Talk by Andy Sands (XRR) 21 September 2017
As a camera club, clearly speakers that talk about and show us their high quality images are going to be of interest. Well not always! Furthermore someone who is involved in the business and runs a successful camera shop could have interesting things to tell us. Not necessarily! A man with a lifetime of experience and enthusiasm for wildlife of all sizes and bangs on relentlessly about it – well that could be positively boring. Someone with all three of these properties rolled into one would be an astonishing find but if by any chance they were able to make it all, not just interesting, but riveting, then that would have to be a miracle! Well that miracle exists – his name is Andy Sands.
He has been to us many times before – however this time we forgot to inform him he was booked! Not until a couple of weeks before the date that is, when our programme secretary would automatically double check with a visitor to avoid a no-show disaster on the night. He was booked of course, just not until November and we had re-shuffled some dates and forgotten to ask him. However as those will know that do these sort of performances or even just write copy for magazines time pressure can produce one’s best work. Andy was dropped in it with two weeks to prepare. What we got was a master class not just on the subjects he covered but how he covered them.
Someone had very recently asked him to give them a talk on trees so he started with some of the images he was getting together for that. He admitted that they had been a more difficult subject than he had thought. (We all sighed in collective agreement.) His images were fine of course and he had examples of some very ancient specimens (100 years per meter of girth being the rule of thumb when you don’t want to fell them and count their rings.) There are some 1500 year old trees quite close – he showed us some of them. He explained the significance of pollarded oaks. The very old (largest) ones marking the boundary to Henry VIII’s hunting estate. They can be traced all the way down into the west country and back in a great big loop. Some estate, but more importantly some research there from Andy now word perfect on a new subject.
While examining these trees close up of course he couldn’t resist a glance at the fungi close by - getting smaller. Then of course the occasional microscopic insect that lives on them - smaller still. The Honey Fungus has one particularly delightful looking tenant it would seem. He had its picture and knew its name. You could see he was even happier when getting down in the leaf litter – and various other sorts of litter as well – and arranging LED lighting and small soft boxes around the floor and mounting his camera underneath the tripod for very close up, on the same level, photos. His subtle use of focus stacking then gave these originally tiny specimens enormous presence. They too now began to resemble trees and many no higher than a centimetre! Once again he explained that by using a fairly open aperture (f5.6) the background was always way out of focus but all the subject was kept sharp by way of the multiple (sometimes up to 60) individual images all at slightly different focal points through a depth of perhaps only a centimetre or so.
A few months before he had been asked by Olympus to test their new OM-D EM-1 Mk2. He was presented with the camera and various additional lenses from very wide angle to 600mm. Obviously Olympus realised that Andy could be very useful promoting this both by way of his camera shop and even more his ability to put together talks and deliver them in an entertaining way. The camera had allowed Andy to be even more creative and do some astonishing stuff often hand held! It isn’t full chip (which of course helps for close-ups) but it is 20mps. It will shoot 18 frames per sec in total silence, it’s half the weight of a conventional DSLR and even has a focus stacking application built in if one doesn’t have the software on one’s own computer. Furthermore the image stabilisation was so effective it could compensate for 6 stops no less. In no time Andy was going out without his trusty original but bulky equipment and relying solely on the Olympus admittedly with a few extension tubes and so forth. He smuggled it on holiday with them (not heavy) and in no time was capturing beautiful images of the hovering hawk moth he spotted in the greenery around the swimming pool!
He showed us some pictures of butterflies and dragon flies in such detail that he could enlarge to stupendous sizes and still retain perfect clarity. It was a case of hairs on hairs. Almost pictures through microscopes. Just to prove it was no projected trickery he brought along some A3 prints of parts of the creatures. Quite astonishing. This is what happens when you put the latest technology in the hands of a genius. Wonderful to look at.
