View Full Version : A saw and a ladder

John Cook
18-Apr-2005, 09:33
An old-time architectural photographer once told me that he never went anywhere without a pruning saw and a step ladder.

The purpose for the saw was to prune a leafy tree branch to shoot through. It hid a cracked sidewalk and/or a featureless sky. Or perhaps an ugly power pole. Held under the lens, the foliage gave the impression that an industrial building surrounded by hot, dirty pavement might instead be in the suburbs, set in the middle of some very expensive cool, lush landscaping.

The step ladder allowed him a camera POV high enough to shoot over the ubiquitous parked cars looming large in the foreground. A much neater trick than what can be achieved by merely raising the front standard alone.

The problems with step ladders have always been their generally flimsy construction (as a big bruiser, I have had more than one ladder collapse under me.) and their length which prevented them from transportation in an automobile trunk.

The Little Giant, commercials for which are everywhere these days, seems to have nicely solved these problems. And what a treat to buy something which was actually made here, instead of China, for a change.

However, as a source for these ladders, I would instead like to recommend Pro Ladder Supply of Pocatello, ID, over the tv marketing company running the paid commercials. Pro Ladder stocks the complete line of products instead of just one, ships the next business day instead of in 60 days, and their prices are much lower.

I just took delivery (by free Fedex) of a type 1AA Little Giant, built to accommodate 375 pounds.

Think I may have linguini for lunch...

Randy Becker
18-Apr-2005, 10:02

Great post!

Linguini sounds good too!


Paul Butzi
18-Apr-2005, 10:13
It seems a little rude to take a pruning saw and lop a limb off someone else's tree.

Why not carry a leafy branch instead of a saw?

-Paul (www.butzi.net (http://www.butzi.net))

domenico Foschi
18-Apr-2005, 10:46
I always havea step ladder in my car, i will never bring a pruning saw, but my next buy will be a magic wand to get rid of telephone poles and power lines.

Eric Woodbury
18-Apr-2005, 10:47
Someone told me once to always carry a can of black paint so that you could paint out objectionables from a potentially good photograph.

Jon Shiu
18-Apr-2005, 10:52
I just read an amusing article about a guy who cut down all the saplings in the foreground of his pond picture. He said to prune them at an angle so that the white cut doesn't show up from the camera position, thus saving hours of spotting time.

18-Apr-2005, 10:52
Don't forget to mention that wonderful ladder costs nearly $400!!!!! (Those infomercials ain't cheap).

18-Apr-2005, 11:38
This is truly an odious post. It highlights the kind of self-centered destructiveness that gives some photographers a bad reputation. No one has the right to cut or prune a tree except on his/her own property.

Sal Santamaura
18-Apr-2005, 11:53
"No one has the right to cut or prune a tree except on his/her own property."

Frequently even cutting on one's own property is prohibited by homeowners association covenants and/or county tree preservation ordinances.

Michael Kadillak
18-Apr-2005, 12:29
If you are in the wilds of the outdoors on Federal lands or public property I have no problem with trimming saplings or other small time growth to get your shot. Common sense is the key here. But in the city or particularly with others property you are taking the risk that someone will take you to task if you get caught.

Use your head and find a better angle that does not require you to modify the situation to your liking and it will be better for all of us.


John Cook
18-Apr-2005, 12:40
There are city slickers who pay thousands to have some exotic twig planted in their commercially manicured yard. And there are southwestern dudes who agonize over trying to get anything at all, even remotely green, to artificially grow in their patch of dessert.

Here in the foothills of the Berkshires where rainfall is more than plentiful, maple trees grow wild, choking out lawns and spare lots. Forests have completely overgrown what were 19th century farms. It is not uncommon during a walk in the deep woods to come across a rusty hundred year old plow.

Some of you no doubt require anal PC regulations about ungentlemanly behavior toward branches. Here, I require $500 worth of men with chainsaws every few years to beat them back and haul them away, lest the lawn vanish entirely.

Paul Butzi
18-Apr-2005, 13:18
I live on a tree farm. You can bet that if someone comes along and prunes branches off my trees (or worse, fells them) I'm going to be just as pissed as a farmer whose had some bozo come along and mow down his crops.

If you want to cut up trees, I'm fine with that. I like trees, but I cut them down when it makes sense to do so - thinning, for instance.

Just don't cut up MY trees. And, by simple extension, don't cut up trees that don't belong to you. I don't see a general prohibition against vandalizing things which don't belong to you simply because they happen to interfere with your photographic plans as 'anal PC regulations'.

