Carsten's Captures - May: On Assignment

11th May 2012
Photographing woodlands and trees is a big challenge for every photographer. There are few things more beautiful than an ancient forest but there are also few things more chaotic. Branches, leafs and undergrowth intimately mingle together and arranging this hullabaloo of shapes and colours in an appealing way is never easy. In addition to the compositional challenge the contrast range in forests can be daring and finding the balance between shadows and highlights is an art form in itself.
Making a book on Ireland’s woodlands has been on my mind for a while so when the Tree Council of Ireland approached me to make the images for a book on heritage trees I was of course more than happy to join the team. This happiness however quickly turned into a slight panic when I learned the details: Around 100 trees all over the country were to be photographed between March and May, if possible with leafs or in bloom, colour and portrait format only. So many trees, so little time…
But as it turned out making the actual pictures was only one part of the job. Preparing and planning for the actual act of photography became a major undertaking. Many of the trees were located on private property, so seeking permission and working out dates for the photo shoot alone took a considerable amount of time.
And then there was also the question of finding one particular tree among many other trees… Thankfully we live in the age of GPS and after the first few trips (where I ended up driving in circles for hours and wandering through and getting lost in forests for even more hours…) I happily switched my paper maps and directions written on a piece of paper for a Satmap Active 10 (an overpriced but very good GPS mapping device). The Tree Council provided GPS data and finding the trees never was a problem again.



Planning the next shoot


But planning and paperwork aside this was and still is a wonderful assignment. Over the past few months I met a lot of nice people, many of them very proud of their trees, and was acquainted with truly remarkable entities: The trees - the biggest, the oldest and the ones with the greatest character. Some simply beautiful, others turned, twisted, hollow or struck by lighting… but each one mind-boggling in one way or another. And wandering through big estates and hidden woodlands I had some other rare and entertaining encounters: A pheasant’s nest (with a very excited pheasant mum), a raven using my tripod as lookout while I was exploring a nearby tree or a herd of investigative young bulls.



A pheasant's nest hidden in the undergrowth


Doing justice to these trees wasn’t always easy because of the tight deadline. Once on location I had to get the shot, rain or shine (or gale or hail or…), no time to wait for the perfect weather and flattering light. But I guess that is what it means to be a “pro”: Getting the job done in time and to the satisfaction of the client.
I still have a few weeks and some 30 trees to go and looking very much forward to it, although that “close to deadline” panic is slowly creeping in.


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