One to One

Close-up skills with Ross Hod­dinott

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It may be ob­vi­ous, but in­sects are much eas­ier to shoot when they are per­fectly still – and this means shoot­ing them at the right time of day. “I rely on nat­u­ral re­frig­er­a­tion for most of my shots of but­ter­flies and dam­sel­flies,” says Ross Hod­dinott, “so I pho­to­graph them right at the end of the day or just af­ter dawn, when it is cooler and they are rest­ing.” Our plan, there­fore, is to do two dif­fer­ent shoots – one in the evening, and the next at first light the fol­low­ing morn­ing – in two lo­ca­tions close to Ross’s home.

We start early af­ter­noon, how­ever, and head down the lanes on the Devon-Corn­wall bor­der to an­other of Ross’s favourite lo­ca­tions. In the mid­dle of the day in the height of a warm sum­mer, we’ll have to adopt a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, as the in­sects bask in the sun and fly around the re­serve. It is 2pm when we park up at Meeth Quarry.

Sur­pris­ingly, one of the first things Ross makes us do is to ap­ply in­sect re­pel­lant – to ward off ticks as well as horse­flies, which can give you nasty bites as you hunt out the but­ter­flies and dragon­flies we are look­ing for. Ross knows these parts well. He has been pho­tograph­ing the lo­cal in­sects since he was a boy, when his fam­ily first moved to Corn­wall. He took his first win­ning pic­ture when he was just 11 in the BBC show Coun­try­file’s in­au­gu­ral photo con­test; it was of a pair of mat­ing Hawk dragon­flies, shot with a Zenith fit­ted with a 50mm stan­dard lens and a close-up fil­ter. He con­trib­uted to photo mag­a­zines from his teens, won Young Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year at 17, and ef­fec­tively turned pro­fes­sional aged 18. He turned 40 in March this year.

Although Ross is best-known for his in­sect pho­tog­ra­phy, he is also a land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher. “Peo­ple ask me which I pre­fer.

It is prob­a­bly the macro work. In­sects aren’t seen as glam­orous, so there are fewer peo­ple shoot­ing them than other forms of wildlife, and I have slowly be­come the go-to per­son for this type of pho­tog­ra­phy. I en­joy the con­trast be­tween the two

gen­res, though. Land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy grinds to a bit of a halt in sum­mer any­way, as light is harsh, and lo­ca­tions are crowded. So my em­pha­sis switches to close-ups from spring on­wards, and I turn my at­ten­tion to land­scapes when the in­sects dis­ap­pear and the colours and mists of au­tumn ap­pear.”

“I think switch­ing gen­res helps keep my pho­tog­ra­phy fresh. It is a chal­lenge to take an in­ter­est­ing shot of in­sects – but it is also eas­ier to end up with an orig­i­nal im­age than it is with land­scapes.’

As we walk into the re­serve, we spot plenty of but­ter­flies along the path. “This has been the first year I have seen but­ter­flies in any quan­tity for as long as I re­mem­ber”, says Ross. He ex­plains that one of the rea­sons for com­ing to the re­serves dur­ing the day is to see what species are around, and where they are in the re­serve – as they are much eas­ier to spot when they are mov­ing around. Each species is only in flight for a few weeks, so what Ross finds changes through the sea­son.

There are a num­ber of smaller brown but­ter­flies around, but the star of this week’s show at this re­serve is the Sil­ver-washed Fri­t­il­lary – one of the UK’s larger but­ter­flies. As we soon dis­cover, how­ever, its size means that many of the spec­i­mens we find have wing dam­age. Find­ing the best spec­i­men is only the start: it then needs to land on the right­look­ing plant, in an ac­ces­si­ble spot, and with a clean back­ground be­hind it. And then the pho­tog­ra­phy can be­gin...

Ross chooses his 200mm, the bet­ter of his two macro lenses for throw­ing the back­ground out of fo­cus. It is a bright day, but he pushes the ISO up to 800, so that he can use a shut­ter speed of around 1/1,000 sec. He is in Aper­ture Pri­or­ity mode, and uses Ma­trix me­ter­ing. Fo­cus is ad­justed man­u­ally, though – with fine-tun­ing done by rock­ing the cam­era to and fro the sub­ject; this avoids any move­ment of the hand close to the but­ter­fly.

“This is an ad­dic­tive game,” Ross ad­mits. “You never can be sure what you will see, and you are cer­tain that there is some­thing bet­ter to pho­to­graph that you sim­ply haven’t spot­ted.” Ross seems to have eyes like a spar­rowhawk, though. His seem­ingly su­per­hu­man vi­sion, he claims, is just gained by know­ing the best places to look.

On the way round the lakes of this old clay quarry, we spot cater­pil­lars feed­ing on a oak leaf. It is time for Ross to get the full kit out. One tri­pod to hold the cam­era; www.dig­i­tal­cam­er­a­

Find­ing the best spec­i­men is only the start: it then needs to land on the right­look­ing plant

Now at rest for the night, it is pos­si­ble to ma­noeu­vre slowly around the but­ter­fly.

Ross uses the Fo­cus Peak­ing op­tion in­Live View on his Nikon D850 to fine-tune the fo­cus man­u­ally.

Search­ing for rest­ing but­ter­flies is the hard part of the job.

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