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Kangaroo Bones


Canon 5D camera and Canon 180mm f3.5 Macro lens

Canon 5D camera and Canon 180mm f3.5 Macro L series USM lens

I had a lot of fun making this image while running a photography workshop with my good friend and colleague, photographer Joseph Tompa, in Central Victoria. I had taken the group to an old gold mining area for some landscape photography. It’s a tough environment and the stony, red cracked earth and big blue sky is reminiscent of Central Australia. In addition to a hat, sunscreen, drinking water and solid walking shoes the bright ground reflects so much light that, to be able to see what’s in front of you, sunglasses are required. Similarly, the use of a polarising filter is essential to prevent the inherent color and texture in earth and leaf being reflected off their surfaces and producing a flat relatively colorless result.

It’s tough wondering around such a location in the middle of a hot day. It’s the time of day any self-respecting landscape photographer would be resting or reserving their energies to basic reconnaissance, so as to determine the locations best suited for photography under more forgiving light.

While we all want to photograph beautiful locations and can all make great photographs of interesting subjects under ideal conditions, it is a hallmark of an accomplished photographer to be able to make a great photograph of an otherwise banal subject or scene, even under less than ideal circumstances. And that’s the reason why I take folks to this location. Because it’s outside our normal experience it’s interesting, but photographing it is challenging and requires energy, technical competence and a unique approach. It’s a great feeling to know that by pushing yourself, both physically and mentally, you’ve done your best and, through the art of photography, employed the subject to explore larger themes.

One of the greatest challenges facing photographers is the need to control lighting contrast. I have a range of mantras that help me demonstrate essential photography truths. Here’s one:

The brighter the light (therefore) the darker the shadows.

Photographing outdoors under a bright, sunny sky will produce black, impenetrable shadows. As we normally like images that allow us to perceive texture and variation in the luminance of shadows we are likely to be disappointed when they photograph black. As side and back lighting produce larger areas of shadow our disappointment may be increased when shooting side on or into the light.

The are many ways to manage high contrast conditions, some requiring extra equipment, one or more assistants and image manipulation on the desktop. I’m of the belief that it’s usually best to do as much of the work as possible in the camera, and that we should be doing that work, wherever possible, on our own with as little equipment as possible. The computer is used not to save a bad image, but to elevate an already good image onto a higher plane. You photograph the subject or scene in a way that captures as much information as possible and employ software to re-map that data in line with your artistic intentions.

In the case of the above image I remember seeing (and smelling) a kangaroo carcass around 6 months earlier. Each time I returned to the location the carcass had been reduced down in bulk until, eventually, all that remained were its bare bones, some of which had been ripped away from the skeletal remains. I’m the type of person who’s not all that keen on handling dead animals. This is partly a fear of disease and partly out of respect for the fallen. However, the history of photography is full of the exploration of life and death. Ever observed the season change? Talk about a Metaphor! The fact was that predators, scavengers, decay and weather had, over time, reduced this mammal to a series of scattered bones, clean and white. It seemed to me that the connection of the bones to that particular Kangaroo was now extremely distant and tenuous (no pun intended). I felt that they now presented me with an opportunity to make a photograph that was less about the individual and more about the other, larger concerns relating to our existence.

The trouble was the light was so bright that it was reflecting much of the delicate detail off the surface of the bones. I decided to take two of the bones the 100 metres or so back to my car, which I’d parked in the shade. On arrival I’d noticed a piece of old metal, the type you might imagine on the door of an old boiler or furnace. It was right next to where I’d parked my car. I laid the metal sheet onto of my car bonnet and carefully placed the bones on top. The dark, rusted metal was interesting. I poured some water over it to clean it up and enhance its color. The inherent luminance of the bones was also increased which helped emphasize their shape and make them glow against the darker background.

However, as there is timelessness inherent to black-and-white photography, I decided to employ Adobe Lightroom to remove all the color and then to add a light warm hue for a more nostalgic feel. Then, just like in the darkroom, I used Adobe Photoshop CS3 to apply some local density (brightness) adjustments to better shape the image, a slight glow and final sharpening.

This image involved effort, experimentation and vision. The process was fun and I hope that the result will bring a sense of connection and/or understanding to others.

© Copyright All Rights Reserved

Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography


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