My big break

Lau­rie Campbell on the photo that launched his ca­reer – and changed bird pho­tog­ra­phy for­ever

NPhoto - - Contents - Keith Wil­son

Some na­ture pho­tog­ra­phers chalk up as many air miles as pi­lots in their quest to pho­to­graph ex­otic species in far-flung corners of the planet. Not Lau­rie Campbell. He has made his name by fo­cus­ing on his na­tive Scot­land, much of the time close to his home by the River Tweed. He re­calls: “From child­hood, grey herons and mute swans on the river Tweed near where I grew up were an ob­vi­ous sub­ject, and be­cause grey herons were warier they were more chal­leng­ing, so I be­came slightly ob­sessed with pho­tograph­ing them.”

On the morn­ing of New Year’s Day 1975, Lau­rie was en­sconced in a hide with his Nikon F2A loaded with Ek­tachrome 160. He was shoot­ing with a 500mm mir­ror lens on a tri­pod, try­ing to frame grey herons roost­ing near a hedge in a farmer’s field. He con­tin­ues: “The wind changed di­rec­tion and the herons went onto the other side of a hedge to the one I was ex­pect­ing, which meant it was awk­ward to get a clear shot.” For­tu­nately, Lau­rie’s hide had wheels, and he care­fully moved it to get a clearer view. “I guess it was just hap­pen­stance,” he says. “There was a gap in the hedge, just by chance, and I had to make do with pho­tograph­ing through it.”

With its fixed f/8 aper­ture, the mir­ror lens had very shal­low depth of field, so fo­cus­ing was crit­i­cal, and Lau­rie had to rely on the sta­bil­ity of his tri­pod to pre­vent any move­ment or vi­bra­tion blur­ring the re­sult. “I looked at the pic­ture later and it grew on me,” he says. “After­wards, I went out of my way to pho­to­graph images like this, be­cause I re­al­ized I hadn’t seen any­thing sim­i­lar around.”

A new style of wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy

Up to then, most na­ture pho­to­graphs were lit­tle more than record shots of static sub­jects wholly framed and en­tirely in fo­cus to show ev­ery de­tailed mark­ing. Pic­tures of herons par­tially ob­scured by out-of-fo­cus fo­liage were rarely pub­lished. How­ever, it caught the eye of the editor of Birds, the magazine of the RSPB: “I got a dou­ble page spread fea­tur­ing all my heron pic­tures. That was my first ma­jor se­quence that I worked on. It gave me con­fi­dence that maybe I’m on the right track here.”

This new photo style evolved fur­ther when Lau­rie switched to a heav­ier Nikkor ED 600mm tele­photo, and the slower Ko­dachrome 64 film favoured by stock li­braries. “Shoot­ing on ISO64 film with man­ual fo­cus lenses and a rel­a­tively small aper­ture, it was es­sen­tial to keep the cam­era still,” he says, “so I was us­ing bean­bags, which meant I had to bal­ance the lens on a rock or tus­sock of grass, so I was ly­ing low.” As well as lead­ing to more fore­ground fo­liage be­ing in­cluded within the frame, this new ap­proach also en­abled Lau­rie to shoot suc­cess­fully down to 1/15 sec, or even 1/8 sec. “It opened up pos­si­bil­i­ties for pho­tograph­ing in poor weather – you sud­denly had so many more days in which you could take pic­tures.” It is a style of na­ture pho­tog­ra­phy that we take for granted to­day.

Lau­rie Campbell has spent his life pho­tograph­ing the flora and fauna of Scot­land. He has won 23 awards in the Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year con­test and is the au­thor of sev­eral books, in­clud­ing RSPBGuidetoBir­dandNa­ture Pho­tog­ra­phy. Visit www.lau­riecamp­ for more.

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