After a meeting at Focus earlier this year, the guys at Sigma were kind enough to give us a months loan of their famous 300-800mm lens also known as the “Sigmonster”. Ted and I had great plans for isolating small features in the landscape with this hugely zoomable (did I just make that word up?) beast in a continuation of our Zero Footprint project.
Alas the weather didn’t play ball and refused to offer up more of the same atmospheric sky and light conditions we had enjoyed for so long over the winter. Heavy snow and freezing conditions meant Ted was the only one brave enough to stand on the patio for any length of time shooting for the first couple of weeks of the loan. For myself, apart from the cold I was genuinely terrified of lifting this piece of kit out of the bag for fear of dropping it and it took me several days (OK, a week if I’m honest) to man up and give it a try.
When I finally gathered the courage to lift it onto the tripod with the Wimberley head attachment (pretty much essential for smooth manoeuvring of the lens) I was frustrated by a flat and uninspiring light. However, on reviewing my first set of images back on the computer, I noticed a bird in flight, which I’d captured by accident. I was struck by the elegance of its shape – after all it was a common garden bird that I’m used to seeing everyday. Flooded with a new excitement and suddenly grateful that we’d built up a good relationship with our local feathered friends over the last three and a half years, I quickly trained the birds to feed off the garden wall rather than on the patio they were used to, allowing us to make the most of the morning sun to backlight the birds.
The usual battle for tripod time when we are sharing one piece of kit ensued, with some less than tentative gestures coming from the kitchen when it was deemed time to swap over. Additionally, it didn’t take us long to realise that an entire cafetiere of coffee consumed prior to going out isn’t a good idea with the level of patience required for this kind of work.
Using this lens towards its widest aperture enabled us to use the hill as a backdrop that fitted nicely with our abstract style, whilst simultaneously capturing the incredible shapes these birds make in the air and highlighting the subtle colouration of their plumage. Their movements are one moment graceful, the next aggressive but always magnificent, in my opinion every bit as impressive as a mighty eagle. The chaffinch possesses both speed and agility and it was interesting over a few days of watching these guys up close to start becoming familiar with their habits and anticipate their movements.
The resulting images make no claim to be perfectly captured shots on a par with an experienced wildlife photographer’s work but for us they are the start of an exciting new direction which we hope to build on over the next couple of years. There’s an interesting collaboration already in the pipeline, watch this space to keep up to date.