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PHOTOGRAPHY OVERVIEW: AMPHIBIANS, REPTILES, INVERTS, O'SHEA PIX

 

PERSONAL ADVENTURES IN HERP PHOTOGRAPHY


Part 1.
TRIAL AND ERROR:
IN PURSUIT OF THE PERFECT IMAGE

(First published in The Herptile 2010 35(1):5-16)

Photographic equipment and techniques are very personal things. People have favourite cameras, favourite lenses, favoured techniques that get the results they want, little tricks of the trade. You can learn quite a lot by looking at other people’s photography, such as the work of the famous Michael and Patricia Fogden, in Costa Rica, or L.Lee Grismer in Baja California or Malaysia, Bill Love in Madagascar, Tony Phelps in S.Africa, Neil Das in Borneo, Ashok Captain in India, the Bartlett’s in Florida, and of course our own Chris Mattison, the list is endless, but there is no substitute to picking up a camera and trying it out for yourself. By all means read how the fantastic cover photographs on Herpetological Review were obtained, flick through the natural history portfolios in the photographic magazines, peruse CalPhotos online, but you will never really learn how to take good photographs without taking chances and pressing the shutter. In this article, which looks like it might run to two, I will try to take you through my learning curve in the hopes that it will make your curve easier to traverse. What works for me, works for me, and whilst I cannot promise it will work for you, you may have fun finding out and you might also take some stunning photos along the way.

Decisions, Decisions!
Cameras
The first question is compact camera or SLR?
This acronym has two meanings, depending on whether you are a photographer or a soldier. To the latter, SLR means ‘self-loading rifle’ but to the former it means ‘single-lens reflex’. This refers to a camera with a moveable mirror inside, which lifts out of the way as the shutter is pressed. Users of compact cameras will be familiar with the scenario where the position of the image is slightly to the right or left of what was visible through the view-finder, and they learn to compensate when composing their shots. With an SLR the viewfinder and the film or digital plane see exactly the same image. There are many camera manufacturers out there, but most professional or semi-pro photographers use either Canon or Nikon. I use Canon, as do many of my colleagues. This is useful because we can try out each other’s new lenses. Everything I write from now on is therefore in relation to photography with Canon cameras, I have no experience with any other manufacturer, not even the equally excellent Nikon. I own two Canon EOS 1-V film cameras, and an EOS 5 film camera I have for use in an underwater housing, plus three digital SLRs, an EOS 400D, EOS 40D and EOS 7D. SLR cameras allow you to use many different lenses whilst compacts do not have that versatility.

The second question you have to ask is film or digital?
Anticipating your response, that it is a no-brainer because film is dead, I will say no, film is far from dead. Some of the best results I have obtained have been with film, even now with digital the popular medium. So when I come to discussing techniques I will start with film, a natural decision because almost anybody who had been taking photographs for more than ten years will have started with film.

Lenses
But back to equipment. Most SLR cameras today have interchangeable lenses that allow for a far greater range of photography. Lenses are either fixed focal length or zoom, which will focus at a variety of distances and give very differing images. It has long been accepted that optical quality, and therefore image quality, is better with fixed focal length lenses but some of the zooms now available are as good, if not better and zooms are so versatile that one lens may do the jobs of several fixed length lenses. They may still be the jack of all trades but no longer can they automatically be considered masters of none. Canon fixed focal length range from ultra-wide angle 14mm to huge (and hugely expensive) 800mm (£9,000 or $14,000) and 1200mm (discontinued) lenses. I know a Brazilian wildlife photographer who employed an assistant whose sole job was carrying and protecting a couple of these mega-long lenses in the field. Zoom lenses range from a 10-22mm wide-angle zoom to a 100-400mm zoom. There are also some specialist lenses available but I shall come back to them much later, some of them are fun!