I just think it's common courtesy. That might be anathema to the over-regulated folks in Massachusetts, but here in rural Washington we think it's a nice way to get along with others.

Sal Santamaura
18-Apr-2005, 13:33
"Some of you no doubt require anal PC regulations..."

Not sure about requiring them, but some of us must cope with them.

Vick Vickery
18-Apr-2005, 13:42
Come on, Y'all...give John a break! He's talking architecual photography, most likely commercially; the customers I normally shoot for would gladly loose a random leaffy branch to get a really good shot of their new multi-million dollar extravaganza (or even their new $50,000 metal office building)! I'm sure he asks permission before he starts chopping and chooses a cut where it leaves the least possible gap in the bush. I've used this trick many times myself.

Ladder...I like the old fashioned ones with the flat step on the top...the head off of my Davis and Sanford tripod can be mounted on a base bolted on top made from an appropriately sized plumbing pipe and a collar with four screw holes around the edges. I do wish it was steadier, though...you can often enlist the client to hold onto it so you don't go "head over heels"!!

Jorge Gasteazoro
18-Apr-2005, 13:56
John bubba, if you are not selling that maple wood you are a fool....have you any idea how much maple furniture goes for? Hell, forget photography, learn some wood working and laugh all othe way to the bank... :)

18-Apr-2005, 14:58
Personally, I'd love to see the Park Service chop down those big tall trees which have grown into the view at Yosemite's Tunnel View. Fat Chance!

Tom Westbrook
18-Apr-2005, 15:52
Yeah, it's the trees that are in the way...


Vick Vickery
18-Apr-2005, 15:58
Tom, that is a truly GREAT shot!!!

John Cook
18-Apr-2005, 16:47
I guess you guys will all just have to come to the LF Conference to see what I am talking about. Trees grow here in spare lots and along the roadside like crabgrass and dandelions.

Less than a mile in three directions from my in-town home are 20-acre-plus areas of tree saplings, scrub brush and ugly, deformed wild trees too closely packed and growing into each other.

Two blocks in the fourth direction is the old, abandoned Diamond Match factory with a four-acre parking lot filled with wild sumac bushes and trees along the chainlink fence and coming up trough cracks in the cement.

Over twenty such abandoned factories (Westinghouse, Gilbert & Barker gasoline station pumps, John H. Breck shampoo, Columbia bicycles, Chapman Valve, Bosch diesel products, Savage shotguns, Package Machinery Corporation, Hampden Chemical, Indian Motorcycle, National Blank Book, Standard Electric Time school clocks, Church toilet seats, Dan Wesson Arms, etc.) within a ten-mile radius. Some with trees inside the buildings. Everybody went to China, ya know.

Downtown, behind the abandoned magnificent old train station is more acreage of rusty tracks, junk and wild bent-over, gnarled trees.

Many old Victorian houses have burned and been torn down. Within five years the lots have completely overgrown with trees.

My rather slack next-door neighbor whose property is lovingly known around here as “Sloppy Hollow” has many maple trees growing out of his uncleaned roof gutters.

Bring your cameras to the conference and do a post-apocalypse photo essay on the industrial revolution going back to nature.

But don’t lose too much sleep over Springfield’s trees.

Paul Butzi
18-Apr-2005, 17:29
The fact that the trees are abundant does not justify cutting them. If they don't belong to you, leave them alone.

The fact that the trees are overly dense, deformed, and growing in 20 acre plus groves does not justify cutting them. If they don't belong to you, leave them alone.

The fact that, left alone, many places will quickly fill with trees, shrubs, and other vegetation does not justify cutting them. If they don't belong to you, leave them alone.

The fact that they grow out of your slovenly neighbors rain gutters does not justify you cutting them. If they don't belong to you, leave them alone.

I guess I don't understand what's so difficult about the concept of not destroying something which doesn't belong to you. Am I alone in this viewpoint?

Maybe I just don't understand. Perhaps in Massachusetts, you're free to consider everything you see your property, and destroy it on a whim.

Out here in the Pacific Northwest, we're not quite so civilized. We still believe in private property.

Here's a hint for you sophisticated MA residents - when you come to photograph in the palouse, the fact that the wheat grows in unfenced fields that are hundreds or thousands of acres does not justify you driving your car out into the field to get just the right camera angle. When you do, you can expect the enraged farmer to drive over you with his tractor. Worse, the courts will decide in his favor when you try to sue. Even worse, I will cheer heartily when it happens.

