Alder meadow

Woodland Photography

This month I have been visiting some local wooded areas, with my camera, while keeping social distancing. I wanted to share some thoughts about making photographs in forests and trees.

Woodland photography is a subset of landscape photography, focusing on intimate forest scenes rather than sweeping landscapes or vistas. More subtle, less dramatic.

Usually we are trying to convey a feeling of serenity or meditation we encounter in the woodland. As in a Japanese contemplative garden, we try to see the simplicity amid the complexity.

Being in the Flow:   My outings start with a general outline, but I let the details be spontaneous. I try not to force my creativity. If I can do some yoga or meditation before going out, this helps my flow.

When I see an interesting scene, I may take a few photos, but try to step back and look at things from a few different angles. If a branch is in the way, I can move to get a better photo. This is called working the scene, allowing time to look and think how the photo could be more interesting.  Try not to hurry.  Be Here Now. 

Even better is pre-visualizing, or having a picture in your minds eye of how you want the final photograph to look. Good photographers know before they get home whether a photo is going to look good. I am still surprised most of the time.

Photos always work better with an easily identified subject.  A concern of all photos is how to separate the subject from the background elements.   If we are photographing a particular tree, how does the viewer see that tree as distinct from the other trees surrounding it?  The tree may have some feature to make it worthy of being in a photo, maybe its bent and twisted, or has fascinating roots.

Photo:  Deep Roots:   I have walked past this tree many times, but usually the light was harsh and mottled, or dull and flat. On this day a soft light made the trunk glow, without any harsh shadows. I used a tripod and a wide angle lens. The roots are quite dramatic, but the soft lighting really makes the photo work.  Taken with Nikon D7500 and Tokina 11-16 lens.

Deep Roots


I don't like to carry my tripod and camera while taking a walk in the woods, but I do get better photos with the tripod.

Forests are darker than you may realize. To make a properly exposed photograph, you need to make choices about your camera settings. I don't like to hand hold my camera for under 1/100 sec. But I can shoot a slower shutter speed on a tripod.

If I am trying to hand hold in the dark woods, I will need to open the aperture (which limits the depth of focus), and increase iso sensitivity (which makes noise). The tripod lets me avoid unnecessary compromises.

The tripod also helps me to slow down, study the composition, and not hurry.

Light in the Forest

Lighting is important in all photography, including woodland. The lighting has to help guide our eye thru the photo. Maybe the sunlight is breaking thru the canopy onto just this tree. Usually the light is better in the early morning or late afternoon. High clouds can make a soft, diffuse light which can be beautiful. Fog and mist can add drama and mood to woodland photos.

Photo:  Spring greens

This tree's foliage was lit up and caught my attention.  Even though it was overcast, an opening in the forest let just enough light onto this maple. I really love the soft yellow green colors of leaves in the Spring. The bright colors make this tree stand out from the surrounding forest, and the contrast with the black lines of the trunk leads our eye thru the photo.  Taken with  Nikon D7500 and Nikon 17-55 f2.8 lens.

Forest Glow

Cedar Grove

Camera choices:

Many days I walk with my camera but not the tripod. I find the Nikon D7500 to be  lighter and easier to carry than my full frame D810. This camera also has good performance at higher isos without excessive noise (compared to my D3300).  

I have taken to the macro lens in the past year or two, for the close up details, shallow depth of field and blurred out backgrounds, which might otherwise be distracting. 


Some people believe in elves and fairies.  I can feel a sense of mystery and delight, when I am in a flow, and seeing interesting scenes and details.   I have been surprised to get home and see hearts or faces in the photographs which I had not seen in the field. I think our ancestors once connected with these forces, but we have become separated from this elemental spirit over the centuries.

Spring Sword Ferns

Does a photograph really need a single subject? Can the entire forest scene be the subject? How does the viewer's eye move thru the scene? I think if there is not a definite subject, the photographer needs to compose and edit the photo to help guide the viewers eye. Can we use lighter and darker areas to guide the eye? How about colors and textures, forms, curves and lines?


Spring Oak Grove 

This oak grove is an open, grassy meadow, with mature oaks.  I liked the gnarly, crossing branches of these two oaks.  There are varying shades of green in the leaves and grasses, and oranges in the moss.  The eye follows the branching and criss-crossing trunks, and finally to the bright spot of grass in the center with the downward hanging limb.   Taken with Nikon D7500 and Sigma 24-70 f2.8. 

Spring Oak Grove

  • Molly Jo Triplett

    on May 23, 2020

    I love this series so's in line with what I am focusing on..deep wooded enchantment. I hope this is a long term project. xo

Northern Mists Photography

Robert Bergstrom
Landscape and Travel Photographer

Featuring Oregon Coast, Puget Sound, PNW, Faroe Islands, Sweden, Denmark.

Landscapes, Seascapes, Maritime themes.
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