Looking to capture stunning photos of forests? We’ve got you covered.
In this article, I share everything you need to create gorgeous forest photography, including:
- The essential gear that every forest shooter should own
- The best light for beautiful shots
- How to edit your forest images
- Much more!
I also include plenty of forest photography ideas and examples along the way, so you can see exactly what these tips can do for your images.
Let’s dive right in!
1. Use the right forest photography gear
While you can capture great forest photos with any equipment, there are a few items that’ll help you get high-quality forest images on a consistent basis.
First, a sturdy landscape photography tripod is essential; forest environments tend to be dark, and without a sturdy support system for your camera, you’ll be forced to widen your aperture (and sacrifice depth of field) or drop your shutter speed until you can no longer get sharp shots.
Second, I’d encourage you to carry a few lenses. A wide-angle prime or zoom will help you capture scenic-style shots, while a telephoto lens (such as a 70-200mm) is great for tighter forest photography (e.g., foliage, aerials, forest patterns). I’d also suggest grabbing a macro lens or at least a close-focusing lens like a 50mm prime. That way, you can shoot all sorts of little details, including leaves on the ground, fungus on logs, and flowers sprouting on the forest floor.
Forests are pretty dirty, so it can be helpful to mount a clear or UV filter on all your lenses. If you do go this route, be sure you purchase a high-quality model; there are a lot of cheap UV filters on the market that’ll degrade optical quality. Alternatively, you can simply carry a cleaning kit and keep your lenses well maintained (always use a microfiber cloth, not rags or towels of any type!).
Finally, a polarizing filter can come in handy, especially if you plan to shoot fall foliage. It’ll remove glare on wet leaves, deepen fall colors, and reduce reflections in bodies of water. Keep in mind, however, that polarizers reduce the amount of light coming into your camera, so be sure to bring your tripod!
2. Take proper safety precautions
Before you head off into the forest – especially if you plan to go on a multi-day trip – consider any potential dangers. It can be easy to get lost in forests, plus they’re often dark and feature rough terrain. And if you’re not careful, you might get hit by a storm or a flash flood.
Always tell someone where you plan to be walking, and make sure you carry a phone that’ll maintain a signal throughout your entire trip. Be sure to bring food, water, a map (if available, a topographical map is always best), a compass, sunscreen, and bug spray.
I’d also encourage you to bring rain gear for you and your camera. A waterproof covering will keep your camera safe, and unless your backpack is waterproof, I’d recommend carrying a cover for it, too. And bring a dry towel or rag to remove moisture, dirt, or rain from any exposed gear.
3. Go out when the light is right
Forest photography, unlike most types of landscape photography, can be done at any time of day – even in bright, direct sunlight.
You see, the forest canopy will filter out some of the harsh light, creating a more subdued lighting situation, one that you’d normally expect to find after just sunrise and before sunset.
So don’t be afraid to go out on sunny days (though midday clouds can be even better!). If you do find that the light is too strong, you can always try shooting in black and white. Look for interesting shadows, powerful patterns, and high-contrast edges.
That said, forests are pretty magical around sunrise and sunset, so I’d urge you to head out during the early hours of the morning or late in the evening. If the forest is near water, you may get some ground fog, which can add lots of mood to your photos:
Note that forest photography during the golden hour tends to feature lovely warm light that gives trees a sort of fairy-forest look – while forest photography during the blue hour tends to feature soft cool light that gives a more ethereal vibe.
4. Don’t forget to shoot in portrait orientation
Most landscape shooters create horizontal compositions out of habit, but when it comes to forest photography, this is a mistake!
Yes, you can capture stunning horizontal forest images, but I’d also encourage you to try shooting vertical photos.
The vertical format will allow you to capture more of the (tree) scene, and it’ll also give your images a sense of height. Make sure you pay careful attention to the edges of the frame – you don’t want to cut off any key elements! – and keep the horizon level. While you can always correct crookedness in post-processing, you’ll lose pixels along the way, which is never a good thing!
Also, if you’re not sure whether a scene will look best in the vertical or horizontal format, just take both shots. Once you’re in the editing room, you can evaluate the compositions and see which works best.
5. Color contrast is key
One drawback to shooting in a forest environment is the lack of color contrast. Unless it’s autumn, the majority of your environment will most likely be composed of green leaves and/or brown tree trunks, which can lead to bland, boring photos.
So you should do whatever you can to add pops of color.
For instance, patches of brightly colored flowers can offer an eye-catching touch. Same with colorful insects:
And even if you can’t find a colorful subject in the area, you can always try to use the light. By including golden-hour sun or flare in the frame, you’ll get beautiful oranges and reds (which will give your shot a more vibrant look).
6. Try black and white
Sometimes, when you’re shooting in a forest, nothing seems right. The light doesn’t hit the way you want, the colors feel off, or you just don’t get a sense of drama from your subjects.
This is a common issue among forest photographers; it’s due to the general consistency of color from scene to scene, and how too many greens and browns make it hard to highlight a subject.
But if you shoot in black and white, you can ignore the color monotony, and you can instead concentrate on the light and tones and composition. Look for interesting atmospheric effects such as fog, and do what you can to organize forest chaos into orderly structures.
Note that you can create black and white images in two ways:
You can switch your camera to its black and white mode…
…or you can work in color and convert to black and white during post-processing.
Either is fine, but the two methods do have their pros and cons. If you work in black and white, you’ll be able to review the monochrome image on your LCD (and if you shoot mirrorless, you can preview the scene through the EVF).
On the other hand, if you work in color, you have the choice of converting to black and white or keeping the original shot. (This is an option afforded to all RAW photographers, whether shooting in color or black and white – but if you shoot JPEGs, you won’t be able to convert a black and white image to a color file.)
7. Post-process to enhance your forest photos
Post-processing is an essential part of forest photography; it’s how you refine your photos and really make them pop.
I’d recommend you start your editing workflow by making basic corrections (exposure, white balance, cropping, etc.). Then go into the more advanced adjustments, such as targeted contrast and color grading.
Lighting tends to be more dramatic in the forest and can result in gorgeous rays hitting the forest floor – so draw attention to these by adding contrast to the sunlit areas. You might also try applying a bit of Vibrance to the overall image and playing around with the hue and saturation of individual colors to bring out a natural feel in the shot.
For my own images, I like to decrease the Lightroom Clarity slider, which gives a dreamy or magical feel. I then apply local adjustments to important areas of the photos, such as the main subject. During the latter editing phase, I’ll often use a Brush to boost the Clarity and the sharpness for a little extra crispness.
But there’s no single best workflow for forest photography. It’s really all about experimenting and finding what works for you!
8. Leave the forest as you found it
The forest is beautiful, mysterious, and amazing. It’s worth preserving for the next generation, so please, please, please do whatever you can to keep it clean.
Whenever you’re out shooting, make sure you clean up all your trash, including plastic bags and water bottles. And if you see trash left by others, consider cleaning that up, too.
Also, respect the environment. Don’t get too close to wildlife, and don’t disturb sensitive plants or trees (by trampling over them, climbing them, etc.).
Little things like that may seem trivial, but if we all take care of the environment, we can have a positive effect on our natural world, and we can keep it in good health for generations to come.
Plus, there’s an element of self-interest to consider: The cleaner the forest, the better your photos will look!
Forest photography: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re ready to capture some stunning forest shots.
So head out there with your camera. Follow the tips I’ve shared. And get great photos!
Which of these tips do you plan to use first? Share your thoughts in the comments below!