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The Man Of The Forest

This was to be my second trip in the hope of photographing the critically endangered Orangutan. Back in 2013 I had previously spent 10 days in Borneo with the ‘Men Of The Forest’ and I was very much looking forward to having a similar experience back in late March of this year. This time I was based in Sumatra.

The going was tough. Some days we were trekking for 10 hours up into the hills carrying our heavy photography equipment as we went. The humidity was extreme and it was not until 9pm in the evenings that your body would eventually cool down enough to stop perspiring. With my head down, trudging uphill one step at a time or precariously navigating myself down hill avoiding tree roots I would always have in my mind the excitement and thought that round the next corner we could see our next Orangutan.

Towards the beginning of the trip were were fortunate to find female Orangutans with young infants. A young Orangutan is dependent on its mother for up to seven years before it becomes independent so it is very unusual to find a female orangtaun without another in tow. I was looking for clean and simple portraits of these compelling mammals and the eye contact and facial expression was very important.

When working in these environments I am grateful of the 2.8 aperture ability with my lens. The rainforest canopy is typically very thick which stops a lot of light coming through the trees. Occasionally an Orangutan would stop in a pocket of light and this gave opportunities to have a lower ISO and use the dappled light to enhance the textures in the hair.

One thing I did miss when working in Borneo a few years ago was the chance to photograph a large male Orangutan. Half way through the week we began to see this individual more regularly. What impressed me the most about watching these large mammals was the way they were able to navigate their way through the trees. For such a heavy animal to distribute its weight and calculate its movements through thick and unpredictable foliage involves an incredible amount of thought and intelligence.

After each trek it was a case of drying out equipment before hydrating and gorging ourselves at dinner building up enough energy to start climbing all over again the next day. Although a very tough trip of wading through rivers and climbing the hills it was extremely productive and thoroughly enjoyable. Travelling to the other side of the world and laying your eyes upon these special animals right out in the wild is quite unique. It could not of been achieved without my friends Zac and Ian and our guides carrying all of our provisions for the day and still making it to the top of the hills and managing to spot Orangutans before us! Their approach towards the Orangutans and mindset on the conservation issues was very thought provoking and interesting. It is clear to see that if nothing is done to protect these animals, they will disappear with their habitat. I do hope to return and meet up with these ‘Men Of The Forest’ in the coming years before it is too late.

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