Photographing in the Forest
By David Cobb
Photographing trees isn’t easy. In a forest, it takes me a while to get a feel for the composition I want. I look for natural corridors in the woods or pathways that can create leading lines. I search for interesting stumps, trees with character, interesting color, texture, and mostly trees with interesting light. The forest is the perfect place to look for “God rays,” spotlighting, and sun stars.
When photographing along the forest floor, I try to keep a level plane to the ground and include no more than the lower third of all trees. When pointing the camera upwards, I find much of the forest character is found mid-way up the trees in those first few branches. I look for hanging moss, swooping lines, interesting light, and texture to create the composition I want. For these kinds of images, I might use my 70-200mm lens and isolate an area of a tree or a stand of trees. I often hike up a hill and look down or at eye level with those trees around me. I’ve discovered many forest compositions by hiking up and looking down.
On a sunny day a forest can contain up to seven stops of light. I often wait for more even light within a forest canopy. The classic fog adds a sense of atmosphere to the photo, while dappled light can add a sense of depth and emphasis.
Include people when photographing a forest setting. Not only do they include a needed sense of expression, they also contribute that needed sense of scale to the trees, and act as a counterpoint in the composition. Look for hikers wearing bright colors to add visual weight and emphasis in your image.
Photographing in the forest isn’t easy, but like any puzzle when it’s solved, the rewards are always greater. If you’d like to find out more about forest photography, join Sean Bagshaw and me for our Redwood forest workshop June 11-14, 2010.