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Close Up With Photographer and Author Robert Llewellyn

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.

 

3 Comments

  1. Mr Terry Jenkins February 24, 2013 at 11:22 am - Reply

    Just a Hello. Came across this page while looking around the internet this morning . I was a student of yours back in the 70’s when you taught at Dickies’ DarkRoom in Charlottesville. I recall one of my assignment photos was of a group of rather large oaks which had been cut for a new condo development off of Ivy Road . I have been looking at others black and white prints ; I miss those days of black ,gray and white. I recall seeing your National Cathedral publication when I relocated to Greensboro N.C. back in 1982-83. Good to see your work again. Terry Jenkins.

  2. Ford Ebner July 30, 2014 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    Hello:
    I have been enjoying your book with Nancy Ross Hugo on “seeing trees”, and I have been trying multiple exposures to get as much as possible of a 3D scene in focus, without consistent success. Have you ever published your method for acquiring such marvelous images?
    Thanks,
    Ford Ebner

  3. Virginia Hickey September 6, 2014 at 8:24 am - Reply

    I had the wonderful privilege of visiting the Virginia Library on Friday and seeing Robert’s slide show. On my way home I called my son and told him about the wonderful photographs. 3,000 miles away he logged onto the website and said ‘Wow!’ Thank you Robert for sharing your wonderful talent with us.

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