It was high time I returned to Goodenia Rainforest, a pretty pocket of lush temperate rainforest a short drive from home. After plentiful summer rains, it was the perfect time to visit, with ferns and mosses off the charts!
Photographing Goodenia - or any similar type of dense forest - presents a few challenges.
I've learnt from the mistakes made on my previous trips, and this time I came back much happier with the shots I took.
Here's my 3 favourites from this shoot:
For comparison, I took the 3 below in 2018. As you can see the composition is weak, the exposure isn't quite right and my close-up of the moss isn't perfectly sharp as I didn't take my tripod and I didn't realise, with the dim light and fairly slow shutter speed, that many of my shots weren't actually sharp until I got home. You can't always see on the playback. Or maybe thats my bad eyesight!
I also resorted to over-editing to even out the harsh contrasting light conditions. I remember being disappointed with them at the time, but not quite sure what I had done wrong.
My Top 5 Tips for Photographing Dark Forests
Use a Tripod
It can get pretty dark in the understory, even on sunny days: meaning you will be shooting at lower shutter speeds - unless you want to blow up your ISO and denoise all your shots later (which I don't think gives quite the same quality.
Best to lug that tripod with you. Also handy if there is any running water to photograph, as a nice little long exposure shot suits the rainforest vibe.
Reduce Visual Clutter
Rainforests are busy places. Lots of detail and lots of texture, which can make for cluttered photos. Looks great when you are actually there taking it all in! But not so good in a photo, not giving anywhere for the eye to 'rest'. I tried to use the path and bridge here in 2018 to make the scene less busy, but it just wasn't enough....
By adding some negative space, you can declutter your image and make the overall feel a lot more calm - which is the feeling you get while you are there (unless you are busy pulling off leeches! Arghh!)
You can reduce visual clutter in a number of ways:
By using light or dark spaces in the photo
By zooming in tighter
By finding a simple element - such as a single shape or texture - to be the subject.
In the above image, I used the water in the foreground to de-clutter the image, adding a longer exposure to further smooth out the water.
This creates 'space' in the composition, giving the eye somewhere to rest. It's a good technique which I try and use in my bird photos as well. Cropping in too tight is another common mistake which adds visual clutter - you have to aim for that happy medium!
Which leads to the next tip...
Vary Your Angles
It's not so easy to find a strong composition when you don't have a big or obvious subject.
Moss and ferns are definitely pretty, but offer only subtle details compared with an impressive waterfall, amazing view or rocky outcrop. Therefore it's important to get the composition right and find 'the sweet spot'. Ahhh the mysteries of photography!
Don't rush, take your time and move around your subject, trying a variety of angles and moving a little closer or further away from your subject.
That way, when you get home, you can have a look on a bigger screen and see what is the strongest composition. There's no harm or shame in taking plenty of shots!
Here I've changed the angle and cropped tighter to have more space around the subject, which is the little waterfall instead of more detail. Although the first photo was my initial attempt, the second one is a much punchier image.
The high contrast of forests, with their dark bellies and bright sunlight are tricky to photograph, no doubt about it. The temptation is to use a bit too much HDR or excessive editing to bring up dark shadows and bring down highlights, which can give an amateur look to your photos if you push it too far.
Yes the ones on the left probably do 'pop' more, but is that a good thing when it looks fake?
Disclaimer: This is also my personal taste! Lots of people like the overt HDR look, I'm just not one of them. To me, it looks fake and I prefer a more subtle image. Being a nature photographer I like to keep it, errr ... natural! Sometimes all it takes is pulling back a little.
A little restraint can go a long way and give your photos a bit of extra polish - without looking like an obviously edited image. Ideally, you don't want the viewer to know you have edited at all!
If it's a bright day, you'll get a better result by avoiding shooting towards the sky. These two images are taken with the same settings and unedited but we have a much better starting point just by pointing down a little or zooming in to avoid having to deal with the glare from the bright sun overhead.
Focus on Small Detail
There's a lot of appealing elements in the rainforest and of course you want to capture them all! But not ion the one photo! Find something you think captures the feel of the place, without showing the whole shebang, such as an interesting leaf or pattern, or zoom in tighter on your subject to reduce the number of elements in the photo. Although the subject matter is the same, I much prefer the image on the right for its simplicity.
Review your photos after you take them
It pays to have a quick flick through images you've just taken before you move your tripod set-up and go looking for another composition.
Often you are focusing on the subject and fail to see a flaw in the composition or an annoying distraction until you get home. The you wonder how you didn't see the problem at the time! Or maybe that's just me 😂
I definitely didn't notice this too-large glare spot in the foreground until I played back the photos on my camera while looking through the viewfinder right after taking the shot. I probably wouldn't have been able to successfully patch it in post processing, and why would you when you can easily fix it onsite and save more computer work later!
I hope you've found my quick tips helpful... feel free to comment with any questions either here or on my YouTube.
Goodenia Rainforest is in South East Forests National Park, about 22km from Pambula. The road can be a bit dodgy & rutted, so you'll need a 2wd with good clearance or a 4wd. There is a bush toilet, plus gas BBQ and a picnic table at the top. The walk down into the rainforest has quite a few stairs and is pretty steep. Although it's a short 1.2km walk, you'll need a reasonable level of fitness - don't attempt it with a bad knee or ankle! Allow plenty of time to walk back up, you might need a rest along the way.