Capturing images in the woods can be a fulfilling experience, and I have fond memories of wandering through the forest with my camera in hand. However, finding a good composition can be a challenge and sometimes stressful.
When I first started photographing in the woods, I found it to be like a chaotic puzzle with no solution. But over time, I developed a few techniques, both technical and mental, that have helped me. In this article, I will share these 5 techniques with you in hopes that they will aid you on your photography journey.
One simple way to capture the beauty of trees and forest scenes is through isolation. By separating individual trees from the surrounding clutter, you can create visually stunning images. You can achieve this by finding a single tree that stands out from the others, perhaps on a hill or in a field.
Alternatively, you can take advantage of natural conditions that aid isolation, such as fog, which adds depth to the woods and simplifies the scene. Low direct light can also help you isolate a subject by highlighting a single tree or branch, while the rest of the forest fades into shadow.
A telephoto lens can also be used to focus on a single tree or branch, emphasizing simple shapes and lines that are pleasing to the eye.
Using framing elements is the second tip that can enhance your forest photography. In my experience, this technique worked wonders when I captured the stunning Fanal Forest in Madeira. The idea is to select a clean background tree or a group of trees and use a foreground tree or branch to frame the background.
A wide-angle lens works best for this technique, and you should get close to the foreground tree while ensuring that there are no intersecting lines in the background. It’s important to keep the composition neat and free of any distractions around the edges of the frame. The framing elements should pull the viewer into the scene rather than distract them from it.
Don’t just take a quick snap of a tree and move on to the next spot. Take some extra time to look around and see if you can improve your composition or change your approach to the image. Take a look at these two images, for example. Both feature the exact same trees, but in the second image, I got close to the opening of the left tree to create a framing element.
Now, both images have their own unique story to tell, and I like them for different reasons. It’s amazing how a small adjustment can completely change the narrative of a photo. Building your compositions takes time, so take a shot and review it on playback to see how you can enhance the photograph by adding or removing elements.
Woodland photography requires thorough scouting. Personally, I visited the Fanal forest four different times, spending hours and hours exploring. I leveraged Google Maps to pinpoint and mark different trees that I might want to photograph, and I took reference images on my phone.
This approach was invaluable to me and one of the reasons I was able to capture great shots. Although the conditions were fantastic at sunrise, the scene was also chaotic. Without prior scouting, I am not sure if I would have been able to capture much.
Photography is meant to be a stress-relieving activity, not one that adds to your anxiety. When I was in this grove, the rapidly changing conditions and fog started to overwhelm me. I would hurry to a hill to capture the fog, and by the time I set up, it would be gone. The same thing would happen again when I ran to another location where I spotted the fog forming. This cat-and-mouse game was quite stressful, and it hindered my creativity. It wasn’t until I took a deep breath, relaxed, and embraced the different conditions that I started to have fun here. I could sit down, appreciate the scenery, and make more calculated decisions on how to capture it.
Moreover, by waiting patiently and relaxing, the fog returned to the spot I was in, and I was able to photograph it. At the end of the day, landscape photography should be enjoyable, regardless of whether you end up with a photo or not. I hope these tips will help you not only with your composition but also with your mindset when it comes to woodland photography. Just like anything else, taking great pictures requires practice and patience. So get out there, experiment, and remember to have fun!
About the Author: Michael Shainblum is a photographer, filmmaker, and educator based in San Francisco, California. He has been working professionally as a photographer and filmmaker for 17 years since the age of 16. He has been commissioned by clients such as Disney, Nike, Samsung, Apple, and Google. He also shares his knowledge via his Youtube Channel, Instagram, and workshops. This story was also published here.