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Nature Photographers' Portfolio


1951 NPP Convention photo at Derby with names.jpg

A picture of the first NPP convention held at the Derby Art Gallery, 1951.

Harold Hems remembers the early days of the NPP and nature photography in general.



In the 1940's there were two clubs running, the ZPC (Zoological Photographic Club) and the NPS (Nature Print Society). I do not know much about the second of these, but competition for entry into the ZPC was very keen and it was said at the time that having failed to get a place there Kay (Kenneth) Scott-Kilner decided that there was a demand for a third club and he placed an advert the the Amateur Photography magazine asking for interested photographers to contact him. I joined about 1948, together with Alan Faulkner-Taylor.

The changes which have taken place since then must be difficult to understand for those who have not experienced them. It was a difficult and very demanding game, the work required in preparing for the photography of a single bird could spread over a week or more, putting up and moving hides, before the first attempt at exposing a film could be made.

The apparatus used was almost identical for all workers. I was a student on a grant because of my long wartime military service, but I was using a lens identical to the one used then by Eric Hosking. I had bought it second hand very cheaply and used it through to my Associateship in 1951, Fellowship in 1953 and the award of the much sought after Exhibition Medal in 1956, and was still using it almost exclusively when I was asked to join the A and F Admissions Panel in the mid 1960's.

Virtually all the work on birds in the early days was done from hides and at the nest. Bean bags on car windows were unheard of. Only Eric Hosking was working as a full time professional and it was the habit of publishers to send lists of required photos to known workers if requirements were high. This could be difficult as for most of their needs many different workers would offer the same subject, and I found it best, in the end to ignore them. There were only one or two agencies taking and selling work. For most workers it was a game. Almost all the work was done in the U.K. as the time needed for preparation was so demanding. One also needed access to a darkroom in order to deal with the plates exposed in one day and reload the holders for the next.

The standard of work produced varied enormously from one member to another. Harold Auger was and still is regarded as the best there has ever been. A few were frankly awful, but photographic standards were not as important as they have become, sadly to my mind, today. Most workers were naturalists first and foremost. Also of course one had the constraints of a long process starting with the loading of glass plates into holders in the dark room, reading an exposure meter, sometimes with great difficulty and frequently from within a hide, deciding where the point of pre-focus should be, working a Luc shutter which had no speed setting at all, but depended entirely on the experience of the photographers, going back to the darkroom, loading the plates into a developing tank, mixing the developers and fixers, checking their temperatures and finally timing the length of time needed for best results. One then dried them, inspected them, and in my case, and I am sure many others, threw most of them in the waste paper bucket. My how times have changed. Then of course, one could think about making a start on the preparations for printing.

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