Heath er An­gel

One of Europe’s most cel­e­brated na­ture pho­tog­ra­phers, Heather An­gel has just pub­lished a fas­ci­nat­ing new book about pol­li­na­tion, us­ing pho­tog­ra­phy tech­niques more as­so­ci­ated with crime scenes. Ge­off Harris in­ves­ti­gates…

NPhoto - - Close-up -

Heather An­gel trained as a marine bi­ol­o­gist be­fore be­com­ing a free­lance wildlife

pho­tog­ra­pher. She’s cel­e­brated for her ex­quis­ite im­ages, which marry science and art, and sell all over the world via her pic­ture li­brary, Nat­u­ral Vi­sions. She is also a pro­lific au­thor and is about to re­lease her 60th book, Pol­li­na­tion Power. The fruit of five years’ work at Kew Gar­dens and 20 over­seas trips, Pol­li­na­tion Power re­veals how plants at­tract a wide range of pol­li­na­tors, with some im­ages taken us­ing ul­tra­vi­o­let flash, a tech­nique com­monly used to de­tect traces of bod­ily flu­ids at crime scenes. Ap­pointed a Vis­it­ing Pro­fes­sor at Not­ting­ham Univer­sity in 1994, she is no or­di­nary na­ture pho­tog­ra­pher…

You’ve said else­where that you were en­tranced by the nat­u­ral world as a child. How and when did first you get into pho­tog­ra­phy?

My par­ents weren’t into pho­tog­ra­phy and as a fam­ily we hardly had any pic­tures at home, but I re­alised as a sci­en­tist that a cam­era was a very use­ful tool for record­ing what I was find­ing in the field. When my fa­ther bought me a cam­era for my 21st birth­day, I didn’t ex­pect to end up a pho­tog­ra­pher, how­ever.

So did pho­tog­ra­phy present you with a tough learn­ing curve at the be­gin­ning?

I am en­tirely self-taught, but I would ask peo­ple as I went along, and had ac­cess to the dark­room at Bristol Univer­sity in the evenings. As a sci­en­tist I grasped things fairly quickly, and just got on with work­ing out ex­po­sure and so on.

That’s the tragedy these days, it’s auto ev­ery­thing. I say to my stu­dents, “Okay, there is a white rock with a fos­sil in it – how are you go­ing to me­ter for it?” and they just say they’ll let the cam­era do it. I re­ply that you need to ad­just ex­po­sure or use a man­ual ex­po­sure and me­ter off an av­er­age tone, but this is like a for­eign lan­guage to them. While wait­ing in hides for birds to ap­pear, I me­tered rocks and grass so I could see which were an av­er­age tone. This taught me to speed­ily gauge when I needed to ad­just the ex­po­sure

So were you work­ing in black and white or colour in the early days?

As a na­ture pho­tog­ra­pher, I re­alised that colour was more im­por­tant than black and white – if I needed to show the warn­ing colours of an­i­mals, for ex­am­ple. So I was shoot­ing colour trans­parency film most of the time. This was another rea­son I wanted to get the ex­po­sure right, rather than brack­et­ing like mad ei­ther way – I was

pay­ing for the film and pro­cess­ing, and didn’t want to waste ex­po­sures!

Who were your big­gest in­flu­ences when you started out?

Lots of peo­ple, but a book by Eliot Porter called Galapagos: The Flow

of Wild­ness had a big im­pact. This inspired me to visit the Galapagos on my first long-haul trip, in 1972.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing you wrote ar­ti­cles about na­ture pho­tog­ra­phy, and had your first book pub­lished in 1972...

Yes, mainly in black and white, and the lay­out was pretty ba­sic, but it stayed in print un­til the mid-1980s. My big­gest print run was for The Nat­u­ral History of Bri­tain and Ire­land

(125,000), but the days of those sorts of print runs for non-fic­tion books are long gone.

Did writ­ing come easily?

