Monday, March 21, 2011




Leopoldo García Berrizbeitia






Self-promoted challenges are a great exercise for a nature and documentary photographer. To photograph the same subject over a long period of time makes one deeply acquainted with the object one has chosen to photograph. I am not talking about time-lapse photography, tough I love to get the skills and gear to master this type of photography. However, we may called it Long Commitment Photography as it will require the following to accomplish the task:


·      A place with reasonable access to your subject.


·      A subject that one can photograph for hours, days, weeks, months and even years

at the time.


·      A profound knowledge of the subject, or a good eyeball study of it, to get the insight of what you want to photograph. Actually, one may make a long photo study without ever leaving your home or studio.


·      The proper gear to cover your commitment.


·      The patience to make the pictures.



I will include several examples of my ongoing LCP (long commitment photography) in several areas of work. One is to learn the light on our city’s most important National Park. The other, a few, once in a lifetime opportunities to document things in nature, and at last, the sequence of a Cecropia tree leaf growing out of its protective sheath.



Light Study of the Valley of Caracas

and the Avila National Park





All the pictures were taken in the afternoon as the sun rises on the right side of the pictures. One can see the shadows on the mountain are towards the east as the sun has moved from its midpoint position of noontime, towards the Westside of the valley. The amount of haze or clarity has to do with pollution and plant transpiration or the lack of it. As the winds in the northern hemisphere and/or the Caribbean travel from the northeast to the southwest the clouds come into the valley in a predictable way. So, one can somehow predict, when to shoot your pictures during the raining season (when I took these). The position of the clouds on the mountains helped me determine the lower limits of the cloud forest on its southern slopes which face the city, where most of the rain fell, how was the rain patter for my lookout and place where I stood to make the pictures, and how would the city be covered by natural light from noon to dusk. I did this sequence over a three-month period. I took many photos, as these are all hand held pictures stitched into panoramas with Photoshop.  By doing this I’ve learned where it was safe to take pictures (as far as getting your gear stolen), how to plan a shoot regardless of the tropical storms that fell upon our valley, and what kind of periodicity the winds had, as far as bringing rain clouds to where I was. I also learned about the area’s wildlife, plants in bloom, and even city traffic that can be hellish here.


This next series was an accidental find. It was really great to find these hemipterans changing their exoskeleton (skin). These critters belong to the infamous group of the assassin bugs, who stick their stiletto like proboscis into their victims, and suck them dry!




However, most of them feed on plant juices and some even feed on blood. The latter, can be responsible for transmitting the Trypanosoma cruzi, a flagellate of  The New world Tropics that can cause death to human and other warm blooded animals.­ It took me 3 hours per day and two days to get this photograph before the branch was broken off insects and all. Fortunately, I did know a few things about these creatures and their stinkbug cousins. However, I had never seen them molting. The bright colors gave then away on the Bungavilla, which I was photographing. Brightly colored insects, invertebrates ad even vertebrates tell us BEWARE, I am poisonous or taste so bad you will get very sick if you try to eat us. There is safety in groups and aggregations are common on insects with this kind of coloration.


The great thing is, that I learned that, as they change their skin, they have a safety rope attached between their old exoskeleton and their bodies, that prevented them from falling from the branch and the safety of their group once they got out of their old skin. Then, once the changed skins, they hurried back to the group to hide among their kin for safety until their new exoskeleton dried and got hard again. There were intervals at changing skins among the group, I presume this is to allow the younger siblings to protect their older brothers and sisters until they have a hard skin, a larger body and a way to protect them as well. Note the color change in the group and how the green ones, that just molted, go back to the black and orange group seeking protection. I tried to loosen the exoskeleton from the twig and it was very difficult to do without breaking it. However, I collected some for a later shoot at home.


My last  LCP is a growing Cecropia, a forest edge pioneering plant whose canopy was at eye level, thus making it easy to photograph this forest wonder.



This series took about 15 days of going back and forth to the same place, but the reward was great, as I am still visiting this tree to uncover its natural history and document it with pictures. As it turns out, these trees are indigenous to the new world tropics, where they are pioneering species that grow wherever the forest has been disturbed. For field biologists, they are indicator species, for the forest wildlife they are a great tree. Its flowers and fruits feed many animals of the forest, and the three-toed sloth is one of its visitors. Toucans feed on their fruit and make them their calling post to let others know about they guarding this part of forest. However, the most amazing thing about this forest dweller is, that they have a symbiotic relationship with several species of ants that occupy the intermodal spaces of their trunk. These colonies get started by a single queen when the tree is still a seedling and the ants make a hole in the young wood, seal themselves inside the intermodal space and establish their colonies there. The ants protect the tree from vines, other insects, and herbivores and in turn the trees houses and feed them for as long as the ants live on their host.


I will keep you informed of my progress with this unique tree and I hope these words will encourage you to take up this photo strategy, as the results are delightful.


May many CLICKS make you as happy as you can be.


Best Regards


Leopoldo García

Professional Naturalist /Photographer


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