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Camera? Who bothers to take a camera on shoots?

Liveryman Paul Fievez explains the why and how …

Gun? Check. Cartridges? Check. Dog, boots, ear-defenders, cash for tips, the sweepstake on the bag / shots fired? All of those and more?  Check  yes, to all. Camera? Who bothers to take a camera on shoots? 

Well, if you have a smart-phone in your pocket, and most of us do these days, then yes, you have got a camera in your pocket too. A camera, by the way, which gets better quality, bigger – almost, professional – file sizes, with every new generation. 

Making, or taking a call, on a shoot, is quite rightly, frowned upon. Taking a picture, or two, at apposite moments, generally is not. Between drives, at ‘elevenses,’ the dog bringing a bird to hand after a drive, every shoot has old Tom, or another beater, face tanned, lined, and creased from years out in the open, been on the shoot for a thousand years… would look great – if only you could paint, in oils…  You have your camera in your pocket, so take some pictures.

As Kodak did way back in the 1900’s modern smart-phones have made photography available to the masses on a scale never previously seen. But here is where the fun starts! Just look at some of those pictures. Blurred,  no obvious subject, and is that the  Managing Director, of a multi-national organisation,  or a lost sow, face down in the mud?

So many opportunities, so many mistakes, so how do we improve our pictures? Here are a few tips which might help. 

We all want to record everything in front of us. Don’t! The results are so often  a mish-mash. Too much sky, a landscape with few distinguishing features, the high bird, which you just had to include, merely a blurred, unrecognisable dot, in the sky. And, the gun at the end of the line, has merged in with the ploughed field where he or she, is standing. 

Instead, be selective. Think about what you want to show, and concentrate on that. Change angles, find a spot which cuts out the background clutter. Look for background distractions such as telegraph poles or pylons. No-one wants one of those growing out of their head! As you might (where it is allowed) on a peg, move a metre or two (of for those of my generation, a yard, or three), left right, forwards or back. As with improving your peg position, sometimes moving just a few feet, or a turning to a slightly different angle can make the difference between a ‘great picture’ and a mere ‘snap.’

Do not be afraid to experiment. There was a time when the sheer cost of film, processing, and making enlargements was prohibitive. Not any more. With a digital camera, you can shoot as much, and as many pictures as you want. Those that are ‘keepers’, save. The rest? Just delete from the memory card. 

Use the light. Make it work for you. The sun does not have to be behind you. It only makes your subject squint! In any case, softer light is much more flattering to most people.

Shooting into the sun can produce interesting silhouettes. Look for highlights and shadows, look for reflections, look for how as the light changes, different aspects of what you are photographing benefit from light, or shade. And as dusk, or evening draws in, do not automatically switch on the camera’s flashlight. In the right circumstances, available light can produce spectacular results.

Become involved. A shot from close in of some companions, good friends or old trusted mates roaring with laughter at a (probably) salacious tale will work so much better,  be so much more evocative, and provoke better memories of the occasion, than the same shot taken as a full-length from behind, or to one side. 

Talking of going close-in, people forget that smart-phones and the like have relatively wide-angle lenses. Where it is safe to do so, go close, then go closer, and finally, maybe go another three feet closer still. Fill the frame with what is important and will contribute to a good picture. Leave out all of the unnecessary and extraneous background. 

Obviously, where firearms are concerned, safety must at all times be paramount. No photograph is worth you getting injured, or causing injury to others. As a former professional, I have sometimes been able work very close to guns. But, when I have done so, I triple-check everything! 

I was once on a grouse moor. In front of the gun line, some twenty, or so, metres out from the butts, was a hollow, which, if I laid almost flat, I thought might provide enough cover, and be usable for me to get an unusual angle. I checked with the guns who would be nearest to me in the next drive. Two were comfortable with the suggestion. The third simply replied; “Sir, I am here to shoot grouse. You must go where you want to go. I will continue to shoot grouse, regardless of where you might happen to be,” 

You might not be surprised to learn that I decided against that particular picture!

If you have something more technical than a smart-phone, often referred to as a ‘bridge’ camera, or even a Digital Single Lens Reflex, then probably you will already be an experienced, and dare I use the phrase, creative photographer, who is  at least familiar with the various controls, which are on the camera, and know what they do. 

But! You might also be surprised at the number of people who have such equipment and have never even thought of switching out of auto-everything mode, and experimenting with the controls which allow you to override the auto-exposure, auto-focus, auto-everything. If you have never previously done so, switch off auto-everything, and try something different. 

The aperture dial, and shutter-speed dials, between them, control exposure. A fast shutter speed will freeze or stop movement, a slow one will allow you to deliberately include movement in your picture. Turning off auto-focus will enable you to select the areas of the image which are important, and those which you want out-of-focus, so as not to distract from the main subject.

Yes, you will make mistakes, but because you can format, and re-use the memory card, mistakes will not cost money. More important, you will have fun learning what you and your camera can do, and how much you being in control, can improve your pictures.

These few thoughts are not a technical treatise. This is not the place for such an article. But I hope that some of my suggestions will help you to get more pleasure, not only from taking the pictures, but looking at the results.

In this article I have concentrated on what I think are the two most common mistakes – not going in close enough, and not being selective enough about backgrounds and other non-essential detail.

To show what I am getting at, I had a rummage through my archives.

The 2002 Game Fair. I had been commissioned by several magazines to work on various features. One involved the countryside campaigner, Robin Page, who I knew was planning to way-lay, and cross-question a minister.

Delayed by crowds, I arrived at the venue, to find Robin in full flow. So, picture (1), is what is known as a ‘saver’. It is simply just a picture of Robin Page, in the crowd. If he were about to finish and leave, well, at least I had got some sort of picture.

Picture 1
© Copyright Paul Fievez

Picture (2): By easing through the crowd, and changing my position, (otherwise known as barging….) I was able to zoom in on Robin. Cutting out much of the extraneous and unnecessary detail, brings the emphasis more onto him.

Picture 2
© Copyright Paul Fievez

The ideal picture of course, would have been Robin Page and the minister, face to face. But, with me, and other photographers around, both the minister, and his minders, made sure that was not going to happen!

Regardless of personal views on hunting, most people enjoy seeing a pack, or parade of hounds. They are such characters. Photographing the entire pack, produces an ‘ok’ picture, but one which tends to make for messy, cluttered images. Instead, try kneeling down, as I did, and concentrating on just the two, or three nearest to you. For my money, as individuals, they become much more interesting.

© Copyright Paul Fievez

I noticed the bloodhound. Calm, totally under control, just the huntsman’s whip laid – very gently, I checked – across the dog’s shoulder, until he was sent about his task. For a picture such as this, there is absolutely no need to show anything other than, dog, whip, and as little other clutter as possible. And, too much information here, look closely, you can even see where the hound’s great slavering tongue, and flews, have spread drool all over himself, his master’s jacket, and even breeches!

© Copyright Paul Fievez

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Liveryman Paul Fievez is a former professional photographer, whose career spans more than forty years. He worked as a photographer, and latterly as Night Picture Editor, on three National Daily newspapers, before becoming a freelance. Passionate about game, and clay shooting, his pictures have appeared in many of the major shooting, fieldsports, and country magazines in Britain, and abroad. 

Now semi-retired, Paul lives in Normandy, from where he contributes feature articles, and pictures to several magazines

© Copyright Paul Fievez