I had to work at early ar­ti­cles and books, but now I don’t find writ­ing a chore. When­ever I have a spare mo­ment, at an air­port or on a train, I’m writ­ing in a notebook. I find my pho­tog­ra­phy fu­els my writ­ing, and vice versa. I tweet most days, too, which is fun, and al­lows me to share my early work again.

Why did you de­cide to pho­to­graph plants and an­i­mals, rather than spe­cialise in one or the other?

There was no great plan. Be­cause I was al­ways in­ter­ested in flow­ers, I was also in­ter­ested in the in­ter­de­pen­dence of plants and an­i­mals. While it’s quite pos­si­ble to di­vorce them pho­to­graph­i­cally, they are both in­ter­linked.

Even back in the 1960s, you must have been aware of the per­ma­nent im­pact that hu­mankind was hav­ing on the en­vi­ron­ment?

Yes, it’s al­ways sad to go back to lo­ca­tions and see how much they have changed, over only one or two decades. I’ve got two grand­sons, and you can’t help won­der­ing what the fu­ture holds for them.

Your kind of pho­tog­ra­phy re­quires a lot of pa­tience. Did pa­tience come nat­u­rally?

I had to de­velop it. I make de­ci­sions quickly and ex­pect peo­ple to re­act quickly. I also have gritty

de­ter­mi­na­tion. When I set a goal, it must be achieved, which is the rea­son I will sit for a long time in a hide or watch­ing an aquar­ium, wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen. What I vi­su­alise may some­times take up to a week to get the shot. You have to be de­ter­mined. How do you cope with the dis­ap­point­ment of com­ing back empty-handed from a trip? By never com­ing back emp­ty­handed! Wher­ever I go, I have what I call my tar­get species. I try to find the best lo­ca­tion, but you can’t con­trol the weather, or shoot­ing early or late in the sea­son when an­i­mals don’t ap­pear to or­der. So you have to make the most of what’s around you. There is no

point sit­ting in the hide and sulk­ing. That’s the great thing about macro pho­tog­ra­phy – you can al­ways find shots worth tak­ing, wher­ever you are in the world.

You have an al­most Cartier Bres­son-es­que abil­ity to cap­ture decisive mo­ments in na­ture…

When it hap­pens, it’s won­der­fully ex­hil­a­rat­ing. If I come back with six re­ally strong im­ages from a two- or three-week trip, I’m re­ally pleased. There will be a lot of also-rans, but the ad­van­tage of writ­ing is I can al­ways use them – in ar­ti­cles and books, as well as on Twit­ter.

Which im­ages are you proud­est of, and why?

It’s hard to say, but I am proud of my work with pan­das. It in­volved a huge amount of in­vest­ment, both in terms of time and money. My im­age of a panda slid­ing on its back down a snowy slope al­ways gets a re­ac­tion at lec­tures and is far and away my best-selling im­age.

I am be­com­ing known for my macro work us­ing dif­fer­ent light­ing tech­niques, such as dark field il­lu­mi­na­tion – light­ing translu­cent crea­tures from un­der­neath against a black back­ground, with dra­matic re­sults. I love be­ing able to con­trol the light with macro shots, which is not some­thing you can do when pho­tograph­ing land­scapes. With macro, the struc­ture of a sub­ject will tell you how to light it.

Have you ever been in dan­ger when pho­tograph­ing an­i­mals?

I’ve had some lucky es­capes. I was once snorkelling in the sea off the Galapagos and ev­ery­thing seemed fine when I checked, but then I no­ticed a male sea lion head­ing to­wards me. They are fierce car­ni­vores, so I’ve never swum so fast in my life! Once I got be­yond his ter­ri­tory, he lost in­ter­est. Then I was with a Ja­panese TV crew in Sri Lanka, who were mak­ing a doc­u­men­tary about me. We were in a jeep and stopped to lis­ten to bird song. Sud­denly a male Asian

With macro, the struc­ture of a sub­ject will tell you how to light it

Heather An­gel, Wild life pho­tog­ra­pher

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.