Ran by Digital Photography + Design magazine, Feb 05
Most nature photographers dream of flying to the world’s exotic places in search of great nature photos, when in reality they need go no further than their own backyard.
Now anyone who knows my circumstances may say “That’s all very well, but your backyard is the entire continent of Australia”. That’s true, and I admit that it doesn’t do any harm to go far afield, but it’s not necessary for the production of good photographs. The average Australian backyard has millions of creatures, flowers, and abstractions, all just waiting to be captured on silicon.
I’ve been saying this for years, recently however I felt the need to test the point. Could I really make good photos within the restricted environment of a suburban house block?
To do this I had to find a backyard. Fortunately I was staying with my father at the time, so his yard was the obvious choice. For three weeks I only photographed around his house and in the immediate vicinity. Once or twice a day I would venture from the safety of the lounge room into the wilds of his veggie patch, or paw paw tree forest, hunting some of the world’s fiercest creatures.
I returned only when I had a full CF card, it got too hot, or lunch was ready. Not once did I fail to capture several good photos; the diversity of plant, animal and insect life, and my willingness to look, saw to that.
In fact I was taking so many photos that I had to take some days off to catch up with the cataloguing. It seemed that everywhere I looked I saw something worth photographing. Which brings me to my tips for good backyard photography. To take a good photo you have to see it first, and to see it you have to look.
Get the neighbours involved
Naturally it’s good manners to slip a few prints their way.
equipment do I need?
A flip-out screen or right-angle finder is also extremely useful for low-
and awkward-angle shots, just lowering your camera to the ground will
provide a perspective that will add interest to your photos.
Another issue is shutter lag. It’s very important when photographing wildlife that the shutter fires exactly when you press the button. Half a second later is just not on. This is also important for so-called “static” subjects, even a flower can sway alarmingly in the breeze, and you will often have to anticipate when it will swing into focus.
An off-camera flash is also very useful. Flashes mounted on the camera will give a somewhat flat and boring light, especially as all your photos will be lit the same way.
With an off camera flash you can…
I used my flash with every photo I made during the three-week period.
Now your mileage may vary according to the type of yard you have, you may not even have a backyard, but there’s bound to be a park just down the road. What I’m really trying to demonstrate here is that good photos can be found anywhere if you take the time to look.
We all dream of making that classic lion-pulls-down-wildebeest shot, and I can certainly recommend spending some time in a place like Africa. But lets face it, most of us can’t afford a trip like that, certainly not for long enough to gain the experience necessary to produce great photos there. If we do a trip like that at all it’s a one-off, what will you do for the rest of your life?
Almost every nature photography book you read, and every interview with a well-known nature photographer, will emphasize the importance of photographing what you know and have access to.
They have a point.
If you only want to photograph lions, and you live in Sydney’s western suburbs, you’re going to be a very sad and frustrated nature photographer. Broaden your interests to bugs, flowers and abstract patterns, and you will have a lifetime of enjoyment ahead of you.