The Basics Of Forest Photography
I get messages so often in which I am asked how I add fog to images, how to take pictures like mine in the forest, that I decided to write a blog post covering the most important things to keep in mind when photographing forests.
Let's start by saying I never ever add fog to my images. No one can make fog like nature can...
1. First of all....Weather conditions that are perfect to go to the beach are the worst for taking pictures in the forest. Forests are chaotic places and bright sunny conditions cause harsh shadows and spots of light everywhere. Most of the time the shadows are getting underexposed and then you have a chaotic looking forest picture with specks of light everywhere and dark shadows in which all detail is lost. Almost anything is better than harsh daylight when it comes to forest photography. I prefer early morning light when humidity levels are high and of course I love fog as it suits my painterly style. Overcast days also provide softer light. You might not like getting wet, but rain is actually not bad at all for forest photography. If I am trying to emphasise the lushness of a forest scene, I shoot on a rainy day. Do keep in mind that you might need to use a polarising filter in that case to take away the glare and reflections caused by the droplets of water. If you forget that, the scene will not look as lush and again will be more chaotic with all kinds of highlights caused by these reflections anywhere.
2. Always pay attention to the wind....Wind is my worst enemy when I am taking pictures in the forest. I don't like to get movement in the branches as I work in a painterly style and this means that my shutter speed will sometimes have to go up to very fast ones, which then means that my iso also needs to go up to let in enough light and that will mean image quality will suffer. It might be totally your style to have movement in your pictures, but you at least need to always be aware of the wind. Look carefully at the leaves of the trees before pressing the shutter release button and decide on an appropriate shutter speed. As forests are dark places this can mean your iso sometimes needs to go up to even iso 3200 or higher to accommodate those fast shutter speeds, which is a point that I am not comfortable with in image quality
3. Tripod.....always use a tripod. As mentioned earlier, forests are dark places and on most days my shutter speeds are very slow, mostly more than a second and you can't handhold a camera and still get sharp images with shutter speeds like that. Yes, you can raise your iso but I find that using a tripod makes is much easier to finetune a composition. Let me give you an example....you just shot an image and look at the back of the camera to check it. It is almost perfect, you just need to get a slightly different angle. How are you going to do that if you handheld this shot? It is almost impossible to get into the same position twice and then also move a centimeter to the right.
4. Reduce chaos...Forests have a lot going on, they are visually chaotic and so your job is to reduce the chaos and turn the scene into a pleasing image. I find this easiest to achieve by using zoomlenses. I can zoom in and out to check the composition and usually spend quite some time trying my different lenses to see which will produce a scene that looks pleasing to the eye
5. Always keep in mind what it is about the forest that you are attracted to. Maybe it is the lush greens, the textures, the fairytale look, the stillness, the height of the trees. If you want to emphasise the height of the trees, it is better to go for vertical compositions as horizontal pictures will make the trees look less tall. So, before pressing that shutter release button, take a step back and ask yourself what it is exactly in the scene that attracts you to it, why you like the forest. If you like lush greens, fog is not your best friend, but a rainy day can be. Read more about storytelling with your images in these blog posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)
Last but not least....be careful in the forest. If you are in the forest in the winter time and the trees are covered in snow, a gust of wind may not only make that snow fall down on your head, but it may also make branches snap. And...please respect that this is the home of plants, mushrooms and animals. Don't barge into the woods and step on delicate flowers, don't disturb animals, don't destroy the forest's magic just because you want a better picture. A picture is never worth disturbing nature...
Oh, and before I forget....don't forget to enjoy the scenery!
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