This week we were treated to a fascinating talk on wildlife photography by Jo McIntyre (also GJ Wildlife Photography), who made a 200 mile trip from Lancashire just to speak to us! Jo told us how she became involved in wildlife photography and won her first gold medal back in 2009. Jo showed us a selection of her images, and was not afraid to show us the ones that didn’t work as well as the ones that won her medals. The difference showed the hard work (combined with a degree of good luck) that goes into achieving the perfect image. Jo’s images showed us the difference between the standard expected in a nature competition and in a club competition. In a club competition the background is just as important as the subject, but in a nature competition you are not penalized if there happens to be something distracting in the background which is part of the environment. In a club competition you can change the image by cloning out unwanted distractions, but in a nature image you are only allowed to dodge and burn.
Jo explained her techniques for getting a good wildlife image. Above all else, good observation is the key. It is vital to observe the behaviour of a subject before taking the trouble to stalk them or set up a hide. The ospreys tend to catch fish from a certain direction, and some mountain hares are easier to get close to than others. Jo recommended that we get down to eye level, if possible (or just below eye level if photographing a raptor or other creature which tends to look down on its prey). Jo’s photographic techniques are:
- Aperture priority (at f4 to f5.6) with a high ISO setting to achieve a shutter speed at least as much as the focal length of the lens (Jo prefers to hand-hold her camera, although she occasionally uses a tripod with a gimbal head). A small amount of under-exposure using negative exposure compensation can sometimes be used to further increase the shutter speed.
- Single point continuous servo autofocus (unless photographing a kingfisher fishing, when she manually focuses on a spot in the water).
- Crop to a natural-looking image rather than to a fixed size ratio. Most of Jo’s images end up with a square crop.
Finally, Jo has some advice for photographers who take pictures of a bird on a stick: Use a pretty stick! A moss-covered, knobbly branch is ideal. Setting the stick at and angle (rather than horizontal or vertical) makes it look more natural. Altogether, we all had a very informative and entertaining evening.