Wednesday, 30 September 2009

New Canon 7D has Arrived

My new Canon EOS 7D arrived this morning, courtesy of Warehouse Express. I haven't really had a chance to use it in anger yet, although I did go for a walk this evening. There was very little to aim at and the light deteriorated quite a bit, so the testing didn't go well. I definitely need to take more time to read the manual.
First impressions on the feel, it is heavier than my 40D and also looks larger. There is more of a ridge, than a curve, where my right thumb sits, so that will take a slight change in grip. The shutter sounds a little quieter than the 40D on quiet mode 1, although it is a deeper sounding thunk, so it's not so easy to compare. The Adobe RAW convertor and Lightroom aren't fully compatible yet.
Hopefully, I'll get a chance for some proper testing at the weekend. I'll probably write a comparison review once I'm more use to it.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The Untapped Source

I've created a new gallery at The Untapped Source, a site that specialises in fine art prints. It offers an outlet to a different market. I will concentrate on my landscape work there initially.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Calendars for Sale

I now have a number of landscape and wildlife 2010 Calendars for sale on my Redbubble site. They are printed by Redbubble on a heavy duty paper, much higher quality than you would find in the high street. Some people make use of the images after the end of the year to make framed prints, although the paper quality isn't as high as fine art paper of course. They are 15% off this week, so be quick for the best value. The calendars are one page per month, with a photograph on each. The pages can be viewed from the site.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Wildlife Photography

Wildlife is a popular subject for many photographers. Many will specialise in other subject matter to make money, but photograph wildlife for pleasure. However, it isn't straightforward. To be successful as a wildlife photographer takes more than being a good photographer, you also need to have good fieldcraft and know the animal. Many professional wildlife photographers will spend weeks or months on a project, trying to get close enough to get the shots they need. Some animals are used to people, so they are much easier to get close to them and get good compositions, while others take alot of patience. Even some insects are very difficult to get close to.
Equipment is also problematic, as the specialist lenses required are very expensive. While landscape photography requires a number of filters, the cost of the lenses in comparison is relatively inexpensive for good quality glass. While you may pay upwards of £1000 for a high quality prime lens, a high quality prime lens for wildlife work is upwards of £3500. Also, the difference in quality between a good wide-angle to standard zoom and a prime is minimal, so the primes are less attractive. However, with a few exceptions, there is quite a large difference in quality between telephoto zooms and primes.
I use the Canon 100-400mm L IS lens for most of my wildlife photography. While it isn't the highest quality, it is still good, plus it is light and relatively inexpensive. I do find that I'm always looking for more reach though. When the situation dictates, however, it is the ideal lens for tracking and stalking animals, because of it's relative lightness and flexibility as a zoom. I also use the Canon 100mm macro for my macro work, although I am considering a longer macro lens for some of the shy insects. Common to all macro lenses, the image quality is outstanding and despite not being an L grade lens, it has good build quality.
Using a telephoto lens takes alot of practice to get optimal technique. It is very easy to blame the lens for poor image quality, when it is simply a case of not applying good long lens technique. As with most photography, a tripod will give the best chance of a sharp image, but it isn't always practical. Image stabilisation is a boon, as it gives you a much greater chance of sharp images, particularly at slower shutterspeeds, but with the older lenses, you must remember to switch it off when mounted on a tripod. Beanbags and monopods are often more use than a tripod, as they don't need time to set up and are easier to carry unobtrusively. This is important when the animal you're stalking may only present a photographic opportunity for a split second. Having a good stalking technique though, will give you the best chance of being able to take a bit more time to get the composition right.
Stalking animals takes practice. They have a much better sense of smell than humans, so it is important to approach downwind of them where possible. Better still though, is to let the animal come to you. This is where fieldcraft and knowledge of the animal really comes in. You can either observe an animal and predict where it is going, so that you can get in place before it gets there or you can observe signs and stake out a likely spot. These are the sort of tactics that work for the Eurasian otter, particularly the coastal animals in Scotland. Even insects need to be approached carefully. It is important to be aware of where your shadow is, as the moment your shadow goes over the insect, it is likely to fly off. Instead, try to approach, so that your shadow is behind you. Failing that, try to make yourself as small as possible, so your shadow is shorter. It may be necessary to make the final approach by crawling. In all cases, you need to move slowly, so as not to seem a threat. Some insects have better vision in some areas than others, so learn where their blind spots are. While basic principles apply, each animal is different, which is why it is important to know as much as possible about behaviour.

