Thursday, 23 January 2014

Little things matter

Right place, right time... wrong lens. Isn't it always the way? This guy walks into the tackle shop with a red tailed hawk on his arm and I have a camera with me. Everyone else had their phones - even my mate, Martin, who has recently acquired a bridge camera that he can take everywhere with him but who forgot it this morning!

While it might have been nice to get some close ups of the bird my immediate thought was to get shots with the the owner and bird, preferably interacting. Just as well considering the lens I had on the camera was a 35mm. To be honest I'm not sure this was the wrong lens. Slightly wider might have helped some shots, slightly longer others. A zoom that went longer might well have made me take boring 'bird perched on arm' pictures and head shots of the hawk. At least I had a camera that could handle the light available without flash. What a boon digital is over film in this respect. ISO 1000? no worries.

The biggest problem was the jumbled background. At least I could get some background blur by shooting wide open - which was good for keeping the shutter speed up too. Getting low also helped avoid the darkest of the clutter too, so the bird would stand out against a light background. I'd be interested to see how the phones' small sensors handled the depth of field

When the hawk began to make a noise it was clear that a wide open beak would make for a good picture. The frame below left had that, plus the owner is looking at the bird. The niggle is the beak - it gets a bit lost in the collar of the jacket behind it. The lesson I learned when photographing at the poultry show was that small details can make or break a picture - a bird's eye needs to be sharp with a catchlight, and the tip of the beak has to be clearly defined. The frame below right has both of those factors right. However the owner is looking out of the frame and the bird has its beak shut - which isn't bad in itself as the profile is good.

The fact that the verticals aren't vertical seems irrelevant here. These are not formal portraits shots and the balance of the composition is aided by the way the angle places the elements in the frame.

In all I took 34 shots, some of which were out of focus or blurred, some bland, and others suffering from minor niggles like those mentioned above. I didn't manage anything I was 100% happy with. My excuse being that I was ill-prepared and had limited time. The two I'm happiest with are the ones below where in both the owner is looking at bird, the bird's beak is clear, and there's a nice cacthlight in its eye. I'd prefer to have got more of the hawk's feet in the shot but it'll have to do.

The same again for this one except being more tightly framed (none of these pictures have been cropped) the lack of talons isn't an issue. The mirroring of open mouths is a nice bonus which, with the angled framing, gives the picture some life.

Studio photographers have it easy. They can control the light, the background, and their subjects. Even informal portraits where the subject can be directed give the photographer some control. Trying to make pictures of people and creatures acting naturally needs a lot faster thinking and a big heap of luck. It does for me at any rate. I enjoy it though - trying to pick the right angle and the peak of action when they coincide to capture a slice of life. That's what photography is all about for me - showing what the world can do on its own, rather than creating some idealised version of it.

While all this was going on the shop dog had been tied to a chair. I could make out that the final frame shows it hiding from the hawk. In actuality I'd taken the shot before the bird had arrived while doing my usual 'photographing anything' routine in the shop. An example of how sequencing images can bend the truth!

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