Mount Tamborine - A Rainforest Hike

Looking up through the leafy canopy, towards the light, on Mount Tamborine, Queensland, Australia.

Mount Tamborine offers fun and interesting hikes through dense rainforest with fantastic views up into the canopy.

Mount Tamborine is located in the Gold Coast Hinterland, about an hour and a half drive from Surfers Paradise in Queensland, Australia.

How to Photograph Dappled Light

The scene was beautiful, but it was a bright, hot day and the light coming through the canopy was intense. Such light is, more often than not, the death of good landscape or nature photograph.

Experience told me that it was going to be tough to maintain detail in all but the lightest shadows. 

You see under a dense canopy, on a bright day, shadows are going to fill up quite a bit of your composition resulting in a very high dynamic range between important highlight and shadow areas.

The challenge was to find a way to resolve some of those difficulties on the way to making a successful photograph.

Needless to say a bit of technique allowed me to produce an acceptable result and a reasonable representation of what was a fun exploration of the rainforest.

The photo at the top of this post was made on a Leica M9 camera with a Leica 24mm f/1.4 M-series lens. I made the image with a shutter speed of 1/60 second and and aperture of f/5.6 at ISO 100.

It’s a highly detailed scene, which makes it quite complex. That makes it hard for the viewer to navigate their way through the scene and focus their attention on a particular focal point. 

To help overcome this problem I made sure I focused my lens on an area that was nicely illuminated. I then framed the scene in such a way so that the area in question was positioned on the rule of thirds.

You can see the highlighted area in question towards the top left portion of the frame.

I also positioned myself so that the tree trunks are acting as leading lines bring the eye from the bottom of the frame up towards this brighter focal point.

The fact that the majority of trees and leaves that surround our subject are dark also helps lead the eye to our 'hero'. It’s a simple way to make sense of an otherwise complex and hard to view scene.

Photography is rarely about photographing amazing scenes. Rather it’s about making good pictures of things that interest you that, for whatever reason, may not be particularly photogenic.

In this case I was out and about on a very bright, hot day photographing under very high contrast conditions.

These are precisely the conditions that are most problematic for landscape photography. Nevertheless a bit of technique allowed me to produce an acceptable result and a reasonable representation of what was a fun exploration of the rainforest.

Photographing dappled light is fiendishly difficult due to the usually high contrast (i.e., high dynamic range) under which you’ll likely be working.

I approach I took to making the photos in this post are as follows:

  • Exposing for the highlights which means I adjusted my camera’s light meter so that the bright leaves and ferns would record as very light tones, without burning out.

  • Given the high contrast conditions under which I was photographing I composed my photo around the sunlight leaves and ferns and allowed the darkest shadows to render as black and act to surround (i.e., frame) the illuminated plants.

Strong backlight illuminates tree ferns and foliage on Mount Tamborine, Queensland.

What Is Photography’s Most Important Mantra?

Rules were meant to be broken, right?

Well, I think that frequently uttered statement makes the most sense based upon the following assumptions:

  • You first know the rules

  • You understand where they apply

  • You know how and when you might go about breaking one or more so-called rules to achieve the desired result

I’ve been teaching photography for many years and there are a number of mantras I continually return to when providing folks with technical feedback.

The first mantra on my list is of critical importance as it relates to the consequences of making photos on bright, sunny days.

A close-up view of a backlit fern on Mount Tamborine in Queensland.

The Brighter The Light, The Darker The Shadows Will Photograph

Most people make the majority of their photos on bright, sunny days. It’s when we feel good and are more likely to be outside enjoying life.

Sadly, this kind of lighting is far from ideal when it comes to making good photos, particularly where people are involved.

You can do it, sometimes with brilliant results. But it's tough, particularly for folks who's approach to photography is to say smile and then go click.

One of the difficulties folks experience, along their journey in photography, is to learn to predict how the camera will record the world.
— Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru
 
Water Abstract, Mount Tamborine, Queensland

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Of course it's so much easier these days than it was in the days of film-based photography. With a DSLR camera you can see that there's a problem moments after releasing the camera's shutter.

With a mirrorless camera it’s even better because you can see the very same problems, and then the results of the solutions you apply, even before you'd made the photo. It's incredible!

Of course you still need to know what to do to fix the problems in question. But that's not difficult to learn, nor to put into practice, if you're well taught.

Our Future Beyond Current Technology

No doubt the ability of camera sensors to more adequately record a scene of very high dynamic range will largely resolve the problem of photographing under high contrast conditions.

And what a difference that will make as this problem has plagued photography since its inception.

