Sunday 25 August 2013

Back to my Roots

Posts have been few recently,  due to a combination of lacking in general motivation and being unhappy with my photography.  My mind has wondered back to when I started my photography – 16, at college, learning the basics using black and white film and developing, then processing the images in the darkroom.  It’s what got me really hooked into photography and a natural progression from the drawing and painting that I had enjoyed previously.  For me it was an amazing experience to take a roll of images, go back to the darkroom, develop them then put them under the enlarger, exposing onto a 10x8 sheet of paper and watching that image gradually reveal itself in the developer, as if by magic.  In todays digital, instant gratification, few have the patience for this, but I probably enjoyed my photography more during that time, that any since. 

This reminiscing in turn, has led me to dig out my old Olympus camera system which I haven’t had the heart to get rid of, despite once, after buying my first digital camera, taking it into Jessops to be valued.  When the man behind the desk started to shake his head, mutter about condition, age, etc., I just put my cameras and lenses back in my bag and left.  These weren’t just items of equipment but memories and experiences of happy times.  My OM 10 wasn’t just a relic of the past but almost a family member.  I’d rather have given my prized system to a good home, somebody who would appreciate it than be devalued and derided by someone behind a shop counter.

I did think that maybe I needed to get a roll or two of Ilford Pan F Plus, load up the camera and just do what I used to do and simply take photographs.  Both my OM 10 and OM 40 cameras work as good as the day I brought them – I wonder if any of my digital cameras will still be at the same age.  However, I decided to stick with my digital camera for now, though I still plan on using some film in the near future.  I’ve always felt my Canon 5D came close to the feeling of a film camera.  By todays standards it’s very basic, but it’s full frame and it’s technological minimalism is which makes it similar in use to what I used to use in my film days.

To help with the whole ‘retro’ feeling, I set the cameras settings as black and white, although shooting RAW means the actual files will retain all the colour information taken, the preview will show it in black and white, helping me not to get distracted with colour.  I also decided to go out with one lens and a tripod only, along with a few filters and cable release.  The early morning weather down at the coast was one of overcast and misty, giving the views a flat, washed out look anyway.  Placing the camera on a tripod helps slow down the picture taking process and makes you look around the view finder a bit more.

I only spent a short time down by the coast and took the equivalent of a 36 exposure roll of film.  On returning home I converted them to black and white using the colour channels to give the same effects of a red or yellow filter would have done on a film camera.

I don’t know if I achieved what I set out to do.  I think I still need to have a go at using a film camera again and I certainly think I just need to just get out and take photographs – of anything – just to enjoy myself again.

I’ve put together a few of the images, the first two working well as colour or black and white but the others only seemed to work without the colour.


Black & White – colour comparisons, above and below


Black & White – colour comparisons, above and below


Saturday 10 August 2013

Photographing a Roe Deer

One of the reasons I like photographing Roe Deer is that it can be a challenge – frustrating, hit and miss and hours of waiting around, usually coming away with nothing – but when I do achieve some success, it feels all the better for it.

Normally I don’t bother photographing Roe Deer at this time of year in the woods.  For an animal that’s typically out at night, dawn or dusk, the long days of summer mean it’s not seen that often during the normal daytime hours plus, there’s a lot of vegetation to hide it and there is plenty of food so it spends less time out feeding.  Another reason is Mosquitoes – lots of them!

Despite the poor prospects I decided to give it a try and arrived on location relatively late, just after 7:00am.  To try and stave off the inevitable Mosquito onslaught I used some Mosquito repellent – not normally recommended as these usually smell, increasing the chance of the deer smelling me, but as there was barely any wind I thought it worth the risk.

I sat down and made myself comfortable at one of my favourite locations, my 500mm lens on a monopod, covered this with some netting to help break up my shape and and trained on a particular gap which I Knew was a regular path they would take at this time, and so I just waited.   The woods were almost silent but for the occasional sound of a pigeon or crow and, rather unnervingly the buzzing around my ears of Mosquitoes! 

After around twenty minutes and some Mosquito bites later (the repellent didn’t work), I heard some distant noise behind me followed by some voices.  It was some people in the adjacent fields and so ignored it and continued the wait.  A few minutes later I saw out of the corner of my eye a Roe Deer crossing the path to my extreme left.  I didn’t dare turn my head to look never mind move my camera as it was barely 15 metres away and, although I was well hidden from the front, it would have easily seen me from that angle.  It must have come up right behind me, not what I was expecting.  I was sure it would see me and bolt off, but as I kept completely still it eventually moved within my view point, presumingly not seeing me or at least not bothered.

Below is a panoramic view from where I was sitting.  Unfortunately, my SD card become corrupt on my compact camera and the last of the series taken that made up this image, was unusable and would have made up the last image on the far right which was the main section I had trained my camera on being more open and a more typical path I would have expected to see a Roe.  Where I spotted the deer out of the corner of my eye is between the two trees on the left.  I had to wait until it approached the two white rectangles you can see before I got a clear shot of it – a very narrow gap of opportunity, so used the shutter trick to try and get it to stop long enough to prevent both camera shake and subject movement as, despite what it looks like in the image (the sun had just come out) it was quite dark and I was barely getting 1/60th of a second which with a 500mm lens without image stabilisation, is well below what is recommended.


The white outlines show where the first set, then second set of images below were taken (500mm lens) though it looks further away than it actually was

The first few images below show my first attempts to get a decent photograph.  I trained my lens on the first gap I had hoped it would cross and as it did took a photograph to grab its attention.  This noise is usually enough to get it to stop but not scare it.  It did stop but not in a very photogenic position and it just looked forward.  Not wanting to make too much noise I let it continue onto the next gap.


Wait until he’s close to position and press shutter to get his attention


Stopped, but not a good position and no eye contact

As it approached the better gap, I took another picture to get its attention. Unfortunately it just carried on so I took another, then another before he finally stopped and looked at me.  I had to manually focus and try and steady the camera best I could which I felt I had done on the third image.  At 1/60th and ISO 6400, in poor light I was never going to get a great image.  I didn’t go mad with the frame rate, taking single shots and only three of it stationary and looking at me and decided to leave it at that, letting him to carry on, on his way.

For me, part of the enjoyment of taking photographs of wildlife is knowing that the animal was either undisturbed by my presence or unaware.  In this case he continued on his way completely indifferent to me.


Further on – shutter pressed to gain attention


Pressed again – still not stopped


Pressed again – still not stopped

Roe Deer

Finally stopped and looking in my direction. Final image of three taken at this point due to camera shake at only 1/60th of a second, 6400 ISO

By this time I had only been sitting for around 40 minutes or so but word must have got out to every mosquito in a half mile radius,  that there was an ‘all you could eat’ buffet sitting around in the woods, as by now it was a feast for all so I had to move on.  Normally, I might had sat there for an hour or two but there probably wouldn’t have been anymore appearances anyway.