Woodland photography is an unusually challenging niche within the landscape genre. With so much going on it can be very difficult to find clean compositions without to many distracting elements. However, by looking at things slightly differently you will soon be able to capture shots that overcome this.
Different conditions create different photos
The type of photographs that you will produce will depend heavily on the conditions you head out in. Early morning mist can create some brilliant ethereal images. Fog and mist can be extremely advantageous as this can help reduce the number of distractions in a composition. As light passes through the canopies it can produce beams of light through the fog. These beams can be used as leading lines in your images to help guide your viewer through the composition.
Rainfall can also be a great for woodland photography. Use a polarising filter to make the greens in the wet foliage really stand out. Heavy rainfall can produce similar results to fog in that it adds real depth to the images. Far away objects become more occluded and this will help clean up an otherwise busy composition.
Don’t only shoot golden hour
The beauty of shooting in forests and woodland is that lighting can be interesting enough to produce great photos at any time of the day. Many landscape photographers will instinctively put their cameras away when the midday sun is shining. These conditions usually creates images that are heavily contrasted. However, the tree canopies offer great protection from this harsh lighting and instead provide a preferable diffused light.
Golden hour is still great, but light is limited
Golden hour does still offer some great opportunities as long as there is enough room between the trees to let light through. Light levels will be quite low during these times. If shooting in the evening then keep in mind that light levels will drop dramatically as the sun sets. Be prepared to mount your camera on a tripod in order to steady it for longer exposures.
Shoot wide and use leading lines
Shooting with a wide angle lens can create some stunning images, especially when you incorporate strong leading lines. By doing to you can really pull your viewer’s attention to a specific area of interest. Even with a lot in frame these lines can give the composition a strong focal point.
When shooting wide try getting low to the ground in order to exaggerate the perspective. By doing so you can emphasise the height of trees and capture the essence of what it is like to walk among them.
Shoot telephoto to isolate your subject
Telephoto lenses are great for isolating subjects. This can be especially useful in woodland where there can be an abundance of distracting elements. By putting a telephoto lens on your camera you can compress the background and introduce shallow depth of field. This will separate your subject from its surroundings and reduce distraction.
Use a tripod to help stabilise your camera when using a telephoto lens. Any small movement will be exaggerated over a long focal length and could cause unwanted camera shake.
Woodland can be a very overwhelming place to be as a photographer. There is so much chaos it can sometimes be hard to focus on anything in particular. Macro photography bypasses this issue. Attaching a macro lens to your camera and you will instantly cut out distractions by focusing on more intimate details. Leaves, moss, fungi and small creatures are all great to photograph in this way. As the light warms up in the evening hours you can back light your subjects in order to pull them out from the background.
Use back lighting to separate your subject from the background
Back lit leaves, branches and fungi are all brilliant to photograph against a much darker background. In this type of lighting you can easily separate your chosen subject. Background distractions drop away into darkness allowing the viewer’s attention to drift to the areas you want.
Another benefit of using this type of lighting is that the colours are usually quite saturated. These rich colours often result in very rich imagery. During golden hour this type of lighting is easy to come by as long as there is enough space between the trees for the light to penetrate.
Get out of the trees
Sometimes great compositions can be found by stepping outside the woodland and looking in. By doing so you can get the foreground trees to stand out with the background dropping into shadow. This can create images with lots of depth and layers. During low light hours this can be the best choice as you can take advantage of the lighting from open areas while still incorporating the darker woodland into your shots.
It might be worth using a graduated ND filter in these shots if the sky is in frame. This will prevent the highlights from the sky getting blown out while still exposing for the shadowed woodland.
Use a polarising filter
A polarising filter is a great accessory to have for woodland photography. In most cases people associate these with being useful for removing reflections from water and glare from shiny objects. However, they are also extremely good at increasing the saturation levels in a scene and with woodland photography this can create some stunning results. Green foliage will really pop and your photos will look much richer in colour even before doing any edits. If shooting in wet conditions this will dramatically reduce the glare that can be caused by reflections on wet leaves and other surfaces.
Heading out into the woodland and being lucky enough to encounter the right weather conditions with perfect lighting is going to take time and commitment. Persistence will certainly pay off though. With a bit of patience you will soon capture images to be proud of. By stepping into this niche area of landscape photography you will rapidly develop a keen eye for compositions, even in the most chaotic of scenes. The challenge is well worth the reward.