Take a wood­land por­trait

James Pater­son demon­strates how to use a va­ri­ety of com­po­si­tional tricks and tech­niques to cap­ture nat­u­ral-look­ing can­dids

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Try our com­po­si­tional tricks and tech­niques to cap­ture nat­u­ral-look­ing can­dids on a win­ter walk

Walks in the woods of­fer plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for great por­traits, of kids or adults. The land­scape of the for­est throws up a pleas­ing ar­ray of colours, or­ganic shapes and vary­ing light that can be used to the por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher’s ad­van­tage.

We went to Wist­man’s Wood in Dart­moor for our shoot here. This at­mo­spheric for­est of stunted oak trees in the heart of the Devon coun­try­side is a great place to shoot your por­traits. But no mat­ter what type of for­est you choose for your shoot, they all share cer­tain fea­tures that can make for a va­ri­ety of in­ter­est­ing com­po­si­tions in por­traits.

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 to 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, we’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, be­cause they can help you to vi­su­alise a tan­gled mess of branches into an ar­range­ment that works for your por­traits. With a lit­tle prac­tice, these skills soon be­come sec­ond na­ture…

Forests all share fea­tures that can make for a va­ri­ety of in­ter­est­ing com­po­si­tions

1 Use nat­u­ral frames

One great com­po­si­tional trick is to find anat­u­ral frame that you can in­cor­po­rate within your frame. Look for branches and boughs that curve around, or gaps in tree trunks and bushes. Shoot through them or ask your sub­ject to pose by them so that they ap­pear framed.

2 Cre­ate some depth

Cre­at­ing depth in your por­traits is a great way to add to the mag­i­cal at­mos­phere, and helps to lead the eye to­wards your sub­ject. Find an an­gle to shoot from that en­ables you to in­clude some out-of-fo­cus de­tails in the fore­ground as well as in the back­ground.

3 Use the light

Un­der a canopy of branches there is a lot of vari­a­tion in the light, even on a flat, cloudy day. If your sub­ject’s face is in shadow, look for an­other an­gle or ask them to turn to­wards the light for bet­ter il­lu­mi­na­tion. Por­traits are, after all, about the per­son, so we need to see them.

4 Add con­trast­ing colour

Choose out­fits with blocks of strong colour that con­trast with the sur­round­ings. In the woods, stay away from greens, browns and other cam­ou­flage colours. Warm colours, such as orange and red, are op­po­site to cool hues of green and blue, so will draw our at­ten­tion best.

5 Look for pat­terns

Trees and branches form won­der­ful web-like pat­terns in old wood­lands or forests, so look for parts of the scene where you can show this off. There’s a dan­ger of the frame look­ing too busy with these in­ter­est­ing back­drops, so try sim­pli­fy­ing things with apunchy mono con­ver­sion.

6 Find an an­gle

Get down low and use a wide-an­gle lens to find aplace that en­ables you to in­clude the tree canopy in the frame. Po­si­tion your sub­ject so that they’re framed neatly within the scene. Watch out for how branches are an­gled, too – you don’t want one ap­pear­ing to sprout from their head!

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