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Passion for photography

Already a successful photojournalist, Jane Morgan has gone back to basics to study the finer points of photography. Here’s her guide to the art of capturing the best images 


As a teenager I attended a couple of photography sessions at a local school with a brilliant, flamboyant teacher called Sylvester. I’ll never forget the first thing he said to us in his soft American drawl: ‘Some people breathe, and some people take photographs’. A quarter of a century later I realise that never a truer word was spoken.

My first real attempt at photography was actually underwater with a 35mm marine camera and it was a baptism of fire! I was so busy fiddling with all the controls that I had drifted away from the reef and my diving buddy into blue water. I looked
up and spotted something in the distance swimming towards me, it was my first ever sighting of a hammerhead shark. I couldn’t believe my luck. I thought: ‘Wow, my first ever shot will be a perfect hammerhead portrait.’ So I looked through the viewfinder waiting for it to fill the frame, but I was so excited that when I pressed the shutter nothing happened. I then inadvertently locked the shutter, unlocked it and tried again, and eventually got a picture of the tail as the unimpressed shark away. So my first attempt was more of a ‘the one that got away story’, but I was well and truly hooked.

That was over 12 years ago now but I’m more addicted than ever. So much so that, even though I’ve been making a living through photo journalism for some years, I have enrolled as a slightly mature student onto a BA (Hons) degree course in Marine and Natural History Photography at Falmouth University in my quest to devour still more knowledge.

It’s the best thing I ever did. We’ve gone back to basics and I’m learning how to use 5x4 large format cameras and develop my own prints. Also I’ve been learning how to photograph plants through a microscope and light models correctly in the studios.

I sometimes wonder if there should be a warning on the on the doors of photographic shops... this equipment is highly addictive and could be a danger to your financial health. Then again the converted, or addicted, would buy it anyway just to feed the ongoing passion.

Studio photography in a lot of ways is easier because you are in a safe, controlled environment. However, a good understanding of lighting is required because you are starting from scratch with little of no ambient light. If you are going

to do studio photography it is essential that you get yourself a light meter and use it, as this will save you hours of frustration. A professional studio will equip you with backdrops and a vast array of lighting options, including key lights, back lights, soft lights and reflectors. All you need is a willing model and you can have hours of fun experimenting with different techniques. 

A word of advice from one of my senior lecturers, and particularly relevant when shooting landscapes, is to leave the camera at home when it’s a perfect day. If you have a look around at some of the most successful landscape photographs, you’ll see that they often have very moody skies. When the sky

is just a perfect light blue it can look fairly boring or just washed out. However, this can be avoided by the use of graduated neutral-density filters – a must-have for budding landscape photographers. Often referred to as GNDs, these come in hard or soft options. The soft have a gentle gradient, so are useful for landscapes with mountains or buildings. The hard have a more defined change and are more suited to level horizons. The filters come in several strengths and will drop the sky down from 1 to 4 stops.  

The magic hours. Make the most of the magic light at sunrise and sunset, especially in the winter when you don’t have to get out of bed too early or stay out too late. 

There is nothing better than spending a day wandering around the countryside photographing the flora and fauna. If you are aiming to get pictures of flowers and insects, then a tripod and macro lens are essential. Or, if birds are more your cup of tea, you will need to invest in a nice long lens. Do be aware though, that these can be quite heavy to carry over long distances. Quite recently I needed some photos of wild flowers but the weather was being very unhelpful, so I picked a couple of daisies and set up a makeshift mini studio in my kitchen. All you need are some lights and black and/or white card and both you and your camera kit get to stay nice and dry. 

Very early on in my photographic career, I was given some advice by underwater photography teaching guru Martin Edge. He said get close, then get closer and shoot up. When you are shooting underwater if you can only remember two things, these two really make a difference. Even the clearest water is full of small particles that you don’t want to light up in front of your subject, so you must always reduce the water column between you as much as possible. Lighting is the key in all forms of photography, but underwater even more so. The deeper you are the less light will be able to penetrate and more colour will be absorbed. Apart from in the shallows, you will require the use of filters or strobes if you want to avoid very blue pictures. If you don’t have either of these, you can adjust your white balance when post-processing, but if you want to take your underwater photography seriously invest in strobe lighting and most importantly perfect your art of buoyancy. 

Read the manual. I know it’s tiresome but if you really understand how your camera works, it will give you the edge. 

Deciding on the best kit to buy can be a pretty daunting task. Nowadays pretty much everyone has some kind of camera, even if it’s only on your mobile phone. If you are just dipping your toes or just wanting snap shots of friends and family or something to take away on holiday, then a good compact point and shoot is the way to go. Far more travel and wallet friendly and you don’t have to worry about whether you have packed the right lenses. However, if you are going pro and you want to sell your images or you are having a love affair with photography then you will need a DSLR (digital single lens reflex). But buying the camera body is only the start of it, the lenses are as just as important for image quality and often even more of an investment than the camera itself 

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