HEATHER ANGEL DSc MSc FBIPP FRPS
From those of you who are just curious about my work, to students and editors needing to write a profile, I have grouped the FAQ under the following headings:
- EARLY BEGINNINGS
- WORKING ON LOCATION
- DIGITAL – PROS AND CONS
- POST PRODUCTION
- IMAGES THAT SELL
- HOW HAS YOUR WORK EVOLVED?
- WORK IN PROGRESS
- HOW TO BECOME A WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER
Did an interest in wildlife or photography come first?
My love for the natural world was inspired by my maternal grandmother telling me the names of the wildflowers we found whilst walking in the lanes near the Suffolk farm, where my grandparents lived and I spent many summer holidays. Sadly, never with a camera, since my first was a 21st birthday present– an Exakta Varex11a.
What photographers influenced you?
Eliot Porter (author of Galapagos: The Flow of Wildness) inspired me to take up photography in the first place and make my first long haul flight – to the Galápagos in 1972.
How did you get started in wildlife photography?
After I graduated in Zoology, I did a Masters in Marine Biology by research (both at Bristol University) and began photographing marine life. After I married Martin Angel – an oceanographer – I could not find a local job so I started to give adult education lectures in the evenings. When my first book Nature Photography, its art and techniques was published in 1972, I turned freelance and never looked back as various photo magazines asked me to write for them.
Later, I asked editors/picture researchers what subjects they had difficulty in resourcing and they said endemic species from remote oceanic islands. So, in December 1972, I flew out to the Galapagos on my first long haul trip.
What cameras do you use?
All digital – Nikon D4 and D800
Hasselblad H4D-40 with HC 80mm & HC Macro 120mm lenses
What lenses do you use?
- Nikon AF-S Nikkor 12 – 24mm f4 G ED zoom
- Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24 – 120mm f3.5 / 5.6 G zoom
- Nikon AF-SVR 105mm f2.8 G Micro-Nikkor
- Nikon AF 70 – 180mm f4.5 / 5.6 Micro-Nikkor
- Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70 – 200mm f2.8 GII ED zoom
- Nikon AF-S VR 200-400mm f4 ED zoom
- Nikon AF-S Nikkor f4 D 500mm
- Nikon TC 17E 11 Tele-Converter
- Nikon TC 20E 111 Tele-Converter AF-S
What is your favourite lens?
This depends on size and accessibility of subject. For most wildlife, my 500mm f/4 is my favourite, but for more accessible animals and groups of larger animals, I love the AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor ED 200-400mm f/4 lens – the longest of the AF zoom Nikkors. It has high-speed AF Internal Focusing (IF) driven by a Silent Wave Motor (SWM) and Vibration Reduction (VR). I also do a lot of macro work and find the 105mm Micro-Nikkor is a superb lens.
If you could take only one lens on a trip, which one would this be?
It would have to be the AF-S Nikkor 70 – 200mm f2.8 GII ED zoom lens, together with the X1.7 and X2.0 tele-converters gives me a range from 70-400mm. With a small extension tube, I can also use it for taking larger butterflies and wary reptiles on the hoof.
What additional equipment do you take into the field?
SanDisk Extreme Pro 16GB CF cards
Gitzo carbon fibre GT3540 6X without a centre column so they legs can collapse down to ground level topped with a Really Right Stuff BH-35 ballhead. Tripod leg warmers for cold weather work.
Benbo Mark 1 – for working in water, since the lower leg segments slide up over the upper ones, they can safely be immersed in water up to just below the locking knob. I also use Benbo tripods to support a flash off the camera on uneven grind, since the unique locking lever enables the tripod to be safely set up on uneven ground and very speedily locked in position.
Flash – on location
Nikon SB-900 speedlight
Honl portable softbox for flash
Nikon Creative Lighting system – controlled by wireless
Nikon SB-R1C1 Commander Kit – wireless macro flash system
Visual Echoes Better Beamer Flash X-tender™ for long lenses
Reflectors and diffusers
Larger Lastolite Trigrips for larger subjects outside
Nikon SB-R1C1 Commander Kit – wireless macro flash system
Really Right Stuff (RRS) B150-B: Macro focusing rail
Novoflex BALPRO1 Universal Bellows
Backgrounds – black velvet, artist’s boards, stone slabs, bamboo mats, wood blocks
Lastolite reflectors and diffusers – small ones for macro work. Even cooking foil wrapped around a piece of card or a notebook makes a cheap and handy reflector
Short for Plamp clamp, made by Wimberley. These clamps are invaluable for steadying a plant stem in a persistent breeze. They are also useful for precisely holding a small reflector or diffuser. Plamp 11 is far superior in design to the original Plamp.
Flash – Studio
Nikon SB-900 speedlight
Honl softbox for flash
Nikon SB-R1C1 Commander Kit – wireless macro flash system
Paul C. Buff Einstein 640WS high speed flash up to 1/13,000 sec
Reflectors and diffusers
Larger Lastolite Trigrips for the studio
What accessory is most essential on a trip?
