TECHNIQUES - why photography?

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 circling below, the sunlight catching their wings against the dark green of the trees. Ever since, they have remained my favourite birds.

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 one of these outfits. It was a fine, low-cost set-up to start serious photography, and produced some excellent results in the 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 - but it it was extremely heavy. For many years I concentrated on black and white bird photography; supplying pictures to various magazines, as well as for my own enjoyment. All this time, film was the only choice.

Eventually, I gave up bird photography, 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 remains to this day. The general move to digital photography fitted this change perfectly. Colour is more reliable, editing RAW files brings out the best from the photograph and there is no wait to see the results. As the years move on, a major advantage of insect photography is that the perfect outfit may be carried around all day without crippling the user. Since then, I have taken up bird-photography once more, 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 was President, by far and away the most famous bird photographer of his time. 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. In those days we lived in London, 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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