Nora de Angelli : Romania's Wild Orchids
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by Yvette Depaepe
I was born in Sinaia, Romania, to parents Nicole Anghelescu (an engineer and business woman) and Dan Anghelescu (an engineer, photographer and author). Sinaia is a beautiful touristic resort, surrounded by mountains and situated right next to one of the largest natural protected areas of Romania, the Bucegi Mountains Natural Park. It was in this wonderful corner of paradise where I learned, from early childhood, how to understand and appreciate the magic of the mountains and the beauty of nature. During our long trips to the mountains, my parents carefully introduced me to the hidden world of the colourful, wild flowers, which grow in abundance in the depths of the dark forests or cover the vast alpine plains.
Needless to say, that I my first (and only) choice regarding my career was that of becoming a biologist. That being so, I graduated Molecular Biology at the University of Bucharest and then I continued my studies for a higher degree (PhD) in the Netherlands. Later, I moved to London, my second home, where I continued my scientific career at the University College London and the Imperial College, as a research scientist. In 2011, I graduated with an MA in Documentary Film from the University of the Arts, London College of Communication, becoming a freelance documentary film producer and photographer.
My interest in photography and film led me to travel around the world across five continents, from the Fiji Islands of the South Pacific, to East Africa (Kenia, Tanzania and Zanzibar), North and South America (US, Argentina, Chile), Asia (South Korea, Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, the Maldives) and to the Middle East (Israel and Jordan).
When did you start photographing orchids, Nora?
How has the Project Orchids of Romania started?
Romania is roughly the same size as the United Kingdom, which makes it the largest country in South-eastern Europe. Its geography is very varied, being characterised by six different types of terrain, such as the large beaches and sand dunes found on the shores of the Black Sea, the steppe lands of the Dobrogean Plateau (which stretch as far as the steppes of Caucasus and western Kazakhstan), vast plains, subalpine hills and steep, rocky mountains - the Carpathians. The Carpathians sustain one of the largest areas of undisturbed forests in Europe, which are home to one of the largest European brown bear populations (approximately 60% of European brown bear populations live in the Carpathian Mountains). As a consequence of its position on the continent, Romania is considered to have a temperate, continental climate, with four distinct seasons, mainly characterised by hot summers and cold winters, with intermediate springs and autumns.
Needless to mention that a country with such a diverse natural heritage constitutes a biodiversity paradise. Thus, shortly after I arrived, I started my thorough research on orchids, their habitat and distribution. To my surprise, I found out that orchids were actually growing everywhere, not only in my father’s little corner of paradise, the Bucegi Mountains Natural Park. Consequently, I realised that his initial, small-scale project had a lot more potential and needed to be largely broadened/expanded.
And this is how the project Orchids of Romania started, a project that spanned over a period of four years and which became an obsessive hunt for wild Romanian orchids. It materialized in tens of thousands of kilometres travelled across Romania, countless sleepless nights, physically challenging hiking and mountain trekking trips, thousands of hours of filming and photographing, spent in scorching heat or torrential rains, all the way from the chilly, rocky peaks of the Carpathians to the warm, Mediterranean-like climate of the Iron Gate Gorges in the south, where the Danube river enters the country, or from the dry hills of Dobrogea, to the rainy Transylvanian plateau. These sessions eventually took place after days of searches for the needle in the haystack, as we used to call the unique orchid specimens. Hidden either within the lush vegetation of dangerous swamps inhabited by biting insects, snakes and other reptiles, or lost in the deepest, darkest, wild forests.
How many species of orchids have you found and photographed since 2017?
Tell us about your first published book 'Orchids of Romania', Nora.
Describe your overall photographic vision when photographing orchids.
At the end of the day, in order to use the images taken in the field for your research or publications (books, websites, articles, etc.), the following conditions should be met, all at once: the flowers should look perfect (they have to be at the top of their anthesis or at the peak of flowering), the pollinating insects (if you are lucky to catch any on the flowers) should be caught in perfect focus and position on the flowers, the depth of field should be the highest possible in the given circumstances, the light should be perfect, (not too dim and not too strong to overexpose your image), the composition should be best to show the flowers, the behaviour of the insects and, if possible parts of the natural habitat (the environment) of the orchid.
