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Paul Goldstein gets over-exposed: Tips for the budding wildlife photographer

Bob Books
10th May 2016

Paul Goldstein is driven in everything he does, whether photographing, guiding, presenting or fund-raising. His jobs consist of cramming in a full-time career with a tour operator (Exodus), owning four safari camps in Kenya, guiding all over the world, presenting wildlife lectures and fund-raising for tigers and other persecuted species.

"Paul is not a man you want to disappoint. He takes a somewhat unorthodox approach to both photography and guiding – think Gordon Ramsay armed with lenses instead of saucepans." The Independent

"If there's a decent shot to be had, there's a chance he's already taken it. It's why so many people are eager to sign up to his bootcamp-style photography holidays, which he commands with the unrelenting vigour of an army general, demanding - and achieving - results." The Evening Standard

Above photo: Paul Goldstein and Chris Packham

Through it all the ethical side of wildlife, be it just viewing it or photographing it is desperately important. 'When I see photos of snarling animals I shudder: it inevitably means the photographer was too close. The 'photo at any cost' concept is disgracefully still-borne. Just as morally derelict are those wildlife photographers who think just by taking images they will help the species. This is bollocks, they have to be more generous than that. I have spent much of the past fifteen years raising money for schools, boreholes, teachers, F.G.M. programmes and natal clinics by photographing endangered animals, with those images having big ancillary benefits - over £150,000 worth. This will continue. Unless local people feel a 'warmth' from their striped or spotted neighbours why should they protect them? Sensitive tourism is the best remedy to the decline in tigers, rhinos and lions. The Royals getting cross about it or governments having big ‘endangered’ conferences does little or nothing. Nor does C-list celebrities crying crocodile tears over them. Money properly appropriated then spent transparently in protecting the species and a proper hard line on poachers is the only cure now. Plus shaming those who insist on using animal body parts for traditional medicine massaging their pitiful libido’s.

Paul was a late convert to digital photography and is still disillusioned by the acres of text and web space devoted to post production. For him it is all about taking the image, not manufacturing it. Here are his opinionated tips for any budding wildlife photographer:

1. Research: Both where you are staying and how to get there. The key is quality time in the right areas which often mean a higher cost. A week-end in a Mara Conservancy is worth three weeks driving around six different parks in a sardine-like minivan.

2. Departure time: If the place you are staying advertises ‘be up at dawn’ – avoid them like the plague: you want to be in position at sunrise, before in fact. Also if you want to be out all day you should be able to, even if it carries a cost.

3. Wheels: your vehicle is critical: if you are in Africa and it does not have cut out sides or a good roof hatch, book somewhere else.

4. Gear: don’t feel you have to pay the price of a car for a new lens, it is perfectly acceptable to buy a second hand one or better still hire one.

5. MM – do not be seduced by big millimeter lenses, the F stop is more important, the lower the number the heavier, but sharper and brighter the image.

6. Be bold: one audacious slow shutter speed shot with flaws is worth a hundred chocolate box portraits that have been seen a thousand times.

7. The golfer Gary Player famously said: ‘the harder I practice the luckier I get’. If you want to get good at this you must put in some long hours at home photographing foxes, deer, seagulls or robins. It is no use arriving and expecting to be anything other than rusty.

8. Patience: if you have to wait for nine hours for five thousand wildebeest to cross the Mara river do so. Likewise if the Arctic has 24 hours of daylight in their summer be prepared for some long nights.

9. Back up: Everyone needs it: you can buy massive portable hard drives for very little now so no reason to lose any data.

10. Deletions: You must, must, must. Preferably straight away. Too often people take far too many images, drop them straight onto a hard drive which is where they stay in perpetuity. Far better to get rid of the dross off the camera (i.e. if it is so blurred you do not know whether your subject has a pulse or the lion/tiger/jaguar/wolf or bear has its legs cut off, it has no business being kept. I try to delete images every day, it makes you better as a photographer.

11. Sharp Practice: it is either sharp or it is not. ‘Sharp enough’ generally means blurred so bin it. Even a slow pan shot (my specialty) does not get let off lightly, the head must be sharp the background blurred.

12. The critics: you should have many as blinding images often elicit strong feelings, do not be afraid of criticism. However, the harshest critic should be yourself. If it is just a ‘nice’ image, it has to go.