Would you like it if I remodeled your house with my Stihl 021 with an 18" bar? How about if I decide that I don't like the look of your tires, and decide to beautify them with my handy 20 foot Silky pole saw?

John D Gerndt
18-Apr-2005, 17:29
You know, not every tree is sacred. One can use one's head to figure what requires permission and what doesn't. It is a good post.

I will be traveling this summer with a 10 foot step ladder just to get a view from the scenic outlooks along Michigan's highways where budget constraints (I assume) have allowed "junk trees" to block what we all payed to have dressed and cleared. Getting up in the air is a great way to get around the depth of field issues for long lenses close to the ground. A standard tripod head can be bolted directly to the top step. Try it!


Henry Ambrose
18-Apr-2005, 18:12
John, good post! I have one of those ladders and they are well worth the money. I lash my tripod onto the ladder with ropes.

Paul, lighten up! John "the butcher" Cook is on the other side of the country from you so your trees are safe! : >)

Tom, that's a GREAT picture! How much for a small print?

Next week I'm finishing up as job at a National Battlefield and you can be darn sure I won't be cutting anything there. But the next time I'm shooting a commercial building and need a branch, I'll cut one if need be. (I also live in a very green place and its OK to use your head about this tree cutting thing.)

18-Apr-2005, 18:29
Saint Ansel had a saw in the trunk of his Caddy, I swear.

Frank Bagbey
18-Apr-2005, 18:34
What John meant was "improve the picture". Let us not beat a dead horse any deader. Or don't even bother to pick up paper cups and beer cans to get them out of the photo. That, after all, alters reality. The horse is dead.

Sal Santamaura
18-Apr-2005, 18:37
"...the concept of not destroying something which doesn't belong to you. Am I alone in this viewpoint?"

As a general rule in the US, no Paul, you're not, but those who subscribe seem to become fewer and fewer by the year.

Dave Moeller
18-Apr-2005, 18:48
Regarding trees growing in abandoned industrial property: One of my favorite shots is of the bathroom of an abandoned guard house near an abandoned factory. It's one of my favorites because the tree branch coming in through the window is the perfect compliment to the general run-down look of the place. Sometimes those wild trees just make a picture...

Hans Berkhout
18-Apr-2005, 19:17
I'm waiting for somebody to mention Fred Picker's name in the (chain)saw context.

Steve Feldman
18-Apr-2005, 19:19
Tom, that's a really GREAT picture! I like a print also. Much better than what I got the last time I was there in winter.

Jim Rice
18-Apr-2005, 20:15
I like cracked sidewalks.

18-Apr-2005, 21:13
Paul: Keep the faith, and keep repeating it! I live in the East and if anyone comes arounf here with a saw, they'll meet a 12 gauge in return! Trees don't have to be sacred to understand what Paul is saying!

Personally, I hate blue cars, but I don't go around repainting all those ugly ones a better color!

It really is amazing how many people just don't get it....

18-Apr-2005, 21:32
john -

there are realty agents in boston who do the same thing for their MLS listing. :)


Donald Hutton
18-Apr-2005, 21:34
Well, I have a soft spot for trees too. I carry a big roll of string in my pack and it's pretty handy for all sorts of things, not least - holding back intruding branches for photographs. Seriously, armed with a lengh of tough twine, you will not need to go trimming anything and in fact you will find tying back these nasty little beasts far less energy consuming than sawing anything - that bit of reason alone gets a ball of string into my bag ahead of a saw!

Tomorrow morning I venture out in the dark with a much more intimidating problem - the new multi-million $ townhouses I am shooting (north facing so I have to beat the sun... why don't architects make life a little easier for us?) has a large, ugly realtors board in front. I am taking a shovel so that I can remove the offending item for the shots, but I have this feeling that my morning could involve a long diatribe with an over-zealous enforcer of the law should one make a drive by at the moment of unearthing the signage... We shall see.

Scott Rosenberg
19-Apr-2005, 00:59
this thread really surprises me, as i thought john would have gotten absolutely flamed for his suggestion of cutting down a tree for the sake of a photograph. paul, i am truly stunned that you
and i, in the midst of photographers, many of which are nature photographers, i presume, find ourselves in the minority on this point.

come on fellas, take some cable, find a different view, but why damage someone elses property? it seems the height of arrogance to simply cut down a tree because you feel it's intruding on the only angle from which to take a photo.

i wish some of us were more creative with a camera and less creative with a saw!

