The making of Surviving

by Steven Fudge (One Stop Photo Workshops tutor for Brisbane)

Surviving (Deception Bay, Queensland)

This lone mangrove has been much photographed over the years by various Brisbane and south-east-Queensland-based based photographers. It holds a certain charm for many and for myself – well, I’m just a sucker for trees in water, dead or otherwise! This one and its brother are currently still very much alive.

To shoot this tree requires a bit of planning and forethought. First up you have to decide what kind of image you would like to produce as an end result: a pared-down minimalist representation, or one that is more inclusive of the surrounding landscape. To explain further, this tree and its close brother/sister are surrounded by rocks, which can add to the image or detract depending on your style of shooting and processing. Also two headlands can impinge on the image, so to clone or not is another decision to be made. Personally my preference is to keep the tree as the main focus by excluding all other distractions.

An important first step in photographing this area is to visit it at low tide to get the lie of the land/water/rocks. As it is in a sheltered bay, there is mud across all surfaces and the rocks are slippery, so grippy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and dirty are a must….as are a pair of shorts as you are going be up to your knees and more in murky water . Don’t even think about bull sharks…

After shooting this a year or so back with minimal success I decided the time was right to give it another crack. First stop was the tide chart –  I wanted the tree to be  surrounded by water, which meant taking a cold bath in Moreton bay, pretty much up to my thighs in water and I’m 6 foot 2. If this isn’t your idea of fun then you ain’t gonna get this image… not even with a zoom from the shoreline. The tide has to be within two hours of high on either side to be sure of plenty of water around the tree – I chose to shoot it on an incoming tide so the close rocks were submerged. You can always clone out the rocks later if they aren’t covered with water but I’d prefer to get it right in-camera. Second, I wanted calm weather (ie. NO WIND!) or the leaves would move resulting in a blurred image. Thirdly I wanted grey skies – I had seen a few blazing sunrise efforts which are fine, also some star trails, but I feel the sky distracts somewhat from the reason you are there…to shoot this beautiful lone mangrove.

So you can see it takes some planning to get these requirements to coincide.

Well they did all coincide for me so after an early start to allow for the one hour drive to Deception Bay, I arrived in the dark with flashlight ready and headed down into the cold waters. At first there was only a trickle of water over the muddy rocks, but the tide rises quickly over the intertidal flats and the tree sits around 80-100 metres from shore, so I mapped out an exit route in case I had to make a quick retreat. The sky was perfect – a grey storm front was approaching from the south-east, so no colours around at sunrise but I knew I wouldn’t have long before the rains hit.

I wanted to shoot the scene as a panorama, so worked out my two positions on the rail. I also wanted to capture the scene with a long exposure to smooth out the few ripples in the water. There was hardly any breeze about so the long exposure wouldn’t cause any serious blurring of the tree’s foliage.

Shooting in the dark like this, it really pays to know your camera and which f-stop is going to give the right exposure time in the available light. When capturing multiple exposures for a panorama, you want them to be well balanced and matched, and as the light is changing by the second at first light, you have to work quickly to achieve this. You can get fairly close to the tree so a wide angle lens is ideal.  I use a medium-format camera and captured the two exposures with a 35mm lens which is my widest – it’s equivalent to 28mm on a full-frame dSLR camera (remember though a medium-format sensor has around 30% more real estate than a full-frame dSLR sensor). I print large and wanted a big print, hence the panorama, but it can be shot as a single image with a wide angle lens.

Tide is coming in, clouds and rain are approaching and the sky is getting lighter. Staying calm and focused is important – yes, you can sit and breath and do some Yoga, meditate,  listen to the mosquitoes buzzing around your ears,  watch the sunrise and take in your surroundings…but you need to be on the ball because the next suitable combination of tide and weather to shoot this might be six months away.

I was lucky – it all panned out how I had planned it (or at least had hoped for) and that’s all you can do. Weather forecasts are often wrong,  but this one was pretty good. I only got the one panorama that morning but my planning and forethought paid off and I was happy with the result.

Lastly I would like to add that shallow coastal ecosystems like this are very fragile.  Mangroves survive the daily tidal floodings with pencil like air roots so they can breathe oxygen and also excrete the salt from the water when flooded, so care must be taken to not disturb or damage these roots. As an instructor for OSPW , I can take/teach anyone who would like to shoot this and make it easy for you, just follow the links on the website and make your booking with me.

In part 2 of this article, I will describe  the methods I used to process and arrive at the final image.


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