Into The Woods

by Alan Godfrey April. 08, 2021 50 views

Photographing in woodland or forests is so frustrating! I assume that I'm not the only one who finds this?

Such fantastic places to explore and spend time in, and a feast for the senses when there - but so hard to come out with anything that isn't flat, dull, or plain messy.

Yet I know that it is possible. I have seen enough fabulous photographs from woodlands to know that it can be done. I've recently ordered this beautiful looking photo-book from Nigel Danson that really inspired me - but I still don't know how to do it well.

Rannoch Forest, 2020

Rannoch Forest, 2020

The images in this post are some of my favourites from a holiday in Scotland in 2020. They are better than anything that I'd managed previously, having taken a bit of time in advance thinking through settings and approach - but still a long way from where I would like to get to.

Twisted Branches, Scotland, 2020

Twisted Branches, Scotland, 2020

The main challenges that I have are:

  • Light levels in woodlands are generally very low. Even though your eyes adjust so that you barely notice, when you go to take a photograph the settings needed to get anything sharp make life harder than general landscape photography. A tripod would obviously then be a huge benefit - but taking one with you on a long hike is not ideal, and sometimes even finding a place to set-up a tripod in woodland can be a challenge.
  • As a result of the lighting conditions, most photos that I take come out dull and flat, with poor contrast and muted colours. Certainly nothing like what my eyes are actually seeing anyway. I understand that a polarising filter can help here...
  • Finally, creating a suitable composition - isolating a subject, or avoiding clutter - is a real challenge in such an enclosed space; and where it isn't always possible to change angle or take a step back to change the view.
Lone Tree Dancing, Scotland, 2020

Lone Tree Dancing, Scotland, 2020

What I like about these images, is that I have managed to overcome some of these challenges - certainly to more of an extent than I had previously...

In the first and last image, I particular sought out shafts of strong sunlight that were penetrating the forest canopy; using these rays both as part of the composition of the image, as well as to make the additional light work for me in terms of settings, contrast, colour etc.

The second image stands out for me because of the tones. Without necessarily having a strong focus, I nevertheless like it because it's captured some of the silvery-grey-green atmosphere that I associate with woodlands on overcast days, but in a way that appeals to me, rather than feeling flat and lifeless.

Finally, the third image I've used the two trees to either side to create a frame within a frame, and remove some of the clutter to focus on the delightfully twisted central tree.

Fairy Circle, Rannoch Forest, 2020

Fairy Circle, Rannoch Forest, 2020


Images 1, 3, and 4 taken with a Canon 6D, EF 24 - 105mm lens.

Image 2 taken with a Ricoh GRIII.

  1. 1/50 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800 @ 24mm
  2. 1/80 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100 @ 18mm (28mm equiv.)
  3. 1/50 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800 @ 90mm
  4. 1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800 @ 88mm

A few observations:

  • I'm really spotting a pattern as I write these blogs that the Ricoh produces images with sublime tones. I don't understand enough whether this is something to do with the camera / lens, image profile, or default post-processing - but none-the-less it's a pattern!
  • Having a zoom lens in such an enclosed space is essential, allowing for a range of focal length to suit the situation.
  • I've clearly set ISO 800, f/5.6 in Av mode for the walk-about. Shutter speed was largely fine for hand-held shots; and these images are sharp enough. A further boost to ISO 1600 would probably still be acceptable - woodland shots are more about the mood than total sharpness - while giving the shutter speed enough of a further buffer to avoid needing to take a tripod around with me.
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Sabine Phb 3 days, 13 hours ago

I like your woodland photo’s a lot and I think it is great that you try to master this painful art of woodland photography. In my humble opinion I would say your photo’s show a great eye for ‘seeing a tree in a forrest’. Great isolation and scenes.

3 days, 13 hours ago Edited
Alan Godfrey Replied to Sabine Phb 2 days, 22 hours ago

Thank you so much Sabine :) really appreciate that!

2 days, 22 hours ago Edited