Forests and forests have been a source of inspiration for artists and storytellers for centuries. The characteristic gnarled branches, dancing leaves and details that recede into a misty background create an almost dreamlike quality and evoke memories of fantasy tales and epic poetry. These aspects make images of forest landscapes endearing to their viewers and the artists who create them.
As a photographer, it’s easy to think of wooded scenes as a foolproof subject for successful images, especially with one of the best cameras for landscape photography (opens in new tab). While it’s true that there’s a lot of photo-worthy content out there and it’s not hard to find, there are a few important steps that need to be taken so that you can portray it truthfully and at its most dramatic.
It’s not uncommon to step into a forest or forest with high hopes for your next Instagram hit, only to find that the natural energy of the place seems to be lost in your shots. Let’s take a look at some ways you can enhance your forest photography and capture stunning scenes with impact.
Forest photography: light and exposure
Tip: Work with the weather
photographer Adam Burton (opens in new tab) how light changes the forest landscape: Fog works perfectly to soften contrasts and simplify cluttered forests, as well as add tons of atmosphere. Without fog, look for backlight to make your subject stand out. With the sun setting behind forest motifs, compositions can be enchanting and appealing. Try to capture the sun peeking out from behind a branch to capture a sunburst.
Because of the way a camera reads and captures light, woodland environments almost always present a challenge when a photographer is trying to capture an accurate range of colors.
There are a few options when trying to accurately render all areas of the frame in their full, detailed glory. First, exposure mix (opens in new tab) allows highlight detail and color to be combined from multiple frames, resulting in an image with greater dynamic range. Another approach is to account for the exposure imbalances and blow out small areas of the sky behind the trees. This can introduce an ethereal style while simplifying the overall look (opens in new tab) Process.
Check out our cheat sheet on camera metering modes (opens in new tab) if you need help to know which ones to set.
Choose essential filters to enhance your images
Circular polarizing filters (opens in new tab)
Forests are full of reflective surfaces, wet rocks, leaves and rivers to name a few. Popular for a reason, the ubiquitous polarizer can effectively deepen color and improve subject separation in forest environments.
NDs/Grad filter (opens in new tab)
Full NDs are perfect for injecting movement into variegated leaves, adding impressionistic style, and softening water in forest streams. Meanwhile, a soft ND level comes in handy to hold back the exposure of the tree canopy.
A less common filter, the Blur or Diffusion type, adds a subtle glow to your images and gives them an ethereal quality. While this can be introduced into your software, the hardware offers an instant preview.
Download our forest photography cheat sheet
The photo cheat sheet above was first published in Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) Magazine. Why not download the image and save it to your phone’s camera roll for later? It’s full of lots of quick tips for forest photography.
We have a lot more Photography cheat sheet (opens in new tab)but you might also be interested in our expert guides The best professional cameras (opens in new tab) and the best camera lenses. (opens in new tab)