‘RAW Nature: Images Uncovered' 12 February 2019   
Oliver Smart’s excitingly titled presentation attracted a large audience on Tuesday evening. Oliver, who studied ornithology at Birmingham University, took us through his approach to Wildlife photography, providing many, and sometimes surprising, tips along the way. His presentation was accompanied by an array of wonderful images, many of which have appeared on the covers and in articles of magazines and books.
OS peregrineHe started by going through the equipment that he regards as essential for photographing wildlife.  He prefers full-frame cameras and has a vast array of lenses, from 600mm coupled with 2X converter, through mid-range and wide angle to fish-eye and macro lenses. He uses low-tripods, angle finders, extension tubes and bean bags (filled with rice, sand, earth or similar on arrival at his destination).
Oliver advised taking binoculars to find wildlife and he also uses waist belts on location so that he doesn’t have to keep taking off is back pack when tired.
And who knew that a kitchen tray with a tripod head screwed to it was ideal for getting down low and protecting your camera from wet grass! And for keeping other accessories to hand! Another tip for keeping all your camera equipment with you on flights was to take a large coat with lots of pockets and remove lenses and other equipment from your camera bag to reduce its weight! You don’t even need to wear the coat as it won’t be included in the bag weight!
OS merlinMoving on to planning your photography, Oliver advised that the key question should be “What is your end goal?” What wildlife do you want to photograph and where will you find them? Think about where the animals can be found, how scarce they are and the difficulty of getting to them and being able to photograph them.
Oliver made a distinction between captive and controlled subjects. He showed us a Merlin on a post set up for one of his workshops at the Hawk Conservancy as an example of a captive subject. He talked about how butterflies can be moved from one position to a better composition location before they have warmed up sufficiently to fly, and how birds can be controlled by the judicious positioning of feed.
Research is also important, Oliver said, and, as well as knowing sunrise and sunset times, includes checking the weather forecast, location access and the behaviour of the subject. Depending on how close you want to get to the subject, the availability of cover, be it hides, topography or greenery, should be investigated.
OS penguinsOliver also talked about the techniques he uses to maximise his chances of getting commercially useable images. The most important issue is to focus on the eye of the subject using an aperture of between f5.6 - f8. If the eye isn’t sharp, the image won’t work. He also advocated using AV mode to control depth of field and to use lighter exposures (load the histogram to the right) to maximise the flexibility of image processing.
He showed us a series of images of a stone curlew where he had adjusted the depth of field to illustrate the camouflage effect of the bird. He told us not to be afraid to play with depth of field or to increase the ISO in low light to ensure a higher shutter speed as it is important to get a sharp image even if there is some noise.
He told us how props, such as plant clamps, are useful to help prevent movement or to keep plants out of the way of the main subject. and the use of sets to generate a stage to lure animals in with food is also a good way of bringing subjects closer to the camera.
He also talked about more advanced techniques, such as shooting birds in flight, capturing the interaction of different animals and showing animals in their habitat. He said that he tries to tell a story through his images. He showed us a series of photos that illustrated these techniques including birds carrying nesting material, surfing Gentian penguins and feeding Striated Caracara on the Falkland Islands.
Oliver ended his presentation by telling us about his workshops and the availability of a hide he runs near Avebury where we could photograph Kites, Buzzards, Ravens and Jackdaws. Details are on his website
Our chairman closed the evening with heartfelt thanks for a very informative session which demonstrated Oliver’s passion for his subject. DF
Images © Oliver Smart