You know you can make a great landscape even better by having something animate in it. Like wildlife. Our latest speaker, Roy Jacobson CPAGB, showed us that patience, knowledge and persistence certainly pay off when you put the fauna in the flora. And aeroplanes too, though they are better in the sky. In both cases fortune favours the prepared.
Wildlife photography isn’t all about safaris in Namibia (I wouldn’t turn one down if anyone is offering a free one), it can be found much closer to home, like in your garden or local park. The key is to start small, get to know your kit really, really well, and know, I mean really know, your location and the sort of wildlife it attracts and when it attracts it.
Whereas there is definitely a case for having a 600mm telephoto in your bag when photographing shy or skittish animals, your back and your wallet will not thank you for it after lugging it around for the day. And that’s before we even consider the stuffed ant eater or who owns the copyright when the wildlife presses the shutter release. Start with the kit you have, was Roy’s advice and find somewhere local.
We have, of course, the benefit of Slimbridge under an hour away, if birds are your chosen subject, and it is set out for walking and observation. Roy suggested picking a spot and sticking with it, rather than wandering around and looking for something to happen. When it does happen it tends to happen quickly and be over just as quick: feeding, fighting, preening, breeding, taking to wing, coming into land or some other photo opportunity.
Much, as has been said already, is down to being prepared. As movement is going to be a big factor in most of the (airborne) shots then a fast shutter speed is going to be necessary, starting at around 1/1000th. To facilitate this it is probably best to select shutter priority/auto ISO and let the camera pick the aperture. Focal length is probably going to be long, metering and focus turned to spot (though that is questionable if you are composing on the thirds) continuous autofocus (depending on age and speed of your system), motor drive as we used to call it on as we are going to be shooting in bursts.
We might also use a monopod or tripod and if we have saved our pennies or do a lot of this sort of photography, maybe use a gimbal on the tripod. The problem quickly becomes how much gear do we want to lug around? How much can we practically use even, or especially, in an urban environment? Well, the happy medium is our own to find and is going to be dictated by subject, location and environment.
Birds aren’t the only option, of course. There are larger animals in most urban areas. Locally we have many different parks in which foxes can be seen with a little patience. There are two deer herds (Fallow and Red) at Ashton Court, the Red, in particular, are used to people being around, as are the grey squirrels around Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill if you get bored with shooting the Peregrine Falcons down by the River. There are plenty of pigeons and gulls to practice on whilst you wait. There are also some quite rare species of bird to be found (depending on the time of year) at the Arnos Vale cemetery as well as bats and foxes and badgers.
Now aeroplanes in flight that is a completely different matter. Actually only completely different from the earth-bound subjects as far as the mechanics go. Generally, aircraft are far more predictable than wild-life, especially at air displays (Weston Air Day this Saturday and Sunday by the way) through knowledge of the behaviour of each still sets the photographer in better stead.
The basics are exactly the same, fast shutter speed, single point meter and (possibly) focus. Don’t be afraid to boost the ISO and shoot Raw as we are probably going to see a fair whack of dynamic range within the frame, especially if the aircraft is dark and the sky bright.
In the stands at air shows, you will often see a forest of tripods and monopods. There are issues with doing this. The Mono/tripod will cut down on the flexibility that we have to move and pan. There can also be safety issues, especially when shooting around other ‘Togs using similar set-ups in relatively tight spaces. Better tuck your arms into your chest, deep breath and brace, takes more practice but it gives us more manoeuvrability and there is less gear to carry.
Air displays have a defined centre and also defined edges. If we know where these are (in front of where the crowds are thickest, basically) then we have the chance to hit peak action (centre) but at the edges is where the aircraft will turn in. Here we can get some great shots that aren’t aircraft flying straight and level.
Slight change this week. We are introducing an occasional feature of blog postings from members, which though they will go through myself as editor are their own reflections on the art and how they go about it. To kick this off we have Alison Davies talking about her winning ways with national photography competitions. Copyright text and Photo’s Alison Davies, please respect that.
