Photoessay: Details of a forest

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Perhaps this set should have been called ‘seeing the wood for the trees’ – often in a situation where there is so much going on, it’s not easy to pick out and compose for individual details. There’s a sort of cognitive deception going on – there appears to be a lot of areas of interest, but in reality you’ve got to be very careful because it’s really the juxtaposition and perceived density that makes the scene interesting – without the context, you don’t know it’s one tree of many, or that the level of detail continues on to increasingly smaller scales, or that a particular rock formation is out of place. A good rule of thumb is that the detail of interest must be markedly different from the surrounding areas in order to stand out and hold audience attention. That of course means including the surrounding areas…

Today’s photoessay is an attempt at doing just that: perhaps a further rethink is required: ‘relativity’ might be closer to the mark. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D810, 24 and 45 PCEs, the Zeiss Otus 85, and the Voigtlander 180 APO-Lanthar and post processed with Photoshop Workflow II.

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Inverse cross section

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Transient and permanent

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Skeletons of winter

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For next time

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The line


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. I’ve been photographing a lot in forests lately and this post is exactly what I was looking for (both literally and figuratively). Thanks a lot Ming!

  2. Hi Ming,

    May i start by saying that i love (most of) your work, i’ve seen here .. Will you publish my hopefully constructive critics of this set, where i select one critique per image – the one thing which bugs me most, EVEN if i like the image – the ones absent form the list i just like :

    1. The sun 😉 want it absent ..
    2. Polarity : The skies .. Somewhat prefer strongly late light blue ..
    3. Untitled. The lack of 3D (for me)
    5. Stark. B&W is the wrong render for this one
    6. Transient and permanent. Overexposed by a stop for what it is
    7. Right. The inevitable feel of digital .. This should have been a Kodachrome 64 or E100GX or even a Velvia 50 “red” instead
    8. Left. as 7 ..
    9. Skeletons of winter. Should not have been here at all ..
    10. Tapestry. As 5 above ..
    12. The line. Somehitng not right with the contrast and green hue / tint in this one.

    Now I’m all under a flame proof cover, and not even there just in case 😉

    Take care,

    • Each to his own. Looking at your site I’d suggest your monitor is off because everything seems underexposed by two stops and blocked up in the shadows, but hey – we really need prints to see what the final intent is 😉

  3. some very cool images here, very crisp and nicely executed!
    on a technical level it brings up an issue in my mind that seems to run through all kinds of shooting:
    specifically finding that sweet spot where distance to nearest subject, format size, focal length, sharpest aperture of a given lens vs diffraction, and achieving desired depth of field all coincide (sharpening in post obviously also contributing to this “pretty much everything extremely sharp” look).
    it also makes one consider the question of depth of field in “non portrait photography”. the default impulse seems to be trying to get everything as sharp as possible. the other extreme would be somebody like the guy with the camera made out of a truck, the massive format resulting in quite shallow depth of field even in landscape shots:

    i think of it almost as “landscape AS portrait” in a way.
    either way…keep it up!

    • Thanks. It’s definitely something that now becomes a serious consideration as both resolution increases and we go for a different (i.e. tighter than usual) perspective. I don’t think shallow DOF is bad necessarily – when we’re focused in on something our eyes are also not consciously taking in all detail anyway, which I would imagine is more closely replicated by selective focus than hyperfocal.

      • it can almost seem paradoxical. we think of long lenses as having tighter field of view but shallower depth of field at a given distance to closest subject at a given f stop. however it’s a subject i’ve been pondering, questioning whether “all sharp” is always the answer, and if it isn’t then what are interesting and effective ways to exploit various depths of field on a given subject, etc, treating a piece of landscape, architecture etc as one might a face in a portrait, letting the remainder of the image if not go “completely bokeh”, then at least distinctly less sharp, rather than the usual goal of super sharp all over so you can roam around the entire frame taking in all the details edge to edge. it is a bit mind blowing to consider the image above IS the size of the “camera sensor” with no enlargement (and with the resultant minimal depth of field).
        keep on…

  4. Gary Morris says:

    I love photographing trees… I’ve done a series on just one tree in all four seasons. These are wonderful… superb craftsmanship!

  5. One problem I’ve been having (or at least, I thought I’ve been having) when shooting foliage against the sky is getting the sky’s blue colour as a halo around the small twigs and leaves. However, I notice that your pictures also exhibit this (e.g. Polarity and For Next Time)… so I’m assuming either they aren’t actually an issue, or just too minor to bother with?

    • That halo you’re seeing at this size is because of flickr resizing. It isn’t there in the actual full size image. However, it can be caused by sharpening with too large a radius…

      • Hmm ok, that makes sense. I have also found out that I have to be very careful with Clarity (or any other detail-enhancing tools/techniques) as they will also bring out the effect more in such shots.

        • They also create larger haloes that might not be visible at 100%, but are visible in the overall structure when viewing an image in its entirety.

  6. Ming, you encapsulate very well what I struggle with as I prowl my local woods. Context. Helpful as always, and I will be better armed for my next trek among the trees. 🙂

  7. I must say, I am continually impressed with the manner you create images that appear to have medium format- and even large format-esque sharpness—a credit to adapting a perfectionistic approach to your craft! I call you “Sir Ming” as a tribute to your master craftman-ship. You certainly have raised my hopes with what can be done with small format camera bodies & lenses and a thoughtful & careful approach to one’s craft.

    • Thanks, but resolution isn’t the aim – just a tool in the quest for transparency. They work much better as prints, though 🙂

  8. Thanks again Ming taking us back to those mostly cold and windy days.
    A great great photographic essay about a small piece of Mother Nature.
    Knowing how fantastic a super print renders the real thing, it is unfortunate the images here are in such a low resolution and compressed, even showing bigger files wouldn’t help much either. Photos are to be printed to be enjoyed the most 🙂

  9. Wonderful images and explanation. Makes a lot of sense.

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