November 2, 2010
As with many travel photography scenarios, one of the most difficult issues that you will have to address when shooting in a jungle or rainforest, is the low light levels. Unless you’re in some sort of clearing, you’ll effectively be working the whole time in deep shadow. As well as the potential for camera shake – you’ll have to use a relatively slow shutter speed – you also need to consider what aperture you need to get the depth of field you want.
If you’re aiming for a shallow depth of field: with your subject in focus and the background in varying degrees of blur, you can easily increase the ISO sensitivity and use a wide open aperture allowing you to handhold the camera. However, if you want to have more of the picture in focus, you’ll need to use a tripod to allow a small enough aperture to get a broad depth of field.
As well as low light levels, the other massive problem is contrast. If you have parts of the picture that are lit with sunlight and others in shadow, the difference between them will be too great for your camera to handle. The simplest way to get around this is by changing your composition. If you’re exposing your picture for the areas in sunlight, then compose in such a way as to avoid large areas of shadow. If you’re exposing for the shadowed areas, having some parts of the picture bleached out by sunlight can add atmosphere, but if these areas are too dominant it can spoil the picture.
If you’re lucky enough to see any larger wildlife in your shot, then you will usually have to handhold the camera at a higher ISO, to avoid both subject and camera movement. In these instances focus is critical, and you might need to use a point focus mode that allows you to focus on a specific element in the picture, to avoid your camera focussing on a branch or a leaf by mistake.
As well as the larger wildlife – such as birdlife, monkeys and reptiles – that often moves fast, you’ll generally encounter a lot of bugs. These can provide some stunning subjects, especially if you experiment with shooting up close.
Stylistically, jungles and forests can present a few issues. Often, it’s quite difficult to see the wood for the trees, and seeing a good picture opportunity, let alone photographing it can be tough. Look out for small details like unusual coloured leaves, trees forming patterns and, of course, any type of wildlife. If you’re shooting a wide shot, taking in a lot of the scene in front of you, then look for a good composition. You should try to have a centre of interest in the picture. Be careful of strong objects that break the edge of the frame, although with a forest, this isn’t always possible.
If you can, try to get up high and photograph over the top of a jungle. This might involve a little bit of research and climbing to the top of a hill, or a tourist viewing platform if there’s one available.
Many jungles and forests are very hostile environments: for both you and your camera. Much of the time you’ll be in high humidity – they don’t call it the rainforest for nothing. The constant drizzle can leave you and your equipment soaking wet. Sealable plastic bags and Silica Gel sachets to absorb moisture can help. When you’re actually taking pictures, make sure to cover the camera. You can buy a camera raincover, or simply cover the camera with a shower cap, or even cling-film. A lens hood can prevent drops of water hitting the front of the lens.
Steve has his own exclusive range of travel photography tours. Destinations include Laos & Cambodia, Ladakh and Morocco. More details on http://www.bettertravelphotography.com/phototours