You Need More Than Perfect Conditions for Successful Forest Photography

Because of the pandemic forest photography is more popular than ever. Forest photography is also one of the really hard genres of nature photography to be successful at. Fog and good conditions are usually necessary for success, but they are just not enough.

For the past 18 months, I have gone almost all in on forest photography and one factor I find to make a massive difference to my photos is fog. You can almost not have enough of it. To me, fog is usually the good conditions I look for when I go out to do landscape forest photography. Fog helps to really calm down the photo from all the clutter and most importantly bring forth that beautiful mystical atmosphere.

In the above photo, the fog really helps to make the separation to the background trees and you have a great sense of depth. Without the fog the trees would just clutter up, it would be hard to make the distinction between foreground, and background trees as the trees have the same colors and tones.

For the separation, the increased sense of depth, and the calming atmosphere I usually seek out fog for my forest photography.

However, fog is not enough for making a great photo. Although I already knew that, it still hit me like a sledgehammer one morning in November where I drove for an hour to get to a special forest I had scouted and visited on several occasions before. When I arrived, there was no fog in the part of the forest I wanted to photograph. Instead of going back home, I drove around within a radius of 10 kilometers to see if it was possible to find something. After all, I had come all this way. There were several areas with very thick and local fog and some areas without. I stopped the car and explored some areas where the fog was very thick. The only problem was I had ended up in a typical spruce plantation. Although the fog did add some atmosphere to the photos, they just lack some character.

I did not stay for long, so I drove on and found a part of the forest, which was a bit more open but still with loads of fog. At this time of year most of the leaves on the trees had fallen off, so I was highly dependent on the trees to have some character. That was just not the case and although I gave it a few shots, I just could not find something of interest to photograph.

And that is the point. You need something of interest to photograph. No matter how perfect your conditions are, they are just barely enough to make an interesting photograph.

Instead of wasting my time at random, pull-ins along the road, I went back to the part of the forest where I knew the trees would be interesting. Luckily, the fog had manifested and the sun was even throwing its beams down through the canopy, which gave some gorgeous light.

Now of course great conditions and something interesting to photograph helps a lot, but you also need a good composition. I have made several articles about that on Fstoppers, which you can check out.

The perfect conditions are not enough, a good subject is not enough, and a strong composition is not enough. You need to combine it all for making a strong and interesting photo.

Be sure to check out the video above for even more photos (both good and bad) and let me hear your thoughts in the comments below. Have you ever been in the same situation?

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6 Comments

Timothy Roper's picture

In summary, you have to REALLY like being outdoors, to be a good landscape photographer. Spending hours and hours hiking around exploring--and then maybe waiting in one spot--is the only way it's going to work. It also helps to like driving a lot I suppose, too.

Bernie Retallack's picture

Eh.

Mark Smith's picture

I was following a few photographers on Flickr who always produced stellar forest photos, and they ALWAYS had fog in them. Every time. Eventually I concluded that most of this fog was introduced in post processing and I became a lot less interested and eventually unfollowed. There just isn't that much fog, every day, every time.

anthony marsh's picture

As a strictly film photographer I found your video very refreshing. At last a digital photographer who concentrated upon technique rather than PHOTOSHOP or LIGHTROOM manipulations. You have contributed to my film photography more than you know. Even at age 80 and exploring medium format with a BRONICA S2A and MAMIYA C-33 after using and still using my LEICA M-3 for fifty years it was an enlightening experience. Thank you!

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thank you for the kind words, Anthony :)