Tuatara: Volume 16, Issue 3, December 1968
Some Problems in Photographing New Zealand Forests — Part 2: Photographs of Individual Trees and Close Ups and Semi Close Ups of Smaller Features
Some Problems in Photographing New Zealand Forests
Part 2: Photographs of Individual Trees and Close Ups and Semi Close Ups of Smaller Features
In Part One (Tuatara 15: 60-74, 1967) we were mainly concerned with general views of the canopy and interior of the forest. In this section we will concentrate on problems involved in photographing individual trees or parts thereof and groups of smaller plants.
Good specimens should be looked for at the edge of the forest, in large clearings within the forest or on the roadside, (Fig. 1) where access and lighting conditions are likely to be favourable.
Plain or subdued backgrounds are preferable to those which include much fussy or conflicting detail (Fig 3). A plain blue sky is best, particularly if there are small groups of white cloud to break up large areas of unrelieved monotone.
Most trees (individually or in small groups) should be photographed at eye level, a height from which we are accustomed to seeing them, and which also usually ensures that they will be raised clear of any distracting background.
When all else fails, it may still be possible to overprint or lighten the background during enlarging to bring about a difference in tone between the subject and its surroundings.
Foregrounds too are important, and yet are frequently overlooked. One should not allow any more foreground at the bottom of the final print than is sufficient to give the picture stability.
To reveal maximum texture in the subject, as well as its general shape, the horizontal lighting angle should be roughly between 45° to 90° to the line of vision and the vertical angle at approximately 45° to the ground. Low level lighting is more suited to the special effects of pictorial photography. Bright sun slightly obscured by high white cloud provides the necessary quality in the shadows.page 186
FIG. 1: Individual tree in open space (by roadside). Low viewpoint. Background of plain blue sky with wisps of white cloud. Aesthetic value of background spoilt by division of picture into equal parts by horizon line. Bright sunshine. (Metrosideros robusta).
Equipment for this type of photograph can be fairly simple, preference being given to a standard or long focal length lens to avoid distortion. In spite of an abundance of sunlight, a tripod will still be useful. Exposures will be normal, allowing the use of a film of medium speed with a green or yellow filter.
A typical variation on the above would be the situation, perhaps in a small clearing, where we have ample sunlight but with very restricted room to manoeuvre (Fig 2), so that it is impossible to stand well back and photograph an individual tree by means of a normal focal length lens. This is at least one occasion when it will probably be essential to use a field camera with a wide angle lens. Owing to the very acute viewing angle distortion will be excessive so we must try to present as pleasing an image as possible on the ground glass screen. Also time spent in seeking out a position from which to get an uninterrupted view of the subject will not be wasted.
Semi Close Ups
Here the subjects are parts of trees near ground level in situations where there is usually little room to manoeuvre (Fig. 4). This category differs from the last in two main respects—the camera-to-subject distance is considerably less and the quality of light completely different.
The lighting can be divided into low intensity or a mixture of low intensity with patches of brilliant sunshine.* The former has already been dealt with under the heading of ‘General Views of Interior’. In the latter case, if the photograph must be taken under these conditions, we should make some attempt to bridge the gap between extremes of light and shade. There are three ways of doing it — first by developing the negative in a soft working developer, or by ‘burning in’ the affected areas on the print, or lastly by the use of a fill in flash. Two or more of these methods however may be used at a time. Fill in flash in this case is rather more of a problem than it would at first appear, as there is a tendency for the flash to add equal quantities of light both to the areas where it is required as well as to those where it is not.
If we possess a wide angle lens, we may use it perhaps fifty per cent of the time — certainly more often than if we were interested in purely general views.
* Often the patches of brilliant sunshine may be disregarded if they do not fall across some important part of the subject.
FIG. 3: Individual tree above canopy, indicated by black arrow at top and white arrow at bottom. Example of hopelessly confused background. (Dacrydium cupressinum).
Close up photography can be very exacting, but for the most part it will consist of a number of techniques already mentioned.
As we are dealing with photographs taken within the forest interior, it will be assumed that all our subjects will be in complete or partial shade. In this section therefore emphasis will be on lighting. We may choose any one of the following:
(a) Existing lighting conditions with reflector
(c) Fill in flash
(d) Simulated sunlight
(e) Bounced flash
(f) Umbrella flash
Owing to the small area to be included by the camera, any one of the above techniques will be satisfactory, but in most cases the first will be as good as any other and has the advantage of simplicity.
In this whole group, apart from the essentials, a good reflector is easily the most useful item of equipment; the best being a sheet of white plastic which for easy transport can be rolled up on a broomstick. An aluminium painted sheet or card is also suitable, but when used with colour it may produce a slightly blue colour cast especially when the aluminium reflects the blue of the sky. However, ordinary newspaper for this purpose is efficient, cheap and easily carried.
Unfortunately, the quality of lighting for close ups is extremely inconsistent and is subject to very rapid changes. We have, in fact, in an exaggerated form the lighting already described under semi close ups, and here it is even more necessary to bridge the gap between shade and patches of bright sunlight. Not only are reflectors invaluable for this purpose but over a small area they can be far more effective than will be the use of flash. Often it is possible to partially or completely block any direct sunlight falling on the subject, merely by holding some conveniently opaque object such as a coat or a piece of card between the sun and the affected area.
