The making of 'In a dark wood'

In a dark wood

I love trees, but I find forests dark and rather scary places. So the image that the poet Dante uses at the beginning of The Divine Comedy instantly appealed to me. He describes himself at the beginning of what we might now call a midlife crisis:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of this way of life of ours,
I found myself again in a dark wood
where the true way was confused.

My aim in making these images was to explore that sense of being tangled up in the complications of life: the feeling that there is no way out – every exit seems to be blocked off or confused. But sometimes there are glimpses of brightness and hope…

Most of the images in this series were made using Multiple Exposure (ME) in camera. The majority were made using a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, but a few were achieved by combining just two images in the Fujifilm X100F. Further processing was done in Lightroom and sometimes in Nik Color Efex Pro 4.


For Dante the whole world suddenly turned upside down. I have tried to picture this by combining two images of the same scene with one turned at right angles to the other. You can still see the tree set against a blue sky, but the blended images convey a sense of disruption. In the processing I have emphasised the brittle sharpness of the twigs as they seem to threaten the viewer.



Suddenly the trees begin to close in menacingly and wherever you look tangled branches block your way. In this image multiple versions of the same group of branches combine to make an impenetrable barrier.


Tall pines

Everywhere you look there seem to be trees, trees, trees. Here I have blended just two views of the same scene, but turned the camera upside down to create an impression of a dense forest.

Tall pines_.jpg

Deeper in

As you try to peer deeper into the forest there seems to be no way through. In this image several shots have been combined in the camera focusing on darker tones. Then small details have been enhanced and brightened to contrast with the darkness behind.

Deeper in_.jpg

The clearing

In the forest, there are clearings that may seem to offer some kind of hope or even escape. In places, sunlight filters through the branches to create a pool of light on the floor of the clearing. But the surrounding trees continue to threaten. This image is composed of multiple shots of the same scene blended in camera with an emphasis on the darker tones. The temperature of the light has been modified to make the whole image seem colder.


Catkin tangle

In the densest part of the forest, the white trunks of silver birches stand out and – against them – catkins appear tangled and twisted. Three images, all at the same location, but using different focal lengths. The images were blended in camera.

Catkin tangle.jpg

Blue trees

Pale gnarled branches against a dark background, blended with a shot of a blue sky so that only the lightest parts of the branches pick up the blue. In the rest of the image this is overwhelmed by the dark background.

Blue tree.jpg

Access denied

Just two images combined in the camera, which was turned through 180 degrees to take the second shot. It combines a view of the bare trees silhouetted against the sky with their reflections in the water. The blue in the scene is enhanced to give an effect of winter bleakness. The crossing of the branches conveys a sense of a barrier which cannot be passed.


Another image in which a network of trees and branches was photographed multiple times. The resulting image was then blended in Photoshop with a picture of a blue sky and an artificial red ‘sun’ to create the final image.



Three photographs taken in Croome Park and combined in camera: pine cones, the branches of a different tree and reflections in water. The colours were enhanced to create a strange dream-like mood.

Contrived corridors

A companion image to The clearing and constructed in a similar way. Multiple overlapping images of the same group of tall trees have been blended together to give an impression of corridors disappearing into the distance. Again, the forest surrounds the viewer and there seems to be no way out.

Contrived corridor_.jpg

Reflection #1

Ripples in the water distort two reflections of trees which were then blended in Photoshop to create a multiple image.

Reflection #1.jpg

Reflection #2

This image uses a similar technique, but the reflections are more abstract.

Reflection #2.jpg

Leaf light

Looking up at the forest canopy, light seems to break through (as it does in the two Reflection images). But the light is still surrounded by much darker foliage and it is an open question whether darkness or light will triumph. Multiple images with the camera turned upwards combined in camera with a shot of a single tree.

Leaf light_.jpg

Final sunrise

Here the trees look as if they might be at the very edge of the forest, but the light is still so dim that it is difficult to be sure. The sun is coming up, but it is still open to doubt whether the light will really break through and offer a way out. Two images of trees, one reversed, combined in camera. The resultant image was then blended in Photoshop with an image of the sun reflected in water.


The path

There is a path and it seems to offer a way out, but the route involves passing through the middle of a ghostly tree. Escape may be possible… Two images taken at Hilfield Friary in Dorset and combined in camera.

The path_.jpg
John Seely