Early Wildlife Photography



A.J. Campbell, Flight of Sooty Terns, 1889,  details unknown, half-tone reproduction in,

 A.J. Campbell, Nests and Eggs of Australian Birds, Sheffield: printed for the author by Pawson & Brailsford 1900, after 844.


 'taken on Rat Island, Houtman's Abrohlos'


In the late 1890s the type of factual photography I've been describing began to be used in natural history books.

British Birds' Nests, 1895, by the brothers Richard and Cherry Kearton, is said to be the first book with illustrations that successfully copied nature. I have not been able to discover much about their photographic practice, apart from the fact that they made extensive and imaginative use of hides. Cherry Kearton visited Australia in the 1930s and wrote about his experiences, but did not discuss the technical side of his work.

The preface to British Birds' Nests praises Dallmeyer's tele-photo lenses, which were first introduced in 1891. My understanding is that some major problems with the lenses (aberration, low working apertures, vulnerability to wind) were not overcome until the early 1900s, so their use in the 1890s was limited to static objects. In particular, they could not have been used for moving objects like those in the picture heading this page.

This situation continued until the introduction of the Graflex, an American camera, which first came to the market in 1902, made by Folmer and Schwing. The design of the shutter allowed for very short exposures of up to 1/1000 of a second and this, with the ease of focussing made it of the greatest possible value to the photographer of animate nature.  The Graflex was small, light and easily portable. The Graflex 1a reflex type, introduced in 1909, used film producing 2 x 4 inch negatives, and for objects up to within about ten feet distant a six-inch lens with hand-camera telephoto could be used.



Graflex 1 a reflex


I also found references to early outdoor photographers using 'field dark rooms'. Before the pre-sensitised gelatin dry plate (introduced to Australia in March 1880) this was a necessity, but the practice apparently continued because of the need to ensure that a shot was 'in the can' before returning home. I'm less clear why collodion wet plate continued to be used in the field; I have a reference to this in Australia as late as 1900; it's been suggested that this process was considered desirable because of the fine textures produced.

Peter Slater's Masterpieces of Australian Bird Photography is the best and I think the only local book on the subject. 2 C.A.W. Guggisberg's Early Wildlife Photographers is useful in a wider context, not least because it has a section on the Keartons. 3

Next   Back a Page   Back to Home Page