My images fall into two distinct categories. They are either grabbed unplanned shots of a fleeting moment or ephemeral light. Alternatively, since the seasons govern life and death in the natural world, some can be planned weeks, or even months, in advance when I know the subject is most likely to be seen and then I can visualise the shot.
The aim of this irregular series is to explain – in 200 or less words – how I saw the image, how I lit and cropped it.
Our freshwater eels migrate down rivers to spawn in the sea. The first stage larva – the leptocephalus – is flattened and leaf-like. These change into the elvers or glass eels that migrate up rivers. They are most active at night, when fishermen on the River Severn catch them in large boat-shaped nets.
I realised the only way to capture the writhing glass eels and reveal the gills, heart and backbone within their transparent bodies, was in my studio. Using a small vertical tank – one of many I had designed to photograph aquatic life – two flash units were angled in obliquely behind the tank with a black velvet background. The composition was inevitably a fluid one since the bodies writhe incessantly. Using film, I shot on both 35mm and 6 x 6cm formats with no option to ‘chimp’ the shoot. Some frames failed because the elvers overlapped each other, but you only need a few.
This image has been used in textbooks, in articles about migrating animals and for ID in an aquarium display. The vertical format has negative space at the top for a masthead. Now that 45 years have elapsed, I doubt I could improve on the shot today.
This is a revised and shortened version of a much longer one that originally appeared in Nikon Owner Magazine http://www.nikonownermagazine.com/