FIG. 4: Semi close up within forest. Specimen held back on shadow side during enlarging. Overcast sky. (Dysoxylum spectable with root of Griselinia lucida and stems of Metrosideros fulgens).
Generally, it is inadvisable to use flash as the main source of light when attached to the camera in the usual way. Often the result will be dull, uninteresting and lacking in form. It will also produce specular reflections of shiny objects such as leaves etc. These reflections are bad enough in black and white, but in colour they invariably take on a decided tinge of blue and they cannot be eliminated by the use of a polarizing filter.
‘Fill in flash’* is basically the same under all conditions and it is unnecessary to elaborate further.
‘Simulated sunlight’** is a term used where flash is the main source of illumination and daylight relegated to the role of ‘fill in’ only.
‘Bounced flash’*** is popular with ordinary interiors (of buildings), and can be applied equally to close ups in the bush. The flash is directed at a suitable angle towards a reasonably large area of flat white or aluminium surface, which is in turn directed back towards the subject. The tonal quality in the film, resulting from this method, can be very high.
‘Umbrella flash’ is similar to the above in quality and treatment, and as the name implies, it is the result of aiming a flash at the inside of an open umbrella painted white or aluminium.
A Special Case Involving the Use of a Telephoto Lens
Epiphytes are rarely found within easy reach of the camera, and to photograph them it is frequently necessary to resort to the use of a telephoto lens (Fig. 6). Also only occasionally are we able to reach a level which will give us anything approaching a horizontal view. We must often be prepared to photograph the specimen from almost directly beneath.
* The focal Encyclopedia of Photography states: ‘The normal procedure in practice (for arriving at proportion of sunlight to flash) is to set shutter speed and lens aperture as for an exposure to daylight only. Next divide the guide number of the flash bulb to be used by the lens aperture already selected. The resulting figure gives the flash-to-subject distance at which daylight and flash will illuminate the subject with equal intensity. If a relative intensity of 4 to 1 between daylight and flash is desired, the flash-to-subject distance must be doubled.’
** To arrive at a relative intensity of 4 to 1 between flash and daylight calculate as above, but, instead of doubling the flash-to-subject distance, it should be halved and the aperture then reduced by two stops.
*** This method calls for an aperture approximately two stops larger than normal.
FIG. 5: Close up within forest. Large sheet white plastic reflector placed on shadow side of specimen. Part sunlight, part shade producing uneven density on negative necessitating appropriate dodging and burning in on print. Irritating hot spots in background eliminated by local reduction on negative (Pneumatophore of Laurelia novae zelandiae).
FIG. 6: Epiphytes by roadside and against a plain background. Heavily overcast sky. Telephoto lens. Camera-to-subject distance approximately 80 ft. Two fill in flashes (no. 2 flash bulbs). Flash to subject distance approximately 50 ft. H.P. 4 cut film. Developed in I.D.11. Additional exposure during enlargement on lower portion of trunk of tree to counteract effect of overexposure on negative caused by fill in flash (Collospermum hastatum on Metrosideros robusta).
NOTE: Outdoor flash requires the equivalent of up to one stop increase over that used in conjunction with any given guide number.page 195
Once again the greatest problem will be lighting, and in a great majority of cases it will be necessary to use fill in flash. Even with a suitably diffused natural light, the chances are its direction will be completely wrong, and there will probably be insufficient light on the lower portion of the subject to effect the emulsion of the film. Electronic flash at this distance will be totally inadequate even for black and white, and we will be obliged to use a No. 2 clear flash bulb, or in the case of colour, a No. 2 blue. It follows that multiple flash will help still more to bridge the gap, and more yet if it is possible to use a narrow beam reflector for each bulb. Although a normal reflector spreads the beam of the flash far too much for efficiency, the expense of a really efficient narrow angle reflector could be out of all proportion to its use. Nevertheless for occasional shots of this nature multiple flash, although expensive, is still within reasonable limits.
The choice of film for this type of photograph is probably a matter of personal preference, but a rating of about 400 A.S.A. is essential.
(1) In most scientific photographs such as have been described, it is desirable to include some kind of a scale. In many closer shots a ruler is sufficient, but essentially it should be neatly and squarely placed in a position where it can be seen without drawing attention to itself. More distant views should include a human figure also discreetly placed and looking towards the centre of interest in preference to looking at the camera.
(2) Photographically the ‘part’ is often better than the ‘whole’. In other words it is not always necessary to include the ‘whole’ to show the subject to best advantage.
Economy in words in good journalism has a counterpart in good illustrating, whether it be in drawing, painting, linocuts, or etchings — not to mention photography. Taking this a step further it is often better to use one photograph instead of two, providing all the essentials are clearly shown. When publishing, this also has the practical advantage of eliminating the cost of unnecessary blocks. On the other hand, if we are convinced that in a particular instance we require a photograph of the whole as well as the part, we must try to ensure that the one complements the other. As far as possible too much duplication should be avoided.
(3) In cold weather one must be careful to check on possible fogging up of the lens. This trouble is usually more pronounced immediately on taking the camera out of the camera bag.