Big tree, small room

Normally my job involves photographing cultural heritage items: books, manuscripts, and artifacts from the collections of a large public university library. Recently, though, I was asked to capture images of a piece of Ohio’s natural heritage. A cross-section of a 324-year-old white oak tree, 3 feet in diameter, was carried into my small studio and dropped off for a photography session.

The tree had been standing in central Ohio since 1680 when it was brought down in an ice storm in 2004. Most of the wood salvaged from it was used in to make furniture and interior paneling and trim. This cross section has been preserved as a sample.

Photographing it in a small space was a challenge. The lights had to be set wide to prevent direct reflections off the highly varnished surface from obscuring the beauty of the wood’s pattern. There was just enough room to do this, in between the copy stand and the opposite wall (the longest stretch of empty space in the room).

In addition, the distance between the object and the wall opposite it was short, making it hard to get the whole thing in frame. Since I was using a prime lens, zooming out was not an option.Scooting back until I was nearly under the table behind me was the only way.

Below is the whole piece, along with some details.



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