Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Forest Photography Tips

Photo by: Tobi

Most of us have been to the forest multiple times, some of us are fortunate enough to live not very far from one. Even though a short drive could take us to the forests and we do visit them every once in a while, a quick glance through our portfolios will immediately reveal the sad truth that there is not even a single photograph in our collection which we found worthy of being included in our portfolio. This is true for many photographers, but don’t get disheartened. Although a forest presents plenty of opportunities for photography they do pose an equal number of challenges. Here in this article we will discuss about the various photo taking opportunities presented by forests; the challenges involved and how to overcome them.

Forest Photography Subjects

Forest Photography Subjects
Photo by: Ulrich Kersting

There are endless opportunities for picture taking in the forests, trees (both alive and fallen) shrubs, leaves, mushrooms, animals, ferns, flowers, insects, water bodies like lakes, rivers, ponds, waterfalls, weather, foliage, birds, frogs, snakes and other reptiles and all sorts of insects; these are just a few that immediately came to my mind, if you give it a thought the list will keep on expanding. It’s not lack of subjects but lack of equipment, subject knowledge, patience and technique that prevents us from getting stunning images.

Forest Photography Challenges

Not all forests are alike there are many types of forests and they are entirely different from one another. Evergreen forests, Deciduous Forests, Mangroves Forest, Shola Forest, Grasslands etc are examples, there are many more. The types of plants and animals found, the terrain, type of soil, weather, etc all differ from one type of forest to the other. As the conditions in different types of forests differ; so does the challenges posed by them for photography.  In this article we will discuss some of the most important challenges commonly encountered.

Quality of Light

Quality of light is the most important challenge faced in a forest, there are always patches of bright sunshine mixed with dark patches, and this kind of dappled light does not make pleasing images. Moreover there is always the issue of not having enough light; the forest floor is always dark irrespective of the time of the day.


Composing your shots inside a forest could be a tough job as you will find it impossible to isolate your subject or simplify your composition with all the clutter of trees, branches, leaves, vines, climbers and what not.

Exposure Difference

Another important issue to be tackled with in forest photography is the issue of dynamic range or contrast. The skies are almost always very bright and the ground always very very dark. Most cameras fail to capture the entire range of contrast and end up with images in which either the highlights or shadows are clipped.

Monotone Subject

What you essentially have in a forest is a very monotone subject; anything and everything around you will be some shade of green it’s quite a challenge to make your shots interesting.

Equipment Requirements for Forest Photography

how to photograph forests
Photo by: Juan Lois

Photographing forests is a lot similar to photographing any other landscape and so the equipment requirements are also similar. Since you will be at least a couple of hours drive from the nearest human settlement, always carry a bottle of drinking water, some snacks, umbrella or rain coat and a first aid kit with you in addition to plenty of memory and fully charged extra batteries for your camera and flash.

As far as equipment requirements are concerned you will need a macro lens to capture all the fine details, photograph various insects etc. A dedicated macro lens which gives life size magnification is the most used piece of equipment in the forest and it could find endless subjects. A tele photo zoom lens in the range of 100mm – 400mm will come in handy to photograph various reptiles, mammals and birds. You will need a wide angle lens if you intend to shoot forest floor, water bodies and other wide shots.

You will need a tripod to deal with the lack of light, a small piece of mirror or white card could be used to reflect light on to your subjects, filters like Graduated Neutral Density Filters are useful to deal with excessive contrast where as a circular polarizing filter will help you cut the reflections from the surface of the leaves and capture more details. It will also help you get more saturated colours in your photographs.  Always carry a torch or a headlamp it will be useful for navigating in the dark and also to add light when you are photographing something in the dark. A flash with some sort of diffusion is also a must. Don’t forget the camera rain cover and also the camera/lens cleaning kit.

Forest Photography Tips

Take Your Time to Get In the View

forest photography tips
Photo by: Vincent Brassinne

It does not do any good to hurry, while you are in a forest remember you are in an unfamiliar environment, do not rush, take your time, walk around slowly, observe everything, give your mind a little time to absorb everything that’s going on around you and soon you will start getting ideas for potential frames.

Do Cover All Seasons

forest photography seasons
Photo by: Brandon Oh

All landscapes look different during different seasons and forests are no exception. Visit your favorite forest during different times of the year (covering all seasons) and you will be amazed at how the landscape has transformed itself. It might look like an entirely different place. One could visit the forest during autumn and witness the wide variety of fall colours, visit during winter for misty landscapes and snow and during spring for countless wildflowers.


forest photography tips
Photo by: nebojsa mladjenovic

If you are looking for extraordinary images, actively seek out bad weather and plan your treks during those times. Cloud cover will produce even soft lighting conditions, Moisture helps saturate colours in the forest, rain and drops hanging on the leaves could give life to otherwise ordinary shots, mist could add mood and atmosphere etc. so don’t stay home on a foggy morning, during rains or when it snows consider it as your opportunity to capture a great series of photos.

