I made this image of the swamp she-oak forest along the Canning River this morning. After not being able to get out and make photographs these past few weeks, I finally got a chance today.
This photograph I have had in mind for a while. It is an area of sheoak forest on the banks of the Canning River, where I sometimes walk the dog. In winter this finger of wetland that pokes into the Canning River can become flooded with high tides and rains. It is hard to believe that this important wetland environment is just 10km from Perth CBD.
Most photographs of she-oak forests appear rather dark and gloomy. The scene is naturally high contrast. While trying to maintain detail in sunlit areas, many photographers sacrifice the middle to low tones in choosing an exposure. This usually results in representing the tree trunks and shadows as dark greys or blacks.
When you stand in the forest, your eyes become accustomed to the light. You become more aware of the forest’s amazing tonal range and ambiance. It’s really not so dull! The shadows are full of texture and details. Light floods in from the open river bank.
Stand Development Benefits
I wanted to preserve this feeling of light, so I used my stand development technique. I have previously measured and detailed the benefits of stand development using HP5 and FP4 films.
To prevent the tree trunks and shadows from becoming too dark, I needed to give them more exposure. So, I placed the tree trunks about one stop higher than mid-grey. The problem this creates is that the sunlit grass would be too high on the tonal scale and overexposed with normal development. For those of you who work with digital workflow, this is akin to clipping the high values.
Stand development develops the film at different rates. The shadow areas of the negative builds up density throughout the development time. However, the bright tonal regions of the negative become restricted in their development due to the lack of agitation. I explain all this in greater detail in my Stand Development post.
Split Grade Printing Flexability
I’m pretty happy with the preserved middle to low tones of the developed negative. The negative holds good shadow detail with well-defined highlights without heavy density. I would expect a proper proof of the negative will show good detail, from the shadows to the sunlit grasses, yet be lacking in bright highlights. In other words, it will be flat and uninteresting! That’s OK. I know I have a negative that is holding all the detail at both ends of the tonal scale.
The negative scan above has had a small contrast curve added to it to bring out the highlights. I would expect similar treatment when making a silver gelatin print of this in my darkroom. Using split grade printing gives me the flexibility to expose print values for the highlights and make a separate print exposure for the shadows. With two exposures, plus traditional techniques of dodging and burning in, there are a wide variety of contrast control printing techniques.
While I have not had a chance to make a silver gelatin print of She-oak Forest Canning River in my darkroom yet, I don’t envisage problems. I am looking forward to being able to print the high values in the darkroom without the common practice of burning them in. It should be easy to print without the darkroom gymnastics a high contrast negative often entails.
Water quality and Sheoak Forest Canning River
Sheoak forest Canning River represents an important part of the urban environment which often goes unnoticed. The she-oak wetlands provide an important buffer between urbanisation and the river, helping to maintain river health. The health of these wetlands, trees, and wildlife all has a direct impact on Canning River’s water quality. The swampland affects the river’s ability to oxygenate the water, process nutrient run-off, and support aquatic life.
These swamp sheoaks are also referred to as swamp oaks. Their botanical name is Casuarina obesa after the size and roundness of their cones.