Photoessay: Forests of the Nilgiris

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Today’s post is a little sampling of the forests in the Nilgiri mountains in India – with quite a range of altitude, you get a wide range of flora from tropical to almost alpine and trees clinging to sides of steep escarpments, in places transitioning into tea plantations – complete with tigers, elephants and other wildlife to match (which also rendered large areas off limits – both for reasons of wildlife and human-life preservation). We didn’t encounter any of those, but we did spend quite a bit of time traveling through the predominantly montane forest. I of course also continued the Forest project of gigapixel-plus stitches, which I’ll probably never show digitally – the effect is completely lost. Nevertheless, I’ve always found forests to be very relaxing and tranquil places – and I hope the effect carries through on screen, even though digital media isn’t the best way of reproducing a fractal subject. What should of course carry through is the tonal palette – I’m pleased because this is about the closest I’ve gotten so far to almost full transparency, thanks to the CFV-50C. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, CFV-50C digital back and a variety of lenses, and post processed with PS Workflow II.

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  1. Ming

    Are you adding black to your shadows? or adjusting the tone scale for that effect. Our eyes would see those areas scattered in the photos as open shadows. If so, I suggest that it’s not a literal look but it may be what you want to do. Is the out of focus trunk deliberate in your first image? Maybe my eyes are just bad! I think open shadows in the background of image three would add more to the perception of a third dimension in that picture and it would certainly make the photo feel more detailed. IMHO. And I would crop/trim the upper right hand corner highlight. IMHO this makes the primary graphic stronger.

    I also like the cloud and hill picture better in color. I believe black and white needs a stronger interplay of light to work with a concept like that one.

    The photos, your style, have a balanced randomness and or repetition to them. At least the set of tree photos doe

    I really enjoy that your essays explore a variety of subjects!


    P.S. All of us would do well to study the black and white photos and styles Edward Weston, Wynn Bullock, Minor White and Ansel Adams, Garry Winogrand.

    • I certainly don’t want the shadows to be too attention-getting, but I’m not adding black. There’s a degree of tonal compression going from downsizing for web, of course, and I have no idea how your monitor may be calibrated 🙂

      Those photographers were film-only and wouldn’t have had the advantages of control digital brings. Winograd is a poor example because not only was he well known for not looking at his images, he didn’t even do the processing himself – that’s leaving a large chunk of the artistic decision making to somebody else.

      • Ming

        No, but they did use negative film and 8×10 or larger and Ansel Adams at least could burn and dodge and use different contrast papers. Weston did contact prints until Brett and Cole took over. In other words the tone scale was better than color photographs for a very long time. Yes Carbro (I have seen many from the Frenel sp? lab in France) printing was around but not until later and not a widely used process.

        And more to the point, they were masterful at what they did. How they composed their subject matter; peppers, the grand landscape, nudes, street, reveals compositional elements of great photographs. And of course the light on the subject had to be exceptional. And I dare say that what we, the folks spending all this time and money on big megapixels are trying to do is make superb if not great images.

        Even with someone else printing or even looking at his tens of thousands (I think the number was 40K in boxes at his death) of negatives Winograd made brilliant images. Are you saying his work isn’t worth looking at because he did not do his own processing.

        Color photography is what (except for Adams and Weston dabbling in) they did not do. But now with digital we have the dynamic range of negative film readily available to us. So what we can glean from studying their work is all the more germane. Along with Meyerowitz and Misrach and others in color.

        This all leads me to this question for you. With your essays. Which I’ll say again I very much enjoy. Are these an introduction to a place or concept that includes words and photos, a story, a good composition, a great image. All these? I really have no business commenting on your pictures unless I know what your intent is. Maybe I need to read your accompanying text more carefully.

        • Valid points – and in some ways, large format film is still unbeatable because of rendering/perspective, movements and the sheer ability to represent tonal transitions through resolution – we’re about there for medium format digital, but not smaller.

  2. Nice! Stopped using Ricoh GR of late?

    • Yes. After the company demonstrated it has zero integrity by stealing my images, I feel rather disinclined to support it. Beyond that, there are other tools which serve my purposes better.

      • Hmmm.. Ricoh GR is probably due for a major upgrade later this year or early next year. That might warm you up more towards Ricoh.

        • No, sorry. Integrity matters, because ultimately that’s all any of us has left. I was one of their biggest supporters until they pulled that stunt.

  3. Gary Morris says:

    4th down counting from the top… superb. Actually, they all are lovely. Thanks.

  4. Kyle P. says:

    Outstanding collection of photographs, Ming.

  5. Such a beautiful set of images. I’ve definitely enjoyed these 🙂

  6. Beautiful photos, as usual. I find that you’re nature work brings an abstract clarity that you don’t often see in landscape photography.

    Interesting that several of these shots include eucalyptus trees – doing some reading it appears that there’s a fairly profound conflict surrounding eucalypts in the Nilgiris, on the one hand the regional dependance on the eucalyptus oil trade, and on the other the ecological damage these trees cause. Sadly eucalyptus have a habit of behaving as highly aggressive and invasive weeds when you take them out of their natural habitat (California and Galicia being notable examples)…

    • Thanks. I suspected the eucalyptus trees weren’t native either; but yes, they tend to be hugely invasive and hard to eradicate because they survive even bush fires just fine…

  7. Great set of images, Ming! One really needs to look at them at full size on Flickr to fully appreciate what you’ve done.

