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.
Our speaker Ian Wade a West Country landscape photographer, BBC Spring Watch contributor, author of Bristol Safari, traveller and photographer of wildlife near and far, professed to being a graphic designer first and foremost and that certainly comes across in his award winning photography – and even in the ones where he hasn’t won awards (yet).
Ansel Adams, wrote (and I am paraphrasing here) that no matter how devoid the image of human population there are always two people in a landscape photograph – the photographer and the viewer – and Ian’s photography and the way he talked about it underscored that observation and extended it beyond the landscape and into other areas of his photography where he challenges the normal aesthetic.
Dividing the evening up into sections Ian didn’t present a unified theme for his photography, but did give a lot of insight into what he was seeing and how he captured it and that built some common ground with his audience as most people’s photography is multi-stranded. Nonetheless, certain themes did arise.
The first of these was around people. Pointing a lens in someone’s face isn’t likely to make them feel well disposed towards you. Much can be gained by a simple and polite request and Ian suggested that sharing the result on the back of your camera always seems to seal compliance, even if that did involve the odd game of hide and seek! Ian talked about how he framed some of these with publishing in mind and about how it was important to leave space, in these instances to allow others to infill with text and other details. As we covered in last week’s presentation the advisability of release forms for commercial purposes is a concern (for minors and adults as models and property, see last week’s blog post). The UK legal position on taking photographs is covered here more fully. Ian basically concluded that you should if you can get these releases, though the practicality of getting each and every one in a crowd scene to do so isn’t practical (and may not be required – see the above advice link).
In his travel photography, Ian shared a wide variety of locations: Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Nepal were some of the destinations and he exhibited a range of topics, people, animals, landscapes, architecture in each of the sections he addressed over the evening. He related that in Cambodia he had suffered a kit failure and was forced back on a narrower selection of lenses than he had planned, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he was forced to look at potential images in different levels of detail and framing rather than succumbing to the fixed-point-and-zoom-ring solution. There is something to be said for leaving the house with just a prime lens fixed which forces you to adjust your position, to move closer or further away to get the framing that you want.
Another theme was patience. This is an absolute requirement of the wildlife photographer. Ian’s subjects ranged from arachnids to elephants and his kit from a Canon compact to a full frame 5D Mkii. He made the point that there is a limit to how much it is worth spending on glass and that is related to need. He showed some examples of wide angle macro-photography , most notably of squirrels, where a combination of patience, monkey nuts and the aforementioned Canon compact sourced from e-bay, and a wide angle converter from a video camera provided some impactful images at a very close range. Similar results, though presumably minus the monkey nuts, are to be found in his work with crabs. Both projects were shot locally. Ian spoke of a possible future project with the crabs using a fish tank to get both surface and submerged elements in the frame. His urban wildlife work on foxes has been published (Bristol Safari, Redcliffe Press) and he showed us a similar project on swans.
At the other extreme from the wide angle macro Ian has used longer focal lengths and shallow depths of field to not only isolate the subject but to reduce the form of backgrounds to daubs of colour that make the image pop. Again this strong graphic element divides opinion along a spectrum of standout feature to bokeh in crayon, but that is, as you will already have gathered, an important feature of Ian Wade’s philosophy, it appears, to challenge the viewer.
A graphic designer first and a photographer second Ian showed two images that illustrate the point, one of which seemed to work for club members and one of which didn’t, both of animals and both black and white images. The animals in question, a monkey (with a guest appearance from a dragon fly), and a fox. The monkey was jumping across the frame, just the legs and tail visible at the top. From the reaction of the members to Ian’s request for feedback it didn’t really work and the first impression that came to my mind was that it was the bottom half of a failed Qantas advert (yes wrong continent, wrong animal -by which I mean not a kangaroo- but I didn’t say it was a logical reaction, did I?) and the second impression was the content wasn’t substantial enough a part of the image. The second image, the snout and jaw of a fox in profile, was much better received, but there was more tone and fine detail and a stronger presence with the fox filling most of the frame. Ian pointed out that Foxes quite often, as a subject, don’t come across very strongly in black and white, but here it definitely did and got a lot more favourable reaction from the membership. Ian also said that he was thinking of doing a series of such close ups to cover the whole of the foxes body. This put me in mind of David Hockney’s collage of the Brooklyn Bridge, but I am not sure Ian intends to collage the results.
If you want to make a contribution to your income on a regular basis, however, convention does have to be addressed. This appears to be a part of another of the strings to Ian’s bow, and come across in his landscape photography, which still promotes his personal style. “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment. ” Thus wrote Ansel Adams. That maybe because, according to Galen Rowell, “A lot of people think that when you have grand scenery, such as you have in Yosemite, that photography must be easy”, (The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography). It is, however, about a lot more than that. It is about the interaction of photographer and subject of which the photograph is a record as well as the technicalities. Point and shoot most often turns out looking like point and shoot. Planning and persistence, two more, inter-related themes that came across are a very big part of this. Many photographers will repeatedly revisit the same location in order to refine the images in their head and capture those images. He has some fine images from Clifton Suspension Bridge merging from the mist apparently to suspend itself on insubstantial cloud to the church on Lundy floating on a wave of corn.
All in all a very absorbing evening full of hints, tips and challenges and our thanks go to Ian and his partner for making it so.
Sunday is the PHOTO MARATHON and we have competition results next Thursday for the Creative Round.
See you there.
ON THE FLICKR COMPETITION.
Entries required folks, an Alphabetic theme was suggested, but entries to date have been low. GIVE IT A GO! You’ve nothing to loose.