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The Life of a Tasmanian Devil - the process and great progress.

Over the past 2 years I've been working part-time on a project photographing Tasmanian devils as a photo story collection. My idea was to document wild devils in their natural habitat, going about their lives. It was a huge learning curve figuring out exactly how to go about this, I spoke to an old friend who is a zooloist and he said I would need camera traps.

Right. Camera traps, hmmm. Off I go to see my ole pal GOOGLE!

So, here is a quick description of these things. There are generally 2 types of camera traps, a very simple one piece unit (see below), then there's a very complex million part unit (see below again). The camera I ordered straight away was a basic box you can screw to a tree and it simply monitors anything happening in front with no real control other than video clip length, trigger sensitivity and frame rate for still images. It's infra-red with invisible light so the animals just go about their life without being very disturbed, they seem to know the camera is there but are just curious and sniff and chew it. Perfect for finding active devil habitat but that's about all. The drawback is the image quality, it stinks and is definitely not publishable.

After some more searching I came across the work of several National Geographic photographers, Steve Winter, Joel Sartore and Michael "Nick" Nichols. The guys use camera traps on assignment when shooting stories on elusive wildlife and also for a very unique perspective. Their camera trap work is stunning and has pushed the technique a long way over the years from early pioneers such as George Shiras iii who worked with camera traps in the late 1800's into the mid 1900's. Winter, Sartore and Nichols use DSLR camera traps which are a whole new level of investment and technical bits and pieces, nuts, bolts and cables... I studied the absolute crap out of their work - the behind the scenes videos, listened to podcasts over and over which gave me hints of what gear they were using and what I needed to build one of these DSLR camera traps. It soon turned into an expensive buying process... But worth every dollar.

Below you will see a small but important portion of the gear I accumulated while shooting my Tasmanian devil photo story. For me, this gear is a solid investment, the techniques and skills I've gained are invaluable and no doubt will be used in future natural history assignments.

A Bushnell Trail cam, the one piece camera trap unit - very handy, the video quality is ok but still pictures are very average. Below is a collection of clips from this beaten up beast.

A Bushnell Trail cam, the one piece camera trap unit - very handy, the video quality is ok but still pictures are very average. Below is a collection of clips from this beaten up beast.

Some examples of that buying process I mentioned... a 1000D and a 20D were the work horses. Camera bodies are mounted in home built weather-proof housing to protect from the crazy Tasmanian seasons and also disguise them slightly.

Some examples of that buying process I mentioned... a 1000D and a 20D were the work horses. Camera bodies are mounted in home built weather-proof housing to protect from the crazy Tasmanian seasons and also disguise them slightly.

Canon camera bodies and Nikon flashes are the secret to an efficient working camera trap system. I bought every Nikon SB28 I found online over several months. These are placed in custom built tubes and mounted with small ball heads for perfect adjustment and lighting. When the camera traps are set up they resemble a hidden outdoor studio using all the same lighting techniques.

Canon camera bodies and Nikon flashes are the secret to an efficient working camera trap system. I bought every Nikon SB28 I found online over several months. These are placed in custom built tubes and mounted with small ball heads for perfect adjustment and lighting. When the camera traps are set up they resemble a hidden outdoor studio using all the same lighting techniques.

The Canon camera to Nikon flash system is no good unless you have this pile of wild cables.

The Canon camera to Nikon flash system is no good unless you have this pile of wild cables.

One of my goals from this project was to submit a photo story proposal featuring a diverse collection of Tasmanian devil images to a high end natural history magazine and have it published. During the time working on this project I contacted several magazines, Australian and International to let them know about my work, showed them samples and kept them up to date on the progress of it. There were several magazines who showed some interest but some had recently published stories on the Tasmanian devil and had to let it go. One of my shots of a Tasmanian devil climbing a tree was commended in the 2013 BBC Camera trap competition, (SEE HERE) this led to conversations between the BBC Wildlife picture editor and I. Eventually I pitched my story to them and they accepted. Over the next few months we emailed back and forth working out which shots to use and making sure out captions matched. I saw multiple proofs and it was looking good, it was finalized and below is a shot of the magazine cover and opening spread.

