In the past 14 days I have been contacted, by email, by 2 groups checking that I was still available to give a talk (just 2 days from the email) when I hadn’t so much as received a letter of confirmation. Fortunately, I was not booked to speak elsewhere so was able to give the talk. They were lucky, as I give in the region of 2 lectures a week at this time of the year. I’ll keep this simple, if I do not receive confirmation by way of a posted letter (with a section for me to complete, sign and return) or email (backed up by a reply from me) I will not turn up!
Over the last 20 years I have given in the region of 20-25 talks per year (that adds up to well over 400 talks) to a wide range of groups and societies, from the RSPB, WWT and Wildlife Trust to Photographic Societies, WI’s, National Trust and The Royal Photographic Society. I therefore feel I am in a strong position to give advice on how to book and treat a speaker and so, below, have listed a do’s and don’t's when doing so.
- Make an initial phone call or send an email to see if the speaker is available, in the first instance prior to booking. Confirm fee and format of the evening and whether the speaker requires any equipment other than the digital projector that the speaker would, in most cases, supply themselves. Offer to supply a back-up projector.
- Immediately (not 3 weeks later!) follow up with a letter of confirmation with a reply slip attached or email requesting the speaker to reply to the email to confirm it has reached them. If you do not hear from the speaker, ring them. Do not assume the email has been received and that, therefore, the speaker has been booked. It doesn’t!
- Along with confirmation, enclose a detailed map and directions to the venue. If the venue is in the middle of nowhere, then supply a map with, preferably, Lat/Long and not just a postcode as this is too vague when it’s pitch black and pouring with rain! Do not ring the speaker and expect them to jot down directions through a phone call. I cannot tell you how many times someone has attempted this with me only for me to stop them in their tracks and ask that they send me a map.
- If an AGM is to be held that same evening, explain this to the speaker before the day and ask if they would like to speak before or after. If you would prefer the speaker to start after the AGM, suggest they arrive towards the end of the meeting where they can then set up which, for most of us, takes less than 15 minutes. Few things irk a speaker more than to turn up and, while setting up, be informed that there will be an AGM beforehand!
- Once the speaker has arrived introduce him/her to both the chairman and whoever is responsible for the setting up of the presentation.
- If there is very limited parking space at the venue, reserve a space for him/her with a traffic cone or two. Or, since committee members often arrive very early, arrange for one to park as near to the entrance of the venue as possible and when the speaker arrives, allow the speaker to park in it. Speakers are always very grateful if they do not have to walk too far with all their equipment. Notify the speaker beforehand of the plan.
It is very important at this stage that the speaker be treated as a welcomed guest and is offered help in any way possible.
- If the speaker has travelled some distance (let us say 50 miles plus) offer to make them a hot drink.
- Prepare a glass of water and ask the speaker where they would like it placed.
- Pay the speaker before the talk or during the interval. This reassures him/her that he/she won’t have to chase up the treasurer afterwards!
- Make sure you know the speakers name, how to pronounce it and also the title of the talk. We do not like (in my case) being called Robin or for the chairman not quite remembering the title of the talk. This shows a complete lack of respect towards the speaker and, in the eyes of the speaker, makes your group look rather bumbling!
- Make sure someone is assigned to switch the lights off and on again. It’s very off-putting for the speaker to have an introduction to the talk, request the lights be switched off and then for the audience to look at one another wondering who’s going to do it! It’s all about the smooth running of the evening.
- Prior to the interval, arrange with the speaker what he/she would like to drink and bring it to them, preferably with bikkies! Do not expect the speaker to queue up! I have to say, this is very rare but on the rare occasion it has, I didn’t mince my words!
- During the interval, assign someone to stand and chat with the speaker.
- After the talk, give a note of thanks and, at the speakers discretion, ask if anyone has any questions. Most of us welcome this. I certainly do!
- Offer to assist the speaker with taking his/her equipment back to the car.
- Do not leave the speaker on his/her own in an empty room, packing away. This is incredibly rude and the one group that has done this to me has been black-listed!
- Finally, make sure the chairman stays with the speaker while he/she packs up and says a formal goodbye. The speaker should not be expected to hunt around the room looking for the chairman!
Please, this is not a rant! My experience with groups booking me and of the evening itself has, for the vast majority of the time, been very positive without any problems whatsoever and where I have been made to feel very welcome. I have put this together so that groups have a much clearer understanding of what the speaker would like and, indeed, should expect and, perhaps, include some of those points which the group are not, already, addressing. After all, many of us travel a considerable distance to speak for the evening and so being welcomed and said goodbye to without a hitch only makes us want to return. Don’t be the group that ends up in my, or any other speaker’s, black-book!
