Archives for posts with tag: trees

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.


Sometimes a great image is all about geometry. This is just such an image. I was shooting in Anaheim, California last month and if you wander over to you’ll see that I took a good number of pictures of palm trees. If you live in SoCal, you’ll know that the bark on the palm trees there has a distinctive pattern. That said, the pattern on each tree is different – the width of the bark, the symmetry (or lack of symmetry) of the lines is all different from tree to tree, much like a fingerprint.

I can’t say that I was searching for the perfect palm tree to photograph. It’s more that I wandered amidst a grove of trees and looked for patterns and forms that would catch my eye.

In front of the Anaheim Convention Center, for example, there is an amazing canopy of palm leaves. I had a blast standing underneath those trees and shooting up into the branches. The bark on the palm trees there, however, was not so intriguing for a couple of reasons – one of which was that the light was uneven (due to the large and thick canopy above). The other reason was that the patterns on the tree trunks there, while intriguing, did not cry out to be photographed. I supposed they lacked perfection.

And then I wandered over to the Honda Center, fully expecting to get some fundamental images of the building. What I found, as I wandered the mostly empty parking lot, were a handful of healthy and happy palm trees scattered about.

I was drawn immediately to this one tree – it’s bark pattern was perfect. I love the near perfect symmetry of the lines as well as the width of the different layers of bark that hit the graphic design sweet spot for me. I love the texture in this image, the lines, the depth of the shadows. There’s age and wisdom and meaning buried in there.

Every now and again, Nature offers up a brilliant landscape, be it a moonrise in Arizona, a perfect mix of blue sky and clouds over a magnificent vista, or a brilliant section of bark on a tree, perfectly formed and perfectly lit. Whatever the case, our goal as photographers is to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to be able to see it, and to be just smart enough to realize we should photograph it.

This picture, which was featured in Interior Design Magazine, came about on the last day of our two-month journey through Europe in 2006… Helen, Jordan, Tamar and I shared a van and driver with Dick and Jeanne Engebretson and set out to explore and photograph Tuscany for the day. This essentially involved picking a destination at random, then driving through Tuscany and instructing our driver to stop or to take random side roads on short notice time and time and time again. Picking out the perfect landscape as it whizzes by at 45MPH takes some getting used to, and it’s difficult to overcome the desire to not hassle the driver to stop once again a mere 100 yards down the road from the last place where you nudged him over onto the soft shoulder. Read the rest of this entry »