How To Photograph Forests And Trees

Trees and forests are a large part of our landscape. They are majestic, romantic and mysterious. Forests are popular with landscape photographers because they always appear different in various conditions. But how to photograph forests and trees?

How To Photograph Forests And Trees?

With a good knowledge of the location, natural light and the right camera settings you can capture the wild beauty of trees and woodlands. In this practical guide, we share our best tips and tricks on how to take breathtaking pictures of forests and trees.

1.Get To Know The Location

Similar to mountains, rivers and other natural landscapes, the weather and light conditions in and around forests can change quickly. In order to capture your local forest in the right light, it is a good idea to spend some time in your location.

Get to know the area and find out what subjects would be interesting for a good photo. This may be an interesting tree, a group of leaves or just a fascinating angle of the majestic treeline across the vast woodlands.

It is important to look for colors, shapes and lines that could make a good composition. You may want to take a notebook with you to jot down your observations.

Don’t forget that it is always worthwhile to get off the beaten track and explore what lies deep within the woods. However, be mindful of potential dangers and hazards, such as roots and sinkholes in the ground.

Every part of a forest has its unusual qualities and you want to capture the character of the woodland with your camera, whether this is odd-looking gnarled trees or a unique arrangement of foliage.

2. Use Natural Light

Vast landscapes often only work with spectacular light but you can get away without the grand lighting conditions in forests. From dull, gray skies to glaring sunlight, it is important to use the light to your advantage.

Ideally, you should shoot with soft, natural light that gives your forest photos a gentle, golden glow. Just make sure to avoid harsh, direct sunlight around midday as this could result in overexposure in your images.

It is also good to remember that a dense woodland doesn’t usually allow much light through to the bottom. This means that you need to increase the ISO settings on your camera for sharp and crisp shots.

3. Watch The Weather

The atmosphere and light conditions in a forest typically depend on the weather. Make sure that you keep an eye on the weather forecast to avoid glaring sunlight. This being said, forest photography works in almost any weather condition.

One of the most popular weather phenomena with landscape photographers is fog and mist. A thin layer of clouds rising out of the deep, dark forest or wandering among the trees creates a stunning ethereal atmosphere that makes for perfect tree photos.

Plus, fog can also greatly enhance the depth of your photos. It creates individual layers in the background and foreground which make your images more interesting.

The best time to capture forest fog in all its glory is the early morning when it starts to clear and the sun comes out. That’s when you also get spectacular light and light beams that can contribute to stunning forest scenes.

However, these conditions don’t happen very often. This is the reason why many nature photographers go out and shoot in a variety of weather. Also rainfall or white snow can give your woodland shot a folklore feel and plenty of drama.

4. Use The Moonlight For Unique Forest Photos

One of the most spectacular forest photographs you can capture in the dark. With the cool moonlight over the dark tree tops, you can create a magical photo during the blue hour.

Open woodland is perfect for moonlight and starry sky shots where you can photograph the night sky through the trees. Shooting trees at night is very similar to other night photography. You need to pay close attention to the foregrounds and your composition.

Make sure that you have a tripod with you because you will need to use high-exposure settings on your camera to capture the dim light conditions.

5. Work With A Telephoto Lens

A good-quality telephoto lens for your camera allows you to capture as much of the forest as possible. It helps to bring the background elements forward and compress the forest scene.

This ensures that your composition fits neat and tightly into the frame creating an overall better picture. Plus, a telephoto lens is also a fantastic choice when you have a lot of straight lines in your photo, such as with trees.

6. Zoom In On Forest Details

There are so many small details in a forest that we usually overlook, from tiny mycelium and rough tree bark to the blossoming of moss and flowers growing near the ground. A forest is full of small things that can create a real eye-catcher in a photo.

Try to focus on one specific element of your shot. This could be at eye level or down on the ground. If you have the right light conditions with a bit of subtle light hitting your chosen subject, this can create a fantastic effect.

You can even capture some of the typical things you can find on a forest floor, from the tiny veins in leaves to clumps of soil.

Don’t forget that you will need a macro lens to ensure that you take sharp and crisp photos of your subject. This also allows you to get all the colors and textures of the forest in focus.

7. Shoot Early In The Morning

Whenever you speak to a landscape photographer, he will confirm that the best time to get the best shots is the hour just before sunset or the hour after sunrise. Known as the golden hour for a good reason, this is the time when the light is soft, gentle and subtle.

