A house move saw my local photography playground change from picturesque seaside towns, ancient monuments and wide open beaches, to a small ancient woodland. Initially, I found the transition from grand to intimate landscapes more problematic than I assumed it would be. Despite applying the skills I have honed over the years, I was constantly returning with snapshots or shots which lack the ethereal feel and majesty of the woodland. I could see the potential in a scene but struggled to capture it on camera. Too often the resultant photo was cluttered and chaotic with no obvious subject. Improvement has been slow and a mixture of accident and study. For example, it was while I was out capturing portraits of my son I realised my 85mm lens helped simplify the scene. I had been using my wide-angle lens, on a fairly standard ‘landscape setting’ but this simply pushed my subject deep into the scene and cluttered background. Although it feels counterintuitive, longer lenses, and often shallow depth of fields, really are your friend in the woodland. I rarely shoot woodlands at a focal range of less than 50mm these days and look to find more abstract views rather than attempting to capture all of the scenes in front of me.
You would think identifying the subject matter amidst a static scene would be obvious but I have found this the hardest part. Whatever it is in the scene that initially entices you is not always as obvious as you compose. Frustrated, I spent a fair amount of time researching woodland photography to try to formulate a process for getting better shots. The good news is pretty much any light and weather is good for woodland photography and even light rain shouldn’t be an excuse for not getting out and shooting. Grey skies make for an excellent diffuser and the rain can really bring out the colours in the woodland and darken the trees for greater contrast. This can be further emphasised by the use of a polariser. Fog adds a mystical feel and mood to your shot as well as to help simplify the background. I am yet to get that magic mix when the fog clears as the sun appears producing amazing light beams but I have identified the subjects for it.
As a general rule of thumb take extra care with your framing, especially in the corners where a rogue branch will often place itself. Also, I’m often frustrated by a wonderful subject which I just cannot frame without too many distractions. Another early mistake I made was to treat the shoots too casually. I would never have gone on a photo shoot before without my tripod and filters and yet I found myself regularly doing exactly that. By treating the woodland with the same respect I would any other landscape shoot my results have improved.
Finally a note on expectation management for those of you who share your images on social media. Woodland shots often lack the immediate impact of grand landscapes and require the viewer to give it time to grab their attention. In the constant scrolling world of social media most simply scroll on meaning your ‘like’ count can be disappointingly low. Now, armed with the experience of the difficulty of producing such a clean and composed capture, am I starting to better understand their beauty and the genre is fast becoming a personal favourite? If you want inspiration look at the work of Lars van de Goor, a standout artist for me in this genre, or give Simon Baxter’s YouTube channel a visit. If you haven’t given it a go I suggest you visit your local woodland and see what you can capture.
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Dimitri Vasileiou • Editor