Composition is just as important in wildlife photography as any other form. It is very easy to get the standard shots, like a side on deer or the top view of a butterfly, but try to think of different angles or look for specific behaviour. Also, don't necessarily go for the close up, sometimes it is much more interesting to photograph a subject, in context with it's environment. Think about depth of field, for closeups, you want to blur the background, so go for a wider aperture, conversely, a context shot may need the background in focus, requiring a narrower aperture. Also, make sure that the shutterspeed is fast enough to freeze the subject or wait until it freezes, unless you are deliberately looking for motion blur or are going to pan. This may mean that you need to increase the ISO setting. While you should always use the lowest ISO setting possible, you shouldn't be afraid to increase it when necessary. It is better to get some noise, than get a blurred shot because the shutterspeed was too low. Bear in mind also, that too much noise may be so distracting, that it renders the image useless for anything but personal pleasure, so learn when it isn't worth bothering.
Learning wildlife photography can be quite difficult, partly, because the opportunities for practice are less than landscapes and you don't always get a second chance. I have enjoyed learning the techniques though and look forward to perfecting and learning more.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Photographic Passion

In my last blog entry, I talked about my thoughts and decisions surrounding my photographic future and career path. I talked of how I'd considered what subject matter I shoot and whether I could make money from it. My conclusion was to continue to shoot what I enjoy, instead of switching to something more commercial. But what is it that I enjoy?
When I was younger, before my long break from photography, I shot mainly railway scenes, trying to combine them with beautiful scenery when I could. I also photographed at many air displays, shooting both static exhibits and fast moving jets. At the time, I was using a Zenith 11, which created some challenges. To start with, the light meter wasn't through the lens and it tended towards underexposure, by as much as one and a half stops. That was surmountable though, I just had to compensate, compensating further when using a telconverter. More problematic though, was the maximum shutterspeed of 1/500th of a second, very slow for such fast moving objects as jets. I coped though, probably more so than now when I need to pan. Later, when I was too busy concentrating on a career in science to practice photography, I was limited to photographing historic architecture while on holiday.
When I took up photography seriously again though a couple of years ago, switching to digital at the same time, it was landscapes that I concentrated on. I have spent many hours practicing and perfecting my technique on photographing landscapes in my local area and getting used to using various filters. I enjoy landscape photography and the challenges it provides, the chance to visit the local area and to go for walks. However, my real passion is for wildlife.
From a very young age, I watched wildlife programs on TV. As with many children, African wildlife spurred the imagination, largely in part, because that was the biggest subject matter shown. It is only in more recent years that more local wildlife has been shown on TV. However, one British animal that did feature in my imagination was the Eurasian Otter, although at the time, I wasn't aware of other otter species. Being from Devon, in the UK, I was never far away from Tarka country, the area in North Devon where the story of Tarka the Otter was based. Throughout my childhood, the otter was seriously endangered and it was thought that it may soon become extinct. That is possibly why it caught my imagination, it had that air of mystery about it and it could be a constant dream to see one, but at the same time a dream that seemed unacheivable. Often dreams never match reality, so it would seem that my dream would never be sullied by reality. Now though, the otter has recovered significantly in Britain, so that dreams can become reality. I saw my first otter in Scotland, in March 2008, underneath the Kessock Bridge, just outside of Inverness and was hooked. I then spent several days over that spring and summer searching for otters on Shapwick Heath in Somerset, a place that is considered to be one of the best places to see them in England, largely because they don't stick to their usual nocturnal habits, but also because the population, while still being vulnerable, is much healthier than it once was. This year, they don't seem to be as numerous, but they are still visible there and in other areas of the Avalon Marshes.
Alongside my burgeoning interest in otters, was my interest in macro photography, in particular dragonflies. Wildlife photography generally is more difficult because of the fieldcraft involved and the element of luck, you can't expect animals to be present on tap, but macro photography allows you to photograph other subjects while waiting. Of course, they are also part of the story, without insects, other life wouldn't exist, fish and amphibians need them to survive, just as the otters need the fish.
Having decided that I wanted to continue to photograph wildlife and having decided it wasn't as easy to teach myself, as I could with landscapes, I attended some photography workshops with Laurie Campbell, one of the prominent Scottish nature photographers. I had already attended a wildlife week at the Aigas field centre, nearly Beauly, Inverness-Shire and the photography workshops they organised seemed very good value. Laurie is an inspiration. The first workshop was awful weather, yet he demonstrated how it was possible to take photographs in even the worst weather and it forced me to try new things, even still life images of plants and motion blur shots of birds at a feeder. It literally broadened my horizons.
So with my passion for wildlife reaffirmed and a new found reason for my landscape work, it better equipped me for the next stage in my progression. And so the quest for more than just record shots was born. I am now looking to create more artistic work, starting with macros, where I can practice, but with ideas for larger plans and projects slowly forming. My recent shortlisting for the British Wildlife Photography Awards has shown that I have made some progress, but there is still more I need to do. It's been frustrating not being able to get out with my camera over the past few weeks, but hopefully I can soon get on with my planned projects.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Photography to Sell or for the Pleasure?

