Photoessay: The magic forest

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Following on from yesterday’s article on travelling as a photographer – specifically the portion on serendipity – I thought it might be nice to show an example of that in today’s photoessay.

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Dead or alive

This forest wasn’t something we planned to visit; I had a couple of days free in Prague before the start of the last Prague workshop. My brother flew in from London to join me, and we rented a car for a day to drive around. There were a few small towns that were our primary destination – ostensibly for photography – but the forest we passed along a small country back road turned out to be far more interesting. Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of the discovery, the isolation and solitude, or just the nearly-perfect, uniformly-spaced (but clearly still natural) trees that were waving around gently in the breeze, about 100 feet overhead, with no intermediate branches or low-level growth to block the view.

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I could have stayed there for a long, long time, but we needed to get back to Prague. Instead, I made do with some images. I think perhaps the first and last encapsulate the warm, embracing feeling of being there best; there were some interesting oddities along the way, like the lane that divided the dead trees from the living; a healthy assortment of probably deadly (but colourful) fungi; shafts of brilliant sunshine that interrupted the clouds to spotlight a single tree or branch, and the curiously empty forest floor. Honestly, web jpegs do not do the place justice; a big screen helps, but a large print only truly begins to approach the feeling of being there. Enjoy! MT

Images in this set were shot with a Ricoh GR (digital V) and the 21mm adaptor.

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Death comes in threes

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The line

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Which way?

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Skewed perspective

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Look up


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  1. Your blog I feel is one of the best. I come from old school film and working to have a foot in the digital world too. My observation is how do all your images achieve the same contrast range and sharpness—irrespective of the senor size,lens, light. Thank you for putting up the site.

  2. Beautiful images…how lucky to stumble upon. I especially love the looking up ones…..amazing : )

  3. Terrific lighting throughout the first image! So difficult to do with so many shadows present.

  4. Something about the last two is particularly attractive. They seem to look almost like a reflections of trees in water, but clearly are not. Thanks for sharing!

  5. This is interesting for me – I am Czech, I grew up there (even though I live abroad now) and this forest looks exactly like the forests near my parents’ summer home where we spent our childhood picking mushrooms, playing hide and seek etc. I come there with my kids now and have learned to realise how special these places are. Best of all, these forests are typically State owned (or owned by large owners like the Church) and you can roam there pretty much freely (as long as a hunt is not ongoing). I am glad you enjoyed our Czech forest! It’s made me realise that what we have back home is often more valuable than those things that we long for (progress, economic growth…) and that other people whose countries enjoy those things may perhaps miss what we have… Best regards, Martin

    • Interesting to hear its state owned – is it a forest whose trees are for harvest and pulp, which others have suggested, or a recreation area?

      Definitely something to be enjoyed, regardless!

    • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

      Marin, I surely don`t miss what you have when staying in your wonderful country. Let me see, for the first pivo, for the second, well pivo too and then of course krasne slecne.

  6. Ming:
    – In terms of general shooting philosophy, do you try to capture a scene, as close as possible, to how you saw it that particular day? Perhaps we can call this a “journalistic” shooting philosophy. In other words, you may clean up contrast and other lighting issues, during post, however, you try to keep it as close as possible to the scene you saw that day…?

    – Or do you try to make the scene look “as good a possible”, even if it means creating an entirely different capture…? One example perhaps, may be turning night into day, if it suits the image.

    I’m struggling with this issue in post processing, so I’m curious about your thought process.

    • It depends what I’m photographing. If it’s commercial, then the goal is to make the subject look as good as possible, including retouching. Anything meant to be journalistic is left as is. Everything else falls somewhere in between the two, though most of the time I do very little work on an image simply because if I have to, it probably means the scene wasn’t that compelling to begin with.

      • Thanks for your advice,,,! I think your last sentence sums it up perfectly!

        I rarely get a “winner” out of a shot I’ve struggled with in post…
        This is indeed more of an argument for photographers to “try to get it right” at point of capture.

        These past few years, I’ve heard a lot of the post processing crowd demand higher megapixels, so they can crop and get it right at post. It seems very time consuming to do it that way and perhaps rarely successful…?

        Recently, some photographers have mentioned that they plan to film 4k video and take the “perfect” capture, right out of the video stream. I’m trying to wrap my head around such a work flow. It seems the same philosophy would still apply.

        • It’s not time consuming to crop, but it’s rarely successful. Lack of previsualisation means that composition is weak to begin with.

          4k video yields ~8MP. However, video shutter speeds can be low-ish (especially under low light or fast moving situations, where you’d likely shoot 4k instead of stills) which would include some motion blur. When played back normally, it’s a non-issue because our eyes string everything together – this just isn’t going to work for stills. A bunch of blurry frames? No point.

  7. serialphotographer says:

    What a superb collection of shots. That is one hell of a sharp lens and it’s made me consider breaking my no new gear acquisition resolution !

  8. John M Owens says:

    Ming, Your “forest” looks like a stand of trees planted for harvest and turning into pulp for paper, but no matter I agree such an environment can be very interesting and absorbing for a photographer. However, if you are still alive to read this comment, then you did not eat any of those mushrooms that you took pictures of – since they were VERY DEADLY Amanita species “death angel” mushrooms. If they are eaten, the toxins they contain are converted in the liver to the most toxic form, and so if one gets to hospital quickly enough for treatment the doctors basically have to replace a lot of your blood that is carrying the toxic components to your liver. It is only a matter of some hours before it would be too late. Thanks for your blog which I read and enjoy daily. All the best….JMO

    • Good thing I didn’t feel hungry then 🙂

    • “However, if you are still alive to read this comment, then you did not eat any of those mushrooms that you took pictures of – since they were VERY DEADLY Amanita species “death angel” mushrooms.”

