Seven Black & White Photos of a Forest landscape in Berlin.
Landscape photography is challenging – especially if you’ve spent a lot of time in a city environment, and been working on your street photography more often than looking at trees, and fields, and lakes.
I live in Berlin. It’s a great city, the architecture is fascinating and the streets always have something new to offer a photographer on the hunt for a motif to photograph. But there comes a time when a photographer yearns for something deeper than cars and people, bricks and mortar, and asphalt jungle shots.
Landscapes, woodlands, and lakes offer a new set of challenges in the form of different light, more complex shadows and broader views to fit into the photographer’s frame.
I chose to photograph the woods down in Müggelsee, Berlin. A place on the outskirts of Berlin’s bustling city.
I’ve been out and about in the countryside a few times recently, and my first problem was that everything is so damned green. It can be hard to find a decent angle, and the idea of a frame within the composition of green upon green is a little daunting at first.
It must be the city dweller in me. I told myself to start thinking in black and white, which would allow me to focus on composition more than having to deal with the finer shades of a single colour – green – with a backdrop of deep brown and red tree bark.
This helped a lot. The textures then become more important than trying to compose colour. The tones show up prominently, and the idea of getting those lovely accents between bright sunshine and heavy shadows turned into a fun challenge while shooting black and white shots around the forests of Müggelsee. It’s a nice walk along a peninsula.
If you are contemplating woodland photography, you’ll encounter your first problems – maybe not expected – that will force you to think differently.
The shot below. I saw it, and it caused me to stop in my tracks. It was something about the rising tree trunks that grabbed my attention at first. Then of course, the fact that the sun was lighting them from behind created a strong composition of lines shooting up towards the sky. It was a bright sunny day in a dense woodland.
All I can say, is that after trying to shoot smaller compositions where the sun was hitting roots, or splashing patches of light among the leaves, I realised that this makes a better photographic composition, and highlights the problem of taking photos within an enclosed area of woodland. Enclosed means that things are very dark, lots of shadows, and little patches of light; so we have to be kind to the shadows and give them more space in our compositions.
I like the shot. It’s basic but enjoyable to look at. I remember that I was experimenting with the idea of a faster shutter speed, to see how much difference it makes to the edge of a shadow when it’s faster. So, the above shot taken at 1/250 second means less light coming into the camera sensor. F 13 stop to get a decent depth of field, and 2000 ISO to help me out with the brightness in the shot. On a Canon 5D Mark II tooled up with 24 – 105 mm lens, at 24 mm for this shot gave me something worth looking at.
I’m the sort of photographer who comes from the old school art world. I painted for years, and I know what a difference it makes if you spend a lot of time with your subject. Stand in front of it, give it all the time in the world to peruse its qualities and discover with your eyes all the nooks and crannies that you couldn’t have noticed at first glance. This develops your focus, and it helps to connect the scene to your own personal vision of the objects that you photograph.
A good artist can make a beautiful painting out of a pile of rags lying on a studio floor. The painter spends so much time investigating with their eyes and thoughts, that the finished work is often astonishing. Photographers should take this same attitude and “become the object” by deepening their understanding of what they are looking at. Hold the camera and use your eyes, discover and see first, then adjust settings and take a shot to see if you are getting the results you hoped for, adjust again, and the second shot might be better. It’s the challenge of photography; to see, and think, before pushing the button.
Above, roots and stems of a group of trees. At first, it was the piled up branches in the background that attracted my attention. Somebody had built a woodland shelter. Then I thought about how to frame it. In the woods, covered by tree tops that block the sunshine, it’s difficult to make sense of either too much green, or too much wood that varies in colour, but only incrementally. In summer, it’s hard to see contrasting colours to create a composition for photography. Can’t see the trees for the wood.
I had to step back, then a few more steps, until the tree roots and stems became something of a frame that I use to square off the little shelter. In the end, I think the composition is about the foreground, and the piled up branches forming the shelter in the background aren’t particularly important. They reflect light. But they don’t express anything to look at. The roots in the foreground do.
Above, the same area of trees and roots. This time I focused in on the roots only, and the sunshine hitting the various angles. This created something interesting.
I think that when you first start to photograph a different subject than you normally would, then you are overwhelmed by all the possibilities, and the newness of it all. This is a good thing for a photographer. It means you have found a new challenge, and your mind is weighing up the possibilities of fresh subjects to photograph.
Above, this is the shot I like most for this particular area of the woods.
The tall trees required an upright frame, portrait format. As you can see, the sun is in the shot, in spite of this I had to raise the ISO to 2500, and set the depth of field at F 13, the shutter speed at 1/250s.
I’ve included the colour version below; I think it works as a basic photo. The light is okay, and it creates an idyllic woodland feeling, that might even look good when framed and hung on a wall in somebody’s office. or home.