Conquering The Clutter- Tips For Creating Strong Images In The Forest
Walking in to a forest with a camera can be an intimidating endeavour. The best word to sum up what lies in front a photographers eyes is “clutter”.
Forest scenes stand on their own in regards to execution. There’s often so much going on that it’s difficult to both find a subject and arrange all the elements surrounding it into a pleasing composition. You have to search pretty deep before things start revealing themselves.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at a number of techniques and conditions that will help you create stronger images in the forest.
Anyone who looks at my portfolio will be able to tell instantly that I’m a big fan of trees. There’s something about the forest in the early morning, when the right weather and light combine to form some pretty special moments. That being said, in my earlier years I never used to shoot much in the woods as I found it incredibly difficult and never had many results that I was happy with.
Here are what I think are some of the most important things to take in to consideration when you’re shooting in the forest.
1. A Strong Subject
This small cluster of pine trees instantly jumped out at me. I would consider the entire group my subject, with the differences in size throughout helping to tell a story.
Even though forests are busy places with lot’s of elements throughout, you need to find your main subject.
Even though it may seem like there’s nothing that stands out, trust me, there is. Take the time to search the area and find what interests you the most. It doesn’t have to overpower everything else in the scene, but it needs to be something that is going to be the basis that your image is built around.
Once you find your main subject, you can make decisions on what else you’ll include in your frame, and how you can compliment it.
Some examples include:
-A single unique tree that stands out.
-Multiple trees in a collection across the frame.
-All similar in size that have complementing
-Branches of a tree that create pleasing lines throughout the frame.
-Forest details that you can isolate. i.e. spider webs, cattails, leaves etc.
-Contrasting elements ie. Tall/Short tree, Colours of leaves etc.
The fog is what makes this scene come alive. Once the sun broke, this forest became awkward and too busy to shoot.
In my opinion, some sort of unique weather is almost always a necessity when shooting in the forest. My favourite is fog or mist. If the weather report calls for it, I’m almost always heading out to shoot and you should be too!
The biggest impact that fog has on the forest is that it instantly simplifies the scene and creates separation, allowing for endless compositions with things like negative space, patterns and contrast.
Fog creates depth and layers of contrasting tone which naturally eliminates some of the clutter in the scene, making it easier to find and isolate a subject.
Take the above image for example. Without the fog, all of the trees shared similar same tonal values which left no separation in the image, making the composition feel quite “messy”.
3. Longer Focal Lengths
Using a longer focal length, I was able to isolate and reveal an interesting scene that was part of a grand landscape which would normally have been lost in a wider composition.
I find myself almost always shooting the forest with a longer lens. Typically anything over at least 50mm, but usually somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150-400mm.
Patterns and lines tend to be more prominent when they’re far away and you’re compressing your scene. If you get too close to your subject with a wide lens, it’s difficult to really tame the rest of the clutter throughout the scene.
Also, by compressing the frame you’re able to work in complimenting elements even if they’re a far distance apart. This opens the door to a lot more options when it comes to creative compositions by being able to control size relationships through the frame.
The forest is a grand landscape with a ton of magic waiting to be found throughout it.
By waiting for the late evening light I was able to create a strong contrast in colours throughout the scene. As the sun got lower in the sky it slowly isolated specific details.
In my opinion, proper and creative use of available light is the key to unlocking your creative vision, especially in the forest.
The right light can transform your scene from a bland and boring image to something magical.
In this case, when you’re dealing with a forest, there are so many elements that are affected by the light, that during the morning or evening hours when it’s changing rapidly every minute creates something new.
It’s Important To Practice Visualization!
I always like to visualize how the light is going to affect the scene, then compose my shot and wait as it changes until the moment is right.
Instead of trying to create a number of images during sunrise or sunset, really focus on just one and pick the right time where the light matches your intended creative mood.
This is a great way to train your eye. By studying the landscape and how the light affects it, you’ll develop your creative vision at a more rapid pace.
5. Lines & Patterns
Last but not least are lines and patterns.
Almost all of my forest images are based around specific lines and patterns that I’ve found throughout the landscape.
Again, they don’t always come easy, but if you really concentrate and search throughout the clutter, I guarantee you’ll find them.
Don’t Give Up
For the above image, what at first felt like a really harsh and distracting area, ended up providing me with a number of options once I stopped and took the time to really study the landscape.
The lines created by the trees allow for a number of creative compositions. I decided to include two similar groups of trees for my foreground, and then centre my main subject in the background.
The cool thing is that images like this are waiting to be found everywhere. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it just takes persistence.
You need to force yourself to keep looking even if it feels like there’s nothing around!
What’s worked for you?
The forest is an amazing place to create images and provides a healthy challenge for us photographers.
I really do believe that learning to create strong images in the forest will help you apply a more thoughtful and detailed approach towards all of your photography, no matter the subject.
If there are certain techniques that you find helpful, or any areas you’ve struggled with, I’d love to hear about them below!
Feel free to comment on this post, share your thoughts with the NPP Community in the comment box.
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