Picture Perfect: The stunning masterpiece of the Rainforest Country
Stanley and Kaisa Breeden have crawled, waited in the mud for hours and battled ticks, wind, rain and leeches.
But it's all been worth it for their stunning masterpiece, Rainforest Country.
The magic of the rainforest comes to Stanley and Kaisa Breeden at their home on the Tableland in Topaz.
The award-winning nature writers and digital photographers, who will release their coffee table book, Rainforest Country, in early April, experience creatures of the tropics literally on their doorstep.
“We are very fortunate that we live near a large block of rainforest that is very diverse, and sometimes when you go outside, an insect can just land on you,” says Stanley Breeden, a writer, photographer and filmmaker for 40 years.
His wife, Kaisa, concurs.
She says they come up to you almost as if they are proffering themselves for a photo shoot.
Even when they don’t, the couple don’t have to go far to be in the midst of it all.
“Our house, being in the rainforest, gives us ringside seats to all its dramas and their characters,” Stanley writes in the book.
The photography in this book is beautifully complemented by his and Kaisa’s writing.
Kaisa, from the Blue Mountains, says she grew up in a family of bohemians and has “eucalyptus in my veins”.
She met Stan on a visit to the Tableland.
She was enthralled with his nature writing and says her own writing has been percolating for years, despite some discouragement from her school English teacher.
Her love of nature and aesthetics has always been with her.
“My father encouraged a deep love of nature in me,” she says.
“We had rituals, and used go into the mountains during flowering season and look at nests.
“It is very much part of me.”
Kaisa dabbled for a while in painting before turning to photography.
Stanley, on the other hand, was almost born with a camera in his hands.
Born in Brisbane, he recalls a childhood in what are now the Brisbane suburbs, taking photographs of swamps and wildlife.
He spent 11 years in India “crawling through the undergrowth” and producing films on tigers, monkeys, rhinos and the wonders of the wetlands for National Geographic and won two Emmy awards, one for cinematography and one for writing.
“I had a good time but to work in India is very difficult,” he says.
“It’s very bureaucratic.
“Actually, coming back here was a relief.”
Rainforest Country: An Intimate Portrait of Australia’s Tropical Rainforest was two years in the making.
The clarity of the photos is stunning.
The couple specialise in macro photography using just natural light.
They developed a combination of two techniques called HDR-DOF (a mixture of high dynamic range photography and depth of field).
Focus stacking, Kaisa describes as using several exposures, with different slices in focus.
“Then on top we have HDR, so for each slice of focus, there are five exposures,” she says.
This means some of the photographs in the book required up to 20 photographs to make them appear so vivid from top to tail.
“We work some magic with an extended tonal image,” Stanley says.
Sometimes, he says, with sunshine parts, a photograph can be washed out and have little or no detail, but he then takes one in shadow, then one in the medium range, and then layers them until each part of the photograph is sharp and extremely detailed.
“You combine depth of field with extensive detail,” he says.
“With the butterfly, you focus on the front, then the middle, then the back.”
Because the subject has to be still, it limits what the pair can photograph.
Stan is looking for “clarity and stillness”.
Kaisa is often the lookout, making sure the subject doesn’t move when being shot, or else the process will have to be gone through once more.
“I’ll watch up close and make sure it doesn’t so much as tremble,” she says.
The techniques they use Kaisa describes in the book as needing “hernia-inducing tenacity”.
It can take several hours to photograph one subject, and even then when they return to their computer, they can discover it hasn’t worked out and have to do it all over again.
They have their favourites.
Stan, who was a film photographer for many years, but gave it up because it simply didn’t satisfy him anymore, says he loves the first butterfly, the tailed emperor on the second page of the book, for technical reasons.
“It’s sharp corner-to-corner and has beautiful nuances in shape,” he says.
Getting the all-elusive perfect shot is a constant drive.
“It keeps you going,” Stan says.
Kaisa’s favourite is the mouse-sized possum (long-tailed pygmy possum) on the front cover that was surprised while drinking nectar from a golden penda.
It graciously was surprised (and paralysed) long enough to pose for three photographs.
The couple’s work takes them all over the country.
They spent several months in Western Australia, on the companion and predecessor to this book, Wildflower Country: Discovering Biodiversity In Australia’s Southwest.
There, the problems in the field included ticks and wind.
“On the whole it was the wind,” Stanley says.
“For what we do, we can’t photograph in the wind.”
In the tropics, it’s the leeches and the rain.
“This time of year, you can spray your boots, but they still come at you,” he says.
“They come onto your legs,” says Kaisa, “and you can’t stop until you finish photographing.”
The rain isn’t as big an issue.
“Sometimes we set up a clear plastic tent, but we don’t do that often,” Stan says.
“The beauty is when you work from home, you can just take a break (during a downpour) and then go out again.
“We are right in it.”
Next, the Blue Mountains are calling to the couple who want to investigate its leafy depths.
“We will have to go for several months and capture the different seasons,” Stan says.
“We will do all around the Sydney area, which is surrounded by national parks, so we will be giving that area the same treatment.”
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In the wild: Stanley and Kaisa Breeden specialise in macro photography using five exposures to get the quality and clarity of the photos in their book Rainforest Country.