You really have to decide what sort of wildlife photography you want to pursue before buying your lenses. If you want to take up bird photography, photographing ospreys or golden eagles in Scotland, you need a long telephoto fixed focal length lens, and possibly one of the 2x converters you can insert between the lens and the camera body to double its focal length and turn the 800mm into a 1600mm lens. You will need a tripod to mount this monster because the slightest beat of your heart as you hold it will cause the image half a mile away to jump all over the place. You will also need a lot of money, these lenses are very, very, very expensive.

The same set-up would go for photographing lions on the Masai Mara although you can get a bit closer (in a Land Rover, not on foot of course) and use slightly shorter lenses in the 200-400mm range, this time resting the lens on the window-sill, or a bean-bag, or using one the nifty in-car tripod grips to hold the camera steady for the money-shot. Engine turned off to avoid camera-shake here!

None of this is really my bag! I am not adverse to some mammal photography if the situation arises, but being aware of the problems and possible expense of transporting long, heavy, valuable lenses on aircraft with hand-baggage weight limits or in bumpy vehicles or boats, only to find the opportunity to use them does not arise or the lens is damaged, I find myself usually not carrying any lenses longer than 100mm. I do own a Canon EF 70-300mm zoom and an EF 100-400mm zoom but they do not live in my camera bag like my macro lenses.

I specialise in macro-photography, photographing reptiles, amphibians and interesting invertebrates close-up. I suspect that if you are reading The Herptile this is the area of photography that interests you too, you see yourself more as a Bill Love than an Eric Hoskins or a Neil Das rather than a Simon King. The most important lenses for this kind of photography are macro-lenses and I use, of course, Canon, ie. 100mm, 60mm and 50mm. The 100 and 50mm lenses are EF lenses that fit on my EOS 1-V (film) and all of my digital SLRs while the 60mm is an EF-S lens that only fits the digital bodies. Canon also produce a 180mm macro lens but I don’t have one. I tend to keep a macro-lens each, permanently on one film and one digital body, as 90% of my photography is of close-up herps. Yes, some regular lenses offer a close-up facility, but that is often not real macro. True macro is life size 1:1, and that is what I can achieve with the 100mm and 60mm lenses. The 50mm only goes to half life-size 1:2, but that is fine, sometimes that is what I need, and I can also get images larger than life-size, but more of that later too.

Fig.1: The author shooting habitat shots in KwaZulu Natal, S.Africa using a Canon EOS-1V film body and EF-28-105mm wide-angle zoom.
[photo Roger Finnigan]

Finally, it is a good idea to carry a wide-angle lens, either fixed or zoom (I have a 24mm fixed, and a 28-105mm zoom) to shoot habitat shots to go with your herp photographs, and some other human interest images to make a presentation more diverse and interesting, such as an expedition group shot, an ox-cart crossing a river, village children at play, sunset at the end of a successful day’s herping, or other scenic's.

Flashgun
Macro photography generally requires another piece of equipment other than the camera body and macro-lens. It requires a flashgun, sometimes more than one, and here’s why.

If you are photographing an osprey on its nest a quarter of a mile away, or a lion on a kill 100m away, you can use natural light and can get excellent results. If you try to use natural light to photograph much closer subjects like a coiled snake on a branch or an alert lizard on some leaf-litter, you are likely to be disappointed with the results. A little lesson in depth of field is required here.

The ‘depth of field’ is the area that will be in focus, between the film or digital plane and infinity, all foreground and background outside the depth of field being out of focus. It is generally desirable to have the entire herp fully in focus but this is often not easy, and may even be impossible with natural light. Depth of field is governed by the f-stop which is a representation of the aperture size through which light can pass when the shutter is pressed and the photograph is taken.

This problem does not occur with ospreys on nests or lions in the road. In Fig.2. the lion is sat on the road, taking up very little of the distance from the film plane to the horizon, which might be a quarter of a mile away and is effectively infinity. It you drew a line from the film plane to the horizon, so that it passed through the lion, only a very small portion would actually pass through the lion’ body, so if his nose is in focus it is extremely likely that his tail will be also.

