Swamp sheoak Casuarina obesa Canning River

She-oaks, Canning River, Perth, with Ilford FP4 stand developed in LC29

I never grow tired of photographing the swamp sheoaks along the Canning River wetlands. Their mottled bark seems to change each day. In bright sunlight, they appear almost uniformly grey. At dusk, their mottled patterns on their skins become more noticeable, with lighter, contrasting patches against the surrounding darker grey of the trunks. After rain, the sheoaks are almost leopard-like with the lighter patches over a very dark and wet grey bark.

I’m never really sure whether to refer to swamp sheoaks having leaves. These amazing needle-like leaves can glisten with water drops after rain. The needles seem capable of holding individual rain drops, like small jewels. These droplets shine and twinkle like hundreds of stars within the swamp sheoak’s canopy.

Today, there are some raindrops present in the sheoak leaves. But I am also intrigued by the delicate patterns formed by the small horizontally extending tendril branches. They protrude and curl towards each other as if in some strange form of communication.

To capture these delicate patterns photographically, I chose to use a shallow depth of field. I used my 300mm lens at its widest aperture of f9. This gave a shallow field of focus, allowing me to blur the background. But to work well I had to carefully select and compose fine needle-like branches that were nearly all in the same plane.

Once I had my composition I tightened up my tripod head to prevent any camera movement. With my spot meter, I carefully read the light values within my composition range. The background was considerably brighter than these foreground branches and had the potential to lose all detail and blow out to white.

I decided to use stand development to increase my contrast range of the film. With Ilford FP4 4×5 film I am able to get an extra 1 to 1.5 stops of contrast range. This is perfect for controlling the tonal range this high contrast situation.

Chamonix camera set up on location, note the high contrast.

Swamp Sheoak Canning River, Perth. Chamonix 45F-2, 300mm Nikkor lens, Stand Developed Ilford FP4 30seconds @f9

You can find out more about the Native vegetation of estuaries and saline waterways here.

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