I am very happy for this to be duplicated and used by your group.
I have been giving talks for many years now on nature and wildlife photography. Infact, my first one was some 20 years ago to the Swale Group of the Kent Wildlife Trust. Since then I have, easily, given in excess of 400 to all manner of clubs and societies throughout England in the autumn and winter months, ranging from gardening societies and WI’s to the RPS and National Trust. I just love communicating, whether it be about wildlife in general or nature photography. Typically, at some point, I’ll digress as I recall a particular moment while out in the countryside watching and photographing, a funny (to me, at least) story or get on my soapbox and have a moan or two about current issues, not least the proposed airport on the Thames Estuary…..Grrrrr!! But this, I feel (and hope) gives the talk a personal touch. Otherwise I may as well hand out scripts for the audience to read as I move from one image to another.
It goes without saying that you need to structure a talk, particularly if it is about a certain area but, I have to say, the one I enjoy most is that which I came up with after returning year upon year to the same clubs which were, as a result, rapidly exhausting my portfolio. The title I have given it is “Bob’s Best of the Year.” It does what is says on the tin. A selection of my favourite images taken over the last year (to 18 months!). It not only gives the audience something different every year but, from a personal perspective, it allows me the opportunity to review my own work taken over that period. As photographers we tend to go from one subject or project to another and rarely look back at what we have achieved and, dare I say it, even pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. Nothing wrong with a little self gratification!
Ultimately, it is the response of the audience either during or after that keeps me on the lecture circuit, particularly if members come up during the interval or afterwards to comment on how much they enjoyed it or to ask questions. As I said, at the beginning, I just love communicating and so, if after a talk, I have enthused or inspired a member of the audience to try their hand at a field of photography they hadn’t yet considered or made others think that actually, it’s not just a piece of marsh with sheep on it and that it REALLY is worth conserving, then I shall remain on that treadmill for many, many years to come. That is, if they sill want me!
Below are just a few letters I have received over the years and, if you belong to a club and are on the lookout for a speaker, then why not get in touch.
On behalf of the Clacton Camera Club a very BIG THANK YOU for coming all this way and giving your lecture and showing so much of your work. I think and hope you could tell by the atmosphere, chatter and enthusiasm of your audience what an excellent evening you gave us. I am sure we will be talking about you and your images for many weeks to come. The evening seemed to go all too quickly, and we have had many phone calls thanking us for the evening, an evening which you made special.
Jean Pain, Programme Secretary, Clacton Camera Club
Many thanks for coming along yesterday and speaking to the Croydon Group both in the afternoon and evening. Your talk on Wildlife of the North Downs went down very well and your photographs were superb. I understand we had a record turnout for both meetings! I hope you had a safe journey home and look forward to inviting you back at a future date.
Judith Dunworth, Indoor Meetings Organizer, RSPB Croydon Local Group
I would like to thank you very much for such an interesting talk entitled ‘Field Techniques in Nature Photography’ and I know members were impressed with the amount of information received on wildlife, as well as all the various tips on taking such wonderful photographs. I particularly like the hares! Many members were enthused about the evening and I was very pleased with the turnout – one of the best.
Margaret Rimmer, Secretary, EPIC (Eynsford Photographic Image Club)
In short, Steven Dalton pioneered high-speed nature photography, revealing aspects of behaviour never before seen. And, although you could argue that there were others before him (Eric Hosking, for example) who used high-speed flash to arrest movement, no-one before or since Stephen Dalton has done it with such mastery. It was as much about aesthetics and authenticity (very tricky in a studio environment) as it was about getting it sharp and well composed. And this, was in the days of film!
Steven Dalton’s hey-day was the 80s and 90s and although still practising his craft today, he is not, understandably, quite as prolific as he once was was. Saying that, however, he has recently returned to photographing insects in flight, largely due to the acquisition of a medium format Phase One digital back and an increased flash duration of 1/60,000 second! An exhibition in London is being planned for 2012.
