The early days
I am, like most photographers, a sucker for shiny new toys. During my navy days, 1963 to 1974, one could buy a brand new Hasselblad camera in Asia for a fraction of the price here in Australia. I recall being so proud of my Hasselblad cameras that I set it at the end of the bed and stared at it until I fell asleep. I usually always slept with them in the same room, much to the annoyance of my partner.
In those days we used Ektachrome 64 ASA in our medium-format cameras. During the sixties and seventies, the only time I squeezed a trigger was underwater, and of course the camera was hidden away in an underwater housing. My biggest burden was that I only had twelve frames on a roll of film, no 22o (24 exposure) film then! I never would have dreamed that I would one day have memory cards that could allow hundreds of shots on a single dive. I had twelve, and treated every frame as if it were the last! I am sure this discipline made me more careful with focus, composition and exposure. I remember getting very upset if I squeezed off a shot of a fish too soon or too late and consequently wasted a frame. Such sacrilege.
I also remember, on so many occasions, the dreadful wait for the processed film to be returned from the lab 200 km away. When the processed film strip finally arrived, I would dash to the light box and, with immense anticipation, flatten the uncut film down and reach for the magnifying glass. The fleeting seconds between rolling out the film, seeing the colour, and leaning forward to magnify the beauty (or the muck ups!) were the best. It was thrilling to say the least. After all, in 20 m or more of water, only muted colour is visible to the eye, and only for a split second when the flash erupts. On the light box the truth is revealed. These were the years, from the beginning of my career until around 1974. After that, my “viewing” experience changed.
A move to smaller format
By 1974, I was exclusively using 35 mm film on land and a mixture of 35 mm and 120 mm film underwater. In this smaller format, the rolls of film rose to 36 and the film came back from the lab in little yellow Kodak boxes. It took a while to get used to the smaller format. I am sure my back and neck have suffered damage over the years from me craning forward to run the glass over those tiny frames of celluloid. By 1992, I began to photograph landscapes in a larger format (6×7 cm) and then by the mid-nineties, 6×17. I was producing large format books and staging exhibitions so I wanted to return to the large format when photographing static, complex subjects. I continued to photograph wildlife and plants in 35 mm format simply because the cameras provided a wider range of lenses.
A change to digital photography
I could see change appearing over the horizon long before I made the change to digital photography. I knew that once manufacturers developed equipment at around 12 megapixels, there was a fair chance digital photography would match the quality of a scanned transparencies, in smaller reproductions at least. By 2005, the labour costs of processing film, cutting it, bagging it, bar coding and then having to scan each frame so that it could be used digitally for publishing was costing my company several hundred thousand dollars. There had to be a better way to operate, not even considering the many benefits digital photography afforded to a photographer who shoots as many frames a year as I do. With digital photography, I could actually see the picture when I took it! What an advantage.
I took my first tentative steps towards digital photography in mid-2005, with Nikon D2x half-frame cameras, and soon found the comfort zone at around 320ISO before the noise, especially in solid, dark colours began to appear. I kept my film cameras, just in case. In fact, I still do, although mainly because these days they are worth very little to sell! With digital photography, workflow sped up and costs fell dramatically. The photographic process was revealed anew as a sheer joy for me.
In 2007, the Nikon D3 arrived on the scene with its twelve frames a second, full-frame 12.5 mg sensor and the ability to photograph with little noise at ISO as high as 4000 . Early 2010 I invested in the newer version the D3s with ISO increases at least double that of the D3 and with high definition video, will it ever end! This enables a whole new world of nature photography to reveal itself to me. Five heavy boxes of cameras became one small backpack. My ability to speedily examine images, add metadata and cull images in the field or studio if I needed too, simply gave me back my life. My library grew rapidly. At the same time I invested in Nikon D3s camera bodies, I also sold off a range of 6×7 cameras, replacing them with the Hasselblad HD4-50 digital camera system. The results with this system have been outstanding and I have found that even the production of multi frame panoramic images is also an easy process, especially when stitched together in photo shop. Of course the work flow for my publishing these days has been considerably improved as a result of digital capture.
In 2009, with a library containing 400,000 celluloid images and 100,000 digital images, we decided to create our own prepress facility in our publishing company, do our own colour management for CMYK reproduction and control the entire creative development process from photography, design, editorial, colour management and prepress. The only thing we do not do ourselves is print the product. Costs reduced enormously. Hand in hand with digital technology came something else that has made a drastic change to my life — the internet. Anyone with the will and a few hundred dollars can create magical pictures and share them with the entire world (as we do) via the internet. Now, as I look to the future I see so many great opportunities to diversify product and spread our nature connection message. Currently we are actively exploring the addition of electronic publishing to our expanding range of products. As a result, as I greet my mid sixties, I am still buzzing with the joy of teaching children to grab a camera and join me on a very exciting journey.
CURRENT ROAD KIT
Small format Digital SLR kit
2 x Nikon D3 and 2 x Nikon D3s camera bodies.
AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED wide angle zoom lens
AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II (often used with AF-S Teleconverter TC-20E III)
AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED V ( often used with AF-S Teleconverter TC-20E III)
AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED (exclusively used underwater)
Nikon 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6 lens used in conjunction with Nikon Close-up Speedlight Kit (used for all macro of mammals, insects and plants) this is the best and most used lens I own. If I didn’t have this lens I may well have gone with canon or another brand. It only sold 20,000 units world wide and is no longer manufactured. If you own one and wish to sell it, sell it to me! It is as sharp as a tack and of course negates the need to change lenses while shooting.
AF Micro 200mm f/4D IF-ED
AF Fisheye 16mm f/2.8D (exclusively used underwater)
AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G
Speedlight SB-90 x 5 units
Underwater I use the Aquatica D3s Housing system and Ikelite flash units
Medium format SLR kit:
For all the majority of landscape, botanical and images requiring major enlargement I use the Hasselblad HD4-50 camera body
Hasselblad HCD 28mm f4
Hasselblad HCD 80mm f2.8
Hasselblad HCD 120mm macro
Hasselblad HCD 300mm f4.5
Also in this kit the H1.7x Converter, a tilt and shift unit and extension tubes.