May 16, 2006

Getting up Close in Nature Photography

By Phil McDermott
Without doubt there is something awe inspiring and wholesome in the big view. Every year there are vast arrays of calendars all full of pretty landscape pictures adorning our high street shops. Many we can relate to and one day would like to see for ourselves. Indeed, we are fortunate in this country to be blessed with such wonderfully diverse scenery.

From the wide open spaces of the fens to the rugged mountains of Cumbria, Wales and Scotland. From rolling meadows to dramatic coastlines they all have an important part to play. However, sometimes with such a grand vista it is difficult to fully appreciate its beauty simply because there is nowhere for the eye to settle, no point on which to concentrate. There is just too much to take in. It is just so overwhelming.

However, if we can take a fresh approach and look hard for a moment at just part of this scene we begin to see and appreciate the finer features of the individual pieces of the landscape. Look at how they combine, fitting together like the pieces of a large jigsaw to make the complete picture. But let us now break it down into its basic components and take time to contemplate the colours, shapes and textures.

Taken in the website owner's backyard
We can then take this notion even further and that distant bright yellow patch becomes, on closer inspection, a rich and riotous stand of Broom. If we move closer still to the broom we see clearly the perfection and intricate detail in each flower and seedpod. Look even closer at the seedpod with its gossamer covering of fine hairs, each one an individual but reliant on its close neighbours and we can begin to understand how things fit together. Whilst this may not be a scientific approach it provides a raw and basic understanding, offers enlightenment and makes us feel an integral part of nature. So by isolating and concentrating on a small part of the whole we have simplified the subject. Made it more memorable, more basic and more powerful.

We have now entered the close up world of nature, a world that lies just beyond the familiar that is so full of rich detail and striking beauty. With an open mind, a little imagination and an almost childlike curiosity there are many more subjects for us to consider. There is certainly no need to go far. Indeed it should be seen as more of a soul searching journey, a journey of inner vision and contemplation rather than a journey to some far off place. Furthermore, the deeper we delve the more fascinating and rewarding they become. They reveal their hidden treasures without hesitation allowing us time to reflect and admire their majesty.

With this attention to detail it becomes easier to understand that the whole is clearly made up of many individual parts that are all unique. All these parts inter-relate with each other and no doubt they all have a vital role to play. Indeed, it is only by appreciating the importance of the smallest parts of our planet that I believe we can start to make any sense of nature as a whole. There is also emotion and drama to be found in these little cameos that we so often overlook, it may be something as simple as a single delicate flower growing in a boulder crevice. Hanging on and defiant, its tenuous grip on life is totally dependent on the sustenance that it draws from the debris residing in the crevice. Yet it lives on year after year, testimony indeed to its determination and resilience. It is this interrelationship that is so enduring, fundamental and compelling.

As a natural history photographer getting close to nature is a very important part of my life. It allows a far greater appreciation of the beauty and a clearer understanding of the natural world in which we live. Take for example a clear cold winters day with crispness so sharp it is breathtaking. When we start to look for details in these conditions we are immediately drawn to magical patterns in the snow, frosted ivy leaves and shimmering icicles. Ice patterns are one of my favourite winter subjects as they offer such diversity and literally capture a moment frozen in time. Some offer gracefully smooth curves whilst others display harsh jagged lines depending on the prevailing weather conditions. So even something as simple as a puddle icing over is heavily influenced by its immediate surroundings.

Light quality will also play a significant part in our appreciation of these finer details, if it is too harsh then the increase in contrast will actually block out the very detail we are trying to see. It is far better to have the diffused light that occurs with high thin cloud cover. This provides a much softer light allowing all the detail, texture and nuances to be so clearly seen. Subject colour will also influence our interpretation of the subject, for example vibrant colours like reds and yellows suggest dominance and power, whereas muted shades like grey and browns portray more tranquil, earthy and basic feelings.

Early morning is often a fine time to appreciate a wide range of subjects and a stroll in the garden will pay dividends. Flowers and grasses, for example when covered with dew or fine rain make fascinating studies, the fine hairs hold onto droplets of water so that they almost defy gravity. If the conditions are right there may be insects that have become encrusted with minute droplets of water following a night's inactivity. Butterflies in particular look stunning covered in dew as it makes them sparkle as though covered with a myriad of jewels.

So, with renewed vision and childlike wonder the natural world is without doubt a beautiful place that only requires a little time and an inquisitive mind to fully appreciate. Satisfaction and contentment can be provided by the simplest of things and with this comes harmony and hopefully inner peace.

Phil McDermott based on the Isle of Mull in the west of Scotland specialising in natural history and environmental photography.

“My priority is to uphold a genuine care and respect for the environment and subjects and the following pages unfold to reflect this approach. Through photography I hope to raise awareness and encourage a greater appreciation of the splendour of the natural world”.

Working almost exclusively in Scotland, with its magnificent scenery, diverse flora and fauna and remarkable quality of light all combining to provide a continual source of opportunity and inspiration.