Although he is the master of high-speed flash, there is another side to his work that had a profound influence (in my younger days) on my own. It was with the release of one of his best selling books The Secret Life of an Oakwood (1984). It revealed all aspects of nature within an oakwood and not just the obviously beautiful such as butterflies and birds. A snail crawling over fungi, a leaf in mid-winter covered in frost, rays of sunlight penetrating the canopy. I would, quite literally, study each image and enthused with what I had seen, go out into my own local woods and “try” to emulate. Of course, I never succeeded but he got me out there, looking for details, in all weathers. Other images, such as that of a dormouse, that required a controlled environment also urged me to try my hand at this kind of work. Two books followed in this series, At the Water’s Edge. The Secret Life of a Lake and Stream and The Secret Life of a Garden and, although they also contain some wonderful images, my personal favourite will always be his first.
In 1987 I had the great pleasure in meeting Stephen at his home in Sussex. At the time I was studying photography at Paddington College and, as part of the course work, we were asked to speak with a photographer we most admired. So, I wrote to him and he kindly agreed to meet me. I wasn’t driving then so I had to catch a train then a taxi to his house, deep in the Sussex countryside. To say I was nervous, is a huge understatement, but with his calm and understated manner I soon relaxed and we chatted about photography. We pondered over medium format transparencies on his lightbox showing me Polaroids of a barn owl in flight (using a toilet roll as a barn owl substitute!). At the time he was working on a book called Vanishing Paradise and took me into his dining room where he had been photographing a hummingbird. There in this (very large) room was a huge set consisting of a pond and waterfall with authentic rainforest plants. A camera and 3 high-speed flash units were set up and when he turned on the tap to “activate” the waterfall, down came the hummingbird to bathe. Amazing stuff! I left in awe but just before, like some Take That fan, I got him to sign one of his books called Secret Lives.
Stephen has very kindly granted me permission to use this image of a barn owl returning to feed it’s young with a rat. It is one of his most iconic and I am sure you will agree that aside from the obvious, it is his mastery of light that sets this image apart from others. It was taken in the mid 70s and in order to get the lighting just right he made a scaled replica and experimented with lighting in his garden.The following is from an email I received from Stephen enquiring how he got the image.
“The whole operation was very complicated and long-winded, before I developed all what was then considered sophisticated equipment, but by modern standards very crude. (1950′s high voltage unit designed for press use, manual ‘open flash’ for the shutter, but at least I got the bird to fire the flash). It took 2-3 weeks and I was perched high on top of a roof with a wild bees nest at my elbow. The full story can be found in ‘Caught in Motion’ published 1982.
The photograph was taken on a 1969 Leicaflex SL with standard lens set at full aperture (f2.8) on 25 ASA Kodachrome (with a wait of a week before the results could be checked!)
Nowadays we have the facilities of instant digital and ‘films’ 30,000 times faster than Kodachrome, and the use of off-the shelf flash guns that provide the necessary speed. That’s progress!”
Rarely, these days, do you see images of barn owls taken with flash. The advancement of digital cameras, cropped sensors and high iso’s inclines nature photographers away from nest work and shoot using available light. Indeed, there are some fantastic images of these birds on the web, (often hunting low over a reedbed) but, in my opinion, they do all tend to look the same. You will gaze over one image to another but this one, this one has and will stand the test of time.
Over the last 6 months, yes 6 (sometimes I really need a good kick up the backside to get writing!), I have been running a series outlining 5 nature photographers that have had the most influence on my own work, particularly in my early years. And so, before I reveal who (for me at least) is at the top of the tree, here’s a summary of the other 4. If you’d like to read the entire piece about that photographer, just a click on the name.
Whoever correctly guesses who is at number 1, either on this blog or facebook, will receive a copy of Hannu Hautala’s acclaimed book, To Everything a Season. A year in the Finnish wilds, of which I have two copies. I’ll even stump up the P&P! Sorry, UK only.
Below is how I bagan the piece….
Those of us that have been taking photographs for some time will have undoubtedly been influenced by those we have admired. Certainly I have! I started taking wildlife photographs 27 years ago at the age of 13 and seriously from 16 at a time when we weren’t bombarded with imagery found on the Internet. My influences came from those around me and those credited with images gracing coffee table books and magazines such as BBC Wildlife and National Geographic.
From a very early age I would tag-along with a great friend of mine, called Ted Coleman who was 40 years my senior. He was a quite brilliant naturalist and no mean wildlife photographer, to boot! I would find myself trying desperately to emulate his style and quality (very poorly, I have to say) but as I grew older and saw other photographers’ work, I began to follow my own inclinations and would attempt to record what I saw in a more artistic manner. Ted, in his rural, gravelly voice would call this “arty-farty”! I couldn’t disagree. He was right! You see, this was the early 1980s and ”artistic” natural history photography wasn’t at all common, at least not in the UK. By and large, photographers would record what they saw as opposed to putting their own personal “stamp” on it. However, there were a number in that period that started to do just that and over the coming weeks, I’ll be going through those, in ascending order, that have influenced my own work the most.
