6 Top Tips for Taking Amazing Forest Portraits

Woods and forests can make wonderful backdrops for wedding and engagement photography. The deep greens of the trees, the sunlight filtering through the leaves and the fresh air create an unforgettable setting with seemingly endless creative possibilities. Forest portraits, however, are not without challenges such as low light, a green color cast, and other factors. To help you overcome the challenges, here are 6 tips for creating amazing forest wedding and engagement photos. Here’s what we’ll cover for taking great forest portraits:

  • Your best lighting is often at the edge of the forest
  • Look for streaks of light
  • Consider staying in a bad mood
  • Find foregrounds and frames
  • Consider adding your own flash for separation
  • Consider staying above the trees

(The following images are provided by Wedding Maps with permission from each of their photographers.)

1. Your best lighting is often at the edge of the forest

One of the main challenges of photographing portraits in the forest is that when you enter a lush forest with tall trees and vegetation, a lot of your light is cut off. Although you can increase your ISO and decrease your shutter speed to overcome the low light factor, you often end up with flat light with a strong green tint. So before you go deep into the forest, consider taking at least a few of the portraits at the edge where you might get better lighting. See some examples below:

Image © Jessie and Dallin | Website
bride and groom in the field at the edge of the forest
Image © Jessie and Dallin | Website
couple on log near waterfall
Image © Mauricio Urena | Website

2. Look for light streaks and light direction

The next tip for amazing woodland and forest portraits is to look for streaks of light that come through the trees. Dappled sunlight creates a soft, romantic glow that can make your photos look truly radiant. It can come from above if you are shooting during the day or from an angle if you are shooting closer to golden hour. See two examples below:

Tips and techniques for portraits in the forest couple at the tree
Image © Jay Cassario | Website
Image © Angela Nelson | Website

In the next set of images below, note that although the light trails were not visible, the photographers found excellent directional light and used right angles and compositions to emphasize the subjects.

bride and groom hugging in the forest.
Image © Finn and the Fox | Website
Indian couple in the desert
Image © Chad Winstead | Website

3. Consider saving Moody for forest portraits

Woods and forests naturally have a magical, moody vibe, so consider moving away from the idea of ​​“perfect lighting” and taking a creative, dark, moody approach. With the right vision and creativity, the results can be dreamy and beautiful, as you can see in the images below:

newlyweds having dinner in the forest.
Image © Thien Tong | Website
forest portrait of bride and groom with lens flare.
Image © Jay Cassario | Website
Fall in the forest with leaves on the ground around the bride and groom.
Image © Group of two | Website

4. Finding Foregrounds and Frames in Forest Portraits

Woods and forests create seemingly endless opportunities for interesting compositions, including foregrounds and frames.

In the image below, notice how photographer Jason Vinson found holes in the leaves to photograph, combining the compositional concepts of negative space and foreground elements.

example of forest portraits
Image © Jason Vinson | Website

In the following image, notice how the bent trees create a natural setting for the couple. Photographers found the angle and distance to be perfect so there were no distracting elements directly behind the subjects.

trees leaning around a couple
Image © Jessie and Dallin | Website

Here are some additional examples of interesting compositions, foregrounds and frames for portraits taken in the forest.

bride and groom sunbathing in nature.
Image © Lin and Jirsa | Website
forest bride
Image © Tanya Parada | Website
bride and broom in the snowy forest.
Image © Jos and Tree | Website

5. Consider adding your own flash for separation

Adding a back flash helps make subjects stand out from the background. If the natural light is flat in your forest portraits, dark hair or clothing can easily blend into a dark background. This is when adding your own flash can help create separation. Here are some examples:

newlyweds surrounded by leafy trees.
Image © Jason Vinson | Website

The image below is a particularly interesting example of using a rear flash for separation. Imagine the image without the rear flash. The couple would be far too dark and blend into the forest vegetation behind them.

winding.  lush trees
Image © Angela Nelson | Website
forest with the bride and groom
Image © SMJ Photography | Website

6. Consider staying above the trees

Of course, another option for capturing beautiful forest portraits is to find a view that overlooks the trees. Up there, you don’t have to worry so much about the green color cast or lack of light direction. Yet you can still capture the magic and beauty of trees and nature.

Here are some of our favorite examples below:

couple on top of a rock at sunset.
Image © Rey Benasfre | Website
example of lens flare on trees.
Image © Holding and Co | Website
couple kiss on a rock overlooking the forests.
Image © Marissa Joy | Website
couple on top of a mountain with a view of the trees
Image © Wes Shinn | Website

Conclusion

The natural beauty of woods and forests creates many opportunities for photographers, and with the right preparation, forest portraits can be truly magical. The richness of interesting textures, colors and shapes, with light filtering through the trees, can produce stunning effects. For all of these reasons, forest portraits can be an incredibly rewarding type of photography to pursue. We hope the tips above will help you on your next nature photography adventure.

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Luz W. German