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Forest Photography — Creating Order Out of Chaos for the Most Impactful Images (preview)

OK, I admit it. I love trees. I guess you could even call me a tree hugger. Throughout my photographic career one thing has become clear to me – I have an abundance of tree pictures. Sure, I love to photograph grand landscapes and the odd critter, but as I look through my images I’ve noticed some patterns emerge. One obvious tendency is that I seem to be more interested in the smaller vignettes of life than the grandiose ones. Another trend is that many of these smaller compositions include trees, or at least parts of them. I’m not really sure what it is about trees that draws my attention. It could be that they change continuously throughout the seasons and offer endless inspiration, or perhaps it’s that they come in so many shapes, sizes, colours and textures, creating endless photo possibilities. Whatever it is, one thing is certain: I love to capture images of them and find their chaotic and ever-changing nature a welcome challenge to photograph.

Finding order in chaos

By their very nature, trees are usually a mass of twisted limbs and branches. Unless I happen to come across an ideally-shaped tree with great form, making sense out of the chaos is a challenge at best. The challenge is magnified tenfold when I’m faced with photographing a forest. If I’m surrounded by huge 800-year-old sitka spruce, how do I capture the scale so that it translates in a photograph? How can I portray what an amazing place a forest is through a two-dimensional image, especially when all other senses such as smell, touch and sound have been eliminated from my original experience? As photographers, it’s our job to translate these elements in a way that will make sense to the viewer. So how do we do that?

©Adam Gibbs Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island, BC Gear: Canon 5D Mark II, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens Settings: ƒ22@20 sec., 350mm focal length, ISO 50

©Adam Gibbs
Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island, BC
Gear: Canon 5D Mark II, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens
Settings: ƒ22@20 sec., 350mm focal length, ISO 50


Photography has changed drastically over the years, particularly when considering the technical elements and the way we capture and process images. One element that remains a constant, however, is the importance of light and how we portray it in our images. Regardless of our subject – be it people, products, the night sky or, in this case, trees – light is the key to a good photograph. It’s the quality of this light that will bring a photograph to life.

So what kind of light is ideal for photographing trees? Well, it all depends. By its very nature, light is continually changing. One moment, the light on a subject may be sublime, but the next flat and dull, or perhaps harsh and full of contrast. Light is a fickle thing, especially for us outdoor photographers, since we have little control over how it reacts with our subject. Having said that, there are general types of light to look for that will help tree images shine. The trick is to recognize when the light is good and when it’s not so great. Patience and tenacity play a huge role in this art form. If the light is less than perfect, we can work with what we have, wait for better light, or in a perfect world, return another day when the light is better.

To find out the types of light, composition and lens selections used to create masterful forest photography images please pick up the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of OPC today!

2 Responses to “Forest Photography — Creating Order Out of Chaos for the Most Impactful Images (preview)”

  1. beach says:

    Boy, do I hear ya! “When a tree falls in the forest…oh, forget it! Seriously, trees are the best. You can crawl underneath them,climb them, pinch and pull them and not a peep. As subjects they are a photographer’s dream. I am fortunate to live on Vancouver Island where the trees are in abundance. The best name I read in a book was the aboriginal name : THE TALL PEOPLE..aren’t they though?
    I am obsessed with a lonely apple tree in my neighbourhood park (Rathtrevor Beach BC) that I photograph in every season and I witness it’s fight to survive all kinds of weather. I’m sure it was planted there by the RATH family in the early 1800′s and my imagination goes wild when I think up stories about that tree.
    Happy hugging and good to know someone else loves “the tall people” as much as I do. Susan Miller Parksville BC

  2. James.Jewers says:

    I read the forest photography article by Adam Gibbs and found it to be very good for technique and how to approach this challenging subject area. I went to a local water fall in the Oromocto NB area and produced some beautiful forest shots of my own. These shots looked great in both color and Black& White.


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