Woods and forests have been a source of inspiration for artists and storytellers for centuries. Characteristic gnarled tree branches, dancing leaves and details that blend into a hazy background bring an almost dreamlike quality, evoking memories of fantasy tales and epic poetry. These aspects make woodland landscape images popular with their viewers and the artists who create them.
As photographers, it can be easy to see woodland scenes as a surefire subject for capturing great images, especially with one of the best cameras for landscape photography. (opens in a new tab). However, while it’s true that photo-worthy content is plentiful and easy to find, there are a few important steps to follow so you can portray it truthfully and dramatically.
It’s not uncommon to walk into a wood or forest with high hopes for your next Instagram hit, only to find that the location’s natural energy seems to be lost in your shots. Let’s take a look at some ways to improve your forest photography and capture stunning scenes with impact.
Forest photography: light and exposure
Key tip: work with the weather
Photographer Adam Burton (opens in a new tab) on how lighting changes the wooded landscape: Mist works great both to soften contrast and simplify crowded forests, as well as to add bags of atmosphere. Without fog, look for a backlight to show your subject. With the sun low behind woody subjects, compositions can look enchanting and appealing. Try to capture the sun coming out from behind a branch to record a sunburn.
Due to 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 tones.
There are a few options available when trying to properly render all areas of the frame in all their detail-rich glory. First, the exposure mix (opens in a new tab) will combine highlight details and colors from multiple images, creating an image with a wider dynamic range. Another approach is to accept exposure imbalances and let small areas of sky blow past the trees. This can introduce an ethereal style, while simplifying the overall display (opens in a new tab) treat.
Check out our Camera Metering Modes Cheat Sheet (opens in a new tab) if you need help figuring out which one to set.
Choose essential filters to enhance your images
Circular polarizing filters (opens in a new tab)
Forests are filled with reflective surfaces, wet rocks, leaves, and rivers, to name a few. The ubiquitous polarizer is popular for good reason and can actually deepen color and increase subject separation in wooded environments.
ND/Grad filters (opens in a new tab)
Full NDs are perfect for introducing movement into colored leaves, for an impressionistic style, and for softening water in woodland streams. Meanwhile, a soft ND Grad is handy for retaining tree canopy exposure.
A less common filter, the soft focus or diffusion type will add a subtle glow to your images, giving them an ethereal quality. Although this may be introduced in your software, the hardware provides instant insight.
Download our Woodland Photography Cheat Sheet
The photography cheat sheet above was first published in Digital Photographer (opens in a new tab) magazine. Why not download the image and save it to your phone’s camera roll for later? It’s full of quick tips for photographing the woods.
We have a lot more photography cheat sheets (opens in a new tab)but you might also like our expert guides for best professional cameras (opens in a new tab) and the best camera lenses. (opens in a new tab)