How to Photograph Forest and Trees: Detailed Guide

By Arindam Roy

There are two ways to go about photographing trees in the forest and most of them depend on what you want. If you want a studio-like look, find a shady spot in the woods with little or no wind and set up your camera on something sturdy like a tripod. If you want to capture movement, such as that created by light passing through leaves, then find a clearing with plenty of fresh green foliage. When shooting outdoors in either situation, always use natural light and look for framing opportunities by changing the position of your head or camera so that the sky is visible through branches.


Most importantly, experiment!

You might be surprised at what kind of imagery you can capture with some patience and creativity. If your still new to photography, you might want to check out my guide on how to take a good photograph. With the tips and tricks in that article, you will be well on your way to capturing great photographs!

how to photograph forest and trees

  1. Find an area with dense foliage, whether it be tall trees or bushes is up to you.
  2. Set up your camera on a tripod (I don’t recommend handheld shots for this one). You can experiment with different settings here as it all depends on the look that you want when you’re done editing. I chose f/8 and ISO 200 so that there would be a small amount of shutter lag (noise) and there would be no camera shake because of the slower shutter speed.
  3. You can experiment with the different settings in the camera if you would like. I’ve found that a lot of people prefer using the “green” filter so that it looks more “green” and less brown. Your results may vary when you try this, but at least you have a choice here!
  4. Adjust your composition by either changing how your head or camera is positioned to look through your subject or change how high up you hold the camera to shoot more of the sky rather than foreground foliage. As this was an outdoor shot, I had plenty of sky to frame my image, and I also wasn’t worried about any dust in my lens from walking around with my camera.
  5. Snap the shot on your DSLR camera. The more you use a tripod, the better you get at framing your images.
  6. Go through the camera and insert a fisheye lens effect to add distortion to the image (I used the “Warp” command in iPhoto). I like using this command because it distorts many images rather than just a few if your shot is very shaped already. In my case, I wanted to capture how much of a circle I could fill with all of that foliage and not just in one part of the picture or over one person’s shoulder or something like that.

Also read: Things to Know When You Use a DSLR Camera: Everything Explained

Now you have a fun picture of trees in the forest! I hope this article about how to photograph forest and trees was helpful. If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask. If you have an interesting technique or process that works for you, feel free to share by leaving a comment below. Thanks for reading and happy photographing!

how to photograph forest and trees

All photographs were taken on October 18, 2011 near Windom, MN using a Canon EOS Rebel XSi DSLR Camera with the following settings: 1/160 sec., f/8, ISO 200 with a Sigma 70mm f2.8 DG Macro Lens.



There is a possibility that the content of this article contains broken links or outdated information. The author does not hold any responsibility for the validity of any information provided in this article. Furthermore, all information is presented for discussion purposes and should not be used to create any sort of question on your own personal legal matters. You can use the information in this article as far as it fits your situation, but be mindful that it’s provided on an “as-is” basis and shouldn’t be taken as advice or anything literal.

Read more: How to Set up a DSLR Camera: Detailed Guide

Here’s a detailed step by step guide on how to photograph forest and trees

1) If possible, get up in a tree (if you’re going for leafy greens it might not be possible). You can also do this while you’re sitting in your car if there are no trees nearby. The point is, you want to get a good view of the forest. If you’re up in a tree and have branches obstructing your view, obviously move them out of the way. You may even want to take a picture or two from where you are sitting/standing before moving on.

2) Find an interesting tree if possible. If it has an interesting branch pattern, or there’s really cool texture in the bark, that’s even better. If not, look for a nearby tree that is either in front of your subject with some distance between them (like a triptych shot), or behind it (for a secondary focal point).

3) Look for some lines and shapes in the forest from all different angles. For example, perhaps the tree has a unique shape and you want to try capturing some of that. Or find some interesting branches/trunks that you can use as a focal point as well. You could also just do things like framing/centering the subject within the woods with other trees in the background as a secondary focal point (you can use this type of composition for landscape photography as well).

4) Get yourself comfortable, and wait for an interesting light or shadow to pop up. Sometimes, all you’ll need is a simple open shade, that’s too bad about the open shade light, but it got the job done.

5) Look for interesting contrasts between light and shadow. This might be something in the background, or even the contrast between your subject and the tree in front of it. Whatever you find works, take advantage of it to create interesting compositions.

6) Try not to cause any structural damage to your subject tree. If you have trouble getting a good composition at a certain angle with no room for maneuvering around branches, pick something else to photograph instead (like an object in the distance). Remember: this isn’t about taking some neat pic of a pretty tree. The point is to take a good photograph of the forest, and the tree should just be a part of that.

7) If you have some extra time, consider shooting at sunrise or sunset. The light can be extremely interesting throughout the day, but it’s even more interesting during these times of day. Shoot at noon if you’re late for work (but don’t photograph anything related to work).

8 ) You can also try shooting in different seasons. Spring is great for landscape photos, and fall/autumn are great for trees/foliage (you can also get an amazing sunset shot here as well). You’re free to do this in winter as well, if you want to capture some nice snow covered trees.

9) Also, try experimenting with different types of cameras. If you own a point and shoot, or cell phone camera that has a good zoom function (or lens), that might help you get some nice close up shots.

10) This is one of those things that you should practice over and over until you get it right. Don’t always go for the same type of shot (for example: a tree branch close up), try finding something new each time out there on a new location.

11) Enjoy your forest!

