October 27, 2022
Woodland and forest photography is one of the toughest forms of photography to have success in, for many reasons.
There is always a shot to be had though, in any light, you just have to be open to any lighting situation and ready for the changing weather conditions.
If you prepare well and persist, it seems that the woodland decides to start revealing its magic to you.
First, it gives you a tiny glimpse into its world... Then you get accepted a bit more... Eventually, there's no turning back... You fall in love with the woodland and forest photography!
Today we have an interesting take on getting into woodland photography and our expert is Tom Peters. Tom is a landscape photographer from the UK, specializing mainly in woodland and forest photography, so let’s go through 5 things that Tom does as a part of his routine.
Take it away, Tom!
I don’t want to talk much about gear specifically but being organized and having your gear working and ready to go is a must. I use a modular camera bag, which keeps me organized and quick to react if the light decides to play ball all of a sudden.
My bag is packed for a shoot, my clothes are ready and my tripods are always in the car. There’s nothing worse than getting up for a sunrise at 4:00 am to a location only to realize that you left something behind.
I really can’t stress enough how important layered clothing is, being cold is the biggest killer for creativity especially cold hands for obvious reasons. That and not being properly hydrated or hungry will also hinder your chances of getting a shot. I tend to keep the Markhof V3’s in my bag, but mainly I use the inner liner gloves from the Milford’s for the chilly English mornings.
The weather conditions play a big part in the type of shot you can achieve or whether it's worth the trip out altogether. So whether that’s being prepared for wet weather or a location that demands certain weather conditions it's always good practice to check several weather apps to help make decisions and maximize your time. I normally use the MET office here in the UK and clear outside for more accurate fog predictions.
Scouting locations is a very important part of the process I believe, for one it feeds creativity seeing new locations. This location above is an area that I scout often for new compositions, through the different seasons woodland changes so much and these bluebell shots just seem to appear from nowhere. You have a much better chance of getting results by returning over and over again, also at different times of the day not just different times of the year.
For instance, I know that if I return to this woodland in late March and through the duration of May I'm going to get the bluebells like this. Obviously, you need a bit of luck with the light and the mist if you can get it but it's about putting yourself in the right place at the right time.
When I speak about Relaxing into the woodland to workshop clients I get some funny looks initially but when you spend time in the woods, getting to know the trees and the woodland footprint, combined with the early morning calm and some subtle light it becomes very clear and intoxicating.
So once you're able to embrace the peace and feed off that, the freedom to take compelling shots will become a lot easier to achieve. I believe a compelling image, whether it's a forest or a street portrait, the image should tell a story or portray a feeling to the viewer. This means you have to be emotionally involved in the image you're taking and the process.
Managing expectations is a big factor in your approach to a shoot and can dictate what you come away with. The image above is foliage by the side of the road just outside the main Oak woodland that I visit weekly. I had done my usual planning for a woodland shoot prior and the forecast wasn’t great so I knew I might have to go tighter with the long lens but what I didn’t realize is that I would be shooting this on the ground.
Giving yourself more freedom and free from expectations will unlock so many doors photographically and also make the process less stressful. Forests are hectic places more often than not and this is the thing that people struggle with most. Organizing chaos or dealing with bad light but this shot above shows there is always a shot whatever the conditions or the location if you can just embrace what is in front of you.
I don’t believe in having the best kit makes better shots, but I do believe if you want calm and calculated forest shots that take the precise placement and fine-tuning composition then a good tripod is essential to achieving that, I have lost count of the number of people I have come across shooting with high-end kit sat on an amazon tripod. It’s all about giving a stable foundation for your camera.
To achieve a sharp and calculated result especially consistently, you must be on a reliable base that doesn't move or flex under wind or heavy use. Also, an often missed tripod hack is spikes. I use a 3 legged thing tripod and they make long spiked feet which is a must-have for planting stable foundations in the soft spongy forest floor.
I will finish by explaining what woodland photography means to me.
The woodland is an extension of my personality, a place where I can go and explore with no boundaries or constraints, a place where creativity is let loose. Once you achieve this state, when you are photographing you can see the shots amongst the chaos, tell stories and show your personality with your photography and you won’t go far wrong.
by Tom Peters
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