Digital camera sensors are getting better all the time, but there's still a long way to go. It's most definitely a major area of research and development, now that megapixel count and high ISO noise performance has advanced so much.

Is Live View The Answer?

While live view and electronic viewfinders (i.e., EVF) don’t actually fix the problems associated with photographing under high levels of dynamic range, they can help us by providing a real time view of how the scene in question will photograph.

But it can be extremely difficult to properly assess an image on an LCD screen when bright light is reflecting off it.

Why I Love And Recommend Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras are the best solution as you get a real time view of the image, in the camera's viewfinder, before you've actually made the photograph.

This allows you to adjust for exposure, contrast and white balance problems before releasing the camera's shutter.

With that extra certainty you can now concentrate more on composition and the emotion and mood you’d like to convey.

I can remember assessing the quality of images, displayed in the camera's viewfinder, on a number of high end mirrorless cameras about 6 years ago.

They were rubbish, particularly under high contrast and very low light conditions. But that all changed and the experience of using a newer model mirrorless camera, as I do, is fun and empowering. 

It can be a difficult concept to accept, particularly after you've spent a whole bunch of money on a brand new camera.

But the fact is your camera records the world in a way that is, quite often, very different from the way you perceive it.

Why?

Put in the simplest of terms, you are human while your camera is a machine that's been manufactured (hardware) and programed (software) to record and render a subject or scene based upon a range of parameters that approximates what it is you’ve seen.

Colorful leaves submerged under flowing water on a waterfall on Mount Tamborine in Queensland, Australia.

It's important to understand three critical limitations associated with your camera.

Your camera has little or no concept of subject. It doesn't know whether you are photographing a bowling ball, a barbecue or a birthday cake.

That’s why your camera has difficultly accurately recording mostly light or dark toned subjects or scenes.

Many weddings feature brides and grooms wearing clothing of opposite brightnesses to each other. Photographed together the white dress and black suit average out as a mid tone which your camera will likely base its exposure upon.

Being brighter than a mid tone the wedding dress will record as a very light tone while the groom’s suit, which is darker than a mid tone, will photograph dark.

As long as there’s not a huge difference in brightness between the two, which you can achieve by photographing the bride and groom in the shade, you might get lucky with your exposure.

A correct exposure from the scene I’ve just described might be a happy accident. That’s because if either the bride or groom were photographed individually it could be harder to produce an accurate exposure.

The bride, wearing a mostly light tone dress, would probably photograph too dark as the camera tries to render her light tone wedding dress as a mid tone.

Likewise the groom, wearing a mostly dark tone suit, would photograph too light as the camera tries to render his dark suit as a mid tone.

But put them next to each other and the camera will average the scene out to a mid tone, ensuring what’s brighter photographs brighter and what’s darker photographs darker.

As a way of concentrating our attention on potential problems, many cameras (mirrorless and DSLR alike) even warn us when areas within the image are going to be recorded as either black or burned out highlights.

Just be aware that you may need to turn those warnings on in your camera's menu.

Such warnings should prompt the photographer to take immediate, in camera action to reduce the scene brightness range within the frame to produce a more acceptable result.

And the easiest way to do that is to change your composition. Simply move your camera around to include mostly light or mostly dark areas to reduce contrast and achieve a more desirable result.

Over time you’ll begin to understand, intuitively, what can and cannot be photographed and you’ll begin to compose your photos, from the get go, with this in mind.

Water spurts out between rocks at a waterfall on Mount Tamborine in Queensland, Australia.

Paying Attention To Composition

Many of the scenes in this post are quite complex. That makes it hard for the viewer to quickly navigate their way into the photo and focus their attention on a particular focal point.

To help overcome this problem I made sure I focused my lens on an area within each image that was illuminated.

I then framed the scene in such a way so that the area in question was positioned prominently within the frame.

By allowing the darker shadows (e.g., tree trunks, rocks) to record black I was then able to employ them as a compositional device (i.e., leading lines) to draw the eye towards the main focal point (i.e., point of interest) within each image.

Compose around light and allow the shadows to shape and frame the scene.

Consider, for example, the ferns in the photos near the top of this post. The fact that the majority of trees that surround those ferns are dark also helps lead the eye to our hero ferns. 

It may not be possible to make a truly great photo under such high contrast conditions. However, with a few simple techniques it’s possible to make interesting images that make sense of an otherwise overly complex and hard to photograph scene.

Good photography is rarely about photographing amazing scenes. More often than not it’s about making good pictures at interesting places that, for whatever reason, may be very hard to photograph.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru