The N-Photo In­ter­view

It’s a small – but fas­ci­nat­ing – world for macro mae­stro Paul Har­court Davies

NPhoto - - News -

Born and raised in the min­ing vil­lages of south Wales, Paul Har­court Davies headed west to the dreaming spires of Ox­ford

to read physics. But it was his child­hood fas­ci­na­tion with the nat­u­ral world that determined the rest of his life jour­ney. Now re­sid­ing in Italy, the ‘macro mae­stro’ re­veals his close-fo­cus­ing tech­niques, and how he is us­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy to share his ex­per­tise… Which of your in­ter­ests came first: photography or na­ture? Def­i­nitely na­ture. My ear­li­est clear mem­o­ries in­volve the nat­u­ral world. As a three-year-old I re­call stand­ing by a brook with my fa­ther watch­ing a golden ring dragon­fly hawk­ing back and forth. In 1955, just be­fore my grand­mother came down her path to tell me my baby brother Philip had died, I was lost in an­other world watch­ing an or­ange-tip but­ter­fly lay­ing eggs on ladies smock. I saw my first pea­cock but­ter­fly with red ad­mi­rals on Michael­mas daisies in the au­tumn of my sixth year: I had never seen any­thing more lovely. You grew up in the min­ing val­leys of south Wales. Wasn’t it a dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ment in which to de­velop an in­ter­est in the nat­u­ral world? Far from it. We moved when I was four to one of those many post-war coun­cil es­tates that were thrown up rapidly. We had a gar­den for the first time. It was just out­side the val­ley proper, and within min­utes I could grab a hunk of cheese and piece of bread, and be out – down lanes, through fields to streams with newts and frogs. Has it al­ways been the in­ver­te­brates and frogs that have most fas­ci­nated you? I still tend to be fas­ci­nated by ev­ery­thing that grows, flies and crawls, but it was the smaller things that grabbed me first. I longed for a mi­cro­scope as a child and Fa­ther Christ­mas brought me a small one, with which I re­vealed the mites on cheese in the food safe! We had no fridge then. My mother screamed and scrubbed for a

day. With in­sects I felt I was peer­ing into a se­cret world and per­haps that suited a child who was, by in­cli­na­tion and cir­cum­stance, a bit of a loner. It was find­ing a bee or­chid on the Ken­fig dunes in Glam­or­gan (now a na­tional na­ture re­serve) that fired a love of or­chids and plants in gen­eral, as well as a de­sire for ex­plor­ing plant-in­sect links.

When you went to Ox­ford what sort of ca­reer did you think it would lead to?

I en­vis­aged do­ing re­search and get­ting a lec­ture­ship, maybe be­ing a pro­fes­sor. In ret­ro­spect, the choice of physics was a bit of an aber­rant event – my school sent one per­son in a blue moon to Ox­ford. I was iden­ti­fied early on as the next can­di­date by my physics teacher, a man of strong per­son­al­ity, whose nick­name was ‘Killer’. I sup­pose I was flat­tered and fol­lowed the lead – I hap­pened to have flair for math­e­mat­ics and that made the physics easy. Un­for­tu­nately, I was not pre­pared for just how tra­di­tional and bor­ing the Ox­ford physics course was, nor for the free­dom that I was granted. I ended up go­ing to far more bi­ol­ogy lec­tures than physics.

What cam­eras and lenses were you us­ing?

At school an in­spi­ra­tional teacher, David Mor­gan, ran a photography club. I had a box cam­era, so he let me use his Pen­tax and I got to grips with the smelly side of the photo process in the dark­room, and the magic of see­ing an im­age ap­pear un­der the safe­lights. I got my first de­cent cam­era af­ter I grad­u­ated – a Zenit B, fol­lowed by a Prak­tica LLC, which failed con­tin­u­ously. Then, with money gained through tu­tor­ing the aca­dem­i­cally-chal­lenged prog­eny of the wealthy, I bought a Canon F1 with 50mm f/3.5 macro. I still have them!

What is your desert is­land lens?

Cur­rently, my Nikon AF 105mm f/2.8mm macro. It is a su­perb piece of en­gi­neer­ing and bit­ingly sharp, but I would have liked a tri­pod-mount­ing col­lar. I have been do­ing a lot more video work with this, us­ing it in hor­i­zon­tal for­mat. I also have a CamRanger that al­lows me to do touch-fo­cus in Live View mode with a Nikon D7100 at­tached. Much of my out­put is gen­er­ated with two lenses – a macro and an ul­tra-wide-an­gle.

Which was your first Nikon cam­era?

My as­so­ci­a­tion with Nikon be­gan with a used Nikon F2 with a pho­tomic head, then an F3, su­perbly en­gi­neered and lovely to use, fol­lowed by a Nikon F4 plus F-801 as a sec­ond body. With the ad­vent of dig­i­tal I was con­verted from film very quickly by a D100, the D200 and D300, which I still use, and I now have a cou­ple of D7100 bod­ies.

Which is your favourite Nikon?

I oc­ca­sion­ally lust af­ter a D810, but I am de­lighted with the D7100 – Nikon’s bestkept se­cret and my cur­rent favourite.

Which are your favourite lo­ca­tions?

