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The Best Woods for Portraits | Chicago's North Shore


Nestled away In Lake County, is a small village named Mettawa. It borders Lake Forest and Vernon Hills and where these towns meet, is Captain Daniel Wright Woods. This is my favorite forest preserve to photograph family portraits in.

As a kid in Cub Scouts, I visited these woods in the early spring. We crunched through the leaves on forest floor to collect buckets of sap from the trees to cook it into syrup.

Even at that time, I was drawn to the beauty of dense maple forest against the water. The reflections off the still water were mesmerizing.

As a high schooler, I used to photograph these woods on black and white film for photography class. The landscape looks a little different today but I love returning to a location that sparked my creative drive.

The summer is full of life with lush natural tones draping the landscape. I lean my editing style to the cooler and airy tones this time of year. The family can play in mowed grass, find wildflowers scattered along the limestone trail, and walk the waterfront.

As the summer grows hotter and drier, the foliage along the banks often turns red and yellow, hinting at the fall palette that bursts with color.

In these woods, the fall colors will pop early in the maple trees. When the timing is right, there is a brilliant display of deep orange, red, and yellow throughout the canopy.

At this time of year, I lean my editing towards the warmer tones with a bit more contrast to highlight the fall vibe.

I have favorite nooks all throughout the session to highlight the foliage, paths through the woods, and distant tree lines.

Along the water, we can cross a foot bridge and climb on boulders. One of my favorite views of the lake will often include lily pads that mimic a Monet painting.

Stepping slightly off the path and into the light brush will add texture to the images.

For sessions when the sun is a bit higher in the sky, there is ample shade to work in. A lawn towards the rear of the path has a thick screen of trees that creates the best natural background.

It’s a great spot to spread out a blanket and cozy up as a family or run around and get the wiggles out. Make sure to bring bug spray!

This location photographs well in both the morning and afternoon/evening when the sun is lower, and it makes the canopy glow.

The path is approximately a half mile loop, on flat ground, around a small lake. There are wonderful angles all around the path.

The family can stroll the trail as we explore half the trail during a 20–30-minute session, or hike the entire loop with a longer session.

There is an accessible parking lot with excellent views just steps from your car. This is a wonderful option for those with difficulty walking. You can find benches all around the lake to take breaks. There is a small park on site too!

Whether you like to see a grandiose landscape or buttery bokeh in your portraits, Daniel Wright Woods will deliver it all.

No matter the season, the woods make for a picturesque scene. Even with fireman boots on!

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