This story appears in the December 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.
In the Indian state of Meghalaya, one of the wettest places on Earth, villagers weave the roots of living rubber trees into sturdy pedestrian bridges. On a quest to document the tradition, Prasenjeet Yadav photographed around 30 root bridges over the course of a year.
A few months out
How to get the shot: Yadav had never visited a living root bridge before embarking on this project, but he knew of this particular bridge near the village of Nohwet. With so many tourists shooting photographs, Yadav wanted his image to stand out. “It’s difficult to make a plant look charismatic,” he says. To prepare, he consulted other photographers and studied landscape paintings. He decided to take the shot after dark. It was risky: Unexpected cloudbursts can spawn flash floods, which can be especially dangerous at night.
Two weeks out
Essential packing list: As this was Yadav’s fourth trip to the region, he knew what to pack. Paring supplies to the basics, he brought little rainwear for himself and prioritized keeping his camera dry.
- Umbrellas to cover the camera gear
- Granola bars
- Flashlights and an LED light panel
- A strong headlamp
- Rubber housing to protect the camera
- A tripod
- A sheet of black Cinefoil to shield the lens
- Light modifiers
‘Painting’ with light: From his home base of Bangalore, Yadav flew to Guwahati and took a cab to Nohwet. From there, he walked 30 minutes to the bridge. During a three-week stay, Yadav experimented with using lights to “paint” parts of the bridge and surroundings during a long exposure. In the 438 seconds it took to expose this image, Yadav moved between locations to aim his lights. Shrouded in darkness, he’s not visible in the final photograph.
By the numbers
Estimated age of this bridge
Approximate number of villages in the state
Editor's note: This story has been updated. The state of Meghalaya’s total rainfall was incorrect. Rainfall varies widely across Meghalaya, and a total figure was not available for the location of the photograph. However, according to a government website, the state’s average annual rainfall is about 450 inches.