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.

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