In the lush mountain forests between the Bellinger and Kalang valleys on the Mid North Coast of NSW, lies a patch of old growth trees in all their ancient, 400-year-old glory. Renowned Tasmanian photographer and big tree climber, Steve Pearce of The Tree Projects, and professional arborist, Kai Wild, took a trip to explore and document this incredible (and threatened) area using “tree portraits”.
Steve’s passion for forests, climbing and photography have seen him adventuring worldwide, taking photos for the likes of National Geographic, and forging new innovations in how we see and appreciate our natural world. He hopes that people will see these magnificent trees and be inspired to visit and protect Australia’s remaining native forests.
The Big Trees Of Kalang Forest
Steve first got hooked on the idea of photographing the Kalang Forest when a local member of the Bellingen Environment Center posted some photos of the local forests on Facebook. Steve was wowed by the area around Boot Hill on the Horseshoe Road in NSW, with its untouched mountain rainforest and beautiful old growth. It was a perfect environment for Steve to create one of his incredible tree portraits to record of some of the last old growth forest on the Mid North Coast before it’s logged and gone forever.
The NSW government has unfortunately recently approved a host of new native forest logging changes that will see many areas, including Boot Hill, damaged for many generations to come and will push many threatened species like the Koala to the brink of extinction.
Logging Native Forests Is So Last Decade
The logging debate on native forests has been raging in the media lately as Australia rises to the top of the list of countries responsible for deforestation and species loss. It is widely accepted by scientists and the Australian community that native forestry is a dying and damaging industry that has no place in contemporary, ‘woke’ Australia. The community at large are instead proposing A Great Koala National Park to boost tourism, protect endemic and threatened species and enable all people to experience big trees first hand.
Have you heard about the threats to Tasmanian forests? Here’s how you can help!
Steve’s photographic process is unique in that it showcases the entire tree through both still and moving images. Steve uses 360° video and perspective-less gigapixel panoramas that give the viewer a breathtaking interactive view from within and around the tree — a view which many people in reality will never see in their lifetime.
While in the Kalang forest, Steve chose to photograph and film a giant 65m Eucalyptus pilularis, commonly known as Blackbutt. It took a couple of days to rig his unique camera system, all the while waiting for perfect conditions to start shooting. It’s time-consuming process but Steve thinks it’s well worth the effort.
“The method I use to create a “tree portrait” is a combination of ridiculous rigging and crazy camerawork,” says Steve.
“We have to climb two giant trees then “shoot” a horizontal line over the top of the forest from tree to tree. Then, from the horizontal line a system of pulleys is installed that allows our cameras to be lowered and raised through the forest. My cameras can then travel the entire height of the forest taking a set of photos every metre.”
“These trees are truly the elders of the forest”
– Kailas Wild
The Bellingen Tree Portrait
For the Bellingen Tree Portrait, the camera was raised from the ground to the tree tops, capturing 44, 42 megapixel photos which were painstakingly, individually blended together to reveal a truly impressive tree.
“Every time I make one of these photos I’m amazed at what is revealed. A tree that I know very well still reveals itself to be substantially bigger than what it looks like standing on the ground or looking down from its canopy,” explains Steve.
Steve stitched together 44 photos to create the Bellingen Tree Portrait – click the photo to explore the image!
For the video, a 360° camera travelled with Kai as he ascended the giant tree, recording in high resolution an incredible view of the climb. Kai has some words of wisdom gleaned through his experience and love of tree exploration.
“These trees are truly the Elders of the forest. They house countless species of birds and animals and are the seed banks of the future. Without them, forests rapidly decline and lose their incredible biodiversity. It’s time to put forests first and vote for policies that protect Australia’s incredible trees for now and future explorers.”
The Beauty Of Bellingen
Steve was super impressed with this particular piece of forest.
“The forest around where we were working in Kalang was very diverse. Each morning the dawn chorus of birds greeted us and throughout the day we spent most of our time in the canopy. There’s not much to compare between Tasmania’s forests and what you have here [in Kalang]. Sure we might have bigger trees in Tasmania but here there is a vast diversity of plants and very active animals that we just don’t have in the forests of Tasmania.
“My main goal is to just show the community what they have and nothing more. It’s unfortunate that so much devastation is allowed to happen on public land only because the wider community just isn’t familiar with what they possess.”
Steve has worked on many tree projects worldwide and has photographed and written for National Geographic, Australian Geographic, The North Face and has done extensive work sharing Tasmania’s Eucalypts with the Bob Brown Foundation and the world to protect the takayna/Tarkine forest. You can follow The Trees Project on Facebook and Instagram.
Kailas Wild is a Sydney-based professional climber and conservationist. You can ‘hang out’ with him @kaiwildclimber
All photos thanks to Steven Pearce Photography of The Tree Projects.