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Capturing a Cassowary`s eye

Stan and Kaisa Breeden are at the forefront of digital closeup nature photography. Between them they have over 68 years of experience in nature photography, art, design, writing and film-making.

Stan has published his photos for magazines like National Geographic, The Smithsonians and Natural History, Geo and others. He has also worked in India and Australia for his assignments. His work on a TV documentary called Land of the Tigers, which was a National Geographic Special for PBS won him an Emmy Award. He has been conferred two Emmy awards (cinematography and writing) in his career.

Kaisa is a artist and graphic designer and has recently been taken by iPhone photography. Her work with Stan has got recognition around the world and together they are a duo to watch out for.They also publish books on their pictures called Rainforest Country and Wildflower Country.

You specialise in Macro Nature Photography, what is it and how does one start off with it?

The exact meaning of macro photography is that your subject is life size or larger on your viewing screen. By that definition, many of our subjects may not be strict “macro” so we say we do macro and close-up photography. To get started, you need to look closely at nature, its patterns, textures, forms and other details. The first thing you need photographically is a macro lens—this can be on your iPhone or for your Nikon D800e.

With over 68 years of experience in nature photography combined, what is it about nature that interests you the most?

The expression of life in all its forms, the interactivity of those forms, growth patterns and cycles, the exhilaration you feel out in the wild and observing and thinking about nature. It is a never-ending source of inspiration for us and helps our photography in many ways.

Is your love for nature and photography the reason you met and fell in love with each other?

Definitely. Kaisa actually fell in love with Stan’s writing before they met, after reading Visions of a Rainforest, a record of learning to live in and love Australia’s tropical rainforest. She arranged a meeting, and we’ve been together ever since.

How do you manage to get so close to your subjects? Any special tricks?

You need to be observant, to learn to understand the ways of animals and plants, and above all look closely.

No tricks, just a lot of patience and respect in approaching our subjects. You need to be observant, to learn to understand the ways of animals and plants, and above all look closely.

Tell us more about your books Wildflower Country and Rainforest Country. Where are most of the photos for it taken?

Biodiversity, that is the variety of life, attracted us to Australia’s southwest corner, one of the world’s greatest wildflower areas, to do Wildflower Country. And Rainforest Country is in the diagonally opposite corner of the country—and is where we live. The majority of the photographs for Rainforest Country were taken right on our doorstep. What the two areas have in common is that they are both International Biodiversity Hotspots—the only two in the country. There is another connection between them which is even more intriguing. Sixty million years ago, all of Australia was covered in tropical rainforest—including the southwest corner. Over the last ten million years or so the continent became drier and tropical rainforest contracted to just a narrow coastal remnant in the northeast corner where it still exists today. These are the oldest forests on the planet. And all of Australia’s varied habitats evolved from that rainforest. The heathlands and woodlands of the southwest are the most spectacular and diverse result of the evolution of those forests.

We understand that you have worked for National Geographic and are Emmy award winning TV documentarian. How was filming different from photography?

Stan, with producer Belinda Wright, made about a dozen documentaries in India and Australia. In 1985 Stan won an Emmy Award for Cinematography for the National Geographic special, Land of the Tiger. In 1988 he won an Emmy for writing in his National Geographic special, Australia\'s Twilight of the Dreamtime. This was in the days of 16mm film. Documentary making in the digital age is something different altogether. The main differences from still photography are that you must follow a story line, there must be action, you need shots from different angles. The shots you take have to have sound, natural and music, and be edited in gracefully flowing sequences.

How was your experience working in India? What were your major takeaways from our country?

What I took away were overwhelming experiences with mammals, from elephants and tigers, to monkeys and civets. This is so very different from Australia

Stan: I lived in India for eleven years which was one of the most exciting periods of my life. What I took away were overwhelming experiences with mammals, from elephants and tigers, to monkeys and civets. This is so very different from Australia. Being so deeply involved with nature on another continent also gave me a greater understanding about all life on earth, its similarities and its differences.

Do you think Indian forest reserves are doing as much for saving animals and forests as compared to Australian counterparts?

Any suggestions for the same? Stan: I was in India in the 1970’s and 80’s. This is now considered the golden age of wildlife conservation in India. It was during this time that Project Tiger and other effective measures were put in place. I’ve kept in touch about what has happened since, and I’m not encouraged. The tiger is nearing extinction. That’s unthinkable. Every reserve is under some kind of pressure. There was a move, incomprehensible to me, to lock visitors out of all tiger reserves—denying Indian citizens to see their national animal in the wild. Nature conservation in Australia is more effective, but it’s not without its problems. The Great Barrier Reef, for example, is under enormous pressure and in danger of disappearing altogether in the long run.