Armin Seeholzer
19-Apr-2005, 02:54
Hi Paul

I'm with you on thad point. I would never destroy something without permission and even then I would try to find an other way. Today it is much easier to get something out of a picture with PS.
So in little Switzerland as an architictural photog you need many times the Schneider 47 mm XL to get a shoot.
I' m not sure if holy A.Adams used a saw I think he was creativ enough not to use one.
But even if he used one from time to time thad does not mean that it is okay!
If every photog would do it it would get a mess, because today are much more people with a camera around, then to the times of A. Adams.
Be creativ not destructiv!!!!

John Cook
19-Apr-2005, 04:13
Got so excited, I forgot to give y’all the web address for Pro Ladder: http://proladder.com/ladders/

Can’t stop now. I’m off to the Home Depot lumber aisle to watch the perverts. What fun! Last week they caught some guy fondling a 2x4.

Then after lunch, I am bowing to the wishes of the PC tree huggers. It’s off to the Federal Building on Main Street to fund an environmental impact study on the back yard before mowing my lawn this Saturday.

You know what Charleton Heston always says, “Saws don’t prune branches, people prune branches”.

Catch you later...

19-Apr-2005, 05:13
One good thing about Heston is he supported shooting people that cut other peoples trees. Remember it's okay to shoot people that touch your stuff. Don't let the PC people tell you that shooting tree molestors is wrong.

Tom Westbrook
19-Apr-2005, 05:26
Thanks for the kudos on the photo, folks. To avoid unseemly commerce on the forum, see my web site for more info and a bigger image: www.tomwestbrook.com/gallery/Landscapes/yosemite_photogs (http://www.tomwestbrook.com/gallery/Landscapes/yosemite_photogs)

Diane Maher
19-Apr-2005, 06:23
There is nothing in John's original post which suggests he goes around and cuts tree branches. The way I read it, is he was told by an older photographer that's what they used to do in the 'old days'. That doesn't imply that it should be done today. The rest of his post dealt with his recommendation for a particular brand of step ladder.

Ben Calwell
19-Apr-2005, 06:50
I have a confession. A few years ago, I composed a nice woodland scene only to discover that a few errant bushes were disturbing the composition at the bottom of the image. So caught up in the moment was I that I stomped and bent them down (to get them out of the image area) as if they were meaningless cockroaches. The moment my foot squashed them down I had an instant sense of regret and remorse at having done so. After I developed the film, they were still in the image as out-of-focus bits of scrub -- they had evidently sprung back into the image area.

tim atherton
19-Apr-2005, 07:13
"come on fellas, take some cable, find a different view, but why damage someone elses property? it seems the height of arrogance to simply cut down a tree because you feel it's intruding on the only angle from which to take a photo. "

You guys keep missing the point - it's not cutting down a tree because it's in the way of a picture (that's the Fred Picker chainsaw gang way). It's cutting down a bit of tree to ADD to the picture of some bleak concrete and tarmac paved industrial facility.

The whole point is to make scads of money from a better picture - which of course is the way of the industrialised free-market world. If you can make more money by digging something up or cutting it down (preferably in large quantities) so much the better - and it's nearly always on someone else's property - just make sure you don't provide suitable recompense, or you will never make a profit.

After all, we cut down hundreds of thousands of trees to wipe our arses on, make our (photo) magazines and newspapers and even build our cameras. What's one little branch from the tree in the median of a desolate corporate/industrial parking lot...? Trees spoil the wonderful sense of endless monotony in those places anyway.

19-Apr-2005, 07:16
"No one has the right to cut or prune a tree except on his/her own property."

Tell it to the lumber companies that make all their money from public lands.

Or, the estate of Fred Picker.

19-Apr-2005, 11:50
Wacking a Chem-Lawn shrub is doing the world a favor.

Back as a Univ of Oregon student in 1981, I gave my obligatory $20 to the fledgling Earth First movement and read Edward Abbey's Monkey Wrench gang over and over (where is that movie version?). I did a project on rampant development and had a show with the typical Lewis Baltz - Robert Adams ice cold pictures of deserted suburban houses and creeping signs of mankind in every bucolic scene. Had I stuck with it, and had a German surname, imagine the glory awaiting me.

Then I had to get a job and Oregon's economy sucked - 20% unemployment - and ended up house framing, hodading, and, yes, cutting trees. It changes your perspective when the only way for a middle aged man in the rural west to support his family is by exploiting - or harvesting, depending on your POV - natural resources.

