I’m an avid landscape photographer, but truth be told, most of my work is seascapes. Walking the coastline alone, listening to nature is a great way to relax, escaping the day to day pressures of life. Seascape photography can be very challenging at the best of times and I’ve never really felt the need to expand my range.
Over the last year or so, there have been some wonderful YouTube videos regarding woodland photography. The popularity of this genre appears to be on the up in the UK and further afield. I’ve not seen many Irish landscape photographers attempting it well. I had vowed to give it a crack but somehow just kept finding myself drawn back to the coast each time I ventured out.
I finally got around to trying this out last week. Rain and dull bland grey skies left me with two choices – stay inside watching TV or take the dog for a walk. Then it dawned on me – I could finally try out some woodland photography. There are no huge forests close by but there are plenty of small woodlands around and I simply picked the one closest to home.
Stepping out of the car, it felt like I was in another world by simply walking 50 metres. It was eerily dark and quiet. Branches have a full covering of leaves in the summer which made for dark unfamiliar conditions. Maybe I had timed this woodland photography lark wrong? Returning in October when the foliage changed colour and leaves fall to the ground letting more light in might be the best plan?
Suddenly a huge buzzard flew along the path straight in my direction. At the last minute, he lifted into the sky between a clearing in the branches. This was the only motivation I needed to keep going. This was going to be a very different experience for me.
What a shock I got – this is one tough genre, much tougher than I ever imagined. It possibly explains why I’ve not seen much of it in Ireland yet.
Clean compositions are extremely hard to find. Making a central subject stand out from the background clutter is a tough task thanks to numerous branches intruding into the frame. You need to constantly scan the edges of your frame to ensure there are no distractions. I found myself making many compositional adjustments before committing to a single shot.
Woodland photography is a very time consuming affair. Exploration is key. I spent 2 hours in the woods that day. I only managed 5 compositions in total. 2 of them were a complete waste of time with the other 3 being extremely tough affairs.
Colour is a huge issue. When everything is green, how can you get definition around your main subject. Post processing skills are crucial.
Another issue I discovered was highlights. Any clearing in the branches led to issues with Dynamic range. In the end, I found myself shooting low to the ground to keep these out of the final frame.
Unlike seascapes where you want focus from front to back, depth of field needs serious attention & consideration in woodland photography. Too much DOF and your main subject is lost in the detail of the background. Too little, and you have lost a sense of depth.
Filters are largely redundant apart from the polarizer. I needed this to kill reflections from the damp foliage. This compounded the darkness issue even further as it helped kill the already little light even further which leads into the next issue.
ISO & Shutter Speeds need to be adjusted accordingly. A slight breeze coupled with very dark conditions can introduce very slight movement to foliage. The slightest movement can ruin the sharpness of your image. I found myself having to shoot at higher ISO’s to raise my shutter speeds enough to freeze the scene sharply.
New Perspectives Through Woodland Photography
My first 2 compositional attempts were useless but as time passed, I started to find my eye. Small details which usually pass me by began to appear as my mind got into gear. I discovered mushrooms and fungi, small flowers, skulls which I’ve not still identified, & new areas of a woodland only 5 -10 metres from the pathway which I had never even noticed before. I only explored a tiny portion of the wood and walked away with 3 images – what else will I uncover in time?
A New Story
My favourite image of the day is the one below because of the story it tells. I find it a very subtle affair which demands the viewer’s full attention to uncover the true story.
Two trees have stood and grown side by side for years. Finally, both succumbed to the same faith as they fell together while all others around them stand strong. It was a hard-fought battle. Both clung dearly to the earth which supported them as they fought for life. They did not give up easily. Their struggle was so epic that the earth which had supported them for so many years eventually become violently uprooted with them. The area where their branches once stood strong, now let’s new light onto the woodland floor creating a beautiful dynamic play between light and shadow. New light has led to new life. Plants now start to take their place as natures cycle slowly starts again.
I have yet to find a suitable title that does justice to this image…..