It seems like whenever I need to practice photography or if I just want to go out to see if I can take some shots to share online, I find myself in the woods. Being surrounded by trees and photographing is perfect for those days that aren’t what others would call ideal for photo shoots. Perhaps there’s some drizzle or rain falling from the sky or it’s cloudy or foggy; basically, nature photography is perfect for those times I just want to slow down and hunt around for interesting things I may have not noticed before. Streams and rivers, moss on a log, interesting tree bark and arrangements of the trees themselves. All of these things can be excellent subjects in their own rights and I encourage more of you to get involved with walking through the woods with a camera, if this is one of those things you haven’t already engaged in.
Okay, I’m going to be dropping tons of links in this post. There have been many excellent articles written on this website that cover all of the topics I’d like to discuss in much greater depth than I’d like to do here. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel.
I’ll tell you right off the bat, you’ll need a tripod when photographing in the woods. If you plan on getting up close to take pictures of mushrooms and moss, it’s important to keep your camera steady. Also, if you plan on taking long exposure photos of a running stream or water of some kind, you pretty much can’t do that without a tripod.
The first thing you’ll need to do is think about what you’d like to shoot. This might seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back in the woods and came out empty handed. I didn’t find success until I at least went in with some sort of a goal. I like running water and I like moss that’s either on the ground or on rotting wood, so that’s what I’d oftentimes go in for.
Get in there and find your subject. Then, compose your shot. Find some framing, center your subject or use the rule of thirds to set it off to the side.
If you’re going to be taking some long exposure photos of running water, there are some rules to follow. First, you’ll need to use an ND filter if there’s lots of light out there.
Second, you’ll need to think about your settings. Using only shutter priority isn’t good enough. You’ll need to control aperture as well if you’d like both your foreground and background to be in focus.
And finally, you’ll need to take your shot with all the right settings.
Two things I want to tell you about when taking long exposure water photos, such as small brooks and streams during the day. First, ND (Neutral Density) filters are great because they cut the light, but you can also use a polarizing filter to remove any reflection from the surface of the water. I’ve done this and the results have been awesome.
Second, just so you know, if you’re shooting on a day that’s overcast, try to hide the sky from your shots. That sky will likely be bright white and can really get in the way when it’s peeking through the trees. It’ll cause areas of your photos to be overexposed.
When trying to decide if you need foreground interest in your shots or not, think about what you’re actually photographing. I’ve seen many photos where there have been rocks or logs or something like that to create a beautiful foreground and then the true subject in the background. I like that idea and it works well. Those foreground objects help to frame the photos.
When photographing running water though, you need to remember that the water is actually the interesting thing and by obscuring it, you’re doing it a disservice. It’s oftentimes best to allow the water to flow all the way to the bottom of your images.
I personally like to take my photos of running water upstream. Although, I’ve taken them downstream as well and they’ve come out well. My point is, don’t get too worked up when it comes to the direction the water is flowing. Sometimes your hand will be forced and you’ll need to shoot one way or the other because of debris or something like that. Don’t worry about it. Just follow the rules and take your shots. The water will lead the viewer’s eyes where they need to go.
When photographing in the woods on a cloudy day, be sure to shoot in RAW mode so you can easily adjust your white balance later on during post-processing. Also, try to choose a preset white balance while out in the field as opposed to leaving it up to your camera to decide. Flip through the different white balance settings and take some sample shots. Choose the one you like and keep that setting. This way, you’ll have consistent images across the board.
One of the things I really enjoy photographing in the woods on a cloudy, rainy day is mushrooms and moss. The reason for this is because they’re relatively easy to make look good. I’m able to get down on the ground and set up my gear. I can slowly and deliberately change my settings from one shot to the next and review them to see what I like the best. It’s sort of zen.
When photographing small subjects that are close to the ground, plan on getting down there with them. Yes, you’ll be using your tripod, but you’ll need to set it up in such a way as to keep your angles at the top of mind. Angles and aperture. Aperture is strong when you’re close up, so make good use of your depth of field preview button.
The last thing you’ll want is to set up tons of shots of moss and have them seemingly look good on your camera, but then look lousy when you get them home on your computer. Use that depth of field preview button to get an accurate picture of what’s going on.
When taking these types of close up shots, make sure you put your camera in live view so you can use the zoom feature to get you the most crisp focus possible. Manual focus is perfect for this. Also, use the available lighting to your advantage. While it likely won’t be coming strongly from one direction on a cloudy day, you can always use a flashlight to create the illusion of some strong light that stems from underneath, the sides or above. This is a great trick to use to bring your images to the next level. Small reflectors also work particularly well for this type of close up photography.
I think I got everything in here. If you have any additional tips or tricks or if you have any questions regarding what I wrote above, please join in the conversation below. Thanks!