      Sorry but that isn’t correct. The mushroom known in North America as “death angel” is Amanita ocreata:

      The mushrooms that Ming’s very inspiring pics show is Amanita muscaria:

      • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

        Just for the rercord. Amnita muscaria is toxic but in most cases not deadly. It was used for it`s hallucinogenic proprieties in many cultures. Vikings took them on their raids where combined with lots of beer gave them facial expressions most of the raided prefered not to dicuss with.
        The real Lord of merciless darkness in Europe is Amanita phalloida, known in english as a death cap. Just one of them in the dish kills up to eight people. No you`re warned.

        • We don’t need to get 1000 years back to viking times. Here in the Pyrenees amanita muscaria has been used by shepherds till mid 60’s. Not dangerous if you know how to use it. Though even a bottle of wine can be deadly in the hands of a child.

          Very beautiful mushroom when in its prime. Unfortunately those found by Ming are a little bit old, if not he surely would have got some memorable pics of them.

  9. Dwaine Dibbly says:

    I especially love that last one. Any chance that prints will be available?

  10. nice series of photographs!

  11. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    Oh Mingo Bingo, pity you didn`t ask tcheckish friends about Sarecki udoli. It`s a wonderfull nature park just few miles from Praha with wild nature, cannyons, slopes, old settlements of prehistoric peoples, boy, enough to fill your memory card for the times to remember.

    • Nope, I didn’t – actually, I didn’t know any Czech people at the time of planning the trip – but I will go there next time…gives me a reason to go back again, I suppose!

  12. Lovely.

    You always seem to time the trees for when my work turns the stress screw on me. Just what I needed today [again].

  13. Your photoessay describes the beauty and majesty of the forest.

  14. Great shoots! Very simple, but immediate impact! Love them.

  15. That Ricoh is an AMAZING piece of gear and you use it so damn well Ming. I have one and love it but then put it away in favor of some bigger gun and then, after a while, find myself missing that little powerhouse and going back to it. If only it would focus better in low light. Any suggestions?

    • I’ve used it far more than I ever expected to – it’s just so effortless, fast and the results are great. Low light – use snap mode, or switch to MF and use the AFL button as AF-ON. Or find something contrasty…

  16. just wow !!!

  17. You should try localized sharpen (and maybe a smaller radius), some of these images look really oversharpened (to me). I’m not saying you don’t need any, but very often I find only a few spots in the picture need it, it makes the pictures (sometimes) easier to read

    • The downsizing sharpening artefacts are due to flickr. Look at the original size images.

      • I’m loving this images, but first I also thought they are way too much oversharpened until I thought of the flickr problem and that they might be hosted on it. I’m really wondering why Flickr doesn’t change their engine to not sharpen the images while scaling them down or making it more subtile. Other networks like G+ (and I bet many more) do a much better job.

  18. Mushrooms:
    Amanita Muscaria.

    Not lethal. Used since ancient times due to their hallucinogenic properties.

  19. Rolf Jungbark says:

    As I live with this kind of forest just outside my door and am presently doing my best trying to photograph a part that will be logged shortly I find these images very inspirational. I don’t know if you know it but this kind of forest is actually a field where trees are grown, that is the reason for the uniformity. In Sweden, where I live, the trees are planted closely spaced in rows, to force the trees to quickly grow for the light and have thinner branches. About every 20-25 years some trees are removed until finally, after about 70 years, the last, the big ones, are logged. I looked for the dead trees in your photos but could not find them, however I saw both spruce and pine trees, which are similar, except that pine trees loose their lower branches (they actually loose branches that are shaded). The mushrooms are not dead, but they are poisonous. The Vikings are supposed to have eaten them before going into battle as they are supposed to create hallucinations.
    Thanks for the inspiration! /Rolf

  20. Kristian Wannebo says:

    I hope you will sometime find one of the (very) few corners in Europe where the forest was never touched by logging and is left to itself, and have enough time for it…

    I especially like the first photo, “Special”, “The line” and “Skewed perspective”.

    Personally, I find forests hard to catch,
    especially if limited to only a wide angle.

  21. There’s no shortage of great work on your Flickr. I think I can learn much from you just by looking at your images. I’ll be back..

  22. Lovely images, thanks for sharing!

  23. Truly amazing! Wonderful work Ming!

  24. Brilliant set Ming! I love trees and forests so i m naturally biased towards this set.
    Would love to have a large print of one of these on my wall.
    That fungi looks lethal !

  25. Thank you for the beautiful shots. I have a lot of forest near by. Not exactly like these but still forest. Really like the mushroom as well… Agree on the Look Up photo being a marvel. interesting to see trees so identical…

  26. Looking up looks like it could be a great print.

  27. Very nice stuff as always Ming – especially like the portrait of that Fliegenpilz.

  28. Les Hanson says:

    sorry, I didn’t get what camera and lens/lenses you used for this beautiful arrangement.

  29. Very nice – I was just looking around the web for examples of wide-angle photos. My 14-24 is one particular lens I have found quite difficult to get any good photos and I’m keen to improve on it.

  30. Great stuffs, MT. By the way, how do you like the 21mm adapter? I am thinking if I should get one or buy a used 12/f2 for my EP5 instead.

    • I like it a lot. It was clearly designed to work with the GR’s optics – the center is fine at f2.8, edges are okay but become really quite excellent by 5.6.

  31. Simply brilliant photography! Thank you for sharing!

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