Bob Brind-Surch has been a keen naturalist from a very young age and a photographer from his late teens. Nowadays, as a professional photographer, he considers himself foremost a naturalist who photographs what he observes rather than a photographer specialising in wildlife.
Bob’s presentation was divided into two parts. In the first part, he explained what drives him. Many years ago, he was given some really helpful advice by a great naturalist and photographer – the late HG Hurrell – who told him to always remember the “5Ps” of Passion, Patience, Practice, Preparation and Purpose.
Although these “5Ps” are applicable really to all genres of photography, Bob has always found them particularly helpful for wildlife photography. He talked us through them.
- Passion – This is the chief of all these Ps and it is absolutely critical. Unless you are passionate and prepared to learn all there is to know about a subject, you won’t take decent photos. And you have to capture that passion in your photographs. So, unless you are passionate about wildlife photography you won’t succeed. Bob quoted Lisa Langell (an American wildlife and fine art photographer) “Photography isn’t just documenting that you saw it – its capturing how you experienced the moment”.
- Patience – Wildlife doesn’t operate to a timetable and it isn’t predictable. This is not just the patience to wait for an animal to appear, but the patience to create your own photos and capture exactly the picture you envisage taking. Plus, you need patience to keep on trying and to improve. Bob quoted Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”.
- Practice – It really does make perfect. What you do must become second nature. You should try things out at home. Don’t wait until you are out in the field.
- Preparation – This is the key to success. Study your quarry. Study the location. Study the light. And set up your camera in advance – “leftover settings produce leftover pictures”.
- Purpose – Always set out with a purpose. Decide what you want to do and go for it.
Bob finished the first part with some “tips for success”.
- “Get down to their level.”
- “It’s all in the eyes.”
- Composition – While normal rules have some application, there are special rules for wildlife. And wildlife portraits, landscapes, and groups each have different rules.
In the second part, Bob covered “the technical stuff” – described as “what it takes to succeed”. Broadly, this covered equipment and fieldcraft.
In Bob’s view, while equipment is important, it’s not the whole answer. He gave us the benefit of his huge experience on:
- supports (ie, tripods, monopods, beanbags, etc) and appropriate heads (solid ball for static stuff but gimbals for flying shots);
- camera bodies (including SLR v mirrorless, full frame v cropped, ISO and noise, and autofocus);
- lenses – “your single most important investment” – and teleconverters; and
- focusing (including the benefits, and limitations, of autofocus and a strong recommendation for the technique of back button focussing.
On fieldcraft, Bob’s main advice was basically “make yourself as invisible as possible”. Aids to this included camouflage clothing and portable/bag hides.
Bob’s illustrated presentation showed us how to capture the natural world – both large (giraffes, gorillas, lions, cheetahs) and small (harvest mice) and both exotic (East Africa) and domestic (UK). It was an excellent start to the New Year. His inspiring and instructive presentation, embellished with plenty of his own excellent photographs, should encourage us all to go out and explore the natural world with our cameras. Just remember the “5Ps”!
More about Bob’s activities, including workshops and safaris, as well as tips and techniques and his “musings”, can be found at https://naturesphotos.co.uk