The Whole Journey
In my earlier years of hunting and fishing I always carried a small, light and compact camera. Right up until only five or six years ago it was a film camera that spent most of it’s time tucked away in a canvas pouch on my belt or in my pack. It only ever seemed to come out when we shot an animal or decided a particular scenic shot was worth recording. This becomes very obvious when looking back through my photo albums … the majority of the photographs are of either dead animals/trophies or scenic/landscape shots. In fact the first of the four albums has a rather embarrassing amount of what I refer to as ‘dead’ photos – you know the ones, proud hunter posing with rifle over a shot animal.
With hindsight and having learnt so much about photography since those early years, I regret not having captured all the other different aspects of those trips. What I’m talking about here are the ‘incidentals’ that go with being on a trip in the mountains or on the river. Although our primary reason for being out there is to hunt and/or fish there are so many more facets that make these trips as enjoyable (or otherwise) as they are.
With the hunting and fishing aside, just take a minute and think about all the other reasons why we get so much enjoyment, pleasure and perhaps contentment from being out in the hills. For me just some of those things are having a hot brew in the evenings round camp in the company of a good mate, enjoying the warmth of a roaring fire after a particularly hard, wet and cold day on the hill, the feeling of achievement and satisfaction of completing a long strenuous walk or climb in to the hunting area with a heavy pack, experiencing the natural beauty of a plant or flower (as corny as that sounds) or even just the day to day activities of camp life. Of course there is the other side of the coin too … the elements of a trip that aren’t necessarily all that enjoyable but nonetheless are all part and parcel of the whole journey. The epic climb and descent in difficult and dangerous country, the disappointments and despair of missing out on a good trophy or the trials and tribulations of enduring days on end of bad weather. More recently I’ve made a conscious effort to try and record more of what constitutes the ‘whole journey’. In this article I’d like to offer some ideas on how to capture these other components and show that by applying a slightly different approach a more comprehensive photographic record of the trip can be achieved.
A very good way of getting more variety into your outdoor photography is to incorporate a bit of photojournalism into your way of thinking. Basically photojournalism is capturing a story in a picture or in our case recording a story (trip) in a series of photographs. By catching moods, emotions, feelings, reactions and responses you will be creating a ‘story’ with a lot more impact which will convey to people viewing the images a more realistic impression of what it was actually like without having been there. And, as we talked about in the last article, a more accurate and detailed record of events to trigger those memories for ourselves.
The following image (scan of a print) shows some of the feelings, moods and emotions I’m referring to. My brother Nick took this shot (quite a few moons ago now as you have probably guessed) by shouting my name causing me to look up. By snapping the photo in that instant he managed to catch exactly how I was feeling after a long, hard and very sweaty carry back to the fly camp – exhausted, tired and completely done in. The look and expression says it all I think.
One of the most important aspects when telling a story with images is candidness most obviously where people are concerned. The accompanying image of a good mate, Regan, on last year’s Wapiti trip is a great example. It had been a typically long, fruitless and trying morning trudging through the wet and tangled Fiordland bush. We stopped for lunch in the only open (ish) area we’d come across and the resulting completely candid image expresses exactly how Fiordland sometimes makes you feel.
( 1/100 @ F/7.1, iso 400 )
Caught out !! Aaron caught out having a ‘nana’ during a quiet spell and oblivious to the camera pointing at him. ( 1/800 @ F/7.1, iso 400 )
As hunters we spend a large portion of our trips in and around huts and fly camps. Think about it. Probably as much as a third of our time will be at some sort of campsite. Surely it’s only fair that this camp time should feature in our photographic record of the trip. I’ve found too that this ‘camp life’ is often where the majority of humour and camaraderie between good mates takes place.
Once again, the seemingly incidental things based around what makes up camp life can create great photo opportunities, even if only to give a simple and fair representation of exactly that – camp life. For example, a simple camp fire is pretty standard in any hunter’s camp. Something we take for granted perhaps. Not only do we use it for warmth but we also cook our meals over it. Why not try to photograph it and show the non-outdoorsy people exactly what is involved in what is usually a simple task at home – preparing a meal.