Fig.2: Depth of field when photographing a subject
where the horizon is infinite.
Click on the image for an enlarged view.

 

But, if you look at Fig.3. and consider the same situation for the frog, it is a quite different story. The horizon in this image is the leaf just behind the frog so a similar line drawn from the film plane, through the frog to the horizon, would find the frog occupying a good 50% of that distance and simply taking a photograph using natural light, focussing on his eye, will likely result in an image where his snout, front legs and hind legs are all out of focus. It can be done, shooting at very slow speeds with a tripod, but it is not ideal. This is where so many close-up photographs, taken without an understanding of the relationship between depth of field and the f-stop, fail to live up to expectations.

Fig.3: Depth of field when photographing a subject
where the horizon is very close.

Black-spotted rock frog
Staurois guttatus, Temburong, Brunei, Borneo. Click on the image for an enlarged view.

 

To obtain the greatest depth of field it is necessary to adjust the f-stop on the camera, thereby altering the diameter to which the aperture of the lens will close when the shutter is pressed and the photograph taken. F-stops are represented by a series of numbers of which the main ones are 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8.0, 11, 16, 22 and 32, numbers between these corresponding to 1/3-stop graduations. There are further f-stops to either side of this series, just as infra-red, ultra-violet, x-rays and gamma rays are located on either side of the visible spectrum, but these are the only ones you will really need to know. The hardest part of understanding the relationship between aperture, f-stop and depth of field is the concept that the smaller means larger and larger means smaller. Until you can get your head around this concept you will not be able to work out the right f-stop to use. To expand on this statement, the smaller the f-stop number, the larger the aperture and the lesser the depth of field, and of conversely, the larger the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture, and the greater the depth of field. Understanding this is rather like trying to understand the offside rule in football, it is second nature to its exponents, but incomprehensible to the uninitiated. So I came up with an easy way to visualise these relationships as illustrated in Fig.4.

Fig.4: The relationship between the f-stop and depth of field.
Timor treefrog
Litoria everetti, Bakhita, Timor-Leste.
Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Take a pint of beer and three cylinders, each of a different width but each of exactly one-pint capacity or volume. The widest cylinder is f2.8, pour the pint in and discover it is really rather shallow. The medium-width cylinder is f8.0 and because it is narrower than the f2.8 cylinder the same amount of liquid will result in a greater depth. The final cylinder is a long thin tube and it represents f32, the maximum f-stop available on many lenses. When the beer is poured into this cylinder it resembles a yard of ale, very narrow and very deep. If the beer is the depth of field it is easy to see which of these three cylinders will bring the frog’s front toes and hindlimbs back into focus. If nobody has any objections I will leave the off-side rule for someone else to explain.

It seems so easy, just set the camera at f32 and press the shutter, but hold on, the aperture is now so very small that very little light is going to reach the film plane to expose the image. If you are not careful you will end up with a very dark, under-exposed image. There are several things you can do.

The author photographing a
Beaked seasnake
Enhydrina schistosa,
in natural light using EOS-1V and EF-100mm macro lens, a tough call without bright sunlight. [photo Roger Finnigan]

Click on the image to view the seasnake
from Weipa, Queensland.
  • Slow the shutter speed down to allow more light into the camera. Slowing the shutter speed is fine if the camera is on a tripod, there is no wind blowing, and the subject is not likely to move, but handheld, as much of this photography has to be, there is a risk of camera shake, caused by simply breathing or the heart-beat of the photographer. Wind blown vegetation, or the subject itself deciding to move slightly, or hop or run away completely, will all result in a blurred out of focus image.
  • Using a faster ASA film (see later), or setting a higher ASA for the digital image, that requires less light to obtain a suitable exposure. That too will work but you could find the ASA required is so fast that the image will be too grainy to be useable.
  • Provide a powerful source of light that will compensate for the high f-stop number, small aperture and increased depth of field, without the need for a painfully slow shutter speed. That source of light is a flashgun and again there are several options to consider. Flash synchronisation speeds are usually 1/200 or 1/250 second, fast enough to catch the action and eliminate camera shake.

