Making sense of forest scenes

July 16, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Forests can be chaos, photographically speaking. There seems to be too much. Too many trees. Too many bushes. Too many branches. Too many everything to create a good composition with. It appears as if there are no patterns. Nothing stands out because all the trees look too similar. How do you find something different? How do you make something stand out? How do we make sense of forest scenes? You have heard me say this over and over again, so here I go again ... Artists start with a blank canvas and add things by painting what they want into the scene, while photographers start with too much, so we create our scenes by eliminating things. So how do we make sense of forest scenes by eliminate that which creates chaos?

Start by looking and searching for something that is different. Perhaps a tree is larger than the others, or we find a small tree amongst the large trees. If this fails, forget about grand landscapes in the forest, just for a moment. Is there just one tree, one fern, one something that is interesting that could make a great image by itself. We can eliminate the forest and get an image of just that one tree or one fern or that one something. Walk around until you find it. If you see nothing that strikes you as interesting, go even smaller, yes - eliminate even more. Does one fern leave curl nicely? Does a piece of hanging moss catch the light nicely? Can you shoot just one smaller thing?

          You will be amazed how aiming for the smaller things gets your creativity going. Before long, you will start seeing the larger things to photograph. Oh' and while you walk around be observant. Remember that you are on the hunt for things to photograph. Listen for and watch for birds, snails, mushrooms, and the likes. Stand still and just watch the birds. My brother and I were standing at this spot watching a Robin. We followed it's flights here and there, until we discovered something interesting.

Which brings me to my second point. Please do not limit your options by just bringing your "forest lens" along. Here I needed my 200-600mm, but the point is that I had it with me. We wanted to shoot forest scenes but found the nest in the forest. Keep an open mind. We can be too focused on getting a preconceived image that we don't see another opportunity.

          Back to the forest. Look for a place which are a bit more open. In forests, this is often where interesting scenes present themselves because with an opening in the forest things are less cluttered, less chaotic. It becomes easier to make sense of things, easier to eliminate things, to make a beautiful composition. Openings in forests also typically have more light which can be used creatively. Streams are one such opening that can present opportunities.

          Lighting in forests can be difficult to handle. There are both deep dark shadows and harsh light from the sun poking through. Your best bet is to go to forests when it is overcast (but still being bright to have enough light). If there are clouds rather than it being overcast you will have to wait. Use the time when the sun is out to scout and to decide on your composition. Then wait for a cloud to shield the sun before you take your image.

          Tripods can be essential in forest, especially on overcast days. It can be darkish in forests which will result in longer shutter speeds; too long to hand hold, hence the tripod. However, watch out for wind. If there is wind the foliage will move. Moving foliage combined with long shutter speeds produce out of focus images. These days I am no longer as scared as I was years ago for noise. So, I don't hesitate to up my ISO to get to a faster shutter speed if the wind calls for it. The software noise removal is fantastic now a days.

Have fun photographing the forest, but remember that great images have to make sense of the chaos.


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