be happy magazine: A passion for photography
Updated: Jun 4, 2018
As a teenager I attended a couple of photography sessions at a local school with a brilliant, flamboyant teacher called Sylvester. I’ll never forget the first thing he said to us in his soft American drawl: ‘Some people breathe, and some people take photographs’. A quarter
of a century later I realise that never a truer word was spoken.
My first real attempt at photography was actually underwater with a 35mm marine camera and it was a baptism of fire! I was so busy fiddling with all the controls that I had drifted away
from the reef and my diving buddy into blue water. I looked up and spotted something in the distance swimming towards me, it was my first ever sighting of a hammerhead shark. I
couldn’t believe my luck. I thought: ‘Wow, my first ever shot will be a perfect hammerhead portrait.’ So I looked through the viewfinder waiting for it to fill the frame but I was so excited
that when I pressed the shutter nothing happened. I then inadvertently locked the shutter, unlocked it and tried again, and eventually got a picture of the tail as the unimpressed shark
swam away. So my first attempt was more of a ‘the one that got away story’ but I was well and truly hooked.
“That was over 12 years ago now but I’m more addicted than ever.
So much so that even though I’ve been making a living through photo journalism for some years I have enrolled as a slightly mature student onto a BA (Hons) degree course
in Marine and Natural History Photography at Falmouth University in my quest to devour still more knowledge.
It’s the best thing I ever did. We’ve gone back to basics and I’m learning how to use 5x4 large format cameras and develop my own prints. Also I’ve been learning how to photograph
plants through a microscope and light models correctly in the studios.
I sometimes wonder if there should be a warning on the on the doors of photographic shops… this equipment is highly addictive and could be a danger to your financial health. Then again the converted, or addicted, would buy it anyway just to feed the ongoing passion.
Studio photography in a lot of ways is easier because you are in a safe, controlled environment. However a good understanding of lighting is required because you are starting from scratch with little of no ambient light. If you are going to do studio photography it is essential that you get yourself a light meter and use it, as this will save you hours of frustration. A professional studio will equip you with backdrops and a vast array of lighting options including key lights, back lights, soft lights and reflectors. All you need is a willing model and you can have hours of fun experimenting with different techniques.
A word of advice from one of my senior lecturers, and particularly relevant when shooting landscapes is to leave the camera at home when it’s a perfect day. If you have a look around at some of the most successful landscape photographs you’ll see that they often have very moody skies. When the sky is just a perfect light blue it can look fairly boring or just washed out. However, this can be avoided by the use of graduated neutral-density filters and a must have for budding landscape photographers. Often referred to as GNDs these come in hard
or soft options. The soft have a gentle gradient so useful for landscapes with mountains or buildings and the hard has a more defined change and more suited to level horizons. The filters come is several strengths and will drop the sky down from 1 to 4 stops.
Portraiture is as much about capturing the personality, mood and expression of the subject, as is the more technical side of composing and lighting. You don’t necessarily need to find a
beautiful and flawless model to do well in this field as often a well–weathered face and knowing eyes will give an image far more depth and tell a whole story without the need for words. If you have access to a professional studio obviously you have a huge arsenal of different lighting techniques at your fingertips, but if not you can create some beautiful effects just using window light and a single reflector to balance the contrast with the darker side of the face.
FLORA AND FAUNA
There is nothing better than spending a day wandering around the countryside photographing the flora and fauna. If you are aiming to get pictures of flowers and insects then a tripod and macro lens are essential. Or if birds are more your cup of tea you will need
to invest in a nice long lens. Do be aware though that these can be quite heavy to carry long distances. Quite recently I needed some photos of wild flowers but the weather was being
very unhelpful, so I picked a couple of daisies and set up a makeshift mini studio in my kitchen. All you need are some lights and black and or white card and both you and your camera kit get to stay nice and dry.
Very early on in my photographic career I was given some advice by underwater
photography teaching guru, Martin Edge. He said get close, then get closer and shoot
up. When you are shooting underwater if you can only remember two things, these
two really really make a difference. Even the clearest water is full of small particles
that you don’t want to light up in front of your subject, so you must always reduce
the water column between you as much as possible. Lighting is the key in all forms of
photography but underwater even more so. The deeper you are the less light will be
able to penetrate and more colour will be absorbed. Apart from in the shallows you will
require the use of filters or strobes if you want to avoid very blue pictures. If you don’t
have either of these you can adjust your white balance when post processing, but if you
want to take your underwater photography seriously, invest in strobe lighting and most
importantly perfect your art of buoyancy.