The start and now

Since my earliest memories, I have been fascinated by wildlife. A special moment from the earlist days that still comes to mind is lying on top of a hill in Devon, looking down on a dozen Buzzards Buteo buteo circling below, the sunlight catching their wings against the dark green of the trees. They have remained my favourite birds ever since.

Common buzzard Buteo buteo                              © robin williams

In my early teens, I was given an old Goertz 4.5 X 6cm plate camera and soon found out just how small birds were on the finished picture. But I also became familiar with the mysteries of the darkroom. Years later, my first proper bird lens was a Russian Photosniper unit. Although built like an early tractor, it had a gunstock and a sharp 300mm lens actuated by a trigger. When the shutter went off it stopped the lens down with a loud clang, unmistable to those who have used this outfit. It was a fine, low-cost set-up to start serious photography, and produced some excellent results in the then current black and white photography. Eventually, I graduated to the Olympus OM series and finally added a Novoflex long-focus lens with 400 and 600mm lens-heads. This squeeze-focus system was ideal for flight photography and produced some memorable results photographing birds on the Somerset Levels, where we now lived. For many years I concentrated on black and whitebird photography; supplying pictures to various magazines, as well as for my own enjoyment.

Eventually, I gave this up as colour came of age, and the costs of suitable cameras and lenses rocketed. The sheer weight of the bigger lenses also came into it. It was at this point that insect photography moved into my ken and gradually took over as a special interest, as it is to this day. A major advantage as the years move on is that The perfect outfit for this may be carried around all day without crippling you. Since then, I have taken up bird-photography again starting during the winter months, using lighter weight 300mm and 400mm lenses, taking advantage of the 1.5 X multiplication factor of the digital SLR.

It is fascinating to look back at how all this developed. I am a long-standing member of the Nature Photographic Society, which celebrated its hundredth anniversary in 2014. When I joined, Eric Hosking, the most famous bird photographer of his time was President, and all of us were much in awe of his reputation - though he turned out to be the kindest of men, always ready to help an inexperienced newcomer. Many years later, I look back on a number of years holding that same position and can only be astonished. In fact, it was largely because of Eric Hosking that I became so deeply interested and involved in photography. We lived in London in those days and one evening my father took me to a slide show given by the great man. His pictures were breathtaking, beyond what seemed possible, leaving me determined to try to work towards those skills. The NPS, which draws its members by invitation, is a postal portfolio, circulating three folders a year for members to put in their prints and submit them to the criticism and remarks of their peers. I have gained immeasurably from the scrutiny of so many experts over the years. We do not always agree, but the criticisms make you think and, hopefully, leads to long-term improvement in technique, as well as fresh ways of visualising pictures. This process does not stifle innovation or individual approaches, but has benefit for all of us. Well-meant criticism, given in the most helpful manner, undoubtedly helps development of improved skills.

For the next section click Insects in flight.

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