  8. Michael Demeyer says:

    Left side of third image (near tree trunk) goes back and forth to my eye as being in front of or behind the tree. When I see it as in front, the sharp edge between it and the tree feels very odd, since it seems like a sharp edge on an OOF subject. In fact, my first “seeing” of this image read the left side in front, which really confused my brain.

    Is that anbiguity intentional or am I the only one who see it that way?

    Lovely feel to the images overall.


    • It’s not intentional – thanks for pointing it out. At larger sizes the ambiguity isn’t present – I think it may unfortunately be an artifact of downsizing.

    • rjllane says:


      I shared your observation. I can continue to make the left side move in front then behind the trunk. Most curious!

      🙂 … MomentsForZen (Richard)

  9. Very nice, especially those in which there’s a dominant foreground not subject to haze. Terrific color.

  10. If I’m remembering accurately, the British photographer, David Ward, wrote that photographing in forests is difficult because the photographer has to manage three challenging elements: contrast, chaos, and complexity. I have a lots of opportunity to photograph in forests and personally, I’ve found Mr. Ward’s observation to be true. He’s also written about how successful photographs often incorporate simplicity, beauty and mystery. You’ve certainly managed the complexity and all. To my eye, you’ve included the other three elements too: beauty, mystery, simplicity. I think I understand your point about digital media not being the optimal format for displaying the work, but I’m glad you did. Thank you for sharing it with your readers!

  11. Mullis Dennis says:

    An interesting observation about digital media not being the best means to portray a fractal subject. That seems true, but why is it true?

    • Fractal subjects by nature need fractal media to reproduce well – prints have dithering and paper fiber/grain, silver gelatine has different sized film grains, digital screens have…none of that. You could get away with it if resolution and size are sufficient, but we’re not there yet.

  12. liramusic says:

    Ethereal subject! To the indigenous, sacred, mystical. To the grotesque capitalist, dollars; to the tiger home & office; to the visitor awe. Your photos are thrilling yet am I the best friend if that’s all I say? So you chose to not do anything very close up; I suspect time was limited or maybe that kind of lens on this camera was not at your fingertips. The strange thing about plants is that they do move, in spite of us thinking that they don’t. And green is such a hard color to bring forth, not for you but when I go out.
    And I think there are deeper levels of understanding to it all. We have an ancient bog here and that is how I related in this theme. And what can be more fractal than a forest, from the veins in one single leaf to a panoramic view. We have giant cedar trees here. Photo 4 is wonderfully dramatic; the last one, too. A theme like this is so much the opposite of the urban landscape with its varied objets d’art, de-contextualized people, parts of buildings, some glass, maybe an old car or a fruit stand.
    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself in all this. Is there a silent “conversation” in just trees? I really do think so.

    • And I’ve always found to be one very tricky to capture and represent in a way that communicates the mood, especially in a limited resolution digital medium. It’s both easy and hard: endless variety and subject matter, yet there are also clear scenes that just don’t work. A natural/human perspective isn’t always best, either – sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Depends on the trees and the density, I suppose. 🙂

  13. Where`s the dominant blue colour in all its shades, Ming? Nil, nil, nil, baba. 🙂

  14. rjllane says:

    Hello Ming.

    Beautiful photographs – you have indeed captured and communicated the tonal range.

    I apologize for not knowing about your “Forest” project – can you tell me about it or point to a previous post?

    These photographs could have been taken in the Mountain Ash forests of eastern Australia – remarkable. The tall, slender euaclypts, acacias with broader canopies, undergrowth where ferns are prominent.

    You must come to Australia to see our forests. The Mountain Ash forests of eastern Australia, the photogenic snow gums of the alpine regions of southeast Australia, the ancient Huon Pines of Tasmania, then across to Western Australia to see the Karri, Marri, Tingle, and Jarrah.

    I would be honored to guide you on this photographic expedition!

    🙂 … MomentsForZen (Richard)

    • I never really publicised it here because it isn’t the right medium for the experience; I’ve offered two images for sale here in the past (Forest III, Forest IV).

      I might take you up on that offer sometime – Australia is a big country and easy to get lost in! 🙂

  15. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Trees and forests … !.
    To my eyes you have captured the atmosphere of the trees being alive and growing.
    ( Especially in nr:s 1- 5, 8 and 11 – even at web resolution.)

    Forests can have so different atmospheres.
    When I first moved to Germany (close to Heidelberg) I didn’t feel at home in the landscape. Then suddenly I did, I was driving at about 500m height and the forest felt very much at home. After a while I understood, it was very similar to the forests where I grew up in Sweden.
    The roots we have!
    ( Then after a few years I did start to feel at home in the landscape.)

  16. Christopher K Ward says:

    I find forests the hardest to capture and I think you are correct in saying that you need to print for the full-effect. However I do enjoy your digital representations.

  17. Mathias says:

    Excellent 🙂

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