I won’t be including Ted in this as I don’t feel as though I need to state how much he influenced my work, particularly in those early days. Indeed, as time went by and we returned from trips together, to Wales and Finland for example, many an evening would be spent projecting our images and seeing just how different our styles had become. One thing never changed though and that was an ethic he had instilled in me all those years ago. “That no matter how badly you want that picture or how hard you have worked to get close, the subject’s well-being must always come first.”
The top 5 nature photographers that have most influenced my work starts with Finnish wildlife photographer, Hannu Hautala. I toyed with placing him further up the list but those that will follow have had a more sustained influence on my work, particularly in the early days.
Hannu Hautala is undoubtedly the most famous Finnish photographer. So much so, that he is, or at least was, regularly shown on TV, advertising products, something which, unless David Bailey ever became a wildlife photographer, I very much doubt you will ever see in Britain!
He was one of the first to place the subject, be it a bird or mammal, small in the frame. To put it in context with it’s environment. This was done with thought and not by mistake. Before him, pictures of birds and animals were almost always big in the frame and if the photographer couldn’t get close enough, then just “clumsily” snapped. From the 1990s onwards this “style” became a trademark of Finnish wildlife photography.
Laurie Campbell was once described by wildlife film-maker, Simon king, “as the doyen of Scottish nature photography.” Who could argue? Laurie Campbell in so many ways epitomises how a nature photographer should behave. In other words, he conducts himself in such a way that rather than talking a good picture, he lets his pictures speak for themselves. An incredibly knowledgeable naturalist (unfortunately, an increasingly rare trait in a nature photographer these days), Laurie is a great all-rounder. Equally as good shooting birds and mammals as he is landscapes, plants and insects.
He has a style of that goes beyond the ordinary. Careful use of light and viewpoint. Indeed, I would go as far to say that Laurie was one of the first British photographers to adopt the “low-angle” approach when shooting wildlife, something that is the norm these days.
Frans Lanting is regularly hailed as one of the great nature photographers of our time and, when it comes to nature photography, I cannot disagree.
I first became aware of his work back in 1987 after purchasing a copy of National Geographic which ran a story of his titled “Madagascar: A World Apart.” Very little was known of this island back then and he even photographed a species of lemur which hadn’t yet been named! Three years later he had another, this time on the Okavango Delta in Botswana. He spent a year living in the region photographing elephants, eagle and hippos. He would sleep during the day and follow a pride of lions at night, lay under camo netting close to a waterhole where lions would pass by just yards away, too intent on quenching their thirst to take any notice. It was these images that really brought him into prominence and which led to him being awarded BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
The final 2! John Shaw made the complexities of photographing nature, possible. This may seem like a sweeping statement but in the early and mid 80s there was a kind of secrecy behind photographing wildlife by many leading nature photographers incase others produced similar “competing” work. It’s ridiculous when you think of it, especially now when “How to” photography books fill up book stands at your local Waterstones. But back then when it was all about transparency and getting it right first time, such things as exposure, filtration, camera supports and the most important element, technique were not extensively covered at all. John Shaw changed all that.
Aside from his methods and explanations, I adored his images. Simple, graphic lines. His landscape images are rarely complicated and some of his most memorable, at least for me, are as simple as a tree at sunset or a frost covered leaf. It wasn’t necessarily about the subject but the subject’s placement within the frame. Here is clearly a man equally at home shooting dew laden grasses as he is bison in Yellowstone. He explains, strong images are very much about making sense of nature’s chaos. Deciding what it is that you like about that scene and leaving out what detracts from it.
There is, in my opinion, no better place to blow the cobwebs away and relieve you of the daily stresses and strains, than a walk in the woods. Couple this with completely still, misty, ”golden” conditions and you have the perfect tonic. As a professional photographer, I am always on the look-out for exciting (commercial) images and occasionally lose touch with why I love nature photography so much. Those four hours I spent, a few days ago, wandering and losing myself in the intoxicating solitude, reminded me so and was one of the most rewarding forays I have ever had. Oh, and as I retraced my steps along that woodland path, a fox walked across it, right infront of me!
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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