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Monday, October 1, 2007

The Wild Life

Heather Angel got her start as a biologist photographing whales and has become one of the leading nature photographers of the past quarter-century, communicating her enthusiasm for the natural world through her writing, workshops and lectures

the wild life
Eye of a Parson’s chameleon, Madagascar. While many nature photographers are preoccupied with showing full bodies and focusing exclusively on behavior, Angel captures the beauty in close-up images that are almost abstractions as well.
Outdoor Photographer: What equipment are you working with today and why?

I’ve been fully digital for several years now. My workhorses are Nikon D2x bodies. My current Nikkor lenses include a 12-24mm, a 24-120mm VR and a 70-300mm for fast-action hand-held shots; my favorite lens is the 200-400mm ƒ/4 VR, with the 500mm ƒ/4 for smaller mammals and birds. If I need more length, I’ll use a 1.4x teleconverter.

For macro work, I use the 105mm VR Micro-Nikkor and the 80-200mm Micro-Nikkor zoom for speedy and precise framing of wary insects, amphibians or reptiles.

Available light is modified using reflectors, diffusers and a Nikon Speedlight SB-800. I use a variety of tripods, depending on the terrain—a mini British-made Benbo for mountain flowers because it’s lighter than the standard Benbo and is very speedy to adjust on uneven ground. Otherwise, I use a large Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod without a center column so I can use it at eye level one moment and at ground level the next.

For studio work using controlled lighting for small aquatic life and plant structure, I use the digital H1D Hasselblad tethered to a laptop so I have instant feedback on light and shadows or the depth of field, all of which can be tweaked either from the camera or the laptop.

Outdoor Photographer:
As you’ve come to embrace the digital world, what do you see as its biggest pros and cons?

No longer do I have to deliberate what range of film speeds to take abroad. I simply change the ISO rating to suit the subject as light levels change throughout the day. Also, airport X-rays are no longer a worry.

When working close to our office, it’s a huge advantage to be able to shoot an image and get it up on our Website within a few minutes.

the wild life
An emperor penguin chick flexing flippers, Riiser-Larsen Rookery, Antarctica.
Before working in the field at home or abroad, I have to check if there are power points available for recharging camera batteries and downloaders. On one seabird island off Scotland, I discovered gas was the sole power source for lighting and cooking! When overseas, universal power adapters are a vital accessory.

Photoshop is a highly creative tool. The downside is that it can be used to produce digital images that are biological untruths. We’ve all seen wall-to-wall zebras without a blade of grass visible or a lone adult penguin in the center of a chick créche. In China, recently, I spotted a King penguin head had been added to a diving Adélie penguin body. This may seem unimportant in an advertisement, but the danger is once such an image appears in the public domain, it’s well nigh impossible to prevent it being used in educational productions.

Nonetheless, I believe the future will be just as rewarding for me as during my pioneering days. As the big agencies continue to expand, notably those that operate by auto-upload of images without any editing of captions or keywords, inevitably inaccuracies will creep in.

I predict clients who don’t have to have immediate supply, yet want a correct ID of an image—for example, a worm is not just a worm; it can be an earthworm, a flatworm, a ragworm, a roundworm, a leech or even a tapeworm—will turn to specialist sources such as Natural Visions, who have the knowledge where their images were taken and what they depict.

You can see more of Heather Angel’s work at www.heatherangel.co.uk.


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