A typical fly camp in the South Island high country. My hunting mate Adrian prepares a brew on the ‘Jetboil’ before heading out for an evening hunt. ( 1/250 @ F/8, iso 200 )
The time we spend at camp or in a hut is usually in the evenings meaning the lighting is going to be pretty poor. Shutter speeds in these circumstances are going to be relatively slow accordingly, bringing the dreaded hand shake into the equation. Use a tripod if you have brought one in or even just rest the camera on something solid. Though the camera is now on a solid base even the shutter release by hand is sometimes enough to introduce a small amount of movement to the camera which will be picked up by the slow shutter speed. The self-timer function is another useful feature to use here to further negate camera movement.
Universal self-timer symbol. The two figures indicate the time period between pressing the shutter button and the actual opening of the shutter – in this case two and ten seconds.
Of course the other way to avoid these low light complications is to use the camera’s built in flash. When in auto mode the camera will decide when the light is too low for a good exposure and will automatically ‘pop’ the flash up. Once again this auto flash capability will produce very satisfactory results but you may want to try taking it a step further. Using one of the manual modes (M, Tv or Av) will give you the ability to employ the flash at any time rather than just when the camera decides. (You’re unable to manually engage the flash in auto mode but you may dis-engage it). An example here is in the late evening when the sun has gone but some ambient light remains. Although you may well be able to gain an acceptable exposure using just this ambient light, the use of flash will give you much better results with more detail. At the same time this burst of light (flash) will create enough light for a faster shutter speed negating the chance of camera shake affecting the image.One feature on most cameras is ‘flash exposure compensation’ (FEC). In a nutshell this gives you the ability to control the strength or brightness of the flash output.
‘Quick control screen’ on a typical Canon DSLR showing the FEC symbol. (This symbol is pretty standard on most makes of cameras).
Typical scale showing amount of FEC. In this case –1 1/3
Ok, lets say you’ve just spent a long hard day walking into your campsite at the head of the valley and you’d like to take a shot of your mate setting up camp during that last half hour of light (ambient). You half press the shutter button, the flash automatically pops up and you proceed to take the photo. On review, the shot may not be to your liking. Possibly your mate and foreground are too brightly lit overpowering the image. Now go over into one of the manual modes and duplicate the settings. (‘M’ mode, you will be able to duplicate exactly whereas in one of the ‘priority’ modes you’ll only be able to set either shutter speed or aperture). Now, entering the FEC menu, dial back (minus) a couple of ‘notches’ and re-take the photo. In the resulting photo you should notice considerably less overall brightness and glare from the flash output.
Bright sunny days also bring about problems that the use of flash can overcome. “Flash on a bright sunny day ?!” I hear you ask. Bright sun creates very harsh shadows. A classic example is the shadows on peoples’ faces when the sun is high in the sky. By employing a certain amount of flash (called fill flash) these shadows will pretty much disappear. FEC comes in very useful in these circumstances as the amount of flash needed is often very subtle. The true gauge of whether you’ve used just the right amount is when the shadows are pretty much gone but you can’t actually tell that flash has been used at all. As I say, very subtle ‘fill’ light is all that is required.
I regularly employ fill flash when taking those photos of our hard won animals and trophies. Below is a photograph of my good friend Aaron with his second bow shot chamois. The sun was very high in a cloudless blue sky therefore harsh shadows were being cast on Aaron and the chamois. I could have taken the image looking down the gully which would have improved the lighting angle somewhat but at the expense of the beautiful background. On top of that, Aaron’s hat seems to be a permanent appendage and getting him to remove it just isn’t going to happen.
Fill flash has taken the bulk of the dark shadowing away resulting in detail in the chamois’ face and more significantly, Aaron’s eyes and face are now clearly visible. An image where the viewer cannot see the subject’s eyes is an image with no ‘life’. ( 1/250 @ F/8, iso 160 )
So by taking a step back (so to speak), looking and thinking a bit more about your photography, noticing the little stuff and trying things from a slightly more neutral aspect you’ll find your images having more variety and content. At the same time it gives you the opportunity to take more shots thus becoming familiar with your gear and settings. And I’ve found that the more you learn, the more shots you take implementing all these new ideas – and the more images you take the more you learn. All the while having a heap of fun. So it’s all a win/win never ending cycle really. That’s got to be good, right ?!