How To Use Light To Enhance Your Forest Photos

If you have ever tried your hand at forest photography before, then you know how rewarding it can be and how amazing the final results are. However, you also might have noticed just how challenging it can be as well.

There is a litany of unique issues that arise when it comes to forest photography, however, one of the most common ones is to do with the lighting. 

How To Use Light To Enhance Your Forest Photos

Even if you are a beginner photographer, you understand how important lighting is to photography and how much of a focus you need to place on it, and even though there tends to be a lot of cover in forests, lighting is still something you need to focus on.

However, your forest photography can immediately be taken to the next level if you know and understand some key advice to ensure that you are getting the best results possible. 

A lot of the advice surrounding lighting in forests is actually not that difficult to implement, but when you know what you are doing the results can be amazing.

In this guide we will give you some key advice about how to treat lighting when doing forest photography, as well as some other general advice about forest photography to use alongside your newfound knowledge of forest photography lighting! 

Best Lighting For Forest Photography

In this section we will go over some of the best types of lighting you can get when trying forest photography.

There are not too many limitations, and no matter what kind of lighting you get, you will get good results if you know what you are doing.

However, the lighting we cover here is some of the best to take advantage of when you are doing forest photography!

Contrasting Light At Midday

One of the best times of day to get great lighting for your forest photography is midday due to the unique placement of the lighting.

At this time the light will reach through the trees and you will get some amazing contrasting sunlight. This creates distinction and lets you place focus while still having a stunning backdrop. 

While exploring the forest, if it is not yet midday, keep your eyes up to look at how the sun will break through the branches and try to foresee what kind of effect you will be able to get! 

This lighting is perfect for shooting in the forest since the shading it adds is perfect for the depth you get in the forest.

Play around with this lighting since you are guaranteed to get some amazing shots if you can take advantage of this type of lighting!

Golden Hour

It is similar to a lot of types of photography, but if the opportunity arises, you want to make sure to take full advantage of golden hour to get some stunning pictures.

When it comes to forest photography, one of our favorite things to try at golden hour is to capture how this lighting can be muted by the time it reaches the forest floor. 

You can get some great contrast between the cool tones of the forest and the warmth of the sunlight which is particularly reminiscent of a winter tone which is not common for photography during golden hour.

This can be made even better if there is fog at this time as well which just adds more of a strong ambience to the final product!

Dim Lighting

Either right before dawn or right after dusk, you can get some amazing dim lighting.

For the most part this mainly causes issues for forest photography, however, if you know what to do, you can get some amazing results. 

Of course the trees are naturally dark, so this lighting just makes everything darker, however, if you take advantage of the drained color, then you can get some stunning contrast between the foreground and the background.

If you are familiar with silhouette photography, then shooting the forest at this time should be no challenge!


In a lot of other types of photography, overcast weather is something you want to avoid and can ruin some days where you would otherwise get some pretty dynamic shots, but this is not really the case for forest photography.

You will find that the effects that clouds have are like a soft box for the sun. The harsh light is softened and the usual distinct shadows you would get in the forest are instead muted. 

This makes it so you can actually get a more detailed backdrop than you would usually get, and some amazingly surreal shots. 

While the contrast you get from harsh sunlight can make some amazing photos, if you like something a bit more muted, then the effect you can get from forest photography on an overcast day is something you do not want to miss.

You can focus close up or further away, and you do not have to worry about time constraints since the movement of the sun is nowhere near as impactful when the conditions are like this!


Even during the day the forest can be a pretty dark place, but of course that is further emphasized during the night and the blue hour. 

Depending on the weather, you can get some amazing lighting during the night from the pale starlight as well as the slightly dim glow the sky is still giving off.

This gentle lighting can have an amazing effect and tone for your work and is amazing if you know how to capture it.

When the moon is full especially you will get a great amount of ethereal light which makes the forest stunning. 

You will need to give extra attention to the foreground like with most nighttime photography, especially when looking at the trees.

Place emphasis on your composition with this unique lighting, and try to make sure the relationship between your foreground and background is complimentary since the limited light can create a challenge here.

Other Advice For Forest Photography

Now, on top of this advice for taking advantage of the lighting for forest photography, there is also some general advice for forest photography which can lead to getting the best results possible when it is put into action!

Gear And Settings

One aspect of photography which is easy to overlook but should have some focus is the gear that you are using to get the best results possible.

We recommend that you invest in a good quality tripod when you are shooting in the forest.

The main reason for this is that you will usually be working with a longer exposure and if you are hand holding then the results will just be blurry. 

Also, if you know that the conditions are going to be darker, then we recommend a wider lens to take advantage of this.

And, as just mentioned, you want to use longer exposure time and a higher ISO, especially when it is nighttime.

Low Angles Looking Up

A great way to get a sense of scale when shooting in a forest is to use lower angles and have them looking up. This creates and emphasizes a sense of wonder which you can naturally get when doing forest photography. 

This is also a better way to capture the trees since you will be focusing on their size instead of minimizing it with a higher angle.

Aerial Photography

However, if you want to embrace higher angles, the aerial photography is a great idea. Of course this requires far more preparation and resources, but aerial photography over a forest can be absolutely stunning!

Focus On Details

Compared to some other types of landscape photography, forest photography lends itself to some amazing and unique focal points.

There are plenty of naturally beautiful and engaging focal points and details you can pick up on when shooting in the forest, so make sure to focus on them if you get a chance. 

This is why exploring the forest while shooting can be so enjoyable since you can search out interesting details which you can capture with the unique nature of forest photography.

If you head out with a target in mind of what you want to shoot, this can work as well!


Hopefully this guide has given you all the information you need on how to take advantage of the light when you are trying forest photography.

Once you understand how lighting works in the forest it makes getting some amazing shots even easier and you can really capture (see also: How To Capture The Magic Of Forests In Your Photos)the whole environment surrounding you. 

Due to the unique structure of the forest, it poses some unique hurdles for landscape photography, however, once you understand how to subvert this, and take advantage of the unique nature of forest photography, it all becomes a lot easier. 

Do not rush, and make sure to play around with the settings on your camera, as the presets you might like in some circumstances might need to be changed when you are doing forest photography, so keep this in mind!

Laura McNeill
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