In tonight’s presentation, Paul gave us a very personal account of his progress in wildlife photography over the last 25 years. His interest started with a 2 day safari in Kenya to celebrate a wedding anniversary with a Canon EOS 500 film camera (and presumably his wife!). He showed some examples of his first attempts to capture the wildlife. Overjoyed with the results, he concluded there and then that he must be a wildlife photographer. Reality gradually kicked in and Paul gave us a detailed account of his progress along the learning curve achieving work good enough to be awarded the LRPS and ARPS Distinctions of the Royal Photographic Society.
He joined Reigate Camera Club in 2006 by which time he had invested in a digital SLR. Early success with a close shot of four Zebras taking a drink earned him a year’s free membership to the club.
The approach and challenges of wildlife photography are quite unlike those of landscape and studio photography where you have time to wait for the light or set it up optimally. It is opportunistic; you have no control over the light and you have to be quick. It’s closer to sports photography.
To be quick, you need to become very familiar with using your camera and lens. So you need lots of practice and experience. Even then, mistakes will happen and many shots will be missed. He quoted Oscar Wilde, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” He advised us to get as much practice as possible at, say, a local nature reserve before embarking on an expensive overseas trip and just wasting the opportunity.
If you are lucky enough to be planning a trip to an African game reserve, Paul offered a wealth of information on what to consider and practical advice on how to go about capturing shots of the animals. In Kenya for example, many of the larger mammal species follow migration routes to exploit seasonal changes in food and water availability. These are predictable allowing you to be there at the best location at the right time of year.
When it comes to the animals, it’s better to wait until they approach you than to step into the zone in which they feel you may be a threat. Outside their ‘circle of confidence’, they will ignore you. Inside it they will watch you. Get even closer and you risk reaching the critical distance that will evoke a flight or fight reaction.
At one time I worked for a zoologist, a Spaniard, who liked to attend bullfights when visiting home. He told me that the most dangerous bulls were, paradoxically, the more timid ones because they had a very small ‘circle of confidence’. Thus they would allow the matador to approach dangerously close before charging giving him less time to dodge their horns!
Paul offered a great deal of advice on the selection of aperture, shutter speed, ISO and other camera settings with many examples of how these affect the final image. He paid particular attention to how to ensure your images are sharp at the taking stage as this is the one parameter that cannot be corrected by adjustment of the RAW file before conversion.
His main lenses were a Sigma 300 mm f2.8 prime lens, and Canon 70-200 mm f2.8 and 24-70 mm f2.8 zoom lenses. His digital SLR cameras have been the Canon 7D Mark II and the 5DS, a full frame 50 Megapixel camera. However, more recently he has been convinced by the advances Canon have made in the development of mirrorless cameras such as the R5 and R6. These cameras are game-changers for the wildlife photographer with many advantages over DSLRs, notably reliable and accurate focus tracking that can be set to fix on the animal’s eye wherever it moves within the frame. They also have faster motor-drive frame rates, in-camera image stabilisation, better noise control at high ISO settings, and an electronic viewfinder giving visualisation of real time exposure. He recommended using your camera on Auto ISO setting a maximum to control noise to tolerable levels depending on the particular camera you are using. In his opinion, the advantages that the latest mirrorless cameras have over DSLRs is as significant as those between digital over film cameras.
Paul completed the evening by showing an AV compilation of many of his best photos from Kenya entitled ‘The Sights and Sounds of Africa’. He has kindly supplied some of the images seen during the evening. To see more and his AVs, visit his website, http://www.photosnapshot.co.uk/page/about.html
Thanks Paul for a brilliant evening.