He loves wildlife, in particular owls and birds of prey, and has a lifelong infatuation with photography: Dave Knowles tell us how his photographic life has evolved over the years and why trust and patience are key when taking pictures of animals.
Dave, can you talk a bit about your background as a photographer and how and when you took up photography?
I’m a lifelong photography fan, starting with a foldout 120 camera given to me at the age of seven, through to a 21/4 square Rolliflex, followed by 35 mm cameras starting with a Zenith B, then Practica, then onto Canon – all in film then slide and then digital as they evolved. I’ve also had my fun with Polaroid and the initial embryonic digital cameras. I’ve had my own darkrooms in various makeshift locations such as the bathroom, developing and printing my own prints. I was also a member of the school camera club and joined the local camera club.
I’ve been using Canon since my first ‘L’ series lens (100-400) initially with an EOS 100 film camera. After coming back from a safari in Africa in 2000 with 40 rolls of film, I decided to buy a Canon EOS 300 digital SLR and now via a range of EOS bodies (20D, 5D, 5Dmk11) evolved to an EOS 1DX. I also have a wide range of ‘L’ series lenses and other equipment to match. Prior to my retirement from the NHS where I was an Intensive Care Charge Nurse, I started a small business which continues in a small way, and I sell images from various websites. I’ve given talks for various groups on wildlife photography, which is my main photographic love, and I’ve also led introduction to photography classes. I edit all of my images on a Mac and primarily use Lightroom since it has been introduced and occasionally also Photoshop for all processing.
I’m continuously improving and honing my techniques in wildlife and other aspects of photography. I attend many study days and subscribe to various websites and photographic forums. I also frequently meet up with like-minded photographer friends, and we use day trips to practice new ideas or processing techniques to build experience and portfolios.
How would you describe your style and approach as a photographer?
I try to take images to capture the beauty and range of ‘Mother Nature’s’ creations, be they small, large, animal, bird, reptile, creepy, or otherwise. In all my photography, the animal has the right to its privacy, and I always respect its personal space, ideally giving it the chance to act in a natural way while hopefully being unaware of me. I try to capture the subject in what looks like a natural environment even if the images were taken at an animal collection.
I would prefer to photograph in the wild but, sadly, that’s not always possible so I visit zoos and animal collections where I try to take images with backgrounds that hopefully do not look like cages or enclosures. I realize a lot of people dislike zoos and animal collections but for us to be able to see most animals it is the only possible way. I also approve of the conservation approaches carried out by most zoos and wildlife organizations to try and re-establish wildlife in its natural habitat.
What makes a good photo for you?
A good photo, as well as it being generally of good composition and exposure, is one that I want to look at again and again. I like images to look as natural as possible and where the subject is on the whole not aware of me or totally accepts me in their environment and allows me to capture their magic.
You’ve created a whole range of wildlife calendars with Calvendo that are based on your Mother Nature’s creations portfolio including some featuring tigers and lions. Can you tell us a bit about the specific challenges when shooting such ‘big cats’?
Mother Nature’s creations in all their forms are my main love in photography. I’d love to go into the wilds and capture their images in their natural wild surroundings. Generally, however, this is impossible and I utilize zoos and animal collections to get my images. My biggest love really are owls and birds of prey (calendars to come!) with cats of all sizes next.
All cats wild or otherwise are so majestic and photogenic. I have had the pleasure of photographing wild lions and cheetahs on safari in Africa and tigers on safari in India. However, getting ‘that shot’ when you have limited time on safari is as much down to the luck of being in the right place, at the right time with sufficient light! Zoos and animal collections allow you to repeat a visit to improve on your shots, and with appropriate positioning allow images that could have been taken in the wild. Once you have visited as many animal collections as I have, you get to know that a certain place is good for a certain species and can therefore be good if concentrating on getting a specific shot.
Animal collections also have visitors which some of the animals prefer to stay hidden from; so to get better images, get there at opening times before the crowds, be patient, and go to the enclosures just before closing time when the animals will be more relaxed and probably expecting a feed. At these times you will get better images of more natural behaviour. In some places you may be able to get specific photographic days to get some extra shots for angles that are not available to the general public.
You also provide wedding and events photography services. What do you enjoy more – taking pictures of human beings or animals?
I must admit although I have wedding and event services listed and which I enjoy at the time, I much prefer taking animal images and I employ the same techniques at times, i.e. candid shots when ‘the humans’ are relaxed and not aware of the camera. Formal events again can be fun but because you have to get a lot of shots of the clients, time is the driver and images are more clichéd.
With animals and wildlife you have to get the animal to relax and accept that you are not going to cause it any harm and gain its trust. Once this mutual trust is achieved it will relax and you will get much better images. In fact, sometimes the animal gets inquisitive and gets too close to focus on! If you are photographing wild animals or birds, this may mean hours in a hide for a few images being bitten by insects or freezing. Conversely the creature may honour you with its presence and sit up and pose for you all day or show its face for a second never to be seen again that session. The next time you visit the light is right the animal cooperates and image magic can occur! I enjoy being out in the countryside alone, just me and wildlife, the environment and the vagaries of British weather. I find this relaxing and am never sure what will pop up in front of the camera to hopefully get a magical image.
How did you hear about the Calvendo calendar-publishing platform and why did you decide to give it a go?
I found Calvendo whilst browsing the web and thought self-publishing would be a good opportunity to show off my work whilst at the same time improving my financial status. I looked at the high standards of other photographers work on Calvendo and thought this would be good opportunity for me!
Can you talk a bit about your experience when creating your calendars with Calvendo? Any tips for first timers?
Read the FAQs and guidelines, then have a go! Its easy, but I am sure you will, like me, make a few slip ups on your first calendars. That aside, the automated checking system will inform you if the images are not the correct resolution or size and will let you upload once you have made suitable corrections. After submitting your work, the staff on the Calvendo Jury are very helpful and further correct you and guide you to successful publication and sales!
Last but not least, what are your general comments on Calvendo as a self-publishing platform: Anything you particularly like? Or things that need improving?
It is a privilege to be asked by Calvendo for this interview and get the opportunity to share my thoughts and images with you. More varied calendars are to come in the near future! Calvendo is an impressive and easy system to use once you have become used to its requirements, and there’s great help team with friendly guidance. One thing I’d like to mention: It would be nice to be able to talk to a person to iron out little problems or ask questions that may not be easy to explain via email.