David Hemmings is well known for his wildlife photography. Here he tells ePHOTOzine where his interest came from and why he set himself a challenge to spend six months taking photographs of British wildlife.
If someone has won various accolades and has work published in some of the best magazines relating to the subject they have chosen to focus on you'd have to say they're rather good at what they do, so good in fact you'd think they'd be making a living from it and in a way David Hemmings is. He takes photos and tutors others on the subject, but wildlife photography, which was and still is one of his specialities, isn't his only expertise.
David has always liked wildlife and three or four years ago he literally got out of bed one morning and decided he would transform himself not only into a wildlife photographer but into a successful one. So David began to set boundaries for himself. Only visiting public places and not leaving the country to take any of his photographs.
"I was basically like any other photographer but could offer more dedication and discipline."
He spent week after week at the side of lakes, waiting long after the public had left to capture that all important perfect picture. Eventually his patience paid off.
"You don't need to go far either. I've always said the best images are the ones taken no more than three miles from your home. My images show you don't have to go after the rarest bird or travel half way round the world. You can take good if not better photographs where you are."
David's work focused on common British birds as they are readily available and he also enjoyed the photographic challenge they gave him: "They can be quite small, they don't like you getting close and while I was photographing I had to be thinking all the time. I had to really decide about what equipment I needed to use to create the best possible picture. Eventually I came to the conclusion that for me only a very long lens, low viewpoint and
a tripod would do."
After spending even more time round local lakes David set himself one more challenge - to get published. But as you would expect from a man who got out of bed one morning and set himself a challenge it wasn't an easy one. British Birds is a monthly magazine, well the site actually describes it as a journal. It's very technical, they will even use the Latin name for a Common House Sparrow and you will no doubt be lost in the technical terms of the first paragraph. Technicalities aside the magazine is the publication for all serious bird spotters and it includes images, not many, but they do have them and the ones they do have are rather good. So David decided to see if he could get his work printed in the magazine and he did!
"Simon King, BBC2's wildlife film maker, presented me with an award for one of my images and he was also very impressed. It was a picture of a very young coot that I had taken which you can find in any lake, but this one was photographed up close revealing its tangly red and yellow hair which is rarely seen in so much detail."
To the right is another of David's award winning shots from the same series showing three coots swimming in the rain.
David worked many years ago as an engineering lecturer for British Telecom at Bletchley Park, then later as a management tutor.
His interest in photography started in his early twenties and like any willing amateur joined clubs, entered competitions and just got into the swing of it all. Eventually David got to the point where he needed more than prizes from competitions and became a professional photographer running a wedding and portrait business in Milton Keynes. He also started his own company, photo-courses.com to offer courses and workshops to enthusiast photographers - it's now in its 17th year!
"My company was the first to do a Big Cat experience. We set it up with the late Peter James in Hertfordshire around 15 years ago now. I wanted to give photographers the best photographic opportunities possible so persuaded Peter to cut holes through the enclosures so we could position our lenses without wire in front to get the best shots. We could also get the cats really close to photographers, sometimes they were only inches away. In fact we can get so close when one leapt towards us once it startled me and I fell over. Luckily there was a fireman stood behind me who was used to catching people!"
David teaches a variety of subjects on his events, there's something for every photographer from EOS camera courses, Big Cats wildlife days to HDR photography.
"My goal is to provide a proper training session before we head off out to do the actual photography. We spend half a day in a classroom environment so when we do go out the photographers are technically wise and better equipped. You need help and you need training to take a good picture. You can be naturally a creative person but you're not born with a camera in your hand, you have to learn how to use it."
Like any photographer David loves kit. He works in digital as well as medium format and still uses film to take the occasional photograph too.
"I like kit I use Nikon and Canon gear, I like the 5D and D3. Both are very different cameras but I use them that much that I can move between them freely."
"I also really like digital photography. I can now check my images right there and then. As long as you know how to adjust the picture to make it better you're away."
David plays the piano for pleasure and is also a sound recordist for a professional orchestra in his spare time. One of the perks of the job is he gets to listen to and produce CD's for some of the world's most talented pianists. David noticed even though they all play the same piano they make it sound very different. He believes this is because the piano just responds to the user and he thinks a camera is a bit like that.
"OK, professional cameras are a little more responsive but they can only take a picture how the photographer tells it to. Lord Snowdon is a good example. He proved you could take a great picture in a passport photo booth and we know how bad those photographs usually are.
Some while ago I worked for a magazine who said I should not submit images taken on a camera with less than 12mb, they had to be shot on RAW etc. but once I got to know them I illustrated an article using a jpg image taken on my inexpensive 3mb compact and they used it for an A4 spread without realising".
Not only has David embraced digital photography he also fully supports those who manipulate pictures and believes post production is as important as the initial act of taking the photograph.
"When I worked with transparencies I would have loved the chance to shoot with special effects to make my images different but it wasn't that easy. So now that I have a ‘digital darkroom' I make the most of it. For me for a photo to be finished it needs to be cropped right, the contrast needs to be perfect etc. I feel doing that is an absolute minimum now."
If you ask David if he would be happier taking and editing photographs or teaching on a course, teaching will always come out on top.
"I love teaching people. When they think they can't do something and you show them how and they realise their aims, it's a joy - very rewarding."
Visit David Hemmings' website for more details.