Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Hunting with a Camera

This story on nature photography is 107 years old! Hyatt Verrill eventually went on to discover a process for colour pictures in nature and macro photography!


By A. Hyatt Verrill.

From St. Nicholas Magazine, 1900. Story provided by Linda Young, digital capture by Doug Frizzle 2008

When the readers of St. Nicholas who are amateur photographers have become sufficiently skilled in the art to develop their own plates or films and tone their own prints, they doubtless will have tired of snapping anything and everything, and will look about for new subjects more worthy of their skill. Of all nature's handiwork, is there anything more beautiful and interesting than our furred and feathered companions of wood and wayside?

Unfortunately, they are all too few, and every year their numbers are decreasing. Milliners, sportsmen, cats, and their wild enemies, not to mention the unthinking boy with gun or sling, all help to aid the ruthless slaughter. How much better and more beautiful is a good photograph of a wild bird in the full enjoyment of its life and freedom than a distorted skin adorning a lady's bonnet, or a stuffed and mounted caricature wired to an impossible perch! Moreover, each such picture is a pleasant reminder of days spent in sunny fields and shady grove with camera in place of gun, and the sweet breath of nature filling our lungs. To obtain satisfactory photographs of living birds is no easy matter, however, and to secure the finest results requires a suitable outfit. No cheap snap-shot camera will answer; the best is the cheapest in the end, and the best for this purpose is a 4 X 5 or 5 X 7 long-focus folding camera, fitted with pneumatic shutter and a strictly first-class lens, in addition to which one must purchase a telephoto attachment, as otherwise the picture of the bird would appear so small as to be worthless. Personally, I use a 4 X 5 "telephoto cycle Poco," and Bausch & Lomb telephoto lens, and Standard "Imperial Portrait" plates. Having secured our outfit, let us be fully acquainted with its manipulation before essaying portraits of our feathered friends. You will notice that the telephoto lens has a rack and pinion for adjusting the degree of magnification. As the amount the image is magnified reduces the light passing through the camera-lens in direct proportion, a longer exposure is necessary when using it, and as practically instantaneous exposures are essential, it is rarely possible to use more than the 4 magnification, or a shorter exposure than one fifth of a second. Now, take your camera, with telephoto attached, to some sunny spot, and focus carefully on various objects at one hundred, fifty, twenty-five, fifteen, ten, and six feet distant, and mark an accurate focusing-scale on the camera for use with the telephoto at both 3 and 4 magnifications.

Everything now being in readiness, and the holders filled with plates, we will start on our hunting trip. Perhaps, as we are passing along the pleasant country road we notice a modest gray cat-bird among the tangle of weeds and bushes that half conceal the old rail fence. He is a good subject to begin on, and as we quietly open the camera and withdraw the slide from plate-holder, he eyes us rather suspiciously, as if half suspecting it to be some newfangled sort of gun. Adjust your camera for ten feet, and if you can approach to within that distance, make your exposure. The chances are, however, that he will hop about, disappear in the bushes, reappear in another spot, and lead you a merry chase indeed before allowing his portrait to be taken. Do not become discouraged, however, but stick to it, and seek to win his confidence until you succeed. It frequently happens that if you select a good spot and sit quietly, your subject's curiosity will be aroused, and he will approach to within a few feet of you. Do not endeavor to photograph birds smaller than a song-sparrow, unless of some particularly unsuspicious species, as, for instance, the chickadee. These little fellows make charming subjects, and will almost invariably permit one to approach close enough to secure a good picture. The black-and-white warbler is another small bird who can be successfully photographed, and his sharply contrasted dress of black and white gives a striking and pleasing effect in the picture.

The Peabody-bird or white-throated sparrow is a first-class subject, and his clear, distinct markings are particularly well suited to photography. They are northern birds, appearing in small flocks in New England and the Middle States early in the autumn, and again in spring. They are fond of low bushes and brush-heaps, and are best taken in the early morning, when hunting for their breakfast. The downy woodpecker is not difficult to photograph, if near his nest or busily engaged in boring for grubs on some dead stump or limb. During the summer, when quail are plentiful, it is quite easy to secure their pictures; and even the wary woodcock can be photographed. They are the most difficult subjects I have ever attempted, however. Notice how well the markings match the fallen leaves about, and how careful the birds are to assume a position in which their own shadows blend with those of the leaves. It is only by inexhaustible patience and perseverance, and an intimate knowledge of the birds' haunts and habits, that good pictures can be secured, and even then it is more luck than anything else. A photograph of a woodcock boring I obtained quite by accident. I had been seated quietly on a log, at the edge of a boggy spot in the woods, when the bird suddenly fluttered down and at once commenced boring for his breakfast. As I was in the shade and Mr. Woodcock in the sun, he was apparently totally unaware of my presence but at the click of the shutter he was up and away instantly. Red squirrels are very easy to secure, and even the grays are not difficult. In fact, animals, as a rule, are much easier than birds, as they have a habit of standing quite motionless to look at an intruder now and then — evidently possessing more curiosity than their feathered neighbors. Oven-birds are quaint and rather sociable little chaps, and the only difficulty lies in getting them on open ground. They are generally found in the heavier woods, where they go mincing about in a very dainty and curious manner. Many species which are exceedingly difficult or impossible to take at most times may be readily photographed when on their nests, and make charming pictures. The nests themselves, with eggs showing, are very beautiful, and can be taken without the aid of the telephoto. How much more pleasing are such pictures than boxes full of empty egg-shells, nearly every one of which, if undisturbed, would have furnished another songster to cheer the countryside with life and music!

Although, as I have stated, to secure the best results a rather expensive outfit is required, yet the boy or girl who desires to secure pictures of living birds or animals need not feel discouraged if possessing only a cheap camera. Much can be accomplished by patience and perseverance. But in order to photograph these wild friends of ours without the telephoto lens, we must go about it in quite a different manner, as it is practically impossible to approach close enough to obtain more than a minute speck representing the subject on the plate. The easiest and best method is to scatter crumbs, grain, or seeds on open ground, and, focusing the camera on these, to retire quite a distance, and wait quietly until the birds begin to feed on the scattered food, when, by means of a long tube and bulb, or (if your camera is not fitted with pneumatic shutter) a piece of string, the exposure can be made and the photograph obtained at short range. Also, as I have already mentioned, birds on their nests can be readily taken with any ordinary camera and lens, provided one approaches softly and cautiously.

1 comment:

Psyche said...

Well written article.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.