As a landscape photographer, this is partly why I chose this profession. Traveling all over the world, seeing the vast indescribable beauty of different forests. It is an utter dream. Forest photography is one of the most intricate and beautiful types of photography. Walking through a forest can boost mental clarity and reduce stress. Breathe in that crisp, cool, clean air and let it take you away.
Photographing nature is a rewarding opportunity. If you enjoy the outdoors and photographing, be sure to always have your camera on hand. Don’t feel like you always need to prepare for an outing. Be ready for any chance to pull out a camera. We will talk more about preparation a little further in this article.
Forest photography is rewarding and amazing but can be challenging. Nature is unpredictable. Unlike being in a studio, you are unable to control the weather or lighting. Also understanding aperture and depth is as important as the rest. Shooting images in the forest provides wide-open space in a majestic landscape. You can also create an intimate setting based on time of day or even the specific forest your in. The possibilities are endless when working with natural landscapes.
Let’s explore the techniques and logistics behind forest photography.
Related: Landscape Photography Settings
What is Forest Photography?
The first thing we should discuss is, what is forest photography? What does it mean to photograph in a forest? You can assume that is self-explanatory but it is much more than that. Something to understand is that you don’t have to be an expert with a camera. You also don’t have to have a full working knowledge of all in’s and out’s of composition rules. Having passion and interest in nature and photographing nature is the first step.
Forest photography is the concept of putting together shapes, colors, texture, and moods. Nature provides the subject. The photographer uses their camera to re-create the chaos and complexity of nature in an image.
Capturing the different seasons or the mist in the morning air is a moment that can stop time. Look for the sunbeams that shoot between the trees, it’s like a path to the heavens. Stop, look around you and take in what is around. Forests are endless and so are the opportunities to create magic in your images.
Forest Photography Composition
To create a great composition in forest photography, use the same rules that apply in photography. It can be hard to know how to compose good images. You can use this as a general guideline to get some wonderful shots.
- Use leading lines and vertical lines
- Create depth in the images
- Search for color contrast or luminosity contrast
Composing a photo in the forest may seem like an overwhelming task at first. What tree do you shoot? What do you put in your foreground, and what about the background? The forest is your muse! Use it to your advantage.
Stand in place and look up. Take the picture. What do you see? Taking a picture from a low point and looking up creates the illusion of being in that place. It gives your viewer the chance to feel as if they are right there standing in the middle of that forest. Connection, it’s all about connecting to the image.
Framing is also an excellent way to build depth. Seeing a bridge connecting one path to the next with trees all around and a stream. What do you do? The bridge is your focal point. Shoot at a slight angle to the left and BAM! You have depth. The viewer wants more. Where does the path lead to? What’s next? That’s what you want, you want the viewer to want more.
Immerse Yourself in the Experience
Don’t rush. Photograph how you are feeling.
Forest photography is definitely an experience. Whether you’re going for a hike on a warm summer day or camping for days off the grid, look around you. Walk for a few minutes or even miles then stop. Things change so often in nature, especially deep in the woods. The chance that something amazing is right in front of you, grab it. Remember we spoke about the nothingness in the forest. That is an experience in itself.
What Message You Want to Convey?
When you think about a photo think of the whole view. What are you trying to convey to your viewer? You have one square to work with to show as much imagery as possible. Bringing all the eliminates together to make an image look three-dimensional. 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.
Gear Up for Forest Photography
Traveling through the forest doesn’t mean you need a ton of gear. Of course, this depends on whether you are staying for days or going for a few hours. The first thing that comes to mind is a wide-angle lens.
While that is important, there are several other things to consider as well. Don’t overthink and limit yourself shouldn’t by the thought of what focal length to use. There isn’t a precise answer to what you should bring with you. Dress for the weather and think about where you’re going. Even if it’s an impromptu adventure, a Smartphone works perfectly.
Here is a list of the possible essentials to carry when shooting in the forest to give a little more thought.
- 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 do the job.
- Telephoto Lens: A wide-angle lens is one of the most popular items to use, a telephoto lens must not forgotten. A huge number of exquisite forest photographs can be shot on a lens with a 50mm (or even longer) focal length. 24-70mm or 70-200mm for creative close-ups.
- Macro Lens: The forest is rich with small flowers and insects. Other miniature subjects lend themselves to excellent macro photography. You can get several tasteful close-up shots.
- 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 in the forest.
- 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. They add 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 on 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. 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 something else. It can give a magical feel to your shots and also add a lot of mood to them.
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.
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.
Respect the Forest
Nature offers so many beautiful and inspiring patterns. 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.