Many SLR cameras come with a built in flash but they really are not all that powerful and although they may serve to illuminate a portrait shot they are really not a great deal of use for macro-work. For a start, a 100mm macro-lens stuck on the front of the camera may prevent the in-built flash from actually reaching a small object positioned very close to the lens, or at least cast a shadow across the subject.

 

The author shooting close-up of head of a
Smooth-scaled death adder
Acanthophis laevis, in 1985, using Canon F1 body, EF-100mm macro lens and two small flash units on a Kennett macroflash set-up, all operated with one hand and supported by a shoulder pod.
This method got the author bitten
by a rattlesnake in Brazil in 1987.
[photo Phil Willmott-Sharp]

Click on the image to view
close-up of the death adder from Tapini,
Owen Stanley Mts. Central Prov., PNG.

You can also use a more powerful flashgun mounted on the camera hot-shoe but this may also fail to illuminate the subject directly in front of the lens or it may cause dreaded red-eye when the flash is bounced directly back into the lens.

Generally macro-photographers use flashguns operated off the camera either by a cable attachment or triggered by an infra-red master unit such as Canon’s Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2. This unit will trigger multiple flashguns that have been set to respond in ‘slave-mode’. However, I started out with more basic kit. I used to pick up little, cheapo, second-hand throwaway flashguns for £10 ($15-16) each, mount then on arms extending from the camera and have them triggered by cables running from the hotshoe.

I then moved on to using huge great Metz Megablitz flashguns mounted on Stroboframe mounts, which were very versatile. They produced some very neat off-camera flash-mounting systems, ranging from the Pro-RL that I used with single Metz flashguns, to a two-armed attachment for twin flashguns that does not appear to be on their website anymore. These guns were also very powerful with guide numbers of 45* but they were large and heavy and they drained six AA batteries very quickly. They also required special adaptors to make them work with Canon cameras, so in the end I moved onto Canon’s own Speedlite range and now use primarily EX 550 and 580 guns.

The author photographing a
Puff adder
Bitis arietans,
using EOS-1V, EF-100mm macro lens and Stroboframe mounted Metz Megablitz CT45. [photo Donald Strydom]

There are also a couple of flashguns designed purely for macro-work. Forget the ring-flashes, they are under-powered and disappointing. They also produce unsightly donut light rings in the eyes of your subjects. Much better, but rather expensive, is the Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX, a very versatile unit that consists of a hotshoe mounted battery unit and a ring that goes around the lens. Attached to this are two small adjustable flash-heads that can be twisted and turned to drop their light directly onto the subject. I first saw this unit being used by Wolfgang Wüster during our Namaqualand trip in 2005 and was so impressed I bought one on my return to the UK. One unit can even be hand held to provide flash from a different angle, and the amount of light or ratio of light emitted by either or both units can be controlled either manually or by ETTL**.

The author photographing a Puff adder Bitis arietans,
using two identical EOS-1V film units loaded with Kodachrome 64 and Velvia 50. [photo Donald Strydom]
Click on the image to view close-up of
the puff adder from Mkuze, KwaZulu Natal, S.Africa

 

 

 

 

* The guide number is calculated  from the distance to subject and the f-stop and at an ASA of 100. The higher the number the more powerful the flashgun. For macro-work guide numbers of 20 or more are usually necessary to achieve sufficient light at high f-stops. Often the guide number is included in the name of the flashgun, as in my Metz CL and CT45s.

** ETTL stands for Electronic Through The Lens metering and basically it means the lens tells the flashgun when the subject is correctly lit and the flash is turned off, preventing over-exposure and almost guaranteeing correctly exposed images every time.