I'm very proud of this work and I hope you enjoy it, please feel free to share! HH.

All flash power settings need to be dialled in manually, here is some guy metering the lights in the deep jungle at night. After camera trapping for a while you end up with a LOT of pictures of yourself.

All flash power settings need to be dialled in manually, here is some guy metering the lights in the deep jungle at night. After camera trapping for a while you end up with a LOT of pictures of yourself.

 I placed a DSLR camera trap near a swan carcass which looked to be the previous evenings meal knowing the chance of a devil passing by the next night is very high. Here a lone, almost completely black devil snoops around the area covered by feathers. Photographed in Narawntapu National Park in North-West Tasmania. Not baited.
Tasmanian devil.

Tasmanian devil.

BBC Wildlife spring issue, 5 page Tasmanian devil feature.

BBC Wildlife spring issue, 5 page Tasmanian devil feature.

BBC Wildlife magazine is available here in Tasmania but unfortunately it might take another month or two to reach the news stands.  BBC Wildlife magazine is available as digital also SEE HERE.

From the Harbour Bridge to Mt Wello, by wind…

Every year for the last 6.8 decades, a massive fleet of yachts have made their way from Sydney to Hobart in one of the greatest ocean races in existence. Known as the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, no other ocean race attracts more attention especially from media. So, off we go!

I've photographed the finish of the Sydney to Hobart twice now for AAP (Australian Associated Press). Typically we head out on double decker media boats (it was around 4:30pm) from Constitution Dock onto the Derwent River to meet the yachts coming around the bend from the Tasman Sea and through Storm Bay. The time of day has been on our side both times, I'm not too sure what would happen if it was during darkness. Alien Bees maybe?

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The Derwent River gets SUPER choppy with what feels like hundreds of boats hovering around the winner which is hauling up the river towards the finish line, (usually Wild Oats XI). The media boat driver, captain, pilot or whatever you want to call her does an amazing job to get us right in there close to the yacht which is perfect for wide shots to include the scenery around Hobart. Then you have to wipe all the salt water off you and your gear to shoot some more...

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Once the winning yacht is in sight it's time to think of the angles you need, what side of the boat and where the crew are. All this depends on the time of day, wind direction and the other 430 boats hovering about. The media boat captains knowledge helps here a lot, squeezing though the gaps to get close on the best side.

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After shooting a stupid number of wide, long, horizontal and vertical options from different angles, high, low and so on… It's time to head back to the land and bully a place to shoot the winning boat and crew entering constitution dock. The two styles are quite different, out on the water you have freedom of options but at the dock you are very limited. The crew get surrounded by a huge number of other photographers and news crews so you need to squeeze/push/punch your way in and shoot what you can overhead or underneath…Once this is done then it's off to the room to edit and file through to the wire for turbo delivery to media worldwide.

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Shooting, editing and all work filed through to the agency. Knock off time, sounds quick but it's now about midnight. Looking for a hotel is pointless as this time of year in Hobart the population gains a few thousand. Plan B, grab a well earned beer, eat some chips and drive home, very sleepy! 4am is bedtime…

Now, part 2 of this assignment developed when I woke up. I got a call from AAP to buzz back to Hobart that day to shoot the finish and re-start of the Clipper Round the World - www.clipperroundtheworld.com

Initially the first arrival was expected about 2:30am, after waiting up all night it ended up being about 5:30am. With virtually no sleep I rode to the dock from my hotel with camera bags hanging off me, I was presented with some amazing conditions which made it all worthwhile. A week later I left Hobart after shooting the re-launch when all 12 boats headed to Brisbane. I look forward to shooting the racing again this year. Enjoy the shots, feel free to share. Thanks!

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Ahoy to a great year that has been but not yet gone!

Ahoy there and Merry Christmas!