What is more important to you, the mood/story behind your images or the technical perfection?
Other times, I found, hidden inside the inflorescence, small spiders, perfectly camouflaged for the insects’ eyes/vision. They are temporary residents of the orchid and exploit its flowers by using them as magnets for little insects such as bees or butterflies, on which they pray.
What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
For example, approximately one-third of orchids offer no floral rewards to their pollinators. The majority of these non-rewarding species exploit the food-foraging behaviour of their pollinators and attract them by deceit, using various ingenious visual and olfactory stimuli. The pollinating insects land on the main, large central petal, known as the labellum. At the beginning, I was tempted to say that the translucent white surface of the labellum is simply spread with a few purple-pink patches that probably have the role of simply embellishing the flower. However, when I looked closely, I realised that the purple patches are actually composed of highly pigmented tufts of fine hairs, known as the papillae. It is likely that labellar papillae, which often produce various, distinct floral secretions, attract and guide visiting insects into the flower (by means of olfactory, visual and tactile stimuli), playing an important role in facilitating pollination. In many reward less genera such as Anacamptis, Himantoglossum, Orchis, the pigmented papillar tufts create false nectar guides that provide a good hold for visiting insects, orientating them toward the anther, found in the centre of the flower where the nectar was supposed to be secreted.
Describe your favourite photograph or your favourite species/photograph and why it is special to you?
Some scientists believe that, from an evolutionary point, sexual deception may actually help the male insects’ brains evolve. But after all I have learned about orchids, I rhetorically wonder if this will be enough for the poor bees to win over the devilish orchids, or if the orchids will not become in turn, even better deceptive, maleficent lovers?
Do you prepare carefully the locations where you are intending to photograph?
What gear do you use (camera, lenses, bag)?
For macro photography I use different macro lenses, such as Nikon Micro NIKKOR 60mm & Nikon Micro-NIKKOR 105mm, rarely Venus Optics Laowa 100mm, 2X Ultra Macro. I very much enjoy including some of the orchids’ environment in the images and Venus Laowa Wide Angle 1:1 Macro Lens gives me the desired effect and composition. For ultra-macro photography, I use a Canon 5D Mark III body and Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x Macro Lens. In case of doing Automated Focus Bracketing in Continuous shooting high (Ch) or Live view mode (Lv), at 9 frames per second (fps) in Fx-format sensor (full frame/format - 36x24mm) or 11 frames per second (fps) in Dx- format sensor (cropped format - 24x16mm), I use Helion FB tube.
Also, in some cases I have small and sturdy Manfrotto mini tripods with me, but I am fairly good at hand-holding my camera and, usually, the tripods do not get used very much.
What software do you use to process your images?
For my focus stacking images I use Photoshop, Helicon Focus and Zerene Stacker. If your images/series of images are sharp and precise, the resulting/final image comes out perfectly, no matter what software you use.
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your macro photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
What do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
As a member, you are actually spoiled for choice, the platform containing about 20 different categories (e.g. Abstract, Action, Animals, Architecture, Creative edit, Documentary, Fine Art, Landscape, Macro, Mood, Night, Portrait, Street, Underwater, Wildlife, and many others). It is virtually impossible not to find one or more categories that suit you / where your type of photography fits best/ and start sharing your images with the world. The site is truly inspirational and the photographs published are simply breath-taking. Thanks to the 1X members, my photography changed tremendously, over time. There is so much one can learn simply by analysing the images they publish or by reading carefully the ‘Forums’, the ‘Tutorials” or the ‘Magazine’.
I will definitely continue to be an active member of 1X and learn from the best. I advise everyone who would like to see their techniques (in any type of photography) improve fast, become a part of this dynamic community.
I am deeply grateful to Ms. Yvette Depaepe, head of the 1x editorial team, for publishing/inviting me for this interview and for promoting and supporting the book, Orchids of Romania, on the 1X platform.
Price: €70 (Europe), €75 (overseas).
For direct orders, please contact Nora De Angelli, email: [email protected]
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