Humans have always been drawn to forests. We have found food, building and clothing materials, and inspiration in forests. There are innumerable stories told about them, the creatures that live there, and the dangers that lurk inside them. But it’s not all mythology and ancient history. Peace, adventure, colour, that perfect light – whatever you’re looking for, you can find in a forest.
Are you yearning for a place that will offer you something new to photograph? Let’s take a look at the opportunities these magical places can offer an open-minded photographer!
So what exactly is a forest?
Once a student told me that there are no threats to forests in Finland (where I was teaching) because they have so many trees. It might seem like a logical conclusion, but it’s sadly wrong. As anyone who has spent time in forests will tell you, they’re much more than just an aggregation of trees; each forest is a collection of innumerable organisms and interactions. Sure, trees are an essential part of a forest, but the whole is much more than that.
Without microbes, earthworms, and plants there would be no nutrient-rich soil for trees to grow in. Without insects, birds, and mammals there would be no one to spread their seeds – without everything else, a collection of trees is not a forest, it’s a plantation. And that richness is what makes forests such a fantastic place for photography.
For some humans, forests are also places for recreation and the creation of fond memories. What a forest is might seem like a silly question, but it’s not as easy to answer as one might initially think.
What is there to do in the forest?
So let’s cut to the chase: what does all of that have to do with you as a photographer? Well, forests offer opportunities for many different kinds of photography, thanks to their unique light, animal and plant life, and atmosphere. Nature will always be present in whatever photo you take in a forest, but as you will see, it doesn’t have to be the only thing. Let’s begin.
The big picture
The most obvious photos to take in a forest are wide-angle shots of the forest itself. Ones which give an overview of the kind of forest it is, what kinds of creatures live there, what season it is, what state the forest is in, and so forth. But obvious, doesn’t have to mean boring. Try to find an angle that tells a story, has unique atmosphere or mood, or can surprise the viewer. Don’t just point and shoot, but think, plan, and frame your photo (as always).
Photographing trees is also a pretty self-evident thing to do in a forest. The longer one looks at trees, the more personality they seem to have, and the more impressive they seem to be. If a particular tree catches your fancy, observe it, let your imagination roam free, and then try to find a way to capture that in a photograph.
Large wildlife is another wonderful thing that forests offer eager photographers. The tricky thing here, apart from coming across such wildlife (remember to be careful) and not having it run away right when you’re bringing the viewfinder to your eye, is that forests are often quite dark.
If you have something exciting and highly mobile in your view, don’t hold back on the ISO so you can make that shutter speed as fast as possible. Otherwise, you’ll end up with just a blur and disappointment (unless a blur is what you were aiming for).
The smaller picture
For those more interested in detail and the richness of life in the undergrowth, forests are an unending source of treasure. A plethora of wildlife can be found on this scale: small mammals, amphibians, insects, spiders, worms, reptiles, millipedes, centipedes, and so forth. And those are just the animals! If you’re willing to look a bit closer, maybe lie down in the moss, you’ll also find stunning mushrooms, intriguing plants, handsome lichens, and yes, all that moss you’re lounging on.
Don’t forget the beautiful leaves, especially in the fall. In short, forests are marvelous for macro photography.
If you’re not actually interested in nature photography and you were dragged out to a smelly forest full of biting insects and other nuisances, don’t despair. There’s something to do, even for you.
Forests offer great opportunities for trying out different kinds of experimental photography. The generally low light conditions and diverse scenery work well for techniques that require long shutter speeds, such as ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) and light painting. Give it a shot!
Last, but in no way least, forests provide plenty of possibilities for portrait photography. It’s easy to find a flattering background in a different kind of setting. With patience, the light, albeit difficult at times, can be used to your advantage. You might be able to create some beautiful bokeh, interesting light patterns on your subject, or just have pleasant, diffuse light fall through the treetops.
If you don’t have a willing model to photograph, do not despair – pet portraits are also fun, as are creative self-portraits.
What does the forest mean to you? Do you have a special relationship with forests and do you like photographing them? I’d love to see your photos and hear your thoughts in the comments below.