How to Best Capture Trees and Forests

Photographing trees and forests sounds simple, but making a good image of a forest can be surprisingly challenging. In this pair of videos, Michael Shainblum explains how he wrangles the chaotic nature of trees into a beautiful photograph.

Photographing trees as part of a landscape is the more typical way to do it, and Michael doesn’t avoid these kinds of photos.

But what if there isn’t that kind of available element? Without some kind of guiding central object like a waterfall, river, or mountain, a photograph of a grove of trees or a forest can be extremely challenging to capture in a compelling way. You either have to embrace the fact that there is no central focal area for the photo, or you have to create one with clever framing.

Shainblum has spoken in the past about the benefits of using a telephoto lens for landscape photography, and those words continue to show their merit. By taking a step back away from a grove of trees and using the compression of his lens, he can make a far more appealing image even if it lacks a central point of focus.

“Rather than finding trees that are right in front of me and doing wide-angle shots, I am focusing more on looking into the distance to see what patterns and rows of trees there are,” Shainblum says.

It’s not always going to work, however. Sometimes if a telephoto image is looking too messy or chaotic, leveraging a shallower depth of field can help paint a photo in a more appealing way, like in the image below:

In the image below, Michael shows how he found a tree that had lost all its leaves between a group that still had some in order to create a central place for the eye to rest. He embellishes the effect by leveraging a darker background.

“I felt like having that that darker background helped to highlight the different shapes and stand out in the composition,” he says.

The takeaway here is that while in person these settings are undeniably beautiful, actually capturing that beauty in camera is very likely going to require some creative, clever thinking to successfully pull off. Michael shows a good contrast of successful versus unsuccessful images in the video below. It’s very informative and definitely worth watching in its entirety:

For more from Michael Shainblum, make sure to follow him on Instagram and subscribe to his YouTube Channel.

Image credits: Photos by Michael Shainblum and used with permission.

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