Photography Feeds My Creative Practice

I’d been wanting a new camera for a while as my old compact camera, my second hand DSLR and smartphone camera haven’t been able to take the sort of photos of birds I’d envisioned. Not quite capturing the finer details for me. Not like the photos that my dad takes.

A strong impulse from within was calling me to start taking my own photos of birds, also because there are different kinds of birds in Scotland compared to The Netherlands where my dad lives and usually takes his photos.

I still love seeing my dad’s photos and sharing our love of birds with him, yet I felt it was time to explore my creative expression through the art of photography. Since I was also going on more bird-watching adventures, I wanted to document my own experiences and I needed to upgrade the quality of my equipment to do so.

After doing some research and receiving recommendations from others I got the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ80EB with 30 x Optical Zoom. I couldn’t wait to use it.

I’d only just got the camera when I was going to meet a friend for lunch in Stockbridge one day, so I thought I would test the camera on the Dippers along the Water of Leith around Stockbridge and Dean Village beforehand.

When I arrived at the stretch of the river just near the main bridge through Stockbridge, I noticed some pigeons going in and out of a hole in the wall along the water. That was curious. I stopped and observed the scene, and then decided to get my camera out and capture the pigeons. My first shots with my new camera! I was so excited and ready to jump in and use it that I hadn’t really looked at the accompanying manual to figure out how to work the camera properly. There were a few buttons and settings I needed to acquaint myself with, so for starters I just used the default settings instead; in other words, pointing and shooting!

As I walked back to the main bridge through Stockbridge I spotted a Dipper on the other side of the water. I took some photos, which was a little challenging as the Dipper wouldn’t keep still (of course) and I had to get used to using the camera to follow its path. It was different to using a DSLR.

All in all the shots weren’t too bad. The lighting wasn’t great, another thing I needed to learn. But I told myself to play that day, that it didn’t matter if the photos were rubbish! It was more about the process and the joy of it. Making mistakes was part of that. And I had to remind myself I hadn’t yet read the manual…

After the Dipper disappeared I crossed the bridge to the other side and followed the path along the river towards St Bernard’s Well. I found a male mallard on a nest in the middle of the river and used him as my next “test subject”. As I zoomed in I could see his eye, blinking, the eyelid a white colour. It looked like velvet. I’d never seen that before.

I took my time, sauntering along the path and keeping an eye out for anything fascinating or unusual. I managed to capture a blue tit, a blackbird and a robin. My photos were slowly getting better the more I was practicing and willing to do it “badly”.

It was a warm sunny day that was getting hotter by the minute. I decided to sit in the sun for a bit whilst I waited for my friend Heather to finish a meeting she was in, and then met her in Stockbridge where we grabbed a drink and a takeaway sandwich from Peter’s Yard. We headed to the nearby Botanical Gardens and found a bench in the shade, sat down and chatted and had our delicious lunch. Afterwards we wandered around the gardens and I experimented with my camera using flowers as my subject.

Since it was hot we decided it was ice cream weather and desperately needed one! We ended up wandering back to Peter’s Yard and getting a scoop of white chocolate and passion fruit ice cream on a cone. It was yummy.

Heather then headed home and with my ice cream in my hand I wandered back along the water towards St Bernard’s Well and on to Dean Village to try and find more Dippers. Instead I encountered a couple of mallards to practice on, at the top of the small waterfall there. Then as I headed back towards the main bridge in Dean Village I spotted a heron in full glory. A few people had stopped and gathered on the bridge or stood by the water’s edge photographing the beauty. I joined in and was able to capture some beautiful shots because the heron moved slowly or was standing still for periods of time. Then it would suddenly catch a fish. This was good practicing!

I eventually returned home from my mini, photography adventure around 5pm, having caught the sun a bit! I downloaded my photos and some of them were quite good. I was happy with the camera and I knew I could learn more to take even better photos.

In fact, I would the following week when I met up with my photographer, Claire Watson, who’d previously done studio shots of my art work. At Christmas Claire had run a competition and happily I’d won a couple of hours of Photography for Business with her, meaning I got to practice with my new camera and she was able to help out with some of the general settings for bird photography (e.g. shutter speed, aperture, etc). We also discovered a “burst” button that allows me to keep my finger pressed on the shutter to take a succession of shots. It means I can capture action shots of herring gulls coming into land on the water, for example. That has made a world of difference to my photos!

What my photography practice has contributed to for me is a renewed enthusiasm for/in my work, reinvigorating it for me, and it has fed into my general creative practice. It serves as inspiration for my work as an artist and writer. It is part of my work now.

Sometimes I love taking photos and sometimes I love “live” sketching the birds, or I do both. It all depends on the situation and what I happen to have with me.

I love the details in birds, their different stances, behaviours, movements, interactions with others and so forth, and to capture them on camera helps me with my observation and drawing skills. Particularly when I have a succession of shots to see frame by frame how a bird moves. It thrills me to bits.

I can also shoot 4K video with the camera, a function I have yet to explore, but which I am enthusiastic about.

Most of all, though, it brings me much joy and inner pleasure to go on these bird-watching adventures, documenting them visually and verbally…I now can’t imagine not doing them. It has become a part of me.

My work and my life are interwoven, inextricably linked in a way that I’d long imagined it to be, felt it to be and wanted it to be.

Stay tuned for more of my bird-watching adventures!

What kind of adventures do you like to go on? Please share in the comments below!




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