The last 12 months have been pretty amazing! Lots of progression with my work. New clients and opportunities making their way to the surface. My Tasmanian Devil photo project going very well with the biggest thing yet to happen (I can't tell you but I'll let you know I promise). Refining camera trapping techniques and working out what gear works and what doesn't is quite time consuming, sometimes tiring and very frustrating but very rewarding in the end. I have it pretty well sorted and feel the work will get better and better rom here on in. I attended a Joel Sartore (National Geographic) keynote talk and spoke with him about my work, a top guy and very inspirational. See Joel's work here - www.joelsartore.com

Competitions - there are so many of these things out there who really know what is legitimate. The BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and BBC Camera Trap competitions have always stood out to me more than any others. This year one of my Tasmanian Devil images received a commended in the Camera Trap competition which is exciting, since then I have some more images and will be entering the 2014 competition when it opens. The Camera Trap competition aims more towards science and conservation than simply pretty pictures. So, I try to blend the two and make beautiful pictures of unique species, easier said than done... There is another competition I have been meaning to enter a couple of times but miss the date every time, this time I got it. (Thanks Jason L. Stephens for the reminder) It's called the International Loupe Awards, there are amateur and open awards and is very popular. The open awards has more specific categories such as science/nature and photojournalism. I entered four images - two in science and nature, one in photojournalism and one in sport. Good results with three bronze awards and one silver.

The future is bright, many exciting things on the horizon. I've been teaching some camera basic courses based out of Watt's camera store in Burnie. Passing on some knowledge feels pretty good, helping others clear up some technical issues and learn some of the core fundamentals of this addictive hobby/job/.

This last week of the year and early 2014 is looking exciting already, I'll be heading to Hobart in a few days to shoot the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race for AAP along with another Round the World race at New Year. I did this last year and was a pretty good experience and everyone was happy with my work. More confidence this year so this can only be a good thing! Late in January I'll be shooting Wildside MTB also, should be good!

Thank you to everyone who trusts me to shoot quality work for them - real estate agents, builders, newspapers/newswire, commercial clients and of course those elusive Tasmanian Devils making appearances right where I want them!

Below are some images I mentioned earlier, if anyone has some great ideas for creative shoots, give me a call 0487 407 901 or email heath@heathholdenphotography.com

Adios, go get yourself some tequila!

 

BBC Camera Trap competition 2013, commended,

International Loupe Awards, bronze. Sport 13th outright.

International Loupe Awards, bronze. Photojournalism, 18th outright.

International Loupe Awards, bronze. 

International Loupe Awards, silver. Science and Nature, 18th outright.

Progression.

Working on your craft is pretty important, no matter what it is. Everyone wants to get better! Those BMX and downhill racers aren't just born good or fast, sure there is natural ability to go along with it, but they train very hard and develop skills and strengths. Photography is no different, personally it can be hard to tell whether you are progressing or not. Sometimes I look at my work and just think what the hell am I doing. Anyone can put some pretty pictures on FB and get a whole bunch of likes, but in reality that means nothing.

I recently photographed a new home built by Collins Homes in Devonport. Not a big fancy mansion which looks like it was brought down from the Gold Coast on a truck, but a really nice normal home. Funnily enough I photographed the exact same house (design) a couple of years ago, only it was a mirror image and in a different street, this first shoot was for competition so I really made sure the work was top quality. It has since won many awards in national HIA builder awards, hopefully with the help of my work... See - www.collinshomes.com.au

This second shoot was a perfect way to personally assess my own progress. Since the first version of this house I now realise I have learnt a LOT, particularly about lighting technique and the colour of light, along with other small technical details. In the past year or so I've been to several workshops/talks by some of the best shooters in the business. Some are long time National Geographic shooters (my dream job). The most educational talk and book I have read in this time (The Hot Shoe Diaries) was by Joe McNally, who is a bit of a lighting guru, especially location lighting with regular speed light type strobes (not big grunt studio packs). These workshops and books may not be aimed at shooting houses but I figure the principles are exactly the same so I use what I've leant, plus I shoot editorial jobs so this has been very valuable knowledge.

Here's a brief comparison of the two shoots: I shot half the amount of frames the second time around and processed them in maybe a quarter of the time all in Lightroom 5. Basic adjustments - straighten the verticals, WB fine tune, contrast, open up some shadows and boom, finito! The first shoot was all processed in Lightroom 4 also but I do remember doing some heavy dodging and burning along with the other processes.

