If you go down in the woods today (with Brian as your guide!)

by Dec 1, 2023

It’s a nice sunny day and maybe, like me, you decide to sling your camera over your shoulder and take an amble through somewhere like Banstead Woods to grab a few woodland shots. The sunlight twinkling through the leaves makes getting the exposure right difficult wherever you point your lens and, to be honest, it’s just over-busy wherever you look. There are wood anemones as far as the eye can see, their nodding little heads crying “Take us while you can for on the morrow we are gone!” But how? Where from?

You begin to feel like an alien caught inside some kind of macro-organism. It produces waste, but nothing, NOTHING, gets wasted. Stuff that dies or is discarded doesn’t get dumped in landfill or the sea. It’s chopped up into smaller and smaller bits by invertebrates, fungi and bacteria until tiny enough to be reabsorbed and reused. In reality it is a very orderly system, but pictorially it’s a dog’s dinner. The system jogs along at its own pace, not mine. It has its own sense of order, not mine. Apparently, woodland trees talk to each other through their roots – beneath your feet!! I’m not welcome here with my camera. The snooker is on, so I decide to go home and watch that.

Clearly, if I want to get anywhere with woodland photography, I need to sort my head out, so I wanted to hear Brian’s talk this evening just to get someone else’s perspective on the subject. Brian devoted the first half of the evening to explaining his thought processes when setting out to take photographs in woodland.

You need a strategy for isolating images from the untidy mess before you. So, what does Brian look for? He looks for colours and shapes, patterns and repetitions, light and shade, and contrasts in all of these. Something singular.

Brian has kindly let me reproduce some of the images he used to illustrate what he meant.

Colours, shapes, and something singular:

Colours, a feast of greens in Summer:

Light and shade, repetitions, Early morning light through trees:

Is it better in mono? Taking out the colour can simplify an image making it easier to produce a pleasing composition

Consider converting to monochrome. In this shot from Polesden Lacey, the tree bottom right reminded Brian of a raptor threatening the other two, so he converted to monochrome enabling him to emphasise his narrative.

Often, having a story in mind like this can help you shape your final composition. Brian saw this cluster of fungi as a family group which influenced the way he took it.

Brian spent the second half of the evening talking about in-camera techniques for producing out-of-the-ordinary types of pictures, specifically intentional camera movement (ICM), and multiple exposures. These techniques can be a great fall-back if you find yourself in a place with nothing pulling you to photograph it.

For ICM, if you haven’t tried it, you have to force your camera to use a slow shutter speed while you move it about to blur what it captures. Set the ISO to the lowest available, then in aperture priority, stop down until you get a very slow shutter speed. Say 1/10 to 2 seconds. Start moving the camera before releasing the shutter. Long sweeping movements or short jittery ones all produce different effects.

Silver birches taken with a simple vertical camera movement
A coastal landscape with a small jittery camera movement

Many modern cameras allow multiple exposures i.e.  to take two or more frames and merge them into a single image. The more images you combine, the more abstract the result. Read your camera manual to see how to do it. The camera will divide the exposure equally between the multiple frames so that the final image has the correct exposure.

Here are a couple of Brian’s taken on a trip to Greenwich. Do you recognise the view from the Greenwich Observatory?

A great presentation Brian that certainly made me feel a lot less paranoid about taking my camera into woodland. So, what I need is some kind of theme or storyline to work to. Let me see – “an alien caught in some kind of…”

Hmmmm. Thanks for that Brian. I think I might give woodland photography another go.

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