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 Nature Photography :: Essays :: Take Only Photographs

I took the 8x10 [camera] out of the car and set it up so I could get to my tools. There was much work to be done before any picture could be made.

…twenty feet of…puckerbrush that grew ten feet high between the roadside and the pond.

I told them [some onlookers]…that I was going to cut out all the brush before taking the picture. So, with my heavy-duty loppers and pruning saw, I went at it while they stared in surprise. They couldn’t believe it. All that work for one picture. While I was at it I showed them how to cut the saplings on a slant with the newly cut bright side facing away from the camera position.

…In this case I wasn’t yet sure what I would include [in the photo].

…After setting up and focusing we noticed a few more saplings that had to go.

By now I hope you’re thinking, "What the hell is this Rob Gray bloke doing cutting down trees for a photo?" Well I am pleased to say that the above excerpt is not mine. It’s from an article written by another photographer.

It appears that the onlookers could not believe what they were seeing. Under the circumstances I’m sure I couldn’t either, although for entirely different reasons. I fully expect this author’s next article to be along the lines of, "Correct chainsaw usage for landscape photographers".

In my opinion, you should have as little effect on the landscape as is humanly possible. It is now common practice for bushwalkers to follow the Minimal Impact Bushwalking (MIB) code. The MIB catch phrase is, "Take only photographs, leave only footprints". I propose that photographers should be even more careful, that is we should "Take only photographs, leave nothing". Naturally it is not always possible to follow either maxim but one thing is certain, no photograph is worth the destruction of the subject or its surroundings.

When in the bush I follow a set of guidelines that I use as my own MIB code, one that I believe is relevant for all landscape photographers. These guidelines are as follows:

• Don’t destroy any live foliage. I never intentionally break a branch, snap a sapling, etc. I carry a length of rope which I use to temporarily tie such items out of the way. I admit to occasionally being over zealous with my bending and accidentally breaking the object. And I also admit that I will remove one or two small living items (a reed for example) if necessary, and I will remove dead foliage. But I try not to.

• Don’t move logs or rocks. This depends on the situation but most of the time a log or rock that is lying on the ground, serving no apparent purpose, is actually home to a multitude of wildlife.

• Don’t walk on any fragile looking plants. Some plants take years to recover from a single footprint, particularly mosses and button plants commonly found at higher altitudes.

• Don’t leave footprints. This last guideline is aimed, as much as anything, at preserving the natural state of an area for my own purposes, ie. I don’t want footprints in my photos. When walking in sand or snow I try to hop from rock to rock or grass patch to grass patch. There are two reasons for this behaviour. Firstly, I may look back where I have just walked and decide to take a photo, preferably without my big hoof prints. Secondly, when walking on sand, it is preferable not to get sand on your boots as it can behave like a thousand tiny ball bearings next time you need traction on a rock.

As I mentioned, these are guidelines and I will occasionally break them in small ways if I feel that the photo is worth it.

The photo Transient Shapes is a good example of forward thinking that didn’t quite work out as planned. While on a pre-dawn walk in Mimosa Rocks National Park I noticed these peculiar shapes in the sand. My companions and I detoured as I felt there would be a good photo opportunity after the sun had risen. We continued to a nearby rocky point and, over the next hour or two, all got some good photos (see Dragon Mist). On my return to the sandy shapes I was upset to see that a surfer had walked right through my composition. Initially I felt that my photo had been ruined, I stood and analysed the composition for a minute and decided that, actually it had been improved. The old ‘Receding footprints in the sand’ trick is a bit of a cliché but I felt that the combination of the footprints and the rounded shapes made a nice image.

Transient Shapes

Before the last tide these shapes didn’t exist
An hour ago the foot prints didn’t exist
After the next tide neither will exist
These are transient shapes
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