The work of Virginia-based photographer and author Robert Llewellyn is featured in the Autumn 2012 issue of American Forests as the “Last Look.” In this American Forests web-exclusive, Robert describes how he discovered that photographing trees can be dangerous and how getting the perfect seasonal shot may mean traveling a few hours away.
When and why did you become a nature photographer?
I have been photographing landscapes for 40 years. Most recently, while photographing the book Remarkable Trees of Virginia, I saw how trees are alive. They are not just elements in a landscape. They are born, and they die. That made me want to see them up close and to learn about their lifecycle.
Are you drawn to a specific type of nature photography?
As a photographer, I want to know all about the world- any subject.
What was the most difficult image you ever tried to capture?
For Remarkable Trees of Virginia, I had to shoot a 400-year-old pine tree. This tree’s trunk was only one foot in diameter, and it grew out of a rock cliff 300 feet above the New River in Blacksburg. The problem was to get a good photo without falling into the river or losing the writer as he tried to move a twig out of the way and began sliding across the cliff. We were successful. I never thought of trees as dangerous.
Do you have a favorite story from your quest for beautiful photographs?
For Seeing Trees, the writer, Nancy Hugo — living in Ashland, Virginia — and I — living near Charlottesville, Virginia — realized we were seasonally two weeks apart. She would tell me what was going to happen in two weeks. When I noticed I had missed shooting a red maple flower, I adjusted “the time machine” in the other direction and got the flower in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Where is your favorite shooting location?
I don’t have one. I like the visual challenge of making a photograph wherever I am. Sometimes a place I have never been before tends to light me up because it’s all new.
Which other photographers do you admire?
Karl Blossfeldt, who made nature images in the 1930s for his design students. They are extraordinary.
Digital or film and why?
Digital by far. Digital is sharper, has greater tonal range and can be easily edited in Photoshop. Photoshop reminds me of when I used to make black-and-white prints in the darkroom. Photoshop is the new darkroom. With film, you are at the mercy of the characteristics of the film.