Jake Bryant: The Secret Life of Trees
Ivindo National Park, Gabon
Time / Date:
1:15pm / September 12, 2011
Camera Body: Nikon D3
Lens: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
Shutter Speed: 1/100s
Focal Length: 24mm
I started taking photographs seriously about twenty years ago, but never saw it as a career. WIthin the last ten years, I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with leading ecosystem scientists, film directors and many other professionals involved in study of climate science. This field has taken me to spectacular places in the world, primarily the last remaining rainforests. I’m always surprised that there is not more photographic coverage of the people who work in this field. I look at it as a open ended series. I’m a portrait photographer by nature, though I really enjoy fine art and aerial landscapes.
I flip between digital and film depending on the subject and my mood. Seems we have the best of both worlds at the moment… make the most of it, I reckon!
In 2011 I was commissioned by the film director, Luc Jacquet to cover his filming in Gabon. The film was about the life and discoveries of botanist, Francis Halle. I wanted to capture a moment when Francis was at peace within his environment. Film sets are busyplaces, so finding that quiet moment was 164 feet up that tree! Francis told me beforehand that to him, being up there is ‘perfect happiness’ … that inspired me to capture the solitude and serenity of the moment. (Got the shot within ten minutes).
My approach in making images like this, is to look for a part of the personality of the person in relation to their profession. If you gain trust with that person, the image will inevitably unfold for you.
We flew deep into the rainforest by helicopter. It took about a 90 minute flight which dropped us off in a tiny clearing inside an immense jungle. One of the most remote places I’ve been to, with just a small set of shacks for lodging. We stayed there for two weeks, scouting for good filming locations. During our time there, we evaded forest elephants and even got charged by a silver back gorilla at one point… amazing experience!
The atmosphere in these places and during these shoots, is a mix of dense tropical forest heat, hard tiring work with very little sleep, getting stung, bitten, dehydrated, and trying to keep focused on taking the best shots to tell the story.
For this kind of work, I have to use photographic gear that can really be pushed to its limits. I used a Nikon D3 and a 24.70 Nikkor lens. Its been my workhorse camera for a long time and is the best for harsh environments, never let me down. I recently upgraded to a D4.
Making the Shot:
The goal here was to create a sense of space and deliver to the viewer what it looks like up there. Climbing tropical trees is not for the faint hearted. It takes a certain amount of practice to get comfortable and its best to use arborist techniques, so that you can move around and into position quickly. I was hanging from two ropes leaning from a large branch about 164 feet high…. in this case a Moabi tree. Its a totally different world up there and utterly beautiful!
Sometimes, I haul up a Pro 7b flash with soft box to help soften the light, especially if its sunny. But on this occasion there was diffused light from the clouds which was nice.
Editing & Processing:
This photograph was two shots that I stitched together in CS6. The crown of the tree was about 150 feet in diameter, and I wanted a cinematic feel. So to convey the scene, stitching was required which amplified the cinematic look.
I chose this image to post because it think it expresses the environments I’ve become accustomed to working in. I’m lucky to be able to photograph scenes that very few people get to experience.
The biggest danger is getting lost. What ever you do, don’t get lost. I got lost once in a forest in Mexico for three days, and its not fun.
My advice to anyone interested in doing this type of photography, is to have a strong determination to deliver to the client a photograph that will make them remember why they commissioned you. And the best business advice I would give is: GET PAID!
I love the hidden longevity that photographs carry. Its a visual memory hit. Looking back at photos from twenty years ago and beyond, always brings back vivid memories of that time, and therefore make me want to take more. To photograph people when they are enjoying their work, especially when in fragile areas of outstanding natural beauty is a absolute pleasure. Moreover, I strive to capture the essence of a person in my portraits and try to capture a sense of place in my landscape work.
About the Photographer
Jake Bryant is a British photographer, who’s work consists of a balance between reportage and contemporary portraiture. His extensive experience working in remote tropical forests has produced bespoke imagery in medium format film and 35mm digital. The main body of his portfolio documents scientific research in the forests of South America, and extends to Australasia, Africa and Europe. Commissioned by leading film directors, production houses, research scientists, NGO’s and government institutes, his work has been published and exhibited worldwide.
Forthcoming exhibition – 19 September 2015 at The Ironwood Gallery, Sonoran Desert Museum, Arizona. USA.
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Your image of Dr. Halle in the tree is breathtaking. I’m glad you included the story of how you managed the shoot. It is so easy to forget the photographer whilst being the drawn into and lost within the image.
I looked through the images on your website…amazing, simply amazing to have your work take you to these places, and for the result to form part of the story of our increasingly vulnerable global environment. I can see too that you have a talent for capturing the essence of your portraiture subjects…
Thanks very much!