I learned that like it or not, humans are part of the environment and are here to stay. I don't think they should log everything, or send the raw timber to Japan - but I don't have a problem with a well managed timber operation. And watching a puny human fall a giant tree is actually pretty awe inspiring. Heck, I get a kick out of cutting the 5-6 inch trees on my lot, but I don't cut wood for pleasure.

The US currently has more biomass than before the revolution (200 + years ago). It doesn't compensate for the loss of old growth, erosion, loss of habitat, or the destruction of the tropical rainforests, but - short of killing off billions of people, we need to cut trees to survive. Some photographer hacking a limb - in a responsible way of course, while being respectful of propery rights - hardly makes a difference to our environment.

If you really want to get a bug up the PC environmentalist photographer's arse, ask them where the tropical hardwood on their Wisner, Canham, or Ebony came from... and if it was FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified? Especially the Asian built cameras, where the concept of conservation is all but unheard of.

Paddy Quinn
19-Apr-2005, 12:09
Francesco, I have to admit, there is a certain irony to the image of a photographer toting a nice expensive ebony or mahogony camera complain about loping off a branch from a tree in the middle of an industrial wasteland.

But then if you look closely, the discussion isn't actually about environmental issues at all. It is about good old fashioned bourgeois middle-class property rights.

Jim Galli
19-Apr-2005, 13:35
A lot of "holier-than-thou's" here. Don't need the ladder because I use the bed of my 4 wheel drive Bubba pick-up, (we just back over small trees that are in the way) and can't hardly piss anyone off because nothing in Tonopah grows tall enough to take a whack at. I suppose to be politically holy John should have recommended purchasing some plastic foliage at K-Mart to hang over the camera. Although sooner or later the plastic plant would become toxic trash someplace. My my. There's simply no solution but to quit taking photos all together.

19-Apr-2005, 14:29

"Especially the Asian built cameras, where the concept of conservation is all but unheard of."

Although I can't speak for entire Asia, the concept of conservation has always been central to daily life in Japan where I'm from and where Ebonys, Tachiharas, Wistas, etc. are made. My parents pounded into me not to waste even a drop of water. It's simply a matter of survival, not a political issue, in a country without much resource. The concept does exist. I admit, though, there is much wastefulness nowadays as the country grew more affluent. Just a clarification.

Back to the original topic...
The saw episode reminded me of a photo and text in a landscape photography book I've read. It was a photo of some trees with a carpet of small, yellow flowers in the foreground (or some such). The photographer wrote something like "...I carefully pulled all the white flowers that were distracting..." I was rather shocked. How much is allowed to "direct" the scene for an exposure?

Richard Fenner
19-Apr-2005, 15:21
In principle, I don't have a problem with someone chopping down a bit of a tree for their shot, depending on the circumstances. Problem is, once the principle is out the window, you're stuck with the individual interpretation of 'reasonable'.

It's ironic the mixed response tree cutting is getting, given a post I made on photo.net last year (since deleted because of flaming). I raised the idea of asking a property owner to move a chair on their property by about a metre - and even mentioned doing it myself if I could find nobody around. No suggestion of saws at all, and the response was strongly against me. At the time, I took it to be a generally American feeling which emphasised property rights above helping someone out. Yet this thread suggests my explanation was wrong.

19-Apr-2005, 20:50
I really hate to "contribute" more to this thread because I think it's getting a bit out of hend. But...

I may be way off, but my interpretation was that it was a question of respect. Not property rights or cutting limbs, or any of the other interjections. Simple plain old repsect dictate that you don't mess with something that isn't yours. I also see it as the single most lacking item in our current society, which is another whole discussion for a different forum I suppose.

But for those who misunderstood what I had written, there's the explanation... Respect...

And about that chair and how it fits in. No disrepect meant, but another possibility. Say you couldn't find the owner and you moved the chair. Maybe you even tried to move the chair back. Now say the owner comes out a few hours later to sit down, misses the chair and breaks a bone is his 90 year old body because he's blind and had no idea the chair had moved by itself... Far fetched, but possible, and I've run into situations just as strange in my life. You can never tell what your actions will cause down the road in life....

Paul Metcalf
21-Apr-2005, 13:05
Hey John, good to see you're still stirring the pot from the east coast. Here on the west coast, all of the environmentalists "already have their houses in the wilderness."

You still get top bill in my book for the best photo accouterment ideas. The ladder idea is spot on, as usual.