2016 09 - Captivating Nature

01st October 2016
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
29th September 2016
Images by Des Ong

Captivating Nature

An evening of special moments and natural wonders was in store for members this week.
President Alan Burkwood had the great pleasure of congratulating our member Spike Walker, who presented such a wonderful display of photomicrography for us at Idle Valley in the summer, on being recognised for his work. Already the winner of a number of certificates and medals, he had recently travelled to London to be awarded the inaugural Royal Photographic Society Medal for Scientific Imaging.

Spike, along with Harold Gay, Mike Vickers and Dik Allison was thanked for the workshops they ran last week and which members had found valuable.

Loughborough’s Des Ong had members spellbound with his talk ‘Captivating Nature’. He had been given a great build up at the early season meetings and more than justified it with one of the best shows of images from the natural world we have seen for a long time.

Originally from Borneo, Des saved the species native to the places he remembers from his youth until last, beginning in what to him must be the most alien of environments – Norway in winter. He is clearly an adaptable fellow as he described his love of the light and the minimalist scenery, but above all the creatures which manage to eke out a living there. His profound respect for the difficulties of conserving energy was very evident as he described how he and the few people he takes with him approach them with every care. Their foremost goal is not to make the creatures run and waste precious energy reserves, although undoubtedly the approach, in both senses, leads to some exceptional photographic opportunities.

The show was a compilation based on the geography of the areas Des had visited over the last year. A short video whetted our appetites and was followed by a very short discussion of kit. Working within the practicalities of what he can carry on strenuous hikes, Des has pared his kit to the bone. He now uses zoom lenses which he feels have improved so much he doesn’t need different, heavy prime lenses. He carries a macro lens and two camera bodies but has largely dispensed with a tripod because of the weight. This is quite the opposite of what our guests normally describe and maybe food for thought for some, and encouragement for others who are also daunted by the weight of a stable tripod.

Des’ style now divides into two types – close up portraits of the creatures and wide shots showing much more of the environment than most to put them in context. A student who tried this approach saw his entry disqualified for being too small in the frame, but our audience appreciated the simple beauty of a pair of musk ox almost silhouetted against the vast expanse of snowy mountains.

We learned that the slow approach method is a great idea with these creatures. Des described them as half ton tanks which can run faster than Usain Bolt over 100m – and are short tempered! Apparently you have to let them see you so that you don’t startle them as you will be the only other thing in their landscape which is not white, but he is living proof it works. Despite the perils of the task he had some wonderful shots of them in portrait and covered in snow. With their thick coats, which are eight times more insulating than sheep’s wool, they simply wait out snow storms, shake it off and carry on looking for food.

Reindeer by contrast are quick, skittish and take the determined photographer to the highest peaks. A glorious panorama showed the rewards for such effort.

We have seen white tailed eagles photographed in Scotland, but in this area there are 50 breeding pairs and it is relatively easy to capture the images by throwing fish carefully rationed to one per pair to entice them near. Des has a custom built hide which allows him to get to within 10ft of them – so close he couldn’t get the whole birds in when two had a scrap right beside him.

We returned to the British Isles where we discovered that Des has learned a lot about our native species. In Scotland we were still in winter, looking at mountain hares followed by many aspects of the Canada goose in England. This had been a personal project where Des followed the birds over three weeks photographing them in many different lights and locations, learning about their lives and behaviours as he went. He commended this as a way to learn to read body language, which in turn tells you when you are about to get a good shot if you recognise the signs.

Kingfishers are another subject he enjoys. He said they are like an addiction and however much he tells himself he doesn’t need another kingfisher shot, he always takes them. Our members Geoff Stoddart and Des Lloyd must have been pleased that their own kingfisher images would not have been disgraced by those Des showed.

Red deer are always favourites, and Des recommended approaching the deer in public deer parks as a way to learn to photograph them as there they are used to people. You can then branch out into trying your skills on fully wild creatures.

Des’ shots of the creatures in the four parts of Borneo were some of the best we have ever seen. He seems able to capture the light at its best and to get the eye of the creatures so sharp it jumps out of the screen. Well-chosen apertures draw the attention there and we marvelled at snakes, amphibians and primates by day and by night. Some short video clips enlivened these views – particularly a civet eating a very sticky fig! When asked afterwards about his video technique, Des admitted to getting out his phone and doing what we all do – just shooting! Of course it makes a world of difference if you are in the right place.

This is very definitely the right place to photograph orang utans, and as a native, Des knows the places to find them in the wild. He admitted his stunning portrait was a cropped shot, but he must still have managed to approach very close to achieve it.