So, Alison, over to you …..
External Competition – Have a Go?
Seeing as I have been invited to do a guest blog on any subject, I thought it might be of interest to fellow club members to write a little about entering external photograph competitions. I am not talking salons and prestigious photography competitions for amateurs and professionals which are usually known by a series of letters, BPWA, TPOTY etc., I did look at these once but I really don’t the like thought of paying to enter.
I find external competitions to be very different to that of club competitions, far less stress involved, simply upload a photo to a website and forget it, as long as you have taken all of the terms and conditions into account – but more about that in a bit. They could be in magazines, newspapers, displayed in public buildings, on leaflets and online.
Of course, with an external competition you don’t get to see the panel reviewing images, their likes, dislikes, what’s good, what’s bad and often they will be selecting images from a commercial angle, but not always. I for one although having many years entering club competitions, can honestly say I am still uncomfortable sitting whilst a judge praises or gives a damning report on my efforts. I think that’s why, I am easier with entering online competitions and in doing so, I am entering photos I regard as fitting the bill of the brief or images I am happy with, in the knowledge that I won’t be pulled up publicly for a bit of burn out (sometimes it’s intentional), or not obeying the rule of thirds (some subjects are so strong they just have to be placed central) or other such critique which I will be aware of in advance but chose to display my image that particular way, as quite simply, I like it like that. Incidentally, no criticism of most judges intended, they have a job to do and we have all learned from the good ones in the past, however there are a few doing the rounds who in my opinion, should stay at home.
It’s pretty widely known, I have 2 dogs, Otis and Bazil, who are very much adored and it’s fair to say I spend lots of hours out with them in some very beautiful places. This is a win, win, situation for me due to my love of being outdoors and seeing my dogs enjoying themselves running, swimming and more often than not, getting mucked up – ‘the mucked’ up has proved advantageous in competitions.
Probably the same as most of you, when I am out, I always have a camera to hand and something that truly excites me is getting to see every season and what it brings. Each year I look forward to snowdrops, followed by the wild primroses, then bluebells. Shortly after I am eagerly awaiting the lighter evenings when I can once again walk in wild flower meadows, where if I didn’t have the dogs with me, would be a great opportunity to photograph butterflies, birds and insects. I have long given up on little creatures now, so many times with camera perfectly aligned ready to snap, one of the dogs comes bounding over and winged thing takes off! So cut a long story short, I have quite an extensive stock of photos of nature, wild flowers, trees and of course dogs – but a slim range of insects and birds.
My first competitions wins were very surprising, I never entered expecting to win anything, a friend said, “Here’s a competition you should enter”, so I did. The Orivs company runs a competition to find an image for their Dog Book cover each year, and I won with a photo of Otis. This was really exciting as Orvis told me they have a huge amount of entries and the photo was on their catalogues in UK and the US – my little Otis was their cover dog for 2014. The prize was a £500 Orvis voucher.
The same year, I came runner up with 2 photos in the top 10 in a Crufts photo competition with one of their main sponsors winning a camera phone but much to my horror had to attend a prize giving with celebrity and press (not that I knew who the celebrity was). The following year, I was runner up again with an image in the Crufts competition and with another dog company for another. It is a great feeling to see your photos displayed large on light box panels at such a prestigious event. Some of these companies have huge exhibition budgets and really do spend on their display graphics.
Since then I have had an article with photo published in the Crufts magazine, as runner up once again and won in other photo competitions which most of which are dog related, 2 pairs of top of the range boots in separate competitions which I wear all of the time and really wouldn’t have spent that much money on myself. 2 Barbour jackets and bags, really thinking hard about what I have been lucky enough to win. I have won hampers and other dog related products, which I donate to a local dog charity in order to boost their fund raising efforts – nice prizes can mean people attending events will spend more of raffle tickets if there is a decent prize on the table.