 

 

The author was photographing a
White-lipped treefrog
Litoria infrafrenata,
but frogs have a habit of not sitting still.
EOS 30D with EF- 60mm macro lens and two Speedlite flashguns mounted on Stroboframe arms, and triggered as 'slaves'
by ST-E2 infra-red transmitter, that also serves as a treefrog perch.
[photo David Williams]

Click on the image to view treefrog
from Brown River, Central Prov. PNG

So the basic equipment consists of the camera body, the lenses and one or two flashguns, maybe an IR transmitter, plus for some jobs, a tripod, or a couple of mini-tripods for mounting off the camera flashguns.

Next we have to decide, film or digital, (although I suspect I know what most people will decide already). That said I could not ignore film because it has been such a mainstay of my photography since I started taking it seriously some 20 years ago.

Shooting Film:
The disadvantage of film is you don’t know what you have got, or even if you have got anything at all, until you return home and get your films processed and mounted. Ah, yes, I neglected to mention, when I say film I mean slide film, what are professionally called transparencies, not print film. I will hold back from saying shooting print film is a waste of time and resources, but I will suggest it is the preserve of the happy snapper, producing a bundle of 8x4 prints that are poured over eagerly for the first day and a half, and then consigned to the back of the drawer for the rest of their lives, or at best shoved into an album that is itself consigned to the same drawer.

The author photographing a
Papuan taipan
Oxyuranus scutellatus canni,
in cage with glass removed, the AVRU Serpentarium, Port Moresby, using EOS 30D, EF-60mm macro lens, 580EX Speedlite,
slaved off-camera using ST-E2 transmitter.
[photo David Williams]

Click on the image to view taipan from Milne Bay Prov., PNG

I mean, what can you do with prints, hand them around in the pub for  one to one, or one to two, viewing, blow them up and have them framed, provided you used a film with a suitable resolution to make this a viable option, or stick them in an album. You cannot deliver a presentation on your Amazonian adventure using prints, for that you need slides, and whilst you can easily have prints printed from slides the reverse, whilst not impossible, is vastly more expensive. For the purposes of this article, print film is not serious photography, so from now on when I say film, I mean slide film, and it goes without saying I am talking about 35mm, the sort of film that goes into SLR cameras. There are other film formats including professional medium-format film for use in studios in large Mamiya and Hasselblad cameras. I have no experience of these and anyone interested in medium-format should speak to our editor Alan Wilkie, who is quite into these big expensive pieces of kit.

The author photographing a
Borneo anglehead
Gonocephalus borneensis,
using EOS-1V, EF-100mm macro lens and MT-24EX Macro Twin Lite. [photo Paul Freed]
Click on the image to view close-up of anglehead
from Sepilok, Sabah, Borneo.

Choice of slide film is also important if you want consistently good results, and this is where you should consider the ISO (International Organization for Standardization), ASA (American Standards Association) or DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung), which are three measures of film speed, and a guide to the film’s sensitivity to light. Three measures for the same thing sounds confusing but like Centigrade, Celsius and Fahrenheit, or feet and metres, kilograms and pounds, we have learned to use one and dispense with the others. Dump DIN and just consider the other two. ASA is the most familiar:  ASA 100, 200, 400, the larger the number the ‘faster’ the film, ie. its greater sensitivity to light, the more quickly it will expose and produce the image in low light conditions. ISO is a logarithmic scale that climbs one at a time in degrees, and once you know this you can understand it too. ASA 100 = ISO 21°; ASA 125 = ISO 22°; 160 = 23°; 200 = 24°, but now you know how that works you can dispense with it too and stick with ASA. So which film to use. People often make the mistake of going for as fast a film as they can, ie. 200, 400, even 1000 ASA. You can even ‘push’ the film in the camera to a higher ASA and provided you tell the processing laboratory you have done this, they can process the film as a higher rated film and get more out of it, say 1000 to 2000 or 3200 ASA.
Wow ! Fantastic ? No.

