Hi everyone! You probably will have noticed that I (Matt) have been pretty quiet for a while, so I thought it would be a good idea to give you an update about some of the things that I’ve been up to recently and also to announce the re-launching of London photo tours.
Few places feel as remote and wild as the Australian island of Tasmania; mile upon mile of sandy beaches and jagged rocks stretch for as far as the eye can see, whilst ancient forests full of giant ferns cover much of the interior. The island is frequently battered by stormy seas and howling winds from the Southern Ocean and as a result Tasmanian weather is unpredictable at best! As you look out over the vast ocean, without another human being in sight, it really does feel like you’re standing on a distant corner of the Earth.
India is an incredible country – a vibrant, bustling place that overwhelms the senses. There’s nothing that quite prepares you for the noise, dust and heat that assaults you upon arrival and I came back from this trip more worn down than when I had departed. Having said that, India is a great place for photography. It may be one of the most densely populated countries in the world, but in terms of wildlife diversity it is also one of the richest.
One of the most important things that we have learnt as wildlife photographers is to try and tell a story with our images. This means getting out of the mindset of taking a random selection of good pictures and instead aiming to link photos together with a common theme. A set of images that describe an environment or a particular animal can often be much more valuable than a single “winning shot”.
On our recent trip to the Falkland Islands, we tried to document the sea birds that nest along the rugged coastline. We aimed to capture a variety of images, using focal lengths ranging from 14mm to 600mm, that showed the birds’ behaviour and habitat.
Deep in the heart of Africa lies the small, landlocked nation of Rwanda. Known locally as “The Land of a Thousand Hills”, the entire country is covered with deep valleys and steep volcanic foothills. The Volcanoes National Park, in the north of the country, is home to an estimated 250 of the world’s 700 remaining mountain gorillas, and is part of a larger volcanic region known as the Virunga Massif. Since no mountain gorilla has ever survived in captivity (unlike lowland gorillas), the World’s entire population can be found at the convergence of three countries; Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In 2004, we travelled to a remote region of Tanzania – the Mahale Mountains National Park. Sandwiched between the shores of Lake Tanganyika and the 2,000m high peaks of the Mahale Mountains, the park is known as one of the few places where it is possible to see chimpanzees in the wild. It is difficult to describe the sense of mystery and excitement that we felt upon arriving at the Park as the hoots and screams of chimpanzees and other primates echoed through the dark forest. We had an incredible experience watching and photographing the chimps in their natural environment. Some of our photographs from this first expedition proved to be very successful, one of them even earning me a win in Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2005. As a result, Mahale has always been a special place for us and we have wanted to return ever since.
Every now and then it’s good to step outside your photographic comfort zone. This is what I tried to do last week when I started a project to photograph flowers. The initial idea was to produce huge prints that had a studio-like quality about them. The key things that I really wanted to get right were composition and lighting. Although the concept of photographing a beautiful flower on a black background is a bit of a cliché, there is a reason why it is so popular – the results can be really striking.
In order to create a series of massive prints, I needed to take very high resolution images. The problem with making big prints from 35mm DSLR files is that they often require interpolation to get the required dimensions at an output resolution of 300dpi. The only way of avoiding this is to use a camera that already has a high native resolution, i.e. lots of megapixels! I’ve always wondered about the quality that digital medium format systems could offer and since I was recently given the opportunity to borrow one, I thought this project would be the perfect chance to try it out and see for myself what all the fuss was about!
The camera that I used was the Hasselblad H3DII-39, a 39mp beast with a 48×36mm sensor (approximately double the size of a 35mm frame). The huge sensor size results in astounding detail, low noise levels and subtle tonal gradations. The 16 bit files at ISO 50 have amazing vibrancy and dynamic range.
After getting my hands on the camera and spending a bit of time figuring out how to use it, I started to set up my first shot. I was using a 120mm f/4.0 macro lens. The close working distance coupled with the large sensor meant that typical apertures necessary for a decent depth of field and sharpness were around f/16 to f/32.
Photographing the flowers against a black background often meant the Hasselblad’s metering system wasn’t able to provide accurate results. Each photograph would have different amounts of the frame filled with the flower, meaning that most of the metering modes (centre-weighted and averaged) were fooled. To get reliable exposures I used a Sekonic light meter and I reduced the contrast by using a reflector to shade the flowers.
Due to the small apertures and working distances, a tripod was essential to prevent camera shake. Using mirror lock-up and a shutter delay of between 5-10 seconds allowed the camera vibrations to dampen before the image was recorded. This is very important, since the high resolution of the Hasseblad’s sensor makes poor focus and camera movements immediately obvious, especially when blown up to 100%. However, if everything remains sharp then the level of detail captured by the 39 megapixel sensor is just astounding.
Apart from enjoying something a bit different, I have learnt that branching out and diversifying your subjects can really improve other aspects of your photography, both technically and creatively.
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