He had also explained the trials and tribulations involved in more conventional wild life photography when working in the North. He showed us a barn owl he had been training to come to a post for the last two years! He had perfected his silent routine to such a degree that eventually he had to make a noise to attract the birds attention so that for one frame at least it faced him! At the same time cleverly illustrating the advantages of shooting in RAW especially of a subject with so much white on it. He also explained how much time could be involved in getting the perfect shot of a nesting bird feeding its young. One particular specimen holed up in a stone built bridge led him a merry dance. Once he had traced it to its nest and set up a hide a few feet away in the dead of night he was then in it two days dawn to dusk, got thousands of frames of the bird arriving with food but just one of it not obscuring the chicks. Just one!
It is this full depth look into the work involved in his sort of photography and the amusing and often self deprecating way he does it that makes Andy’s talks so absorbing and accessible. Furthermore one went away feeling that it was all possible if you were willing to be patient and it didn’t rely upon extremes of photo-shop trickery. The man should be on the television twice a week instead of one, if not all, of those infernal cooking competitions.
Open PDIs Round 1 - Judge: Pat Begley (Wycombe and Marlow CCs). 14th September 2017
A fresh judge for Park Street to open our new season. Pat Begley is a member of both Marlow and High Wycombe clubs, an experienced photographer but has been a judge for only a few years, so the early enthusiasm for the job hasn’t worn off yet.
I have to admit to being slightly biased here as it was she who was in charge at High Wycombe on the occasion of my very first judging job and was most encouraging. She was also reading out the titles to me in a clear voice from the front row and made that part easier too. No surprise then that we could all hear what she had to say when she visited us.
I have mentioned before that our system of grouping all abilities together does tend to create a more difficult scenario for the judge. It is tricky to adjust the style and depth of the comments and suggestions on any image if one has no idea of the author’s experience. Furthermore the judge is having to remember an enormous number of images from the run through (when they mentally try to put them in order right away or at least select the best and worst) then get the level of scores correct right from the start. This is all much easier when the competition is broken down into smaller sections and usually has the effect of finishing with a fairer result as well.
So over 60 images was a task. She opted to score them all straight away too, rather than hold back any thus making it even more difficult! Despite that she ran beautifully to time and actually finished with a screen of nine attractive and differing 20s’ from which to select the winners. The two stand-out shots were clear and had to be 1st and 2nd. Terry Day’s “Dark Glasses” portrait top and Connie Fitzgerald’s beautiful “Robin” portrait runner up. This shot was different from so many on this subject by way of the bird’s interesting pose which allowed the author to get nearly all the creature perfectly sharp. A technical masterpiece. The close up rugby football shot from Miranda Steward snatched third place from a collection of six other 20s. Pat enjoyed the immediacy and the low camera angle and quite rightly wondered how the author had got into such a position to take it. Sadly this meant that Chris Gilberts “Blue on Blue” butterfly image (with delicate two tone key line) was only 4th but highly commended none the less along with Sue Hipperson’s “Sweet but Exhausting”. Of the remainder Jeremy Frazer-Mitchell’s “St Stephens Basilica” ceiling image appealed from the point of view of symmetry and clarity and David Butlers “Bashful Yorkshire Seal Pup” won on the ‘ah’ factor and wonderful whiskers!
Further down the lists there were, it had to be said, some slightly higher than expected scores which is inevitable when compressing the range down to only 20 -15 and there were only three of those. How polite of the winner Terry Day when accepting, to acknowledge the help given to him by John Jennings in improving his portrait techniques. Particularly as in many ways our chairman John was the hero of the hour having driven the computer/new projector link all night without a hitch despite a serious system failure a few minutes before the start! Very cool and professional.
The new season starts on 7th September (7.45 for 8.00 at the Parish Centre)
The subject for the evening is "Holiday Snaps" and we hope members will bring lots of interesting images, not just of their summer holidays but anything that they have been photographing during the summer break.
Exhibition at St Stephens Gardening Club Annual Show
The club will exhibit a number of members' photos at the annual Gardening Club show at How Wood School on 9th September. The prints were chosen from those in the Print of the Year competition at the end of last season, and we are grateful to the authors for the loan of their work.