My field notebook. I would be lost without it. I never record my exposures since they travel with the image in he metadata, instead I jot down all the things which may not be apparent in a picture – the smells and sounds, the changeable weather, how animals interact before and after I have taken pictures plus local and scientific names of plants. This is a huge help when I come to writing extended captions, articles, books and blog posts.
WORKING ON LOCATION
How do you organise a shoot?
Research web, send emails to people on the ground, wardens, biologists, researchers, etc. Make notes of what goals I hope to achieve. Try to ensure I am on site at the peak time – but weather may be unpredictable. Clothing for specific habitats are kept in specific drawers for speedy access:
• polar regions
Do you work on your own or take a team with you to your shoots?
I have no camera assistants. Often I work on my own, but sometimes I work with other professional photographers and we plan a trip together to share costs or I may join a small botanical tour with a leader who knows what plants grow where. Working on my own in China, I have my own driver and English-speaking guide, because few drivers speak English and it is essential to be able to communictae when Plan A fails (usually because of over-enthusiastic road works blasting so much debris, it cannot be cleared for days) and we have to hastily dream up Plan B.
Do you plan your location shots?
I plan to be in the right place at the right time so far as the animals being there, but most fast action shots are not planned. I react to the situation and the Nikon D4 focus locks onto the subject very quickly. Sometimes I go to a location and wait for the shot – like spending time in Iceland where there are 6 million Atlantic puffins to get some action flight shots. Also the snow monkeys bathing in their thermal pool with a wide angle lens to show the winter habitat.
If you had to concentrate on one type of animal what would it be and why?
Mammals – because they have pliable faces and interesting behaviour. Having made many trips to China in all seasons specifically to photograph giant pandas, I have invested more time and money on this single species. But it has been worth it as I have written many articles about pandas and three books about China’s natural treasure – including Giant Pandas and Panda.
What is your favourite location?
It is difficult to compare a rainforest location with a desert, African savannah or a polar region; but once you have experienced the far south, there is nothing to compare with Antarctica. The weather can be diabolical but at times the light is quite magical. China also holds a great fascination for me and I made 32 trips there between 1984 to 2010.
What is your most dangerous moment?
There were two. Firstly, in the Galapagos when I was snorkelling from a boat and I looked around to check my buddy was close behind – only to see a male sealion steaming flat out towards me. I have never swum so fast! Fortunately, he lost interest and turned around once I was outside his territory.
Secondly, in Sri Lanka when a Japanese TV company was shooting a documentary about me. We had switched off the engine of our jeep to listen to bird song at dusk when a bull elephant suddenly emerged from the forest with his ears flapping and trunk raised as he charged towards us. My driver tried in vain to switch on the engine and reverse rapidly. Just as the elephant approached our jeep, he suddenly decided to veer off back into the forest. However, during this episode (way before digital days) I had the foresight to up the ISO on the film I had already started so I could use a fast shutter speed in fast fading light – so that even if I wasn’t still around to see the shots other people might appreciate them.
Do you shoot in RAW or Jpeg?
DIGITAL – PROS AND CONS
I love using digital and was an early convert, although the first cameras were pretty hopeless – after taking just a few frames, you had to wait for the image to write to the card, not much good for action shots! Also, you could not push the ISO much above 200 without getting obvious noise. In my Exploring Natural China book on pages 120-121 and 128-129 there are several images of white-cheeked gibbons in the rainforest in the far south of Yunnan Province (borders onto Laos and Vietnam). Here I spent 4 days hand-holding my Nikon D3 with an 80-400mm lens and an SB800 flash so I could work in a completely fluid way and fill-flash the gibbons overhead against a bright sky behind. These are the best images I have taken of primates in the field and were only possible by pushing up the ISO to 1000, 1200 and even 2000 – quite impossible to do with film.
When experimenting with new lighting techniques, it is very useful to check the result before a long shoot.
The downside of digital is the time spent in front of a computer. It is for this reason I try to compose in the camera, so I don’t have a lot of work to do in post-production.
Do you change your photographs or do you leave them as they are?
I resent spending too much time in front of a computer, but I do have to convert all RAW images to Tiffs in Adobe Bridge. I may adjust Levels slightly. Before working in Photoshop, I change to 16 bit and make slight adjustments such as using Shadow / Highlights, the gradient tool and tweaking individual colours in Selective Color. I may cut out images for dropping in anywhere on a page with a white background. So apart from cropping out distractions at the edge of the frame, touching out particles in the water of aquatic life shots, removing wires or jet trails across the sky, I rarely do much else. In the case of macro flowers often I do nothing at all, because in calm conditions it should be possible to compose a shot with precision – unlike when shooting fast action.
What techniques do you find useful when editing your images?