Any particular animal that you fancy the most and why?

We love our resident cassowary—our giant dinosaur bird. 

We love our resident cassowary—our giant dinosaur bird. Kaisa is besotted by chameleons, their eyes, tails, hands as well as their colours and textures. She wants to do a book about them using our focus stacking techniques. It would be spectacular to photograph them.

We observed that you enjoy capturing plants, trees and flowers, over animals. Why is that?

In photographing nature we have no preferences. We love it all. It’s just that in Wildflower Country our subjects needed to be plants. There are more animals in Rainforest Country.

Tell us one thing you admire in the each other? Do working together help your photography and result in better images than working alone?

Stan: I love Kaisa’s deep emotional attachment to the natural world and how she is able to communicate that in both words and pictures. Also her determination to uphold the highest quality in all she does.

Kaisa: I am in awe of Stan’s encyclopaedic knowledge of nature. You can ask him about practically any animal or plant and he’ll know something. He’ll patiently let me push him around and direct him to photograph 30 images of a snake for a focus stack. And he’s humble about his talents. If those were my Emmy awards, I’d have them out the front of the house lit up with flood lights, instead of hiding in the office.

You are into writing as well, how do you manage to be so good at multifarious things?

Tell us more about it.  Our aim, from the beginning, has been to communicate the wonder and beauty of the natural world. Pictures were an obvious choice. But fascinating aspects of nature and thoughts and feelings about it need something more to tell the story, so words are woven in. And we both love nature writing. Story telling can be much more penetrating when writing is combined with  evocative photographs.

We hear Kaisa is quite taken by iPhoneography. Do you think smartphones are the way ahead? Also has it been hard to convince Stanley to take it up?

There’s a lot of stigma against iPhoneography as a legitimate photographic form. But it’s a beautifully designed, compact camera that you always have with you. It’s uncomplicated.

Kaisa:  iPhoneography is actually my domain exclusively. Stan feels he has enough on his plate, and he was extremely sceptical at first. “What are you doing with that little thing when we’ve been struggling for years to get the ultimate quality?” But then he saw what I could do with it. There’s a lot of stigma against iPhoneography as a legitimate photographic form. But it’s a beautifully designed, compact camera that you always have with you. It’s uncomplicated. It gives you a lot of freedom, and I’m very excited to see people stopping and looking differently, considering light and angles. Mobile photography is not as exclusive as high-end photography, there is very open-minded and welcoming mobile photography community who view this photography in a much more fluid and experimental manner. Apart from the iPhone itself, you don’t need expensive lenses and tripods. I bought a $4 macro lens for mine. And it has spawned a renaissance in photomontage.

What are your suggestions for budding photographers? What are your reasons for taking up Macro nature photography?

Try not photographing anything at first, and just look around. Then look closer. Then maybe pick up a camera, or borrow your friend’s iPhone. The close-up view can actually broaden your perception of nature. We find by looking closely the world gets bigger and even more wondrous and absorbing.

The new editing and sharing apps for smartphones are a rage, proving a platform for people to share their work. Do you use or intend to use such platforms as well? Yes, Kaisa does. Her Instagram name is pademelon. The ease of sharing images is terrific—within minutes, you have responses from people all over the world. The generosity and enthusiasm of mobile photographers is very encouraging. Kaisa is a confirmed app junkie. She probably owns every photography app there is.


Kaisa is on instagram #kaisabreeden

More Photos by Stan & Kaisa Breeden / Fotosocial

  • Favourite Camera: Nikon D800e (and an iPhone 4S!)
  • Favourite printer: The Epson 9900 at Pharos Editions in Melbourne.
  • Unanimous choice for a favourite shot: Proud Moth, only 14mm long, it took a 20 exposure focus stack to reveal its plush detail.
  • A picture that defines you both:  Our avatar! Failing that, the Sunlit Barringtonia image from Rainforest Country: it was our first successful experiment many moons ago, combining focus stacking with HDRI photography. We call it HDR-DOF. A picture that you wish to take A fantastic focus stack of a chameleon, and the flowers of the Finbos of South Africa.
  • Preferred Location: Our back yard
  • Photographers You Admire: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Joseph Holmes (josephholmes.com)—Kaisa uses and loves every one of his colour profiles.