Jim Brandenburg on shooting nature

For a large part of my career, I worked as a photojournalist, where content was more important than extreme resolution. However, I have always been attracted to large-format cameras and their ability to record subtle tonality and detail well beyond 35mm. My nature work often emphasizes color and elusive forms of expression like the French impressionist painters I studied as an art student in university. I always appreciated the technical superiority of large-format cameras over hand-held SLRs, but I found the resulting images stiff and lacking the spontaneity or "artfulness" that have been part of my personal style and mission. Eventually, I simply stopped using large-format cameras. After shooting with the new D800, I found myself combining the ease of moving and quickly making the multiple shooting decisions one does with an SLR with the resolution of a large-format camera. I discovered I was in the happy position of having the best of both worlds. I actually look at potential photographs differently now. I know certain images are now possible with a 35mm D-SLR, and not only with a large and clumsy view camera.

I think many of us sense mystery and intrigue in forests with very large and very old trees. Perhaps it triggers something in the oldest part of our being, and we find a certain kind of comfort in these old growth forests. Being a nature lover, I have always felt inspired by trees that have survived both man’s intrusion and the forces of nature, and these trees could be considered part of that diminishing genre. The luxuriant mossy textures and the complex curves of the tree branches helped the image’s composition. When combined with the proper light, the complex tangle of branches seemed to create its own kind of order after hours of studying and aligning the composition. Nature is really just one large chaotic swirl of life — finding a pleasing visual order within that vortex of decisions and visual possibilities is a joy when it happens. In my life, it is a rare occurrence. When asked to do it on assignment, it is simultaneously more difficult and more rewarding, as these "special" images often come at the most unexpected moments.

I am excited to go back to locations where I have previously worked and explore them once more using this camera's new potential and exceptional ability to record detail and subtle tonality. Oftentimes, it was my large-scale wide landscape images that suffered the most from a lack of resolution. Photographers will now be much more open to those kind of scenes — scenes that until now were left to the large-format shooters. Along with sweeping landscapes, I now have a renewed interest in photographs that rely on very subtle variations in tonality and detail — these, too, will now get my full attention. For example, a field of prairie grass or a water scene without prominent graphic shapes would be difficult for previous cameras since they couldn't record extremely minute details. Now, with the D800, these will become a more common subject for me, and I'm sure for many others, as well.

Jim Brandenburg