Many photographers travel the globe in search of the perfect vantage point. They look to capture photos of iconic mountain ranges with the perfectly placed sun setting behind them, and plenty of interest in the foreground to produce a vivid landscape shot worthy of a thousand gallery walls.
“The art of photography is all about directing the attention of the viewer” – Steven Pinker
Unfortunately, most landscape photographers can’t feasibly travel for every photo they take. And, even those who do run into issues. Most landscape photographers flock to the same best-known spots, which are usually filled with other photographers upon arrival.
Subscribe to our weekly 10 point newsletter. It's short and damn good - we promise!
As a landscape photographer, learning how to get an impressive vantage point that can turn any area into something special is the secret to unlocking the window to limitless tree photography opportunities. When you are able to turn a simple patch of woods into a beautiful photo, you’ll find that scenes are around every corner waiting for your lens.
One trick to discovering more photography opportunities as a landscape photographer is to master tree photography. That’s because trees can be found everywhere in every season and there are so many different species, ages, and locations that–if you can photograph them in an intriguing way–you’ll never run short of scenes to capture.
Trees also often accompany fjords, mountains, waterfalls, and other scenic features that can add to your shot and emphasize the focal point (whatever you decide that to be). The best tree photographer can take something others would consider mundane, such as woodlands filled with the same Norwegian Spruce, and turn it into a portrait that the eye will truly want to study.
When most people look at a cluster of trees, they just see a boring old forest. As a photographer, you’ll soon learn that it is a cluttered and chaotic place to photograph with good compositions being very difficult to find within. That’s why many avid landscape photographers consider the sub-genre of forest photography to be intimidating and perhaps one of the hardest parts of being a landscape photographer.
Hans Strand, Lars Van De Goor, Christopher Burkett, Charles Cramer and Kilian Schönberger are just a few of the people who have become masters of the craft. If you want to join their ranks, there are certain aspects you have to take into consideration.
Light for Optimal Tree Photography
Light is by far the first compositional element you’ll need to consider. One thing that landscape photographers love to work with, perhaps out of being forced to work with it, is natural lighting.
“Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.” – Rabindranath Tagore
A great thing about making tree photographs is that the canopy of branches will actually make the woes of natural light more forgiving, with cloudy grey skies that would typically hinder a landscape photographer giving the forest a softer look. Rain has the same effect, and can simplify your scene.
In the forest, you generally will want to avoid the hard mid-day sun or direct sunlight because it can add too much chaos to the image, and even burning out the reflexes of the foliage. It may also add black shadows that takeaway from the photograph. When venturing into the forest, overcast is probably the weather outlook to look forward to, although a clear day can be suitable too during the early morning or late evening when the sun is lower in the sky.
Using Fog for Ideal Tree Photography
If you happen to stumble into a fog, you are very lucky. With forest photography, fog adds an ethereal atmosphere and helps to simplify the scene you’re capturing. It also enhances the composition’s depth, which is an element that is of particular importance for forest photography.
The fog that accompanies the early morning sun is the most ideal for photographing a forest. This leads to beautiful lighting, with the chance for light beams that awaken the image. These elements can also transform an otherwise average setting into a diving one.
Although a straightforward forest scene can truly be beautiful with the correct lighting, most compositions require a focal point. This is that one special element that will draw the eye to it. It might be a carving on a tree or some other detail that stands out in some way. You might make a single tree your focal point for being skewed or gnarly, or you might choose some flowers, water, or leaves.
When you go through the forest in search of the perfect focal point, it can help make it easier for you to pinpoint compositions. The scene generally benefits from adding this little special something, so it might be helpful to start your search for it and then build a scene around it.
As touched on above, depth is of critical importance in a first photograph. You should always be in search of a composition that allows you to see further into the forest as that gives the impression that it goes on forever, and you’re just photographing a very small element of a bigger whole.
Putting your focal point in the foreground can help increase the sense of depth and a heavy fog will too. Leading lines that go towards the backdrop, created by branches, can do the same thing. So can a fallen tree going away from the camera. Facing towards a lighter area in the forest, like a small clearing, can also help give your composition a sense of depth when fog isn’t available to blur the distant details.
Edges and Corners
Always take extra care when looking at the edges and corners of your frame. These areas should contribute to your photo rather than working against it. Most forest photographs do not include the sky in any way. A tight crop often works best.
Photographing the forest is hard, and you’ll find that your eyes often need a break to take in the scene properly. If you think the scene is interesting, take out your camera and look for different frames. Try different focal lengths as well. Consider your choice of lens and your angle-of-view as well. When you are confident that the scene is good, set up your tripod and get ready to photograph it.
The lowest possible ISO will often be your go-to, but it can be quite high in some instances. Your ISO should be set high enough that you have an adequate shutter speed that freezes the details while you have a small enough aperture setting to give the right sense of depth. With modern sensors, state with an ISO of up to 800 or so.
The next time you step out into the forest to work on your tree photography, try to start with an aperture of around f8-16 and keep your shutter speed fast (think about the wind, however). You’ll likely end up metering the scene, but you may end up bracketing it up by +/- 2 steps. Dark shadows and highlights are always present in the forest and the lighting is one of the most difficult things to master.
If you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to taking beautiful forest photographs.