Forget high-speed films unless you want to shoot natural light (not flash) where there isn’t much, ie. indoors, at twilight, in a cave. The reason these films expose quickly is because their emulsions have larger grains and the results, therefore, are rather ‘grainy’, the higher the ASA, the grainier the film and the less acceptable the results. In extreme low light conditions a bad photo is better than no photo at all, but for 99.9% of your photography, choose a slower, less grainy film. It might be worth keeping the odd fast film in your camera bag, just in case, but really you will rarely use them.

 

The author obtains a close-up portrait of the head of a
Timor snakeneck turtle
Chelodina mccordi timorensis,
using EOS 40D, EF-60mm maco lens and MT-24EX.
[photo Barbara Freed]
Click on the image to view close-up of turtle
from Lake Ira Lalaro, Timor-Leste.

I used to use a fantastic film called Kodachrome 64, the 64 being the ASA, a slow-speed slide film. It was not cheap and it had to be returned to Kodak, in France, for processing but processing was included in the price. It came with a yellow pre-paid, pre-addressed envelope, I am sure you remember it if you are older than 20. I also experimented with Kodachrome 200, a faster film but surprisingly lacking in graininess, and Kodachrome 25, a slow version of 64. Then along came a Fuji film called Velvia 50, another slow film, which produced stunning results. Quite a few photographers pushed it to ASA 80 and achieved great results for no loss of quality, and being a different type of slide film, an E6 film, it could be processed by any laboratory, even your high street chemist. And since it was not process paid it worked out a little cheaper than Kodachrome, especially if bought in bulk – I used to buy 30-50 rolls at a time depending on the duration of the expedition.

I was still quite attached to Kodachrome 64 so I shot both. Remember, with film you don’t know if you have the shot, or indeed if you have suffered a camera malfunction and all your films will come back from the laboratory spoiled. It is a heart-stopping moment, opening the first box from 50, the fruits of an expensive overseas trip, hoping to see a verdant green lizard or a brilliantly photogenic treefrog, or a treesnake flicking its tongue directly into the lens, but not knowing if you will be gazing at slide after slide of black cats on dark nights, ie. nothing, nothing and more nothing. Consider all the expense and the time wasted and chances lost for ever. “Oh, no” wails the crushed photographer “why didn’t I shoot some of these on another camera”.

And that is what I did, to avoid total loss I took two completely identical but separate film camera set-ups, two bodies, two macro lenses and two flashguns. I labelled one with red dots and one with green dots, I loaded one with Kodachrome 64 (red dot) and one with Velvia 50 (green dot) and I shot everything twice. I kept the units separate, I never switched the red lens to the green camera, and when I got home I sent my films away for processing by Kodak and Jessops respectively. If one camera had developed an unknown fault part way through the trip I would at least have the chance of good images from the other camera. Yes I know, they both could play up but that is less likely isn’t it. And when time after time I got boxes of the same species, same individual lizard, frog, snake, in the same position, same location, same illumination, same methodology, I also got to compare the two films, and gradually I realised what an excellent film Fuji had developed and gradually I bought less Kodachrome and more Velvia. The final nail for Kodachrome was when Fuji brought out Velvia 100 (note: not Velvia 100F), a faster but no more grainy film that the 50 which exposed with less light and produced the most superb results I have seen in a slide film. Kodachrome for me was finished and I switched completely to the Fuji camp. I still continued to shoot identically on two cameras, just fewer of each subject as I was now shooting Velvia 100 on both set-ups purely for security against camera failure.

The Film Camera Equipment:
I have run two cameras in parallel for many years. I first bought a pair of Canon T90s, then moved on to a pair of professional Canon F1 bodies and finally, when the lens mounts all changed from FD-bayonet to EF, and Canon went EOS, to a pair of Canon EOS 1-V professional camera bodies. One attraction of these camera was the small computer inside that recorded all the shutter speeds, films speed, f-stops, flash compensation settings and a multitude of other data, for every frame on up to 99 films. So when I got home I could download the data to my Macintosh computer and compare my results with how they had been taken. If I had a series of under or over-exposed images, I could check back and see what went wrong and if something went exceedingly well I could learn from that too and replicate it next time. Then Macintosh upgraded their operating systems from OS 9 to OS X, and Canon decided not to update the software accordingly, so it was necessary to maintain a steam-driven Mac running Classic (pseudo OS 9) purely for the purposes of film analysis. Why didn’t Canon upgrade? It would have meant a major rewrite of the software, for a relatively small Macintosh market, and right then a photographic revolution was taking place, digital cameras were taking the world by storm, but more of that in a little while.

