When I studied for my Diploma I’d be the first to admit that I found photography contrary to the way I liked to work – taking a good photograph always seemed to be very dependent on technical understanding at every level. There were several of my friends on the Diploma that were already at a more advanced level whereas the basics of camera control seemed a strange formula to me, and the need to use a darkroom for processing (or sending films to a lab if you weren’t so lucky) lengthened the process so it was sometimes difficult to learn in a trial-and-error manner (my favourite learning process!). I had always found painting, drawing and sculpture to be very easy to achieve a level of mastery, which was probably due to my natural aptitude at those subjects. Seeing composition or knowing what worked as a good photograph seemed obvious to me, but getting past the language of film speeds, apertures and exposure times and how they interacted with each other was more of a problem. Maybe I was in too much of a rush to take the necessary time to understand the process!
By the time I was on my BA course painting took up my full attention but I was ‘borrowing’ my Dad’s SLR (35mm film) camera to help when taking multiple image photos as source photographs for my larger narrative paintings - often my portrait subjects (mostly friends) wouldn’t be available for long periods that my paintings took to produce. Also, I was using different places to tell the stories in paintings and it would usually be impossible to paint direct from life considering the large canvases I was working on. I liked taking multiple photographs because I felt it mirrored the way I look at objects, with perspective changing in a natural way as objects or people were closer, or using multiple photos to show how people moved from moment to moment. With painting it was necessary to make choices about composition and different formats right from the start. Multiple photos would often suggest different canvas formats for big paintings.
Some years after leaving college I also started using photography for photographing my own sculptures and also as subject support for my golf paintings – for example, taking multiple photos of professional golfers. I should add this was normally at Tournament practice days, as amateurs shouldn’t be using their cameras at events during competition days!. Although I was still using a film SLR camera, taking more and more photos eventually helped me understand the differences in using apertures, speed of film, lighting conditions and lenses – all the things I had struggled to get to grips with during my Diploma. When I started using a digital camera in 2004 I felt it gave me a much quicker learning curve – it’s much easier to learn when you can see results straight away, as opposed to waiting days or weeks for films to be developed.
RECENT WORK AND LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY
In the last three years I’ve spent more time enjoying photography as the final medium rather than support for other aspects of my artwork. I use Canon digital SLR bodies largely because I started concentrating on sports and wildlife photography. With my landscape photographs I don’t have excess cash to buy, say, a different set of camera lenses or bodies which might be better suited to landscape photography (Panoramic bodies, on the whole, are pretty expensive too). Recently I have been taking multiple photos using a panoramic tripod, and then stitching the images together with panoramic software to produce landscape panoramas. With some research I’ve learnt quite a bit in a short space of time, and I’m excited and also pleased by the results so far. Taking landscape photographs has encouraged me to see more of the South Wales countryside: I have recently concentrated on the Brecon Beacons National Park as there are hundreds of places to try and capture, and a fantastic variation throughout the seasons. The only problem with taking panoramas using a panoramic head and tripod is that you will end up with a very heavy backpack and additional weight whenever going on long hikes, which doesn't make climbing mountains any easier!
I initially started taking golf photographs to help with both my golf sculptures and my golf paintings. However, as I've used digital cameras more, it's enabled me to start getting nearer to the sort of images I had in my minds' eye that I was originally aiming for with my golf paintings. As I'm not part of the press at golf events I can only take photographs during practise rounds and pro-am days, but Tournament days really aren't that easy for getting good swing sequences anyway. Last year I bought a Canon EOS 1D mk III, which takes 10 frames per second. A golf swing takes between one and a half and two seconds, so if you are thinking of takiing sequences of golf swings you need a camera that takes multiple frames in a short time-frame. Remember, too, that the slowest parts of the swing are the takeaway, changeover at the top of the backswing and the end of the follow-through - so the 'meat' of the swing - the impact zone - is extremely fast. Even with 10 f/ps camera you will normally only get 3 photographs from hip-height in the downswing to hip-height in the follow-through.
Unlike Landscape photography, with professional golfers you need a very fast shutter speed and the widest possible aperture on your lens - if I can I will use a shutter speed between 1000 and 1250th of a second. Obviously, the faster the camera shutter is then the more light you will need to let into the camera to counteract it, and this is part of the reason why pro photographers at sport event use such big lenses (the large lens equals a very wide aperture). Also, sports photographs tend to be taken at quite a distance from the players, so an expensive telephoto lens is absolutely necessary, similiar to the sort of lenses that nature and bird photographers use. Another point to be aware of when taking golf photographs, is how much sound the shutter on a digital SLR makes when shooting multiple images. This is why photographers tend to take photographs after a player has hit the shot, to avoid distracting the golfer (remember that a golf ball coming of the clubface at over 150 mph is a dangerous weapon!). When taking golf photographs, I also have a large box called a 'soundblimp', and if I'm taking multiple shots whilst out on the course this box cuts the sound down of the camera shutter by about 98%. The biggest problem with the soundblimp is that you have to use remote settings on the camera, and it triples the size and weight of the camera, making it quite unweildy.
I’ve always enjoyed watching butterflies and moths, so photographing them is a great way of identifying species, or just a way of enjoying their beauty and design. When trying to photograph butterflies the easiest way is to take plenty of shots and then decide afterwards which shots are good enough! Some photographers will go out very early or late in the day when the butterflies are waiting for the weather to change - a great idea, but you need to know the area well enough to find your species. Of course, some butterflies will rest in trees so that makes the 'early morning' approach more difficult!
A dedicated macro-lens is essential with small insects, even though this is another piece of equipment that will add extra cost to your budget. I also use an extender added to the Macro-lens which helps maintain life-size photos even working at a reasonable distance from the butterflies - remember, most species will fly if you are too near to them, unless they are enjoying nectar from flowers or salts from the soil (remember that some species - such as the Purple Emporer - are not attracted to nectar at all). Often trying to track down more specialised butterflies leads me all around Britain or Europe, and I find the more I need to know about their life history and needs, the more I find about other plant life and the inter-relation of nature: we must be very careful to protect and nourish our local wildlife otherwise we will contribute to more butterflies and moths becoming extinct.