I use CS6 Adobe Bridge as a browser of the RAW images. When I have taken action shots, I look at the enlarged image in the browser and do a tight edit deleting ones that are not sharp in the correct place. The best ones I mark with a colour flash below each image.
IMAGES THAT SELL
What pictures sell well?
Eye-to-eye portraits of mammals, action shots, cute youngsters – fluffy baby birds and mammals – bizarre animals and anything with a humorous angle. Any macro shots with stunning lighting also go well. A surprising consistent seller is a sliced loaf covered in mould, which gets used in textbooks.
What is your best-selling photo?
The largest single fee was for a rather dull photo of a complete giraffe (without vegetation hiding the feet), used in a FIAT Panda campaign – in the national press, on the Underground, on poster hoardings and on buses. The giraffe was cut out and covered with black and white panda markings. But the image that has sold more times than any other (and made more money in total) is of a real panda sliding down a snowy slope in China with all four feet up in the air – see Wild China gallery.
Do you have to promote your services widely?
Marketing is essential. We send out email flyers when we have added interesting new stock on my commercial website www.naturalvisions.co.uk I also have a site for my workshops and one-to-one tuition days www.photographyandphotoshopcourses.co.uk
In addition I have, somewhat belatedly, appreciated the value of social media and now actively post images on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM.
Do you have a print portfolio?
Not now, as I am not pitching for commissioned work. Instead, I conceive book projects and pitch for those with PowerPoint presentations on a iPad.
Where is the best place to source professional portfolio supplies?
The only one I ever bought was for prints years ago made by Plastic Sandwich – from a single piece of matt black leather – exquisite minmalistic design and very unobtrusive, so it does not overpower the prints. They call it a leather print book. They now do a black leather cover for iPads,.
HOW HAS YOUR WORK EVOLVED?
Over the years, I have photographed a very wide range of plant and animal subjects – from photomicrographs of water fleas (Daphnia) to whales. Early on, I used a camera to document my marine biological research, which was useful – if not madly original. Gradually, I began to experiment with lighting techniques – especially for macro subjects – originally designing my own special small aquaria for dark field illumination and now using multi-flash and high speed flash.
Gradually, as I gained feedback from my images, I began to sell prints from my exhibition images. Most recently, I’ve worked on animal/plant associations and most especially on pollination mechanisms for a large five-year book project with Kew Gardens – Pollination Power – working at Kew, in my studio and in 20 countries it is due to be published in October 2015. I have been producing images that illustrate aspects of flowers that have never been seen before. So, this project is a wonderful marriage of art and science and it would not have been possible without working with digital images. As a biologist, my philosophy has always been to take authentic images so they can provide accurate imformation and help to educate young and old alike.
Do you conceive and visualise your images before taking them?
This is rarely possible with grab shots but if I have the luxury of time, I do think about and work on the lighting. It is however easier to set up special lighting in the sudio than in the field when conditions are more upredictable, animals may not hang around and plants may move persistently.
What inspires you?
My curiosity to record aspects of animal behaviour and how best to light plants to reveal their structure in relation to function inspires me. In addition, the varied ways in which plants and animals interact.
WORK IN PROGRESS
What are you currently working on?
- Having devoted 5 years to working on my pollination project for Kew, I am now catching up on many small projects, which were put on a back burner.
- During the last few years I have taken hundreds of focus stacks of flowers in my studio. I am continuing to take focus stacks of flowers in the studio. They are processed using Zerene Stacker software http://www.zerenesystems.com/cms/stacker
- an exhibition based on my Pollination Power book.
- taking at least one new macro shot each day.
- attempting to become a regular blogger.
Have you shot any videos?
Not yet, but I plan to do so this year.
HOW TO BECOME A WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER
What are the qualities needed for being a wildlife photographer?
- patience – waiting for hours, sometimes in cold / rain
• empathy and love for subjects
• knowledge about where animals live, what they feed on and when they breed, etc.etc.
- develop your own style
How do you become a freelance photographer?
- take images which are original or tell a story – even about a common animal
- get them published in a local paper and, better still, a national paper
- tweet about them
- set up your own website
- contact magazines – local ones if it has a local slant or wildlife magazines to suggest a photo essay or an illustrated article if you enjoy writing
How do you survive financially when starting out?
Make sure to gain an income from another source as you won’t be able to make a lot of money until you are established.
I lectured for Extra-Mural Departments at London, Southampton and Bristol universities five nights a week for several months to pay for my photography for the whole year.
Are there any disadvantages to what you do?
- irregular working hours – have to work when wildlife is active
- work 24/7 and much longer days than a 9-5 job
- best wildlife areas in remote places often out of Wi-Fi access
What are the advantages to what you do?
- no two days are the same
- work outside a lot
- see some beautiful parts of the world
Do you think it helps to write as well as photograph?
Definitely. It is often easier to sell images as a photo / text package. For me writing and photography are like a symbiotic relationship – one fuels the other. Sometimes I get an idea for a blog from an image I have taken, from a topical item online or on TV news.