Photo tip of the week: How to take better images in rainforests
Despite most of our country being relatively hot, Australia is still blessed with some of the most beautiful rainforests in the world. Having just returned from Tasmania's beautiful Tarkine region, Mike O'Connor shares a few tips for shooting in the wild and wet parts of our fair country.
1) Choose your conditions wisely
Ok, you won't always be able to pick the weather, but if you can, aim to go when conditions are foggy and wet. This is because the beautiful greens you see in the best rainforest images really 'pop' when they are saturated and wet.
Early morning (as in very early at sunrise) is a great time to shoot, as not only will the light be low, but you may also exprience fog, especially around rivers and water sources. Fog can act as a natural diffuser that will soften the light, and also create beautiful rays of light through the rainforest canopy. One more tip: if you can, pack a polariser. It will help to improve contrast and saturation and make your images even more vibrant.
2) Take your time
Good rainforest imagery takes time - this includes time for research, time to study what the light and weather is doing, and time to define your composition (see point three below). This is especially important because the weather window for the best results is often quite narrow.
If you can, try to visit the same places on a number of ocassions. Locations with lots of different walking track loops (like Corinna in the Tarkine for example) are excellent because you can focus on a different area each morning. This image below was captured on my second walk on this particular loop. The first time I had noticed the tree, but the day was already getting on and the light wasn't particularly flattering. I came back early next morning with my composition already in mind.
3) Isolate the details
Speaking from experience, it's really easy to be overwhelmed when shooting in rainforests. In Tasmania for example, trees like the Antarctic Beech and the iconic Huon Pine send out massive creeping root structures that cover the ground, and if you look up, you'll likely just see hundreds of branches competing for your attention - it can all add to a viewing experience a bit like looking at a Jackson Pollock painting - you just don't know where to look next.
Humans are programmed to look for order – leading lines, symmetry and patterns. If you can find these things in nature, your images will naturally be stronger.
In a rainforest, the key is to isolate details. Look for a particularly gnarly trunk, the coil of an unfolding fern frond, or a root structure that leads towards a point of interest. Don't forget to work the angles too - by getting low you can emphasise the size and stature of a tree trunk in relation to the smaller plants around it.
One useful technique is to focus on the individual elements that make up the ecosystem on and around a tree - the moss covered rocks at its base, or a particular aesthetic fern, for example. Choose one of these as a foreground element, and then look at how you can frame it with a suitable background element. Remember there's always options and angles, the key is taking the time to identify them amongst the noise.
4) There's more than just trees out there
Although you'll likely take tons of shots of trees, don't forget that there are a heap of other subjects in rainforests too - especially birds and reptiles. To identify nests, train yourself to look up regularly, and especially so around the boughs of trees as although you may not see the nest, you may see birds coming and going.
After rain, consider that the soil will be teeming with grubs and worms that are particularly attractive to birds too. Just tread lightly and be as quiet as you can, as any bird hunting for food on the forest floor will likely be very flighty.
The other subject is water - especially so if you visit at the right time of year. For our shoot in the Tarkine, we were next to the beautiful and mystical Pieman river. Because the river flows relatively slowly, early in the morning was a great time to capture beautiful reflections.
Waterfalls are also a great subject (and worthy of an article of their own), but just make sure you use a tripod when shooting for the best results.
Finally try to give yourself a shot list - before you start, think about the one image you'd like to come home with, and make sure you focus on capturing it. Do your best to capture something that tells the whole story of your trip by shooting a wide variety of subject matter: everything from your accommodation, to wildlife and nature shots are fair game. It makes for a much more interesting viewing experience than looking at 100+ images of trees.
5) The gear and settings
Although my preference is to avoid carrying a tripod, a rainforest is one area where they can be very useful. This is because things are often very wet (not conducive to putting your camera down) and dark (which means handholding can be tricky).
If you don't want to pack a big tripod, consider one of the hand sized small ones. They take up hardly any room and in a pinch will keep your camera off the ground. Another benefit of using a tripod is that it forces you to slow down. Use it as a chance to check your camera settings, think about your surroundings, and look around for better compositions.
But failing that, don't be afraid to push your ISO a little. The days of needing to shoot everything at ISO 100 are long gone, and most cameras today will handle anything up to about ISO 1000 with little difficulty, especially if you have a full frame camera. My default is often ISO 400 for handheld shots.
In terms of lenses, something wide is always going to help capture a sense of scale, but don't underestimate a longer focal length too. I found some of my favourite images from my trip to the Tarkine were taken on my trust 100-400mm. A macro lens is also well worth bringing along for capturing detail shots - but in a pinch, a telephoto can also be used for this purpose too.
Corrina, Tasmania, is a small settlement in the heart of the Tarkine wilderness area. The eco resort offers a range of accommodation alternatives from restored cottages to tents and powered sites on the edge of the Pieman River.
Immediately north of Corinna, is the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area, a place of diverse ecosystems, beautiful coastal landscapes and untamed wilderness. The Tarkine covers 450,000 hectares and is a major habitat for myrtle-beech dominated rainforest. Within the Tarkine there are said to be more than 400 species of diverse flora, from native orchards to thousand-year-old Huon Pine trees. Just a few of the many animal species that inhabit the Tarkine include quolls, Tasmanian devils, eastern pygmy possums, wedge-tailed eagles, white-breasted sea eagles, orange-bellied parrots and white goshawks.
Travelling distances and times to Corinna: Burnie 123km (2.5 hours); Devonport 168km (3hours); Hobart 346km (5 hours); Launceston 267km (4 hours); Queenstown 88km (1.5 hours); Strahan 99km (2 hours); Zeehan 49km (1.3 hours).
More info: corinna.com.au
Mike O'Connor travelled as a guest of Corinna Wilderness Experience.