Tuesday 2 February meeting: Jerry Webb photo challenge and Helen Webb wildlife photography

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Jerry expertly commented on members’ entries to his photo challenge to take a couple of black and white photographs from a ‘different’ point of view. The entries varied in subject matter and angle and view and were very impressive and creative responses to the challenge. Jerry described and analysed each one and commented on how it worked in terms of expressing a mood, feeling or emotion. Time was tight so he could not ask each member to respond to his analysis. None-the-less his comments were insightful and very well structured, and focussing on his response to the image rather than the rigid strictures of camera club conventions was a refreshing.


Helen childhood was spent on a family farm which gave her a love and knowledge of wildlife from an early age. Photography came later. Her aunt was a photographer and Helen was given a Zenit camera as a child, and while her trusty 400mm lens is 20 years old she has upgraded her camera from that original Zenit.


Before showing her superb wildlife images Helen gave some very useful tips to build the foundation for good wildlife photography: Patience, Concentration, Planning, Camera Knowledge, Know your subject and where it lives and revisit the area – and the all important element – a bit of luck.


Helen started with images near her home. She tends to walk an area close by looking for tell-tale signs of wildlife activity. If promising she will return and set up her hide, also set up herself for a shot and wait and wait and wait for something to happen, ensuring she is ready when it does happen.


Helen took us through the ‘trial’ shots that were when things were not as she would have wanted and on to the ones that worked well. It all takes time and she can spend three to four hours in a hide, she admits that sometimes she falls asleep. Helen prefers shots that capture the animal or bird’s behaviour and character rather than ‘record’ shots.


She also showed shots from a trip to the Cairngorms she organised with other club members. She showed excellent shots of ospreys, grouse, oyster catchers, red squirrel, heron with water vole in its beak and a common mallard duck taking off from the water, the latter shot won a photographic prize – don’t overlook the less exotic creatures.


We were then treated to a trip in Botswana along the Chobe River. On a purpose-built flat-bottomed boat with a sharp-eyed guide-cum-river pilot Helen looked for shots out of the ordinary with her ‘one camera-one lens’ set up. She showed good close-up shots of the large animals close to the river’s edge and in the river – buffaloes, hippos, crocodiles – high-key shots of baboons and elephants, back lit shots where she got good separation of the animals’ four legs in silhouette.


She ended her talk with a series of high-key shots of elephants. The light is usually very harsh during the day in tropical Africa, this allows Helen to be creative with her exposures. When the elephants emerge from a water hole their skin is wet and almost pitch black. Helen exposes for the dark skin so she can get all the detail in the skin and the background is over exposed. In post-production she can emphasise this difference between subject and background and also by converting the images to black and white she gets these astonishing images.