The author and Wolfgang Wuster photographing a
Wetar Island pitviper
Cryptelytrops insularis,
and demonstrating different uses of flash-heads
of Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX, on and off ring.
[ photo Dave Nixon]
Click on the image to view Wetar pitviper close-up.

Slide Storage, Retrieval and Use:
With thousands upon thousands of slides gradually accumulating it was necessary to organise them. It is absolutely no use having the most wonderful image of the world’s rarest snake, if you can’t find it because you are disorganised. I started using a database program called Filemaker Pro where I could create an entry card for each species I had photographed and underneath I would list where I had taken the photographs, how many there were and what sort of quality, together with notes on sex or age of the specimen or any behaviour illustrated in the image. As this database grew a quick search would tell me how many photographs I had of Morelia viridis from north or south of the central mountain chain of New Guinea or whether I had any photographs of snakes sloughing or feeding. Once catalogued the slides needed to be stored in a retrievable fashion to enable me to put my hands on any particular set of slides immediately. I used transparent slide sleeves, holding 20 slides each, and stored them in the versatile Arrowfile Versafile system. These units were not cheap but I obtained them gradually over a number of years as my slide collection developed. With oganised the drawers taxonomically so that I could easily add new images to existing species, add new species to existing genera, and, most importantly, find a particular slide in moments. When I removed a slide for a publisher, a lecture or scanning I put a small slip of paper, a tracer, into the slide pocket detailing where the image had gone.

For lectures I also had a pair of Kodak carousel projectors what allowed me to fade one slide into the next for presentations. I used to construct ‘composite slides’ on the compute using PhotoShop, comprising title slides, images, maps, captions to illustrate my lecture and send them to a laboratory to have them reproduced as 35mm slides. They cost about £8 ($12-13) each, plus VAT at the time.

But the advent of digital projectors and programs like PowerPoint and Keynote meant none of this was necessary since it was now possible to project digital images, title slides, add captions and do some truly amazing tricks with images on screen, even including animation, sounds or film clips, making presentations exciting and vibrant beyond anything possible with slide projectors.

But how to get slides into the computer. Simple, a high quality slide scanner. Not a flat-bed scanner with a slide attachment, no for this you really need a stand alone slide scanner and the one I used for years was a Nikon Coolscan 4000 (see, I did have some Nikon gear) but currently I am using a Plustek Opticfilm 7600i running Silverfast scanning software. I have to say it is far more complicated to use that the Nikon but sadly the software for the Coolscan became obsolute when I upgraded my Mac OS system to Snow Leopard (10.6). I scan slides to 4000dpi and manipulate them in PhotoShop, ie. removing a second flash’s highlight from a snake’s eye, erase a distracting stick from behind a frog’s head, or cropping the most important part of the image for a close-up. I keep all my digitized images (scanned slides as opposed to digital) in a taxonomically organised folder on my hard disc and back it up to a huge 10TB hard drive using Time Machine and also several smaller hard discs regularly for security purposes. The loss of a hard disc with all you images is about as bad as your gravid female Boelen’s python rolling. Don’t let it happen to you, back it up regularly.

_________________
In PART TWO I shall be looking at the digital revolution and how this particular ‘photographic Luddite’ experienced a Saul on the Road to Damascus epiphany, and warmed to the versatility of digital and how the facility to view results instantly made the use of some very clever lenses and techniques a great deal more viable, and exciting.