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Geraint Radford has a deep love for the natural world and capturing some of its smallest creatures. We discover marvellous macro photography with this Olympus Ambassador

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First of all, congratulations on becoming an Olympus Ambassador. How does it feel?

It came as a real surprise and it’s still not quite sunken in (I’m not sure it ever will). I am deeply humbled to have been asked and it’s something that I never expected. Being an ambassador for such a prestigious and well-respected company such as Olympus is truly an honour. The Olympus family is incredibly supportive of my photography and I really haven’t stopped smiling since I first heard the news! I truly love macro photography and all of my little bug buddies, so to be an ambassador within the macro field is simply wonderful!

Where did your interest in nature and photography come from?

Growing up in the Welsh Valleys, I was surrounded by beautiful scenery. My younger brother and I would spend hours exploring the hillsides and looking for bugs and other cool critters. It wasn’t until 2010 that I could afford a camera, so my photography didn’t really start until I was 24 years old. I began taking pictures of the things I loved to spend time with, and it wasn’t long before I discovered macro photography. Then, I was completely hooked.

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You initially worked in commercial photography. Why did you decide to switch focus – and is it possible to make money from photographing the natural world?

I was super lucky that photography seemed to make sense to me right away, and after a few months I was working as a photographer covering events. After a few years, I was regularly shooting weddings, portraits, bands and live theatre. It was great fun, and events like this teach you how to look for special moments in time and to respond and adjust your camera settings very quickly to capture them. All of these skills are super handy to have for any photography genre. I found myself spending a lot of time in front of the PC, going to meetings and chasing the next job. As a born outdoorsman, all of this was counter to the reason I fell in love with photography to begin with. In 2016, I stopped. Instead, I started taking pictures of nature again, with great emphasis on the hidden micro world that fascinates me. Fortunately, my work was accepted by competitions and publications, which put me on the right path.

Making money is not a priority for me; I just want others to engage with nature and to treasure the little bugs and critters that share the world with us. Money can be made from photographing the natural world, and there are a lot of avenues to explore from writing, selling images and running workshops. For me, I’m lucky that many people purchase my images as prints and attend my one-to-one workshops. I also lecture on photography and teach regularly, so this allows me to share my passion and remove a lot of the financial pressure.

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Why do you think nature photography is so important in today’s society?

At the risk of sounding a little bleak, the natural world is in trouble and, as a result, so are we. Insect life is falling at an alarming rate and this is something I’ve noticed in the field in recent years.

Photography and social media have immense power to inform and spread a message. It can also be used as a tool to celebrate this wonderful planet we have and inspire people to want to take care of it. Talking from my personal experience, spending time in nature is hugely beneficial to physical and mental well-being, and photography is a great incentive to head out and explore your local area.

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How can others ensure they are considerate of nature when it comes to photography?

My first rule is to never trap, move or harm an insect or any subject you choose to photograph. Some people sometimes place far too much of an emphasis on achieving a few pixels on a screen rather than seeing the inherent beauty and importance of the living being in front of them.

There’s nothing better than having a few biscuits and a cuppa while being out and about, but I always make sure all my rubbish comes home with me.

When it comes to finding your subjects, do you use specific areas that you visit regularly or are you always discovering new places?

This really depends on how energetic I’m feeling! If have an entire day free to take pictures, then I may go for a long walk and see where I end up. Quite often, I discover somewhere new and exciting, and other times I get lost, rained on and come home drenched! Either way it’s pretty fun.

Sometimes, I may only have a few hours spare – and this is where having a dependable location nearby comes in really handy. Just a short walk from my home, there is a small, beautiful area full of wild flowers and a few small ponds. Last summer, I spent almost every evening there, because of the abundance of awesome little bugs and butterflies to see. I discovered this meadow on the way back from a very long walk where I spent hours looking for somewhere like this!

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Do you have a particular favourite subject?

This is a tough one! At the moment, I must admit I am very much enjoying photographing springtails. They are tiny little creatures measuring in at around one millimetre. I find them super cute, despite their hairy bottoms! Quite honestly, I see each and every subject as a unique individual, so every subject is just awesome to me.

What gear would we find in your kit bag?

Right now, I have the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II and I love it! Although, after playing with the new OM-D E-M1X, I do have my beady little eye fixed firmly on it! I also use the M.ZUIKO ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens, which is perfect for insects, because you need quite a lot of working distance when you’re photographing things like flighty insects or skittish bugs.

When I need extra magnification to photograph very small subjects, I add a few sets of extension tubes and, for really small creatures, I add a Raynox DCR-250 converter, too.

The Olympus STF-8 is a wonderful flash system and I use this to light most of my subjects. It works well with focus stacking and doesn’t add much weight or bulk to the kit, so I find it very handy.I also have the OM-D E-M10 Mark II with the M.ZUIKO 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R lens, which I mostly use for filming for my YouTube channel. It’s also very good for capturing landscapes and images of scenery, so it’s always with me on every shoot. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I always bring a flask of coffee and a few biscuits.

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What techniques do you use when it comes to photographing nature?

Focus stacking has always played a huge part in my macro work, but until I discovered the Olympus system, it was rather hit and miss when I manually stacked the frames. The in-camera focus stacking of my EM-1 Mark II gives me instant feedback there and then, so I know if the images are aligned correctly. I focus manually using the focus peaking feature to make sure the eyes are sharp, and then allow the camera to do the rest.

If there is a particularly cooperative bug or a beautiful plant or mushroom, I often use the High Resolution mode to capture an astonishing amount of detail. As I don’t often carry a tripod, I usually go out specifically looking for the right subjects for High Res shooting and work only on those on that day. These methods of shooting rely on the subject remaining still, so if the bug is moving, I choose silent high-speed shooting to cause the least amount disturbance as possible, and compose the image ahead of where the little critter is going. I then wait, focus and fire off a few frames.

Macro photography naturally has a shallow depth-of-field, which makes photographing moving insects a little tricky under high magnifications and I often lose more images than I keep, but when it works, the pictures are pretty special.

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Can you describe what happens during a typical one-to-one workshop with you? What can someone expect?

My workshops are very relaxed and informal, and every lesson is tailored to each person. Usually, I start the day with a cuppa so we can get to know each other and run through a few ideas and questions. We then head out and about on an adventure to search for subjects and great photographic opportunities. While offering a lot of tips and tricks, I cover everything from the basics to some advanced shooting techniques – depending on what the person taking the workshop wants to do.

I also run group workshops with my good chum and fellow Olympus photographer Rob Cottle under the Natureship UK website. This year, the puffin and deer workshops are proving to be especially popular.

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What’s next for you?

This year, I’m dedicating a large portion of my shooting time to exploring the world of leafhoppers. I discovered them towards the end of the summer, and they are incredible little beings! I am also writing my first book, which is a guide to photographing insects in the wild.

Recently, I’ve started making videos about my adventures in macro photography and posting them on YouTube. I’m having a lot of fun and it’s another excuse to head out and connect with other nature fanatics. Rob and I have a joint exhibition (9-15 September) at the Norwegian Church Gallery in Cardiff Bay, so I’m very much excited about that.

Which one piece of advice would you give our readers?

Photograph the subjects you love, make time for photography and enjoy every minute of it.

Article featured in Olympus Magazine Issue 63 – to see the latest copy of this free digital magazine click here.