I love Mediter­ranean hill­sides in spring, for then they are full of flow­ers in a kind of

ex­plo­sion be­fore the sum­mer heat. It is a full as­sault on the senses, with the air filled with the odours of herbs too. And then there are moun­tains – I have a real need to get to alpine places, up with the gods, where the screes are dot­ted with alpine flow­ers, the views are stag­ger­ing and there is fre­netic in­sect ac­tiv­ity as life cy­cles must be com­pleted in a nar­row win­dow be­tween spring and au­tumn, be­fore the snows come. What’s spe­cial about living and work­ing in Italy as a na­ture pho­tog­ra­pher? On a daily ba­sis, I ac­knowl­edge my good for­tune, though, as Sam Gold­wyn said, “The harder I work, the luck­ier I get.” I live in a place I love, be­ing where the bird­song can be deaf­en­ing. I am with the per­son with whom I want to share my life. That’s for starters. We have re­con­structed an old farm­house set in two acres of wild ‘gar­den’ where in­sec­ti­cides have never been used. It is my out­door lab­o­ra­tory full of sur­prises and op­por­tu­ni­ties. I can ex­per­i­ment with calm, and hone tech­niques to use else­where. Close to home we have an­cient wood­lands, ponds, rivers, flower-filled pas­tures. Last but not least there are the peo­ple – we have lovely friends lo­cally and, scat­tered through­out Italy, fel­low pho­tog­ra­phers and na­ture apas­sion­ati who are true kin­dred spir­its and great friends. How im­por­tant is a tri­pod to your work? I have two Benbo tripods, both old and very solid and heavy. I have both in the car but when walk­ing, of­ten es­sen­tial in my work, I take the baby Benbo. When us­ing any telephoto lenses and nat­u­ral light I use a tri­pod be­cause, un­der crit­i­cal scru­tiny on screen at 100-200 per cent in Light­room, I see the dif­fer­ences when I try to cut cor­ners. I sel­dom use a tri­pod with my macro work, pre­fer­ring to hold a cam­era

I have a real need to get to alpine places, where the screes are dot­ted with alpine flow­ers and the views are stag­ger­ing

Paul Har­court Davies Na­ture pho­tog­ra­pher

plus macro lens and the re­doubtable Nikon R1C1 macro flash set-up, which has served me very well for a long time. I can steady this on the ground, on top of my cam­era bag (as a kind of gi­ant bean­bag), on a smaller bean­bag, or by us­ing a Novoflex mini­pod. Even the Benbo can­not get as low as I like for my wide-an­gle work with flow­ers. My macro shots mix flash and am­bi­ent light – the flash tends to freeze ac­tion and thus min­imise shake, though one must use a high enough ISO and shut­ter speed to avoid ghost­ing.

What per­cent­age of shots do you delete?

It de­pends on the sub­ject. When I’m deal­ing with plants in the land­scape then the hit rate is high. I look around, and choose the plant not just for its form but with a view to set­ting it against the back­ground. I work very quickly so that if I am with peo­ple I do not im­pinge on them, or when with a group I ac­cord my time to them.

With ex­per­i­men­tal work, such as in­sects in flight, there is an el­e­ment of luck and you get half wings and so on. I am pleased then with the oc­ca­sional good shot and dis­card most of them. One rem­nant from my film days is that I make sev­eral iden­ti­cal ex­po­sures when there is no need, but I spent so long mak­ing copies in-cam­era that it is hard to es­cape that pro­gram­ming.

How do you stay on top of work­flow?

Like most na­ture pho­tog­ra­phers I want to be out tak­ing pho­to­graphs and find I have to spend too much time in front of the com­puter. In the­ory ev­ery­thing is down­loaded at home into Light­room, stored on one hard drive and backed up on an­other. All images are batch-named with lo­ca­tion de­tails and so on, and ba­sic name de­tail as­signed. Key­word­ing is min­i­mal but ef­fec­tive. I do not go over­board on this as many seem to do. I just need to find images. One agency I use wants key­words and an­other does not. Light­room is my saviour, and I hardly use Pho­to­shop at all now, un­less I am pro­duc­ing ex­hi­bi­tion prints.

What are the most im­por­tant fea­tures of the cam­eras that you use?

For me def­i­ni­tion and res­o­lu­tion – ev­ery­thing to do with de­tail ren­di­tion –

Prayin g man­tis Nikon D300, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG fish­eye, 1/125 sec, f/18, ISO200

Large horse­fly (To p) Nikon D300, Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro, 1/60 sec, f/18, ISO400

Puss moth larva (Abo ve)

Nikon D100, Sigma AP O Macro 180mm EX DG OS HSM, 2x tele­con­verter, 1/180 sec, f/22, ISO200

Com­mon swal­low­tail Nikon D300, Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro 1/125 sec, f/20, ISO200

Crab spid er (top) Nikon D300, Nikon 28mm f/2.8, 1/160 sec, f/22, ISO400

sprin g cro­cus (left)

Nikon D300, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 fish­eye, 1/250 sec, f/20, ISO200

Crown anemon e (abo ve)

Nikon D300, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 fish­eye, 1/125 sec, f/16, ISO200

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.