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.
And so the season is now officially over with the presentation of the trophies, but not the events, this Thursday Weston-Super-Mare, get there early as there is lots to see, not least because Thursday night in the summer is Weston bike night. Two weeks ago there must have been a couple of hundred bikes and not a few trikes of every shape, size and paint job, so lots to look at. Starts getting busy around 6pm and there are the other, more permanent attractions to look to as well. This being the summer break from Wick Road, I thought I would use this opportunity to look at just how much is actually going on in our hobby from a quick snapshot of the photographic headlines this last week or so.
Starting, of course with our social evening. I have drawn up a table of winners which you will find in this linked document 150716 Reflex Award Winners 2014-15 and will let that and the strong forward looking feel and commentaries from the AGM speak for the club, and a special thanks to Mark O’Grady for pulling all this information and for all the behind the scenes work. There is a lot of it.
It has been quite an important ten days or so, no, strike that, a very, very important ten days or so for your rights as a photographer. The European Parliament, as I have written about elsewhere held a vote on the European Commission’s proposals, a lot of them as it turns out, for harmonising copyright across the European Union. In itself that is important for the future of photography and photographers among the 500 million EU citizens covered by such an agreement. One of the proposals was to adopt the system whereby public buildings – including furniture like statues that form part of the designed space – should have the copy right of the designers protected and thus photographing them without the architect/copyright holders permission would constitute an offence (civil rather than criminal as far as I can work out). Half a million people signed a petition against this clause which was withdrawn on the day of the vote in face of this opposition. The Freedom of Panorama as it has become known has been maintained, though you should still check what the local laws are on these things because any necessary changes have to be enacted in national legislation (and that can take years). Still, three cheers for democracy.
A triumph for UK photographic technology this week, the sensors that recoded the Pluto images were made right here. It took four and a half hours for the information to get back from Pluto and another 1 hour at Boots to get them developed, but scientists seemed very pleased with the results. It’s a fantastic achievement. OK, you can print them quicker at home, but you have to buy all the kit and have somewhere to put it, not to mention the exorbitant cost of ink and paper.
You wouldn’t want them to all be out of focus like those from the Hubble Telescope, but as of next Year that won’t be a problem for owners of the shortly-to-be-released Panasonic GX8 when a 2016 firmware update will allow the user to “Post Focus” an image – something we talked about a month or so about. The firmware update will also apply to the FZ-300. The capabilities of consumer electronics companies cameras being released now represent a step change from that being evolved by Canon and Nikon, who still have 85% of the market between them. Of course there will be arguments about whether bells and whistles are what are required, but if you’ve been around photography long enough be sure that you can save a lot of time and ear ache and get on with your photographic life by substituting the words “Film” and “Digital” with the words “Proper” and “Toy”. For those of us longer in our remaining tooth we can substitute the brands “BSA”, “Triumph” and “Norton” with “Honda”, “Yamaha” and “Suzuki”. That ended well for market leaders, didn’t it?
There again “You don’t need all that technology to make a photograph”. We’ve heard it and seen it from Justin Quinnell back in March and it’s an idea that has momentum. Pinhole photography is practical, simple and gives you time to think and reflect. The very opportunities that digital gives us can also work against us – especially the “I’ll fix that in post”. There has always been a post and there has always been fixing but there is no substitution for time and care spent on understanding then composing your subject. The idea that the image represents more than what you see because you invest in one that has a connection with you is pretty much as old as art and we’ve been over the whole Gestalt thing elsewhere. Taking time when time is what you’ve got pays dividends.
Finally, if you think that grain is a problem in your images, take a look at this adaption from the film days ….
W-S-M. Thursday 23rd. Be there!