White Box Photographic Guide Work (31 Aug 2016)

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Internship Light box work, image above showing other species photographed before my arrival with Untamed Photography.

During my internship with Untamed photography, one of the tasks we carried throughout the duration of the month involved light box photography. This light box work is for an online reptile and amphibian guide that will clearly show the features of each individual species found in the Madre de Dios of Peru. The white background of the box draws emphasis to the subject and highlights its key features. Manipulating the negative white space in the composition also guides the viewer to the subject matter regardless of where it resides in the frame. Framing is also a crucial element in light box work and experimentation is needed to create a photograph in which all the technical and compositional elements flow together to accentuate the subject whilst not overpowering it. The work involved collecting species of reptiles and amphibians and photographing them in the light box to create an identification chart. Since we were only documenting reptiles and amphibians, we had to fit a specific quota to characterise them properly. Frogs included; side shot, front shot, side headshot, top view, bottom, and thigh for species that contain identification differences on thigh area. For snakes: two side shots of the body, side head shot, top and bottom. For Lizards: two side shots of body, side head shot, top and bottom.  For the initial setup of the light box we had three flat studio lights illuminating each side of the box and also a light illuminating from above.

Having never used the white box to identify species, it was obvious that it would prove difficult to be technically precise whilst monitoring the movements of the species. A large amount of anticipation and awareness was needed to safely catch them when they inevitably tried to escape.   It is also important to mention that with lightbox work especially, the technical components of the camera needed to be exact, which became challenging with light changes and quick movements. One of the first frogs we captured was the spotted-thigh treefrog, (Hyla fasciata) which was propped on a stick and behaved pretty well for all of the shots besides the shot of the thigh we needed. As mentioned before, some species of frog need to have a close up of the thigh where certain markings and patterns characterise them as individuals. We had to gently hold the end of the leg down so it extended to show off the markings on the leg and groin area. The frogs in generally tended to be the most difficult to shoot. The Giant broad-headed treefrog, (Osteocephalus taurinus) has one of the most beautiful sets of eyes of all frogs, however, he refused to sit still for more than a few seconds and required more than one dash to catch it. The most well behaved amphibian was the giant Cane toad (Bufo marinus). Perhaps due to its scarce selection of predators, the cane toad was pretty docile, albeit grumpy looking whilst we photographed it. The most difficult of all amphibians proved to be the Smoky Jungle frog (Leptodactylus pentadactylus) which has powerful muscular legs and impressively managed to jump far out of the box. When the Jungle frog feels distressed it lets out a high pitched cry to ward off predators, and it’s pretty distracting trying to photograph it when it sounds like it’s dying. The smallest snakes we photographed included the Blunt headed tree snake,  (Imantodes cenchoa) and the black headed- calico snake (oxyrhopus melanogenys). The biggest snake we photographed was the Olive whip snake (Chironius Fuscus) one of the fastest snakes in the Amazon. We found out that not only is it quick but also a lot stronger than it looks, so it took a lot of time and patience to get it to sit properly on top of the glass so we could take photographs from underneath.

In summary I would say that white box work is both challenging and very rewarding. When you’re working with live subject matter that you need to reposition and handle carefully, you become very good technically with the DSLR manual settings. You take in a lot of information and it definitely became easier. I think it’s a really good way of becoming more confident and aware of not only the camera but of the environment and learning to appreciate and notice minor or major details that cause distinction between species.

Written by Intern: Lauren Beazley


Photos by Intern Lauren Beazley
White Box Photographic Guide