How do you go about photographing a forest? It's actually not that easy. But one tool for composition that you'll want to keep in mind is to simplify. And that's especially true for forest scenes. So many times I've just been blown away by the surrounding forest but just couldn't work out a composition. You have to figure out some way to compose the elements to describe what you're experiencing and what you'd like to say about it. Easier said than done!
This was a scene in the Gunnison National Forest in the early morning light along Ohio Creek Road. I really wanted to show part of the amazing aspen stand and also the beautiful fall colors. So after trying to work out how to group some of the trees together into a meaningful composition I knew I needed to simplify in order to arrive at an image that worked at all. But how do you simplify a forest scene? Well I selected one tree that I really liked and used it as the main subject of the image. Vertical lines are strong graphic elements in a scene so selecting one tree helped to simplify the main subject of the image. But I also wanted to give some context and show the really pleasing golden colors.
An easy solution was to shoot at a fairly wide aperture which would have the effect of blurring the background. This helped to keep the emphasis on the foreground tree without losing it visually with the background. If the image was photographed at a small aperture you would end up with more depth of field from front to back but the subject would merge into the forest. So it's just a matter of making sure the foreground tree stays sharp and blurring the background to your satisfaction. Notice too that even though the aspen leaves in the background are blurred, they still add some visual balance to the image also. I like the blurring of the background not only for a tool to help simplify but also as a way to add an abstract element. Why? Well, my visual style is to combine the elements that are real with elements that appear unreal because that's usually what I'm feeling in such incredible surroundings. I know it's all real but somehow it's impossible to believe so that's what I find myself trying to convey in many of my images. Blurring a portion of the image with aperture or shutter speed is just one way to do that.
So, if you find yourself in an amazing scene that is really complicated, think about stepping back a little bit and pick an element to help simplify your subject. And, if you can use a wide aperture to help isolate your subject by blurring the background, give it try and see if it works for you!
Canon 5D 70-200mm lens at 140mm f/2.8 at 1/60 of a second