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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Photographing in the rainforest...

is hard. Not only is it physically challenging - humidity and sweat, mosquitoes and leeches all make it so enjoyable - but photographically it is very difficult as well.

Taking a nice photograph in the rainforest isn't simply a matter of heading in at any time of the day at any time of the year and coming back with the goods. You need very specific lighting conditions and your biggest enemy is the sun.

When the sun is out on a nice clear day there is just too much contrast to take a photograph. Think of how a tiger uses its stripes to blend into the forest and you can imagine what your pictures will look like. Inky black shadows combined with pure white, burnt out highlights.

In really contrasty situations to get an idea of what your picture will look like try squinting at the scene. You'll see areas of shade turn to black. This can be a good way of getting used to the difference in the way that you see the picture and your camera records the scene.

To retain all the detail you can see with your eye you actually need a really cloudy day. If you have no choice but to be in the forest on a sunny day you need to be out photographing before the sun comes out in the morning, get a book out until late afternoon, and start again when the sun has gone away.

But just timing your photo shoot for a cloudy day won't be enough to ensure rich, vibrant colours. Rainforest leaves are permanently shiny and that shine will take away all the colour in your pictures unless you neutralise it with a polarizing filter. Think of it like a pair of sunglasses for your camera. It cuts down on reflections and brings back the brilliant colours to your images.

The other thing about rainforests is that they're green. Monotonously so. I mean really, really boringly so. To break up your photographs you need to put something in the picture that isn't green. This is a pretty hard thing to do in a place where literally everything is the colour of a tree frog. That's why you usually see a stream or river in rainforest photos. To break up the monotony. If you come across a red or yellow leaf - use it! Get up close to brown-trunked trees. Stock standard point that camera at a rainforest scene photos don't work.

The photo above was taken at the beautiful Daintree Eco Lodge in far north Queensland. I have a polarizing filter on there to bring out the green in the leaves. I used a slow shutter speed to get that lovely cotton candy effect on the water. I took the shot with a wide-angle lens so I made sure to have something nice and prominent in the foreground to give me a foreground, middle ground and background to the image - thus creating a 3D effect. And although it looks like a really sunny day it was actually quite cloudy and little bits of light were filtering down between the trees to provide highlights on the water.

I was there on assignment for a great magazine called Destinasian. You can get it in Cairns for those of you who live there. It's published in Indonesia and I shot the assignment on medium format print film. You can see the images from this shoot in the May 1st issue.

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