Last meeting at Portishead Camera Club along with North West Bristol Camera Club for a thee way battle and I am glad to report that Reflex showed a strong foundation – we needed it to prop up the other two, higher scoring, clubs. That said it was very close, 6 points adrift and a tie break for the winner (Portishead), but we won the most raffle prizes! Victory!
Our thanks to Peter Weaver for his supportive judging, to Portishead our hosts, and to North West Bristol for a fine show. It was a high scoring event, the club’s been to other battles where our score would have been a winning one over the last couple of years. The number of members whose work was shown has grown beyond a small core and is gradually expanding. Our travelling support was just under half the room, so lots of signs of a healthy club. Long may it continue.
There were some particularly strong wild life pictures, as good as I have seen in any of the battles I have been to and a good deal stronger than some. Two outstanding shots from one of the NWB members took individual prizes, one for overall and one for digital. It’s not really an area our exhibiting members cover extensively, it is specialist in its devotion to time, its equipment demands and the ability to travel, not always huge distances to be sure, but Cheetahs aren’t in abundance here abouts, and for Egrets (Cattle, Small or Great White – yes I did have to look that up) you have to know where and when to look. You also have to develop the right habits and techniques. That said the overall winning image was a print was of an Exmoor pony, I’d say good enough for National Geographic (but that may be no recommendation at all), so not so inaccessible to a lot of people here in the West Country.
There are strict rules when it comes to wildlife photography and competitions. What is and what isn’t counted needs to be studied by would be entrants and there is a strong code of ethics (even if something is occasionally lost in translation) governing the acceptable face and reputation of the genre. The object is to record and preserve, some considerations that apply to our discussion on documentary photography last week and, just as in documentary, empathy with the subject goes a long way to getting the shot.
We all, though have to begin somewhere. Most of us will not start with the idea or the funds to kit ourselves out as wildlife photographers from the off and it can take some time to settle on a favourite genre. Even then it is likely to be one of several that we try out or practice. It also takes a lot of that practice thing, as does anything else to become good at it and as with every other genre in photography, the kit itself is not going to make you a photographer, it just helps those with the skill, time, patience, empathy (and money) get a small but slightly better chance of getting the shot and of the equipment surviving the experience. In wildlife photography those margins are often small.
But the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, at least according to Lau Zu, though he never picked a camera up in his life (they hadn’t been invented), and starting with what we have, then progressing as confidence and expertise grow into those areas where the margins make sense – photographically and financially. Lau Zu also had something to say about what he saw as hollow practices, those he though got in the way of spontaneity and true growth and in developing as a photographer there is some truth in that. All the gear and no idea is not new, it appears.
There are, of course, rules that port over from other areas of photography, such as: always focus on the eye from portraiture; dawn and dusk (though for different reasons in general) are the best shooting times from landscapers; be aware of the background from everybody. As always though, knowing your subject gets you a lot further than dumb luck. Starting with an interest in nature is the obvious, but that interest has to go beyond the pretty picture thing. All good pictures tell a story. That story may differ slightly (or even wildly) between viewers, but there has to be one to be extracted in the first place. You need to get beyond sticking the lens through the bars of the zoo to a point where you can anticipate your subjects next move. You don’t have to become a wildlife biologist to do this but you do need to learn the language and manners of your objective. You need field craft. You have to have the curiosity about it to develop the empathy we were talking about above.
OK that is the same for most types of photography. There is a field craft involved. With wildlife there is a more unpredictable element to account for and the more you know about it the more successful you are likely to be. That doesn’t mean that an intimate knowledge of sparrows transfers to the behaviour of grizzly bears. The differences are not only those in scale. The difference can be you removing a stain or being the stain. Outside of zoos and safari parks this isn’t a problem in the UK, of course and inside the environments are pretty controlled – but there are morons everywhere. The basic point is the same as the oath doctors take. First, do no harm. That takes knowledge too.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Robert Harvey: Landscapes for all seasons.