Woodland photography can be difficult.
Woodlands and forests are chaotic places, and it is hard for a novice photographer to make sense of this chaos and make a pleasing image.
We can get confused by the tangle of branches, trunks, leaves and undergrowth and fail to find a good composition.
For the very reasons mentioned above, I was not immediately drawn to woodland photography, even though I love to wander through woodlands, exploring, taking in all the sights and sounds and letting the beauty of these chaotic places work their magic.
During the recent global restrictions on movement, I found myself in my local woodland area often and I began to take an interest in what it might offer in terms of photography.
I must admit, even though woodland photography came to me by default, I have begun to enjoy this type of photography and am interested in improving my skill in this area.
Although I am not by any means an experienced woodland photographer, I have picked up some tips that have helped me to enjoy the experience of doing this type of photography. I would like to share some of them.
1. Go often and spend time there
Observe, notice, take notes, keep an eye out for compositions.
I often go out without my camera, just to stroll through the woodlands, but I am always keeping a lookout for potential images. I might take a quick photo with my phone camera to remind myself of the location, with the intention of coming back on another occasion with my camera.
Even when I don’t take any pictures I am inspired just by being in nature and soaking up the woodland atmosphere.
2. Go at different times and seasons
Woodlands change according to the time of day and the season, and they give us something different to shoot no matter when we visit. Some people will prefer to capture images early in the morning, others love the soft evening light. Autumn is the optimal season for some woodland photographers while the dull, drab conditions of winter provide others with more atmospheric images.
3. Go in all weathers
Experience your woodland in all weather conditions. Go when the sun is streaming through the trees, when fog gives you a pleasing separating between your subject and the background or when the whole woodland is dripping after the rain. Go when the trees are dressed in their autumn beauty or when snow has changed the vista into a winter wonderland. In this ever-changing landscape there is no end to the photography opportunities provided.
4. Explore off the beaten track
Look up, look down; look for anything strange or unusual. I love to find unusual trees or groups of trees, trees that seem to have a character of their own or that relate in some way to the trees around them.
If you look closely enough, you’ll find trees that talk to each other, trees that dance, trees that stand to attention. You’ll find old trees that are bent over with age and young sprightly trees that seem to want to skip away and play. You’ll find trees with faces and trees that resemble something else.
There is no end to the possibilities once you begin to explore the woodland environment.
5. Try close-up photography
Fungi, flowers, leaves, twigs all make great subjects for close-up photography.
Sometimes it is good to give ourselves a challenge such as a ‘24 steps challenge’. In this scenario you only allow yourself to take photos within a radius of 24 steps. This encourages you to look up, look down, look on the ground, look in the hedges, and it gives you a world of new opportunities for different shots.
I particularly love to use a wide aperture and blur the background, giving greater emphasis to my subject.
6. Vary your compositions
This might seem to be difficult to do in an area that is busy and cluttered and where everything almost looks the same. But on closer examination we discover that there are countless different compositions to be seen, even in a small area.
There are variations in how branches are positioned, different heights and perspectives that we can shoot from, and different ‘stories’ to be told through how we choose to compose our woodland scene.
When we begin to look out for interesting compositions as we walk through woodland areas, they become easier to spot and add a sense of curiosity and challenge to our photography.
7. Use variety of lenses
There is potential to use a variety of lenses in a woodland environment.
A telephoto lens can be used to pick out a composition in a hard to access area and will compress and tighten the composition.
A fast prime lens will allow you to get a shallow depth of field which can increase the sense of depth in your image and give greater aesthetic value.
A wide-angle lens gives a wider view, resulting in a more expansive feel to your image. You can also get creative with your wide-angle lens by shooting up to create converging lines and make treetops look far away.
I have a Sigma 17-50mm standard zoom lens which is a versatile lens for woodland photography, and I also make good use of my 18-55mm kit lens. The 18mm end is good for taking wider landscapes while the 55mm end, as a short telephoto lens, is ideal for closing in on smaller details.
Woodland is a great place to experiment with various focal lengths and effects.
Intentional Camera Movement (ICM), above, works well in a woodland. I find that there is plenty of potential to practise this technique given the range and diversity of colour and texture in the woodland. An added bonus is the fact that you can shoot ICM images in the flat light often created by the woodland canopy.
There are often waterfalls or fast flowing streams where a range of shutter speeds may be needed, and moving birds, either in the air or on the water, also require that we vary our shutter speed.
Aperture priority might be used to vary depth of field in images.
9. Shoot whatever catches your eye
A path acting as a leading line, sun lines on the woodland floor, a distinctive looking tree or plant; big things, small things, the choice is yours. There is always something new to learn, a new image to capture, a new sight to see.
Shooting in a woodland or forest can be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience for a photographer.
Granted, shooting in woodlands will most likely not enable you to produce iconic images as would, for instance, shooting in epic locations, but it will help you capture unique images. After all, not many people will stop in the same spot in your woodland and choose to capture the same image as you do.
Apart from unique images, a woodland offers countless opportunities to capture a wide diversity of images. The woodland has so much to offer that you can visit numerous times and still find something new to photograph.
With a bit of interest, curiosity and a sense of adventure you can begin what could be an exciting and interesting journey – the journey into woodland photography.
You might also like to read my previous post on woodland photography: