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The Viewfinder: Sylvan Snapshots

By Gary Randall

The Viewfinder: Sylvan Snapshots

I love photographing the forests that surround our mountain home. Even though we have vistas that look out over the forests, many with Mount Hood in the background, our forests are best experienced and photographed from within while wandering down one of the many trails that we are fortunate to have around our community. Our local trails vary in difficulty from ADA-approved boardwalks to steep technical challenges, which makes it practical for us all to enjoy our time in forests.

When I am on a trail I don’t worry about being in a hurry, especially on an in-and-out trip. I find that the faster I hike the less that I observe around me. Having a camera with me will also increase the attention that I pay to my surroundings. I am observant of beautiful views, light filtering through the trees and even the smallest details such as flowers and mushrooms. Here are a few tips for creating beautiful forest photos.

Photographing the forest can be done at most any time of the day but, in my opinion, it is the most beautiful when people are not there. It is not that I am antisocial, but my best forest photos have been taken early in the morning, late in the day or especially when the weather is not warm and sunny. Many times, I’m hiking out of the forest when others are hiking in, or vice versa. Weather has great effect on the look of the photos. I love the forest on sunny, misty mornings the most.

A forest can be complicated. Find leading lines through the scene. Don’t discount the hiking trail itself. Be aware of the directional elements in the scene, including the vertical alignment of the trees. Vertical compositions complement well the vertical elements of the trees. Even a log lying on the forest floor can be a nice lead into a forest scene.

Be aware of the light, especially of its direction into the forest. Light in the background can create a sense of depth by leading the viewer from a dark part of the scene into the light in the background. Something that is also a consequence of the light coming into the scene is that there will be reflections on the leaves and foliage. This creates a shine that will subdue the color of the leaves. The best way to resolve that is to use a circular polarizer on the lens of your camera. It bends the light away revealing what’s beneath the reflection.

Find creeks that flow through the scene. We are fortunate that we have some beautiful little creeks that run through the forests. Make them the subject of your forest photo. They provide a subject and, in many cases, another lead through the forest scene. A creek is another place where one can use a circular polarizer. The surface of the water can have a reflection that can keep rocks or the creek bottom from showing up in the photo.

The type of camera that you have means little, in fact you can even purchase a tripod and a polarizing filter for your cell phone camera, so don’t let not having a “good camera” stop you. It is said that the best camera is the one you have with you. While using your cell phone it is easy to fall into just taking some snapshots when you can certainly create artistic photos if you take the time to be purposeful in your photography.

I have heard a lot of people claim that bringing a camera along on a hike distracts them from living in the moment, but I feel that my camera enhances that moment by forcing me to slow down and be more observant. It also gives me the satisfaction of being artistically creative while also doing something that I enjoy – hiking in the forest.

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