Woodland Wonder

Woodland areas can provide a cornucopia of photographic opportunities. From flowers and plants to streams and waterfalls, and even the woodland itself, there is usually plenty to keep your shutter clicking. However, wooded areas also can provide a lot problems when shooting which can mar what would otherwise be a great shot.

In this post I will look at some of the issues you are likely to encounter when shooting in wooded areas and some of the wonderful opportunities these areas provide.

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Woodland Woes

Although woodland areas can provide a source of photographic variety they can also cause a lot of problems when trying to shoot photographs in them. Now, I will have a look at some of these problems and how best to overcome them.

Slippery When Wet

Woodland areas don’t usually have the steep climbs and descents of more mountainous areas, and often due to their popularity they will have paths constructed, however this does not mean they are hazard free. Woodland areas can be subtly treacherous if you are not paying attention, especially if they are wet.

Fallen leaves are slippery when wet, rocks are even more slipperier than that, and exposed tree roots are like ice underfoot when they are wet.

As such, even when walking in gentle woodlands, keep and eye on your footing and wear appropriate footwear.

Anyway, enough of the safety lecture and onto photographic stuff.

Low Light

Within woodland areas light levels can be deceptively low. Even during bright daytime conditions, the mass of trees can significantly block light often tricking you into believing there is much more light than there actually is. This can result in slow shutter speeds or high ISO values. If, like me, you shoot in aperture priority mode most of the time, you will know that the camera automatically sets the shutter speed in this mode. I have often been caught out with the low light levels in woodlands giving slow shutter speeds and ruining shots with motion blur.

Therefore you will have to keep an eye on your cameras setting and adjust them accordingly to compensate for the low light levels, either by opening up the aperture or increasing the ISO to get an acceptable shutter speed if you are shooting handheld. If you have a tripod handy it may be wise to use this to allow you keep the ISO low and a suitable aperture value.

The shot below highlights this low light problem. Although it was taken in mid afternoon, I had to open the aperture up to f/2.8 and set the ISO to 800 just to get a shutter speed of 1/40 sec.

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Extreme Contrast

Although woodland areas can have very low light, the cover given by the trees is not often flat and continuous meaning that light can, and often does, peep through. This can provide scope for some very exciting artistic effects but it can also cause huge contrast extremes that the dynamic range of your camera’s sensor cannot deal with.

Here is a typical example below. To get an acceptable exposure of the waterfall and it’s surroundings which were in shade, the shutter had to be left open longer which has resulted in the sky blowing out to a mass of white, losing any detail in it.

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Here is another example of this where a shaft of light penetrates through the trees lighting up a patch of the landscape. To get this highlighted area correctly exposed, it has resulted in the non illuminated areas being significantly underexposed.

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As I said, the camera’s sensor can’t often deal with this contrast so you will have to try and overcome it in other ways. Here are a few suggestions to help solve this problem.

  1. Shoot in gentler light. Try shooting when the sun is lower in the sky and less severe. This will help lessen the contrast.
  2. Shoot as HDR. Most cameras will have an HDR (high dynamic range) function that tries to compensate for extreme contrast. Although it may alleviate this problem, the results can often be unnatural and often you will have little control over them.
  3. Shoot Multiple Exposures. This is my preferred method  Shoot numerous bracketed shots at different exposures and merge them together manually in a software package such as Lightroom or Photoshop. This method gives you the most control over the final image, and because you have access to wider dynamic range of image data, you don’t attract the large amounts of image noise that excessive post-processing can attract. Here is a different tutorial detailing how to do this.

Below is an example of a shot that has been digitally altered in Photoshop to overcome the extreme contrast.

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Interfering Elements

In woodland there is a lot going on. There are trees, branches, rocks, leaves, water features and many man made features often in close proximity to each other. Although these all have the potential to enhance your photo, they can often provide unwanted interfering elements that can obscure a shot.

The example below shows this. The branches on the right of the image obscure the watercourse and interfere heavily, and negatively, with the composition of the photo.

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Sometimes these elements can be moved manually prior to taking the shot but often they can’t. They may be able to be removed during post-processing but sometimes this is tricky in areas of intricate detail. So often you just have to accept them as part of the image. Just be mindful of them as it is often easy to overlook them at the time of shooting and not notice them until you view the capture later.

Another common interfering element in woodland photography is the background. It is more often than not that the background will be a sea of trees, and all the colors and fine detail contained within them. Although this may look nice to the eye at the time of shooting, focal point elements within your image can often merge into this background leaving you with a flat looking image.

Here is an example showing a caterpillar on a branch. Although it jumped out at me when viewing it with my eyes, the photograph of it looks flat and the caterpillar is almost indistinguishable because of the similar colour and tonality of the background.

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There are some photographic tricks you can be to help alleviate background interference, such as using a wide aperture to give a shallow depth of field and blur the background, or artificially illuminating the subject with a flash gun. Or you can try and minimise it in post-processing. However, the best way to overcome it is to be mindful of the background and don’t take shots where the background will be a heavily conflicting element in your image, such as this image of a ladybird below.

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These are some of the common issues you might run into when photographing around a woodland area and hopefully some solutions on how to remedy them. With this in mind, I will now go on to look at some of great things you can photograph in woodlands.

The Woodland is a Many Splendoured Thing

Plants and Flowers

It goes without saying that there will be plenty of flora about and this can provide great photographs. Just make sure if your are shooting them that they are suitably lit and sufficiently isolated from interfering background elements.

Animals

Woodlands are also a great habitat for animal life although it can sometimes be difficult to spot in the environment. If you are shooting animals make sure you have a fast enough shutter speed to capture their movement.

Water Features

Although not a given, many woodland areas will have water running through them in some form, whether that be a gentle stream or a raging waterfall. The running water contrasts with the still of the surrounding woodland which makes them perfect for shooting. They also provide potential for some great long exposure effects.

Man-Made Features

There are often interesting man-made features located in woodlands. The juxtaposition of the natural and the man-made often makes for an interesting image.

Paths

Woodlands are often popular areas for walkers and as such many have good paths within them. These paths can be great compositional elements, contrasting with woodland around them and leading the eye through the scene.

Sun Dappling and Light Rays

As I mentioned above woodland areas can let light rays shoot through the trees, often giving great exposure problems but also providing wonderful artistic opportunities. Capturing these light rays or the sun dappling on the scenery from them can look fantastic.

 

Conclusion

Woodlands provide a veritable feast of photographic opportunities and also a lot of photographic problems. I hope this post has been helpful in highlighting these to you and has hopefully inspired you to take your camera out to a woodland area and see what great photos you can capture.

Thanks for Reading,

Neil

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