Robert Llewellyn discusses his photographic technique, especially when capturing images of trees, seeds, and other wildlife.
What equipment did you use during the course of the forest project?
Most photographs were made on a tripod with a Canon 5DsR that has a 50mb sensor. I used a Canon 5D Mark IV for moving wildlife because it could track focus even through dense tree branches. I really don’t know how it does that. I have been a photographer for five decades, so all the different lenses are an extension of my eye. It’s like a tennis racket is an extension of your arm. For the forest project I used a dozen lenses with focal lengths ranging from 14mm to 2000mm. Different lenses changes relationships of things in the frame. Infinite choices. Its like 3D chess.
How do you prepare the samples before photographing them?
I look at them from all angles with the camera. Some seeds are a foot across and some are the size of the period at the end of this sentence. They are 3D, so there are numerous options on how you look at them and photograph them. I explore the seed for a while and at some point it will call out to me.
I wanted to photograph small parts (e.g., leaves, fruit, bark and flowers), so I would cut off a bloom, twig, or seed pod and put it on a light table and take hundreds of photos — which strung together were infinitely sharp, like a botanic drawing. I found I could zoom into my subject up to a pollen grain this way.
I often have ten or more versions of the same seed. I have over 2,000 images of seeds.
What technology do you use for photographing seeds?
To make the image sharp from top to bottom, I use a technique called "focus stacking". I put the seeds on a glowing light table in my studio and do a series of photographs at different focus points from top-to-bottom, overlapping the sharp parts. I then load the images into stacking software, like Zerene Stacker® or Helicon Focus®, and they get stitched together — using the sharpest parts of each image — into one combined image that is infinitely sharp.
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