Last Updated: 13-8-2020 18:24

By now, club members should all have been emailed my report for the AGM, so rather than repeat myself here, I'll provide an update on what I've been up to photographically over the last few months.

Where has the year gone? It seems like only yesterday I wrote my October 2019 report for the club website, and we’re now in August and, already into the new club financial and competition year. Of course the club takes a two month break over summer, and the club had barely settled back in to club meetings when Covid-19 came along and disrupted the world. 

Obviously lockdown has had some impact on the ability to get out and about to do photography, however even under Level-4, I would take my camera with me when I went out for my socially distanced walks. I’m lucky enough to live near the Wither Hills, and also have a big garden jungle, so I found a few opportunities for natural history photography, and revisit some landscapes with different lenses. I now have lenses covering focal lengths all the way from 10mm to 500mm on my APS-C body, so with effectively 50x zoom at my disposal, albeit with a few lens changes along the way, it’s been interesting to work out how to capture a location with each different extreme of focal length.

My wife frequently asks me why I’ve accumulated such an assortment of photographic equipment, especially if I try to carry too much of it around with me, but my explanation is that each item is intended for a specific task. In spite of having a reasonable selection of lenses at my disposal, sometimes it’s nice to go out with just a single lens.

Recently I acquired a 35mm prime lens (a lens with a fixed focal length), which is equivalent to a 50mm standard lens on a film or full-frame DSLR camera when used on my APS-C body, and it’s been fun to go out without taking any other lenses, and experiment with what I can create. This puts me under similar constraints to what many photographers had as they recorded history, often creating iconic images, so it’s an interesting exercise to try. Even if you only have zoom lenses, you can still try this, as most lenses have a focal length scale, so if you have a crop sensor (APS-C) body, set the zoom to 35mm, or if you’re one of those privileged to own a full frame body, set it to 50mm and don’t change it while you’re out and about. You’ll have to move yourself to create interesting compositions, but that will force you to think about what you’re trying to capture, rather than just zooming in or out in the hopes of getting something, and there's still room for creativity working with the exposure triangle to achieve different effects.

Another thing that’s happened with my photography during the last few months, is I’ve found myself increasingly being drawn to documentary photography. Covid-19 has brought unprecedented changes to the world, and a whole season has passed with people restricted in their movements. I have a whole series of teddy bear photos (and other toys) from a walk around the streets of Blenheim near home during lockdown. None of them are likely to be what would qualify as ‘competition’ images, however they are a record of history, and they are important for that reason.

Just after the Level 4 lockdown ended, I received a new phone, and although it only has a fairly modest camera, it does have raw support, and in good light produces acceptable images even as jpgs. My main reason for acquiring the phone was to have more reliable GPS than my old one, as I’ll often take phone snapshots in a location I’m photographing with my DSLR so that I can geotag the images from the DSLR later in Lightroom by matching with the map location shown from the phone photo. It turns out the phone is often perfectly adequate for documentary images to simply record a place, event or organism, if you’re not going to get into a lot of Photoshop editing or produce large prints. At the end of June, a casual photo taken on my phone of a fern on the Wither Hills turned into a minor biosecurity scare as one of NZ’s top fern experts identified it as a highly invasive species that has become a major issue in Canterbury, and wanted to be sure it didn’t become established here. I was copied in on some emails between MDC and Landcare Research scientists, who confirmed the identification, although fortunately only one specimen was found on the Wither Hills. That’s certainly the kind of consequences you expect every day from natural history photography, on a phone at that, but it just shows there’s more to photography than competitions and photographic art.

Everyone has their own reasons for taking photos, and there’s no right or wrong reason. Judges often criticise competition images as being ‘nothing more than a record shot’, however in some cases, a simple record of a moment in time might be exactly what you’re intending to create, and it’s an absolutely legitimate reason to take a photo, even if it will never win any photo competitions. Of course different photographic interests and skill levels among members also makes keeping the club interesting and relevant for everyone an ongoing challenge, so I encourage members to speak up if you’ve got ideas for club activities.

Chris Cookson