This can help you create ethereal snapshots of a forest. Plus, this type of low light also gives you the opportunity to shoot stunning backlit images which make an atmospheric contract between deep shadows and well-lit areas.

In addition, the early hours of the morning are typically also the time when you can experience misty conditions which can make your tree photos look even more beautiful.

This being said, most photographers shoot at this time of day, so if you want to try out something a little different, then observe your chosen woodland and find a time that also offers dappled light.

8. Photograph The Night Sky Through The Trees

Just like the beautiful forests, the night sky has been a wonder to mankind for thousands of years, so it makes sense to bring them both together. You can point your camera upwards and capture the stars looking through the trees.

It’s a fantastic shot that also plays with different angles. Depending on where you live, you even may be able to take a snapshot of the Northern Lights through the trees. These colorful moving lights can transform your night time photography.

9. Capture Layers

Depth is an essential element in all photography but forests have a natural depth that you can easily make use of. With different trees or other subjects in the foreground, middle ground and background, you can create the impression that the forest is endless.

Just place your main subject in the foreground and use it as a guiding line for the rest of the image. Plus, light can also create a big focal point which contributes to the perception of depth in your photo.

Also keep an eye open for small clearings, especially in dense forests. This is the perfect place to experiment with different layers in your tree photography.

10. Work With A Wide Angle Lens

A wide-angle lens is the best choice for forest photography when you want to offer a wider view of your location. It creates the illusion of more space with greater depth because the background details slowly disappear.

Wide angle lenses are also ideal when you shoot a forest from further up, such as a mountain top. This gives you an expansive view of the area and what’s around it.

11. Capture Natural Formations

There aren’t just trees in the forest but plenty of other things, such as natural stone formations or even cliffs near the sea. You can use these fascinating scenes to show the wild and rough beauty of the woodland.

Look out for leading lines, such as a pathway or a row of trees, that guide the eye through your photo. However, try to avoid any large areas in the foreground, such as a patch of grass or flowers.

While stone outcrops are the most common formation you can find in a woodland, you might also spot a nearby lake or waterfall that could add some interest to your nature photos.

12. Attach A Polarizer To Your Lens

While most landscape photographers use a polarizer to remove glare and reflections from their water photography, you can also use it to make the colors of foliage more vibrant.

A polarizer is perfect to bring out the lush green in spring and summer or the colorful leaves during fall.

13. Play With The Shutter Speed

If you want to photograph in a forest with dense tree cover or the light isn’t very bright, then you will need to adjust your shutter speed. You can reduce your shutter speed to capture a forest scene in the dark or when you want to create more abstract nature photos.

14. Experiment With Aperture

While you may be tempted to keep all elements of your composition in focus, there are a number of situations where you want to blur some parts of your shot.

For example, when you want to focus on the foreground, then it is best to blur the background. This can also increase the aesthetic value of the image and create a greater depth of field.

15. Don’t Forget Your Tripod

If you are working with low light conditions in a dense forest, then you will need to use slower shutter speeds and a tripod.

The tripod will ensure that your shots are always in focus and your subject isn’t blurry. It is a good idea to use a tripod with a geared head to keep your image level and straight.

16. Try Black And White Forest Photography

Forests are full of beautiful greens and browns. Together with the huge variety of textures, this makes them perfect for black and white photography.

Black and white photos typically focus on the small details and textures in a photo that you don’t usually see in color photography. Trees and forests are ideal for this.

You can work with dark backgrounds and heavy tree trunks in the foreground to design a balanced composition in your photo. As a rule of thumb, you just need to look for these contrasts to get black and white forest photography right.

It is a good idea to use backlit scenes, such as light behind the subject to shape an effective contrast. The deep shadows also eliminate any distracting elements that you could usually see in color.

Black and white photography is also a great opportunity to work on some abstract shots in the forest.

17. Try Abstract Forest Photography

While nature is beautiful in all its forms, if you want to create some unique forest photos, then you can also try a few abstract shots. Hone in on colors, textures, shapes, lines and the many different forms that a woodland has to offer.

Work with these elements to create a more ambiguous image. You can also work with a number of different filters to play around with these textures and colors.

Final Thoughts

Trees and forests have been magical places for millennia. They hold a fascinating atmosphere that is worth capturing with your camera.

You simply need the right location, a few basic camera settings and a good composition. It’s also fun to try different lenses for close-up shots or wide-angle photos that offer a vast view over the trees.

Laura McNeill
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