As you read this, I am lecturing on photography and creativity and leading photo expeditions in French Polynesia in both the Society and Marquesas Islands. Internet coverage is only by satellite when we’re at sea and even when we’re at shore, it’s expensive. Which is to say, while I’m not using up precious bandwidth to upload and share an image from this tour, here is one of my favorite images from our last tour in Fatu Hiva slightly more then four years ago.
Here’s a confession. I find shooting in jungles a challenge. Let’s start with the light. Light inside forests and jungles is typically uneven to a fault. Light dapples in through some branches and is blocked by others. The result is often a series of deep black areas of no light whatsoever interrupted sporadically by white hot spots of direct sunlight. Good luck finding a balanced exposure. It rarely exists.
Once I get past the challenges with the light I get to the next most basic challenge in photography – composition. The jungle is everywhere. In its enormity and as we walk through it, we’re enveloped in its entropy. We’re one part amazed, one part intrigued and one part terrified. How does this tangle of life come to exist? What would it be like to live here, without the benefit of modern technology? And, lastly, what lurks within the tangle that can and will do us in? It’s all remarkable and demands to be photographed.
And herein lies the struggle. I typically find it all but impossible to capture the energy of being inside a jungle within the confines of a 35MM frame. IMAX, perhaps, but the dimensions that I work within, not so much.
Scale is as much the challenge for me as anything else. Occasionally, I’ll pretend I’m a National Geographic photographer and put a person in one of the bottom corners for scale. But absent that trick, and not wanting to stage anything, how to capture scale when inside a jungle?
Imagine my delight, then, when I walked past this spot on the island of Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas Islands more than four years ago. To be clear, this was alongside and slightly off the trail. But there it was, a tangle of jungle with perfect light that in all, told the quintessential story.
There are spots in a jungle or forrest in which no direct light falls. After years of attempting to photograph in various stages of heavy foliage, I’ve decided that I prefer the spots with no direct light whatsoever. Especially in this age of digital photography, the cameras’ sensors pick up a lot of light, so the dark areas can still read well. Sure, the light is flat, but it’s better than the alternative with rays of direct sunlight creating frustrating hot spits throughout the image.
On all the logs criss-crossing the image in the foreground, the light is mostly flat. That said, there are degrees of gray and black that provide depth and dimension. The strongest objects are in the front, near to the lens. As we fall back into the image, the tree trunks become smaller, weaker, and the ambient light works in contrast and becomes stronger, in fact lighting up the background. Even in the brightly lit backdrop, there are punctuations of dark trees that stand as markers throughout the image. You can’t stage perfection like this if one tried.
The result of the play of light, flat in the foreground, brightly lit in the background, along with the continuity of dark tree trunks throughout provides what is for me a unique moment of depth in a jungle shot.
I love too that the the trees disappear off the four corners of the frame. Look at the bottom left and top right of the frame, with the lines going off precisely at the corners – this was intentional, as was the asymmetrical jungle noise at the opposite corners.
In all, I love every bit if this image. For me, it is equal parts aesthetically pleasing and story telling. And that’s the most I can ask a single image to accomplish.
More than four years after I captured this image in Fatu Hiva, I am back here leading a group of photographers on a tour. I’m excited to share this magical place with fellow photography enthusiasts. And I am also excited to see what new images I come back with.