Tuesday, February 19, 2013



The challenge of light in any forest is tremendous for the nature photographer and when one wants to make a point, that smartphonetography can serve as a useful tool for documentary work, the issue becomes on how far can a photographer go with a smartphone to get the images required for the job. 

A camera-phone is the brilliant substitution of the point and shoot digital camera, if one can do without a mode dial with up to 50 scene types of shooting situations. However, programers are making software/applications to bypass these hurdles. I am, a learning owner, of an Iphone with limited access to innovating apps so, in essense, as most newbies, one most make do with what we have. So all the pictures in this article were taken with the default Iphone Camera. As limitation is the mother of innovation, this can be a good thing, as it forces you to use your "BIG CAMERA" skills to circumvent the cameraphone's limitations.

As the article is about the cameraphontography of a cloud forest, the photo above shows part of a transcition forest which will be the shoot's location. Please note at the top right where an overexposed spot can be seen breaking through the canopy, while in the rest of the panorama, the midtones are quite even. This is a small example of getting into context and learning, what the landscape, vegetation and light offer to the visiting photographer. It hints the limitation and capabilities of you camera, thus helping the photographer predict what works and what doesn't.

When the views of the forest are from top to bottom, the light filtering through the forest gap changes the green color of the leafs to a silvery reflection, and the information rendered the shadows with little details. Note that the earth colors (midtones) were registered well by the Iphone's sensor. So in essence, as long as we stay within the midtone rage on the forest's light, we will be in good shape doing nature photography with a smartphone, but what about pushing the limits. Well, sometimes it works (with pos production help), and others it doesn't.

Starting from the ground up, which is what most of us do. Many nature photographers like to document the minute world of the forest. Here, as little spots of light fall upon the ground, it gives the photographer opportunities to document, those little miracles that light provides to living things once it reaches the forest floor, in this case, a moss blanket with its reproductive capsules visible. I augmented the insert 100% in order to show you, how far can the Iphone allow an image enlargement. Please note that the camera-phone has a very shallow DOF, and this are the things, that one could improve with a macro lens, a high f/stop and the camera set on a tripod so you can trigger it with a cable release. However, as you can see here, if your work is online, you can have some latitude to get away with your cameraphone pictures for an internet publication.


The understory is to the forest what the bottom of the sea is to the oceans. It has been found that only 2% of the sun light reaches the forest floor at noon time. This knowledge has fasinated me all my life. To think that a tiny spotlight that reaches the forest floor, for a certain amount of time during the day, would trigger a seed's germination, which will turn into a giant that will be over 100 feet tall, live up to 1.000 years, and weigh several tons, is just fantastic. But the struggle, that plants undergo to get the proper light in order to survive in the forest, surpaces our imagination, and it becomes evident, the very moment, that you decide, to do a shoot under the canopy of any forest.

A walk in the shadows with a cameraphone that can do panoramics in an instant enables the photographer to sweep from well lit places to the shadows like no DSLR can. There is no multiple photo sequences, pan heads, tripods, and pos processesing stiching and fine tuning involved. There will be areas in the photo that will be overexposed or too dark, however, that serves the purpose of explainig, how light is presented to the photographer by the surroundings.

Frankly, I find the extreme lighs and shadow areas very pleasing, as they trully express the feeling one gets while walking in the shadows of the cloud forest, where the light range becomes a great subject to document the true nature of your place of work. Can a cameraphone get the job done, I'll let you be the judge of that.

I encourage everyone to pay close attention on how plants seek the light, how their structures and arquitechture increase their potential to light gathering, and how you can exersice your light awareness if you try to so several shoots in the understory of any forest.

Let me invite you to another cameraphone/smartphontography adventure when I will, take on the vertical region between the ground and the canopy of the forest as the next Digital Camera Adventure.

All the pictures were taken at a small part of the cloud forest relict, of Bosque de la Virgen, in  Caracas, Venezuela. Which is under the custody of Jardines Ecologicos Topotepuy, the sponsor of this article and the one to follow.

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Photos and Article by
Leopoldo García-Berrizbeitia
Photonaturalist/Nature Travel Consultant
Work: 0058-212-624-9019
Mobile / Whatsapp: 0058-414-246-2007

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