We've all dreamt of that job, where you can combine pleasure with earning a living - so we can give up that mundane existence at work and I'm no different. I've been trying to sell my photos now since October 2007, when I got my first digital camera, a Canon 400D and signed up to Shutterpoint. As pressures at work got worse and the stress levels increased, I began to think of ways I could earn a living, enough so that I would be able to tell the boss to stick it one day. I'd been through the process before, thinking of things I could do, could I make use of my audit and quality training? Could I start up a mobile computer repair service? Both had been discarded for different reasons. In this new round of musing though, I was considering photography. Specialising in a saturated market though, means that sales are few and far between.
That was when I did some soul searching. Should I continue to photograph what I like, such as landscapes and wildlife, or should I shoot more commercial subjects? I probably have the greatest aptitude for historical architecture, probably from all the practice on holidays, visiting historical sites across Europe. Over the past couple of years though, I've concentrated on improving my landscape photography, to the point, where I think I can hold my own with alot of people and produce images with impact. It doesn't always work out of course, but I can tell when I'm in with a chance. My real passion though is wildlife, although I don't get as much opportunity to practice and I've produced a number of macro images in particular that I'm proud of. It gave me a real buzz to be shortlisted for the 2009 British Wildlife Photography Awards, even though I didn't get any further. Despite that though, it doesn't earn much money and that brings me back to the decision process I went through almost a year ago now. Advertising is where the real money is (although the recent recession has cut many advertising budgets) and anything showing people or human activity, especially children sells well. However, as a landscape photographer, it is almost the antipathy of what I do. To go from cursing under my breath to actively pursuing people would be quite a change for me, not to mention a whole new learning process. Another option would be electronics, food and other similar still life work, but I find such photography soulless. Many excel at it, but it has never really interested me. It was then that I decided, that the day I started photographing purely to make money, instead of photographing what I enjoy, would probably be the same day I put the camera back in its box, never to see the light of day again.
Having been through that thought process, if anyone asked me what they should photograph, my response would be "whatever you enjoy photographing". If you photograph something you enjoy, then there is a greater incentive to learn and improve, ultimately making you a better photographer and in a roundabout way, there is a greater chance of success, albeit, not necessarily in monetary terms. As artists, we are all looking for critical acclaim and while money is nice, I think that is what is important, to be lauded by your peers.