A walk in the woods offers plenty of opportunities for great portraits. The landscape of the forest throws up a pleasing array of colors, organic shapes and varying light that can be used to the portrait photographers advantage. With shots of people in woods, there’s always a danger that the frame can get too busy. A wide expanse of trees may be pleasing on the eye, but when it comes to portraits, an overload of detail can be to the detriment of the subject.
The key here is to find ways to simplify the scene and draw the eye in towards your subject. In this tutorial, I’ll explain a few ways in which this can be done.
You could, for example, use a wide aperture for a shallow depth of field so that the foreground and background branches are blurred. Or you could compose the frame so that the surroundings work in harmony with the subject. Useful compositional tricks, such as the ‘rule of thirds’ and ‘frames within frames’ are a big help, as they can help you to visualize a tangled mess of branches into an arrangement that works for your portraits. With a little practice, these skills soon become second nature.
Tips and tricks for shooting Woodland Portraits
1. Use natural framesOne great compositional trick is to create a frame within your frame by seeking out natural frames that surround your subject. Look for branches or boughs that create natural holes to shoot through.
|An example of a natural frame around the subject|
2. Create a sense of depthCreating depth in your portraits is a great way to add to the atmosphere, and helps to lead the eye towards your subject. Find an angle that includes out-of-focus details in the foreground as well as the background.
3. Look for the lightUnder a canopy of branches there is a lot of variation in the light, even on a flat cloudy day. If the face is in shadow, look for another angle or ask them to turn towards the light for better illumination.
|A monochrome shot can simplify your portrait.|
4. Think color coordinationChoose outfits with blocks of color that contrast with the surroundings. Stay away from greens, browns or any other camouflage. Warm colors, like orange and red, are opposite to cool colors, like green and blue. White and black always works too.
5. Look for monochrome patterns
Trees and branches form wonderful web-like patterns, so look for parts of the scene to show this off. There’s a danger of the frame looking too busy, but you can simplify things with a conversion to sepia or black and white too.
6. Find a dramatic angle
Get down low and use a wide lens to find an angle that lets you include the canopy in the frame. Position your subject so they’re framed neatly with the scene, and watch for branches that stick out from the head.
When you find yourself in the woods next time, I hope these tips and tricks will be useful when you make portraits.