Follow The Light

forest photography tutorial
Photo by: Juan Lois

Arrive as early as possible and stay as late as possible. Light during golden hours can really enhance your forest photos by increasing the feeling of magic and mystery.

Composition Tip

Forests are much cluttered places; and your main challenge lies in how best to simplify your composition. Eliminate distracting elements from the frame to make your subject the main center of attraction. Use selective focus along with shallow depth of field to make your subject stand out. One could also try changing the shooting angle (from up above or from down below) to get either the ground or the sky as background, experiment and select the one that best suits your situation.

Keep Your Eyes Open

forest photography
photo by: Marty Desilets

Very often if you are not careful you will walk past many potential frames without even knowing about it, even seemingly un important subjects like a straight line of trees, a forest trail, colourful mushrooms or wild flowers could make great photographic subjects. Always try to capture them from an uncommon perspective thus adding visual interest to your frames.

Look for Differences

Look for the odd specimen, a tree with different colour foliage than the rest, one that’s taller, a fallen one, a single leaf on the forest floor which is a different colour than the rest, contrasting colours of fruits and foliage etc.

Flowers and other Macro Subjects

forest photography macro
Photo by: Brandon Oh

There are endless varieties of wildflowers in the forests; they also attract a number of visitor like bees, butterflies, spiders etc. the major challenge will be to find the right light and the right background. An off camera flash or a reflector could take care of the lighting where as a piece of coloured cardboard or cloth (even the t-shirt your friend is wearing) could fix the issue of background.

Leading Lines

Leading lines are one of the most important compositional elements but in a forest it takes practice to make a line stand out from hundreds of lines that are all around you. Trees are natural lines pointing up and you can use them to convey different feelings. You could give your viewers a sense of vastness by composing your frame horizontally or give the viewer a sense of the great height of the trees by composing your frame vertically.

forest photography ideas
Photo by: Vincent Brassinne

Forest Paths make great leading lines; they guide the viewers’ eyes through a scene. Frame a lovely path and if possible find a walker this will help add interest and also scale to your image. You could either ask your friend to walk along the path or place your camera on a tripod and walk into your frame.

Converging Lines

One sure fire way to get great pictures in any forest is to mount a wide angle lens on your camera and point it straight up. You will find that the trees appear as if coming from all around you and then touching at the top.


forest photography tips
Photo by: Carlo Tardani

Curves are 100 times more interesting than straight lines, they are everywhere from a weirdly shaped tree trunk to a bend in the river. Just like leading lines use curves to draw the viewers’ eye to the most important part of your image.

Light Streaks

forest photography techniques
Photo by: Brandon Oh

The play of light could really bring life to a forest photograph. When the sun shines through the trees at an angle (during early mornings and late evenings) it creates interesting patterns of light and shadows, when photographing light streaks use a tree or any other element in the foreground to hide the sun.


forest photography reflections
Photo by: Denis Collette

Reflections could add interest to any shot, they draw the viewers’ attention and retain it like nothing else as deep within the viewers brain is hard at work attempting to straighten the reflections and make sense of it. You could find reflection is all sorts of water bodies like ponds, lakes or rivers.

Paint your Scene with Shutter Speed

forest photography
Photo by: Trey Ratcliff

Use slow shutter speeds and slowly move your camera up and down to create deliberate motion blur effect. Read more on this – Painting With Shutter Speed.

Move Closer

Use your feet to zoom in on subjects, get as close to your subject as possible, use all the space available and it could create a sense of intimacy the viewer will feel not as a mere spectator but immersed in the scene.

Think Vertical

forest photography
Photo by: Vincent Brassinne

Shoot your forest scenes in both horizontal and vertical orientations. Sometimes a vertical composition could give an entirely different feel to a scene.

Find Unique Perspectives

Never shoot from eye level as this is how we are used to seeing everything. Whenever possible get a higher perspective by climbing on a rock or a tree or by simply holding your camera high above your head. Also shoot with your camera held at ground level for a lower perspective.

Have Fun

Enjoy your time out in the forest, have fun, be safe and take only calculated risks. These tips will help you create interesting photographs while walking the forest, remember to stop every few minutes look up, down, left, right, in front then turn back and look at areas you just passed. The most important thing to remember is to keep your mind sharp and always stay safe; remember photography could take all your attention and this could be dangerous while in the forest. Inside of the forest you need to be aware of what’s happening around you at all times. So always bring a friend or fellow photographer along who could keep watch while you shoot and also help you on occasion with lights, reflectors or backgrounds. A local guide who knows the lay of the land could be an invaluable ally.

Have you ever photographed forests, do you have a favorite picture feel free to share your experience with us in comments.

Related Reading

  1. Quick Tips for Photographing Forests
  2. How to Photograph Fall Foliage – A Detailed Guide to Capture the Vibrant Colors of Autumn Leaves
  3. How to Photograph Leaves - A Detailed Guide
  4. The Golden Rule of Landscape Photography
  5. Butterfly Photography Tips – Best Places to Photograph Butterflies