Friday, June 10, 2011

Story Behind The Image - Dream Forest

Sometimes concepts are born out of necessity. The deep forests of the Pacific Northwest are some of my favorite places to photograph. I never seem to grow weary of the endless patterns of green and brown that blanket the mountains, valleys, and coastlines of this corner of the country. The soft diffused light of an overcast day is the perfect situation to capture the colors and contrasts of the deep forests Oftentimes though, I find myself wandering among the trees as the afternoon sun filters through the forest canopy creating a less than ideal situation. While the sunlight creates an atmosphere of dramatic majesty, the harsh contrast between the brightly lit trees and the shadows on the forest floor is too great for a single exposure to handle. In the modern age of digital photography there are many ways to compensate for this problem but during the age of film, it was another story.

On an afternoon trip to the Oregon coast, I was hiking a trail through the forest to a small secluded beach. I came to a small grouping of tree trunks that stood in a striking formation. I was about to file the location in the back of my brain for future reference when an idea popped into my head. Why not expose the film for the highlights to capture the color and then bleed the exposure across the image by panning the camera using a slow shutter speed. If it worked, it would effectively eliminate the shadows. With no way to preview the images, I stood in the forest for the next hour, panning the camera using different shutter speeds and different exposures. I tossed the four rolls of film into my camera bag and continued down the trail toward my planned destination. Two days later, I saw the results for the first time when I picked up my film at the lab. Most of the frames were filled with beautiful swirling color but they failed miserably to provide any context to the scene. There was one image where the trunks of the trees and the sunlit canopy were aligned just enough to understand what I was looking at.

Today, I can check exposure on the LCD screen of my fancy digital camera. I can take multiple exposures with my camera and combine them in my computer to create an image that captures the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights. Today, there is no need to wait for two days to see if you captured your vision on film. I still miss that moment of anticipation at the lab when the technician hands over those rolls of developed film. Sometimes I think I should turn that screen off and wait two days to see the results....but I never do.

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