During 2015, a photo of Otis and Bazil on a beach won a place in a country style magazine’s calendar for 2016, winning, ‘Pet’s in the Countryside” category, 1 of 12 overall (1 from each category) to get a photo against a month and more prizes.
Then more recently, I got an email saying that I was a runner up in the RSBP calendar competition for 2017. Only a little while after, I had another email saying I was the winner which was totally unexpected as it was a wildlife photo competition, I know that there are some brilliant wildlife photographers about who are very passionate and extremely good, in fact we have some in Reflex. The prize for this one was £500 worth of Canon product, a VCR and a compact, they will shortly send through some other bits of merchandise which will feature my photo as they prepare stock for 2017 in their shops. It was lovely to win this competition as I know my photo will be working for the RSBP to make money for their charity on calendars and merchandise.
The RSPB leads me on to a few hints and tips to hopefully get some of you looking out for competitions and submitting some entries. My first tip would be to imagine you are back at school entering your exams, read the rules and terms and conditions, then read them again. If you don’t take on board exactly what they are requesting, that’s your photo binned before it’s got anywhere. It could be orientation, size – anything and everything.
Next, I would say, remove club competitions from your head completely, take time to think about the brief and think what it means to you. Remember, think about the company or charity and what it represents and make a photo choice to complement this. Think more commercially, what type of photo represents the brief and would it look good advertising their product? Does it have a wide appeal?
Now for the really important part, within the terms and conditions, there will be text stating what the company will / can do with your image. Careful, as this (and here’s the really cheeky part) can mean that it doesn’t matter if you have an image placed or not, by entering a photo, you are agreeing to the company using that photo for anything they choose, having automatic rights (and sometimes editing) and reproducing without credit to the photographer. They usually state an amount of time, for example a 3 year period. Not all companies do this but some do, therefore it is really important before you hand over your work that you know what you are signing up to. Often it is asked that the photos you enter are exclusive and not entered into any other competition or have not won other competitions. Bear this in mind if you can enter 3, this may exclude you from entering them into another better competition which comes up later!
It can be said that this is a cheap way of companies gaining extra advertising and cheap images although if you win, some prizes can be quite high value and of course it’s fun. I try and weigh up if I submit an image, it’s worth it – would I want this photo for anything else in the future? Most of us have stacks of images just sitting on hard drives, so often giving it over isn’t overly important, but think about it first.
Watch out for photo thieves too, upload images (unless otherwise instructed) as small as you can get away with, ensuring the screen version still looks good – unless the rules stipulate a set size.
Competitions which offer good prizes can specify professional photographers are not permitted to enter, when they do, they will usually offer their interpretation of this so that it is clear. Generally, the ones that I have entered stating that more than half of income/earnings must not come from photography, but this is individual to each competition.
Keep a file with your entries in, something I now do, earlier in the year I was contacted as a runner up and asked for a large file, all a bit embarrassing as I really didn’t know what photo I had entered and had to ask! This also stops you entering the same photo in different competitions, which is fine once the competition has ended and you have not been placed (subject to T & C’s mentioned above).
Finally, If you enter and at a later stage receive an email stating you are a runner up and requesting the large size image prior to the final judging, in my experience, it’s good news.
I hope this has inspired some of you to have a go, it’s fun, free and couldn’t be easier these days being able to upload online.
To start you off, there should be a category of interest for most people in the club, why not try this one, it was the competition I got a placed in with the photo of my dogs on the beach 2016. I have already entered for 2017, but there is still time to get some photos in and look at that lovely prize.
OK, so I am going to be honest, I am quite shallow regarding this, I don’t do it for the recognition, I really hate presentations and getting up in front of people – I am in it for the love of the prizes but of course it is very nice to be told you photo is valued.
©Alison Davies 17.6.2016
Thanks Alison that was really very illuminating. If you are willing to give the blog a go contact me at the meeting, I am almost always to be found there.
N E X T M E E T I N G
23 June 2016 19:30 Speaker: Peter Phillips: “A Photographic Journey” From Image Scientist to Photographer