This week I read two articles that really made me stop and think not only about the looming climate crisis but my photography and what purpose it serves.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, as Bob Dylan once sang “The Times Are A Changin’”. The first article I’ll reference was by the celebrated Australian author Richard Flanagan and he speaks of the joy he receives from observing birds around his home on Brunny Island in Tasmania. He also expresses the sorrow that the birds bring because of their diminishing numbers. For one reason or another bird populations are declining rapidlyand it’s not just in Tasmania, it is a global phenomena. In Perth, the capital of the state in which I live, the Swan Estuary is a highly important nesting and breeding site for migratory birds such as plovers, sandpipers, knots, stints, and curlews that travel from Siberia and North Asia. In the 1980’s it was estimated that 36 species and more than two million birds came to Australia each summer. The number of migrating waders on the Swan Estuary was around the ten thousand mark, but, by 2000 there were fewer than five hundred. The causes for this alarming decline are many and include feral foxes and cats preying on the birds, domestic dogs being walked through nesting sites, prawning parties , people digging on the mudflats for fishing bait. Here in York we had a sizeable colony of Rainbow Bee Eaters that migrate here from New Guinea and the tropical north of Australia to avoid the wet season there. They dig their burrows in banks above the Avon River and breed. Last summer the Shire of York Council put in gravel roads along the riverside to allow access for emergency vehicles. In the process of doing that they bulldozed the nesting sites killing the adults and the young they were rearing and then permanently destroyed the site by covering the area with rocks to make a retaining wall. It wasn’t malicious, it was pure ignorance as the council has no environmental protection policy and had not done any form of survey into the wildlife along the river. They were very apologetic when informed but the damage has been done. There should be a thriving colony of Rainbow Bee Eaters digging burrows and and rearing young at this time of year – I’ve just seen one solitary bird.
The second article was also about Australia’s declining bird population and it talked about the phenomenaof ‘extinction of experience’ which is a phrase first coined by Robert M Pyle. Extinction experience has negative implications for people’s health and well being. The article referenced a research paper that basically says that if people are having less and less opportunities to interact with nature that will create an antipathy towards the natural world and consequently they will cease to care about it. So to get people to be more aware of environmental issues they must be encouraged to reconnect with nature. One of the reasons why I wrote my walking guide, and I articulate this in the introduction, is that I hope that the people who use it will develop a love for and an understanding of the environment.
So what’s all this got to do with photography? Simple really. One of the main ways that I interact with the environment is through photography. It doesn’t matter whether it is close ups of plants, photos of birds or other wild animals or landscapes. It all equates to being out in the environment and experiencing it in a first hand way. Bushwalking, cycling, dog walking all do this as well and I feel so much better for it.
I started this post referencing Bob Dylan and I’d like to end with Cat Stevens or Yusuf Islam as he is now known. In his hit song “Morning Has Broken” the lyricist Eleanor Farjeon talks of the joy of walking through the Sussex village of Alfriston on a fresh morning. She talks of the joys of seeing the dawn, hearing blackbirds singing and experiencing the dew on the grass. Yesterday as I walked the dog along the river we were greeted by a territorial goshawk sitting on the branch of a dead tree. As we passed it swooped us while making plaintive calls. It was a totally sublime experience. Go out. Take pictures, walk, cycle, play. Enjoy the environment and revel in its beauty.
As regular readers will know I went to Tasmania earlier this year and out of all the places visited there Bruny Island really captivated me. I like the whole idea of islands, when things get a stressful with family I often tongue in cheek suggest that perhaps we should emigrate to the Falkland Islands, or even better South Georgia Island. I was brought up in a series of English villages and small country towns so I’m quite drawn to small communities and one of my favourite TV programs as a kid was the French series The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe which was re-aired every summer holidays. You’d watch Robinson at about 10am do something daring or solve some conundrum and then that would be the inspiration to go out all day playing the woods making camps or tree houses. His life was simple and my life at that age was very simple. The theme tune for the show is a classic and it takes me right back to those happy carefree times.
Since then I’ve visited a number of islands some like Santorini and Rottnest are idyllic holiday destinations where you go to relax and unwind. Others like Hayling Island are naff miserable places and I’d never want to visit again. Bruny Island is in a category of its own. It is not beautiful but rather is ruggedly handsome, a robust island off of the coast of Tasmania and only a hop, skip and a jump from Hobart the capital of Tassie. There are towering sea cliffs, rolling hills, rainforest, seemingly an endless number of paradisal beaches and abundant wildlife. I would love one day to spend an extended period of time there – say three to six months – just walking and photographing. I could become a later day photographic Robinson Crusoe.
I suppose that all this a long-winded way of spruiking my latest calendar. So if you happen to know someone who wistfully daydreams about getting away from it all on a small island the this could be the ideal Christmas present for them. Just click on the image and you’ll be taken to my online store.
My book Tasmanian Tales is also still available through Blurb.
Well two weeks in Tasmania went faster than an Essex girl can drop her draws. Tasmania is photographic Nirvana and this wasn’t a management sanctioned photo expedition, but rather a holiday. This meant a tripod, full set of filters, an audio recorder and decent microphone were all left at home. All I took was the micro four thirds kit , with circular polarizing filters and variable neutral density filters, and a tripod substitute in the form of the Manfrotto 585 Modosteady 3-in-1 Support Tripod. It’s a crap steadicam but works well as a light weight video rig and table top tripod. I’ve modified mine by adding a Manfrotto 323 Quick Release Plate Adapter so all my cameras can use a standard quick release mount.
So with some guile and cunning I managed to maximise my photographic success rate by shooting a lot. I’m not us usually a spray and pray photographer, but this time the situation demanded it, but it was well thought out as I bracketed each shot by +/- one stop. This meant that for the landscapes and detail shots I could turn them into HDR images using Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro 2 when I got back home. I also shot a lot of panoramas, these were also bracketed, handheld. I’ve found using the rear LCD screen of my Olympus Ep-2 with the grid overlay means I can get reasonably level shots with sufficient overlap so Photoshop’s photo merge function can do a good job of lining everything up. The photo below was done handheld and was a total of 6 exposures with the bracketing. I first produce the HDR segment and then shove it Photoshop for the panorama.
I also shot a lot of 20 second video clips with the intent of using them along with the stills in a multi media presentation and video eats memory cards like Lance Armstrong takes steroids. In all I used up 60 Gb worth of memory cards. Thankfully class 6 memory cards are really cheap now so I was well stocked up with them. The other aspect of shooting lots is battery consumption. The battery life of mirrorless cameras is pants. Olympus reckon 300 shots from a fully charged battery but I’ve never got anywhere near that so I took six batteries with me and a charger. The most I used in one day was 3 batteries and that was on a very cold day and I’d shot a lot of video. I also took a battery charger with me, not the stock supplied one but a Hahnel Unipal Plus. This charged my camera batteries, the AAs in my torch and shaver, my phone and iPad. It’s a brilliant bit of kit and any travelling photographer should really consider getting one.
Over the next few weeks as I process the images I’ll post them on the blog and talk about the hows and the whys.