Robert Llewellyn answers questions about his forest and wildlife photography.
What equipment did you use during the course of the forest project?
I have been a photographer for 5 decades, so all the different lenses are an extension of my eye. It’s like a tennis racket is an extension of your arm. For the forest project I used a dozen lenses with focal lengths ranging from 14mm to 2000mm. Different lenses changes relationships of things in the frame. Infinite choices. Its like 3D chess.
Most photographs were made on a tripod with a Canon 5DsR that has a 50mb sensor. I used a Canon 5D Mark IV for moving wildlife because it could track focus even through dense tree branches. I really don’t know how it does that.
What was it like shooting in the forest being completely surrounded by nature?
I see everything as nature. Humans are just another creature mingling among the others, doing what humans do. Humans do interface with the forest and wildlife. Humans are mammals and are one of the inhabitants of this planet, and we are very active changing the landscape, air, etc.
Humans build things like cities and buses. I think of a city the same way I would think of a hornet’s nest, or birds that instinctively build nests. Sometimes a forest scene is a barely visible library of what came before.
The exception would be old growth forest.
How do you decide what to shoot in the forest?
Mostly I go into the forest without a list. For a photographer, anything can be a good subject, even dirt. My mission is to move people from merely looking at things to deeply seeing things as they are.
I think humans can change from looking to seeing. When I do that things call out to me, “over here, do me!” The test is “would it hurt if you left and did not make a photograph”?
Sometimes I was directed a bit by my project partner, Joan Maloof. She would say, “Go into the forest and turn over a fallen decaying log.” I asked, “What will I see?” She said “I am not going to tell you”.
She once did give a list of specific things to find in the forest – like a treasure hunt. I live in the middle of 87 million acres of forest. With help from some assistants, I did find them all.
What’s it like photographing animals?
Finding animals is not very difficult in the forest. Once I choose to photograph animals, they are suddenly everywhere – hiding in plain sight. Some are larger than me and some are microscopic. Some you discover under the fallen log.
My work with small seeds for my Seeing Seeds book gave me the skills to get extremely close. I do greatly admire photographers who have devoted their life to making amazing wildlife images. They can put on camouflage and sit and wait for days, often using extremely long and expensive telephoto lenses. Sometime nothing appears.
You should remember that forest animals do not generally hold still for photographs. They do not like humans and will run away, or bite you and run away – with the possible exception of ticks.
Have you ever photographed animals in captivity?
Images of some wildlife can be hard to capture – really skittish animals, for example. Some wildlife photographers use camera traps. There are some great images captured that way. I prefer not to have my camera taking photographs without my being there.
I wanted a woods mouse ear close up. I guess I could have crawled on my belly at night. Or covered my nose with almond butter.
So, yes, I have photographed some animals in captivity, when it’s my only option – taking care not to harm them in any way.
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