My little tip for the day. Learn your craft, attend workshops. Read books. Pay for training or tutoring and learn real skills because at the end of the day anyone can sit there and click auto fix and hope for the best.

Here are some image comparisons, hopefully if you look closely you can see some kind of progress... Ta!

 

Shoot 1.

Shoot 2.

Shoot 1.

Shoot 2.

Shoot 1.

Shoot 2.

Shoot 1.

Shoot 2.

Copperhead session.

The warmth brings out the reptiles, I often go out bush for a random wander and this time I took a bunch of gear with a certain shot in mind. After shooting some snakes last summer I wanted to light the snake a lot nicer than what the mid day sun can, which is usually not that nice.

Armed with a light stand, some Canon strobes, mini and flex pocket wizards and ac3 zone controller, gels, small softbox and so on... I wandered.

For this idea I wanted a tiger snake but came across this copperhead in the brushes which I've seen several times over the last few weeks. I started shooting some regular shots getting an angle and observing the snakes behaviour. I shot some ambient only and also mixed with a bit of on camera flash with dome diffuser and a 1/2 cto gel to pump some warm fill light in there. Not beautiful light, but dialling the power back for some warm fill helps a bit.  It's very important to take your time and  not go blasting in there. Two things will happen, snake takes off fast and no chance of a shot, or get bitten. Patience is the key.

This particular day was very Tasmanian - blue sky, warm, then wind and rain, repeat six times. After taking cover a couple of times I decided to setup and work on this shot I had in mind. I put a 580ex2 on the light stand with a pocket wizard, 1/2 cto gel and frosty gel with the head zoomed all the way to 120mm then slowly put the light in place where I thought would make a nice angle hitting the snake.

I sessioned this for a little while and sure enough, rain again. I plan to use this technique throughout the summer and get it spot on. Take a look at some of the shots from the day.

Wide shot with ambient only.

Scale detail with fill flash.

Ambient only. 

Tighter frame with fill flash.

Lighting the snake with almost no ambient and directing a warm diffused flash to create nice highlights, controlled shadows and saturation.

Lighting the snake with almost no ambient and directing a warm diffused flash to create nice highlights, controlled shadows and saturation.

Tasmanian devil image hunting #1

I'm going to keep these posts short and sweet. This is #1 of more to come... I'll explain my project over several posts and share what information and shots I think others might like to see. Feel free to share this and my website.

I had this idea maybe 2 years ago while living in Singapore. After scanning the internet for what was available, (which there was very little) I though about attempting to shoot some high quality images of Tasmanian Devils. A few conditions I gave myself were: The devils had to be 100% wild, absolutely no bait to attract the devils, to keep the images as natural as possible. In the beginning I had no idea how to do it, after questioning some people I concluded that camera trapping was the only option to get the images I visioned.

In my "Life of a Tasmanian Devil" gallery you will find a selection of what I've shot so far in a photo essay type layout.

So yeah, this blog is way behind. But I though I should share some other info I've collected over the 18 or so months.

The Tasmanian Devil shares its habitat with many other species so I do get some other visitors which are welcome. These camera trap shots are always a lot more up close than usual. Here are a few shots of other visitors.

Stay tuned. 

Sometimes I get other visitors to the area. I don't mind this as camera trap images are a lot more intimate than shooting from way back with long lenses.

A big ole wombat passes by a trap.

This young healthy devil is looking pretty serious about life. The next frame however is a lot less intimidating. You'll see that next post.

1st post, ever!

Well, my new website is here, all refreshed.

I must start to use this great blog feature that is built in. I'll try to write about my work as I go, mostly my Tasmanian Devil photography project. I'm getting some great results lately. Right now I'm midway through finishing off a lengthy application form to hopefully be a part of a great photography organisation.

Stay tuned and wish me luck!

 

A couple of links which might interest you.

WWF Australia featuring a recent devil shot on their FB site: HERE.

A guest blog I wrote for ARKive: HERE.

 

Adios for now! 

HH.