11 Great Composition Tips For Fall Forest and Woodland Photography
Autumn is probably my favorite season to photograph thanks to its vibrant colors, incredibly soft lights, morning fogs, as well as temporary subjects.
If you're located in Europe, no matter where you're heading, there will be a likelihood to get some incredible forest shots during Fall. If you're outside Europe... then you should head to Europe as soon as possible and enjoy your time, although I am sure many regions have their amazing spots to photograph.
Opportunities are countless across the whole continent, however, some locations are more reputable such as the Dolomites, some parks in the UK, Tuscany, Slovenia, Croatia.
I am providing you here with 11 great tips and tricks about taking forest and woodland pictures in Fall. Some of them might still be valid over other seasons, but they will deliver much better results during this season. On the other hand, some are specific to Fall. Do not consider the below tips as independent, some of them can obviously be combined.
Let's take a look at them.
1- Do not go too wide or too long
No matter the season, creating great woodland photography will automatically be linked to awesome compositions with the right lens. In most cases, woodland compositions requires getting a rather narrow angle. Forests tend to be a little messy, and isolating trees or scene will be key to a successful picture. On the contrary, using a long lens might lead to isolating too much of a scene and not getting interesting enough compositions. The rule of thumb would be to start using a 24-70mm for full frame (18-55mm for APSC) and then change if need be.
However and as usual in photography, the rules are made to be broken, therefore, if a composition needs a wider or a longer lens, then this choice should be made.
2- Do not underestimate the power of fog
Fall is the best period in the year to get fog. Areas with elevated humidity and tempered weather will help provide these magical droplets effects. Fog is hardly predictable, some Apps are trying to forecast it, but their successful results are inaccurate. Nonetheless, they can provide some insights to help you get out of bed early or not.
Fog has this great power of bringing an incredible atmosphere, making most locations look amazing. Forest is one of these places where Fall will create wonderful ambience that will instantly enhance your photographs. A great composition will help to support your photography and greatly improve it's impact.
3- Backlighting sun is gorgeous
That's no surprise that light is by far one of the most important factor in landscape photography. And it is no exception in forest photography, especially during Fall. The morning, during sunrise and one to two hours after or in the afternoon, at sunset and one to two hours before, the sunlight will be soft and highlighting the orange or yellow/orange color changing leafs. This will provide an amazing rendering and atmosphere. Since the light will create an elevated dynamic range between the background of the picture and the foreground, using the bracketing mode of your camera will certainly be relevant to recover shadows and highlight appropriately.
4- Lit tree top emphasizes the scene
Lit trees in a rather dark scene is a great way of showing something different in a photograph. The highlights that the sun will produce on the trees top will emphasize the scene, creating some mystic atmospheres. Depending on the scene, the use of a telephoto might be appropriate to only catch the interesting part of a forest or a group of trees. In other cases, a slightly wider focal lens will help to capture a full scene with highlighted tree top that makes the scene feel alive and dynamic, such as around a lake for example.
5- Look for the black sheep tree
During Fall, trees' color is changing from green to yellow and/or orange. Not all trees change at the same pace, it is therefore a great opportunity to benefit from this situation. Based on the location of the tree, it is wiser to use a mid-range lens or a telephoto lens. In any case, isolating the different tree should be the target. In addition, if the sunlight is cooperating and the tree can be highlighted among others, the effect might actually be even more impactful for your photograph.
6- Path in the forest will create depth
Leading lines are always an option to look for. There are several ways of creating them, depending on what type of forests are around the locations you are photographing. In most cases, forests have a path crossing them. As photographer, you should use them as much as possible. Another great leading lines idea includes tree shadows when the light of the sun is in the right direction. In this case, tree shadows will be heading towards the lens and create the desired effect. Although this is a wonderful effect, this should be taken in forest where the ground provides the opportunity to clearly see these lines.
7- Mushrooms are the kings of the forest during Fall
Fall is the mushroom season in Europe, and most forest will have plenty of them at amazing and surprising locations. Whether they are on the ground, a tree trunk or a broken tree branch, they will be present and available for great compositions. Playing with artificial lights or capturing them only with natural light will be a great and satisfying exercise. Learning how to capture great macro pictures will certainly help to increase quality and detailed photographs. Using either a dedicated macro lens, a macro ring or long lens that have a short focusing distance will be needed for best results.
8- Look for nicely shaped trees
What would a forest be without amazing trees? While in the forest, looking for nicely shaped trees to photograph will emphasize a usual natural body. Interesting tree shapes are generally driven by the trunk of the tree. Depending on the type of trees, you might be looking for different effects. For example, birches might have elegant rounded shapes, especially if growing on ascending ground, but can also be totally straight if growing on flat grounds. Don't worry, It is not necessary to study tree biology to find nice looking trees, but look around wisely as you walk. This is one of these case where using an ultra-wide angle will be beneficial. The distortion created by the lens will emphasize the shapes of trees on both ends, making them look dominating in the picture.
9- Get abstract by playing with colors
Fall is obviously an attractive time of the year to capture the changing colors of the leafs around forests and woodlands. Abstraction in landscape photography has always a great effect on the viewer. In addition, it helps focusing on interesting details or color compositions. The focus here might be on leafs, water reflection, part of a branch, colors grading, of leaves etc. A fascinating approach is to take advantage of watermarks around a forest and play, for example, with reflections. A longer lens is likely to be more appropriate in most of these cases.
10- Man-made structures can add a lot to a composition
Landscape photography does not usually include much of man-made structures. However, some of them can really add to the whole atmosphere of a picture. This is the case for forest and woodland photography. Structures such as houses, chalets or water mills can be wonderful if well integrated into the landscape. Capturing those do not follow a specific rule as it really depends on the surrounding. A watermill captured closely with a waterfall would require a wide angle, while a chalet hidden in the woods in the middle of nicely colored trees may require the use of a longer lens.
11- Catch epic phenomenon if you can
If a lot can be predicted in landscape photography, capturing the moment is the essence of photography and something nearly unpredictable. Capturing singular and epic phenomenons, such as strong winds or rain effects for example, will be the base of the photograph. This type of photographs are usually based on luck unless the event is happening regularly. In general, there would be no rules in terms of what lens to use or composition to privilege. It really depends on the scene. The photograph should not think twice before shooting them. As for an example, the below photograph was shot as a mini tornado was making the fallen leaves of the forest flying in height. This was a really interesting phenomenon to see and photograph. The scene lasted only a few seconds before stopping.
Do not hesitate to let me know in the comment section below which tip do you prefer, if I missed one, or if you have any questions related to this article.
About the Author
I am Rémi Bergougnoux, a French travel and landscape photographer currently based in Zurich, Switzerland. My most influential destinations include Latin America, where I spent about a year, Namibia, Iceland, Lofoten and certainly many others.
Aside from photography, hiking, cooking, enjoying good wines and socializing are my main hobbies.