On the weekend of 13/14 July 07 I attended a photography workshop sponsored by Tamron and run by Roy Toft, a professional nature photographer. This was my first ever photography lesson/workshop so Roy isn’t up against a great deal of competition when I say it was the best photography workshop I’ve ever been to.
But more seriously it was really good and I’d highly recommend the to anyone. I learnt a lot, but more than anything found myself energised by being around someone who so obviously loves what they do and after many years working at the highest levels of this craft is still learning and trying new things.
So what happened. Well the workshop began on a Friday night at Robi’s camera center in Tacoma. This was a pretty basic slide and talk show with Roy talking briefly about what he does but then launching into a selection of photos he had taken on a recent trip to Costa Rica. In talking about the photo’s Roy was completely candid about how they were taken and went into considerable detail concerning the problems each shot posed and how he set the shot up to overcome them.
Many (possibly all?) of Roys trips appear to double up as workshops where he takes amateurs out into the field with him and teaches them to shoot birds, bears and monkeys with real birds, bears and monkeys. I think it is this experience of teaching amateurs like me while also trying to do a professional shoot that gives Roy a special insight into the mistakes amateurs make. I know that just about everytime he said “One thing I see a lot of amateurs doing ……” I found myself nodding. The next day at the shoot I tried to follow his tips as much as I could and I found that I was a) enjoying my photography more, and b) getting some better photos (not all better but I’ll talk about that later).
So, I’ve got about ten pages of tips but I haven’t got my journal with me but here are a few of the things Roy said that really struck a chord with me:
1) Don’t feel you are cheating if you are using a long lens for nature photography. For animals in trees a long lens is actually preferable as it will lessen the angle between you and the animal and cut down on the number of butt shots you bring home.
2) When shooting animals on the ground however get as low as you can. Sitting over a lion and shooting down turns it into a cat, shooting down on a wolf turns it into a dog. While we don’t all get to shoot lions and wolfs the principle applied generally. Shooting down on animals reduces them, shooting at their level or up empowers them (and by extension your pictures).
3) When shooting wild animals don’t rely upon stumbling across them as you are both moving. Do your research, figure out where they are likely to be, get there early, sit still and wait. Consider using a blind. This will avoid a whole memory card of startled looks and butt shots as the animal is surprised and then runs. An animal going about its business naturally is a much better subject than one terrified into stillness.
4) White sux as a lens colour when trekking thru the scrub.
5) Shooting snakes with a 14mm lens is really dangerous.
6) The success of a day is measured in the quality of your best shots, not the quantity of animals you’ve bagged. If you get a good animal be prepared to really work the situation with different angles, different lighting. Be prepared to spend a 100 shots on snakes head to get the one perfect shot with his tongue out (for example). Don’t see an animal, get a shot away and think “bagged that one – moving on.”
7) Be prepared to play around a little. Great images aren’t just technically great, in fact sometimes the technical side is a little off, but they must create a great mood, convey a feeling, an ideal. We should be trying to capture the character of the animal.
8) While subject is the first consideration, background comes just behind. The difference between a good and great photo is often just the background.
9) Just because you can fill the frame with a monkeys face doesn’t mean you should. Be prepared to step back a little and try and put the animal in context.
10) Don’t feel you have to capture the whole animal. Figure out what you want the photo to say and show then work on what matters.
In addition to these general tips Roy passed on a wealth of more technical information which I’ve written down but haven’t got with me such as ideal shutter speeds for creating panning shots with flying birds, how to plan for the use of flash for freezing motion, etc.
Anyway, the Saturday was mostly spent at a wildlife reserve in Olympia (Nisqually Wildlife Refuge). There we tried to find animals to try out our new techniques. Unfortunately wildlife was a little thin on the ground however everything worked out when the group found a trail teeming with thousands of baby frogs and the odd salamander. In a flash the workshop turned into a very helpful lesson in how to do Macro in the field.
After that we went into the Olympia Farmers market for some food and more general photography practice then back to the store for general chat, handing out raffle surprises etc.
Something I have left out was that as the event was sponsored by Tamron a rep came along with 5 great trunks full of goodies for us to play with. In essence he had several copies of every just about every Tamron lens for every mount we could simply sign out and play with in the field. Unfortunately I came away from this needing another lens – bugger.
All in all a great day and a bit. On the strength of this day I would strongly recommend your check out Roy Toft’s website and I know I will now be trying to convince my wife we need a weeks holiday in Alaska with the bears in 2008.