Forest photography tips – finding compositions

Forests are brilliant places to capture great images, yet for many photographers they are challenging places and they often struggle to capture the essence of what they saw in their final images. In this article, I’ll show you a few simple techniques for capturing good compositions that can be used as a starting point to improving your own forest photography.

(There’s a video showing the techniques at the foot of the page)

Forests, by their very nature are visually chaotic places with huge mixtures of shapes and forms.  When you first step inside and with our own vision, we can make sense of what we see and enjoy the experience as we walk through the forest. But when it comes to capturing this and representing it in a single  image, it can often look busy, cluttered and with little focus. It’s difficult to pick out a good composition with all this going on and this is why many consider forest photography to be one of the most difficult fields to master.

As we walk through the forest, we have our peripheral vision, our hearing and our sense of smell all working together to enhance the experience and our brains put all this together and tell us this is a beautiful place. Yet as photographers, we are constrained by the 2 dimensional rectangle that our cameras can capture and when our senses are peaking, we will bolt on a wide angle and try to capture everything in front of us – often with poor results. Essentially, we have been tricked by our senses and got caught up in the moment, and it hasn’t quite worked out. So how do we overcome this and ensure we get great images every time? Well, we let the camera find the composition for us, and the best way to do this with a DSLR is by using live view. When you switch on live view, you are essentially seeing the finished image. It’s a digital file after all and chances are you will be viewing it on a computer screen, so it really does make the process a lot simpler.

It might seem counter intuitive at first, but if you walk through the forest with live view switched on, it will find the composition for you – and it really does work!  This is because we humans are very good at “locking on” to things we like and when we see something we like with our own vision, we stop to appreciate what we see. What we are doing with live view is exactly the same process, but we are using the LCD screen as a conduit to capture this in 2d, and without the distractions of our peripheral vision. As you walk around the forest using your live view, your eyes will naturally “lock on” to the most pleasing view on the LCD and this therefore makes it easy to find compositions that result in great images.

In the video below, I visit a forest that I’ve never been to before and I show you some tips on finding good compositions. As you will see, using live view really does make it easy to find a good composition.

In the next article, I will be covering contrast and backlighting in forest photography. If you like this article, I’d be grateful if you would share on your social media pages. Thanks for reading.

1 thought on “Forest photography tips – finding compositions”

  1. Such a great tip Stuart, similar to the great landscape artists such as Constable and Turner who would use a Square or rectangular cut out to look for the desired composition.

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