‘7 Years of Camera Shake’: photographer with Parkinson’s publishes inspiring coffee table book

Perspectives

Author: David PlummerPublished: 11 October 2017

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Mountain Gorilla, Rwanda lead

Last month, wildlife photographer David Plummer launched his coffee table book, ‘7 Years of Camera Shake’, in aid of Parkinson’s UK. Within its pages are more than 200 photos showcasing animals from around the world – all of which were taken after his Parkinson’s diagnosis. Here, in an extract from the book, David describes his journey as a professional photographer


All art is a form of communication. As a child I obviously felt the need to communicate what I was seeing in the natural world. When I initially took up photography, it didn’t mean that much to me; I found it difficult to find inspiration – there seemed to be little art in wildlife photography. An image of a bird was invariably a black and white shot of a bird bringing food to a nest. From my mid-twenties onwards, I think my mind was mature enough to understand what I was dealing with, and it was the mix of this artistic element and photographic technique that wildlife photography requires that really grabbed me.

In the early years, I was not original. I looked at another wildlife photographer’s images and tried to copy or emulate them. In doing so, however, I was learning the craft; the formulaic elements that make up a good photograph – the background control, the depth of field, the composition. Once I had grasped those formulaic elements, and learnt and practised repeatedly, they eventually became a habit.

Atlantic puffin with sand eels, Skomer Island

Atlantic puffin with sand eels, Skomer Island, UK

So, in essence I had a powerful tool at my disposal, one that allowed me to communicate my experience of the natural world. I wanted people to see and experience what I was seeing; I wanted them to become part of the woodland or marshes, to see the vivid mix of colours when a kingfisher lands in front of you. I strongly feel that this art is a form of impressionism; with one single image your role as a photographer is to move your viewer psychologically. Maybe nothing profound, but rather than them seeing just the woodland, they are instead a part of the woodland floor amongst the fungi – visualising themselves walking down one of its paths through a sea of bluebells, or sensing the power behind the glare of a jaguar. Instead of just seeing a photograph, they are feeling it.

Galapágos sealions play-fighting

Galapágos sealions play-fighting, Galapágos, Ecuador

The obsessions have become quite intense over the years; I would fixate on getting the perfect image of a great spotted woodpecker or kingfisher to the detriment of my career. Commercially, I would have been more successful if I’d done the ‘wildlife rounds’ gaining a wider portfolio of images, from more easily sought locations. But the elusive appealed to me; images people weren’t getting, such as owls, or ocelot.

I remember spending three days in the Amazon in a hide in super-hot, humid conditions, for 12 hours a day, from before dawn until after dusk, waiting for an ocelot to walk up a dry sandy streambed. I had seen the paw prints and I realised it was a habitual routeway. I was obsessed with capturing an image of this cat.

Spotted hyena with prey

Spotted hyena with prey, Maasai Mara, Kenya

Each day on the way to and from the hide I would brush the sand clear of footprints so I had an idea of what had passed. On leaving at the end of my third unsuccessful day, I noticed that the ocelot prints had come up the riverbed to a point just before they come into view of the hide. Then they simply veered off to the side – this gorgeous and elusive predator had realised my presence, and had simply circled around me! I loved this cat all the more, but it took me a few more years to finally get images of this stunning cat.

Sometimes these obsessions can be difficult for people around me to understand, but I cannot help it, and I’ve learned to accept it. I think most people close to me now know that I’m invariably doing one bonkers thing or another to get a picture: in a marsh in chest waders at dawn, sitting in a hedge in full camouflage, following a jaguar on foot – which I really don’t recommend by the way.

Marine iguana, Galápagos

Marine iguana, Galápagos, Ecuador

I like nothing more than a burgeoning new project. Solving the problems to not only get close to the subject, but capture a photograph of it – a perfect photograph. Maybe it’s that primal hunting instinct; but hunting without killing. Indeed, to produce an aesthetic image, capturing the essence of a creature, is undoubtedly much harder than killing it. And that pursuit of perfection, of capturing the essence, is a shifting thing as time goes by; what was perfect 10 years ago may no longer be the case now, so the quest goes on. The Holy Grail. Always push for better, for different.

This article is an edited version of the forward from David Plummer’s book ‘7 Years of Camera Shake’, and is published here with the kind permission of the author.

Image credits: Copyright – David Plummer Photography

Line of African elephants, Kenya

Line of African elephants, Maasai Mara, Kenya


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