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We talk to Nottinghamshire-based photographer Dave Wild, who specialises in quirky portraits of farmyard animals. Here he tells us what brought him to photography, and a few tricks of the trade.
The Outdoor Times: when did you first get into photography?
Dave Wild: Relatively recently. I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2003, and up to that point the outdoors was something that happened to other people, really. I took up mountain biking for fitness, at first riding round the trails of Sherwood Forest and Clumber Park with my mates. This was in winter and for the first few months we rode in the dark with lights. As my fitness improved and the evenings got lighter we went further afield, to the Peak District. I started carrying a camera and taking pictures along the way.
OT: Were you taking pictures of animals from the start?
DW: No, at first it was landscapes. Pretty unremarkable stuff really, just like anything anyone might do. I started taking pictures of animals just because they were there, to be honest.
OT: Always domestic animals?
DW: Well, the thing with wild animals is that you usually only see them from a distance, and they don’t hang around to be photographed. Domestic animals tend to be curious and will wander right up to you. It’s actually quite difficult to produce an interesting image of an animal in the middle distance. Domestic animals often get right in your face and stay there, and thanks to digital photography I can take hundreds of shots. I often need to just to get the right one! It can be very difficult to try and frame a photo with an animal centimetres away from me; animals don’t treat the camera the same way people do, they try and look around it towards my face or towards my hands. So sometimes I end up using my hands or face to get them to look in a particular direction and try to frame the shots blind.
OT: Cows seem to be a favourite subject…
DW: Again, that’s really because they just happen to be there. They’re a common animal. If I’m honest though I have developed a soft spot for them and it’s always nice to find some when out walking. They do have a wide range of personalities and I’ve got very used to picking up the signals when they’re enjoying themselves – that goes for most of the animals I photograph. The photos are always better when the animal is happy and I’m not happy if they feel uncomfortable in any way so I tend to leave the ones who don’t want the attention alone.
DW: It’s nice to see English Longhorn, they have herds grazing in Sherwood and Clumber. You have to be careful, though, they can be a bit territorial, especially if they have calves around. Highland Cattle are also a favourite and it’s nice to find them grazing in the Peak District – they tend to be particularly relaxed and used to people walking by.
OT: What gear do you use?
DW: I use a Nikon D7000 body which was a recent treat after using a Nikon D50 for many years, and my favourite lens is a Tokina 10mm fish eye, which has a view of 180o across the diagonal and gives some interesting effects – hold it diagonally while standing up and you can see your feet in one corner and the sky in the other. It does also exaggerate the features of animals and make them look a bit like caricatures – this effect gets more pronounced the closer they get to the lens. The lens does have a protective coating on it, which is useful, as I find myself getting pretty close to the animals… sheep like to nudge the lens with their noses, cows tend to lick it and I did have a goat try to eat it once. I also carry a point-and-shoot, a Ricoh GR Digital IV, which is useful to have around when I don’t want to carry all of the DSLR gear and want to travel light. To be honest compact cameras are becoming so sophisticated now that I feel that the bulky DSLRs will inevitably become less popular. Digital SLR’s still have advantages in terms of speed of use and quality, but the gap is narrowing. I also carry a bottle of hand wash in my camera bag – after a cow has licked your hand you don’t want to use your hands for anything!
OT: Is it possible to achieve these wide-angle effects using a compact camera?
DW: My compact Ricoh has a 28mm equivalent lens and I have a 21mm conversion lens for it which is very wide for a compact, and one of the reasons I chose it. The numbers tend to be reported in 35mm camera equivalent. Because the sensor in my Nikon D7000 is smaller than a 35mm piece of film, the numbers for lenses on that camera have to be multiplied by 1.5 to get the 35mm equivalent – so my 10mm fisheye is really a 15mm fisheye if it were placed on a 35mm film camera. Most compacts have tended to be 35mm but a lot are moving to 28mm or even 24mm. This is a taste thing though, I just love wide angles. When you see “35mm equivalent” on adverts or specifications, they’ve already done the maths to come up with the number.
OT: Do you do much digital manipulation of the images?
DW: Some. I tend to work with raw data rather than a jpg file, as it gives greater versatility. You can do things like drop the clouds back into the shot, where otherwise the camera metering might have just given you flat white. I tend to work in Adobe Lightroom and not do anything more advanced that requires other software – mainly cropping and general tidying up. I do love black and white photographs, but I think most animals look better in colour.
OT: Do you do any commercial work?
DW: Not really. I mean, I have been offered that kind of work, and when I first set up my Flickr stream I got a bit uptight about making sure I was posting images every day, but I soon realised that it would be easy to spend time doing that sort of thing rather than being out and about in the fresh air taking pictures. That’s the fun part, after all. I wouldn’t want to take the pleasure out of a hobby by making it my living – and my day job keeps me busy enough! I have photographed animals for fun after requests from family and friends and that’s probably the way I’d like to continue.