Relevant reading: What are the Health Effects of Tin Foil in a DSLR Camera: Explained

Here’s a few more tips on how to photograph forest and trees:

  • Make sure you’re photographing the right tree. This may mean that you have to move the branches out of the way, or even move your position as well. The idea is not to harm any part of the tree, but simply capture its beauty in a form.
  • Shoot where there’s a lot of different types of light and shadow. Don’t always go for one type or another (for example: don’t always shoot with bright sunlight shining in all directions). Keep searching for interesting light and shadows throughout the day.
  • Don’t always go for the light that shines on your subject. Sometimes you’ll get much better photos when you use shadows to your advantage (like a silhouette, or harsh lighting). Experiment with different types of light at different times of day.
  • Use a wider aperture setting on your camera (this is known as “shallow depth of field“). This will create more interesting images and blur out the background (which will make it easier for you to find a good composition).
  • Always look for at least one secondary focal point in the picture (i.e.: something that is not part of what you’re taking a picture of). In this case, it could be an interesting background, or another part of the forested area itself.
  • Remember, the subject of the picture should be the forest itself . Don’t always just focus on the tree that you picked out. The idea is to capture a good photograph of the woods in general.
  • Experiment with different shutter speeds (here’s a quick reference: 200 = 1/200th second; 100 = 1/100th second; 50 = 1/50th second; 25 = 1/25th second). The lower you go with your shutter speed, the more interesting your photos will become. Just keep in mind that there’s a risk for camera shake with long exposures or slow shutter speeds.
  • Try using a tripod to reduce camera shake. You can also use a timer to take the photo (with your normal settings) and then use a remote to trigger the camera (as this will allow you to have more flexibility).
  • Try playing around with different types of focus. Instead of focusing on the subject, focus on one of the surrounding trees. Or, try focusing on an area that’s just off in the distance (this will help you create interesting depth in your photo).
  • Experiment with different zooms. This will help isolate your subject and add that extra element of interest. You might want to play around with telephoto/shooting from afar, or super close up shots/macro photography as well.
  • Don’t always stick with your camera’s auto settings (i.e.: auto-focus, auto-exposure). Sometimes these can cause too much of a blur in the background and you’re better off manually adjusting them yourself. * Use a larger aperture setting for more interesting photos. The idea is to use a smaller f/stop number (like f/4 or f/5.6), so that your photos will have a shallow depth of field. Here’s an example of how this can look:
  • Be careful about picking the right exposure settings (this one was pretty hard to figure out). You might want to experiment with different exposure settings in order to find what works best for you and the environment that you’re shooting in. Here are a few examples:
  • A dimly lit scene is going to require a higher ISO setting; try ISO 800 or higher.
  • A scene with lots of dark colors is going to require a lower ISO (try ISO 100, 200, or 400) and slower shutter speed (try 1/125th second).
  • A bright sunny day is best shot with faster shutter speeds/higher ISOs (try 1/60th second, 1/125th second, etc.). The idea is to have the camera readjust its settings automatically as the light levels change. This will allow you to correct for changing light levels as it gets darker or brighter. For example, if you’re in a dimly lit room and you want to get a shot of something that’s on the other side of one of those windows, your ISO should automatically increase as dim light surrounds you. If/when it does, simply crank the f/stop number down to make it look brighter.
  • Make sure that your camera is set to AUTO white balance and that the lighting is consistent throughout your scene (ie. same color lights). If this isn’t done, you’ll end up with an awful lot of digital noise (to go along with your crappy photos).
  • Have the correct camera f/stop. For example, if you’re photographing a child in a beach setting with lots of clouds, get the right f/stop so that there will be plenty of softness in your photo. If you’re shooting objects near your subjects, crank up the number until it looks good. You’ll find that there are several values that look good on your screen or in your viewing device, and it’s important to get this “look” exactly right.
  • Make sure you focus on the correct point. We do this by first focusing on our subject (if we can’t do that easily, we might as well give up and go to bed). Then, we move our focal point to one of the other objects surrounding the main focal point (if it’s not obvious to us which one is a good target, we should try and figure that out).
  • Learn to use the “fill flash” function. This will help add some additional light (especially at the end of your exposure) to your photo in order to bring out details in your subject.
  • If you need help with this, try looking online for tutorials or reviews of different camera/lens combinations. There are tons of different ways in which you can take a picture, and since different cameras and lenses have different options and settings, it can be tough to work your way through all of them.
  • The above tips may help, but either way: experimentation is key. You can’t just sit down and read a book on photography or take a course online. There’s no substitute for hands-on experience (which means getting out there and shooting). I recommend taking as many workshops as possible (as this can be the best way to learn), and even taking night classes. The above tips are meant to get you started, not be your only source of information.
  • Getting out and exploring is one of the best ways to improve your photography skills (case in point: you’re reading this right now). If you don’t have any nearby environments that you can explore, then consider going on hikes/tours that involve time spent in forests.
  • Try taking photos while on a hike. Out in the woods, there’s so much more to look at. The photo opportunities are endless! The one downside is that your camera won’t work very well here (unless you have one of those extremely durable cameras), and you’ll only have reasonable lighting.
  • Don’t always stick to the same location! You could try taking pictures in the woods, but then switch it up with a photo shoot near a busy street or at a park (with bright sunlight streaming down).
  • If you end up taking a lot of photos, don’t overdo it. Remember that these are just supplemental images for your portfolio, not every single one of them needs to be good. Most of them will be used to fill up space, but this doesn’t mean that they need to be filled with “bad” photos. Just make sure that they showcase your strengths.

Related article: How Does a Digital Camera Work: A Quick Guide

Don’t just take my word for it

how to photograph forest and trees

Go out there and take some pictures. Don’t worry about shooting the best shot of a tree that you’ve ever seen. Think about shooting something better than this:

I recommend checking out Flickr for inspiration (and many other photographers who have shared their own work). This is just a place where you can go to see more beautiful shots of trees and forests (unlike the examples above). Look through as many photos as possible before you sit down at your computer and prepare for your shoot. This should give you a good idea of what to expect when you get out there.


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