About us
Black Tent Photography started off as a sideline of our sister organisation, Black Tent Publications, offering photographic services alongside our publishing/bookselling activities.  As the  photography side of the business grew, we decided it needed its own identity and, of course, its own website.

Our principal photographer is Lesley, who as well as dealing with the photographic side of things, is also a publisher/editor/book designer.

Lesley has been a keen photographer for over forty years; see below for her account of how she got the photography bug and where it led her.


MY PHOTOGRAPHIC JOURNEY

In the beginning
An upgrade
Moving on
Going digital
My digital revolution
My current kit

   

 

In the beginning 

 
I first became interested in photography over forty years ago, when my first husband taught me to use his Edixa (the German version with Schneider lenses, not the later Japanese model) SLR. He then bought me a Russian-made Zenith SLR, and I was hooked! The Zenith was very basic in design, with absolutely no frills – no TTL metering here, and certainly no such thing as autofocus! However it served me faithfully for years, and if the pics I took with it would never have won any awards, at least it never failed me and continued to operate reliably in the most unforgiving conditions. It also taught me about exposure and light metering; I used a Weston Master V which was one of the most reliable on the market at the time. I shot mainly transparency film as in those days the quality of prints from all but professional labs (way beyond my means in those days) was not that great; Agfa was my preferred make, with the occasional bold excursion into the world of Kodachrome.

After ten years of use (and abuse, which hastened its demise) the Zenith finally gave up the ghost. Remarried by that time, I could not afford another SLR, so had to make do with a Halina compact for a couple of years. Then in 1983 I managed to get hold of  Praktica SLR at a reasonable price - still very basic but it actually had TTL metering, so that was a step up for me.

. Len Willison 
Above left: This portrait of my friend Sue was one of the earliest I took with my old Zenith, using Agfachrome 50 ISO (or ASA as it was then) transparency film and available light. I recently scanned it and converted  it to B & W as shown here.

Above right: my late father, taken with the Praktica, in 1983. Below: me with our Lancia Beta, taken by Brian using the Praktica, also in 198
3

Lesley with Lancia

An upgrade

A couple of years later I was in a position to splash out a bit on a decent camera, so I got myself an Olympus OM2 with a spot-metering facility. Zoom lenses in those days were generally inferior to prime lenses, so in addition to the Olympus's 50mm standard lens I got myself a 35mm wide-angle lens and a 135mm telephoto. Enthusiasm rekindled, I photographed anything and everything, dicovering in the process the vivid colours and crispness of Fujichrome, which I came to prefer to Agfa. I also rediscovered the joys of photographing animals; as we had a number of dogs and cats over the next few years, I had plenty of subjects to hand, such as our old Dobermann Cooper and his favourite cat, Ommy.

 

Right: Cooper  and Ommy
Above left: Brian in St Petersburg, 1985.


Left: Brian on the island of Korcula, 1986
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Lesley and Arabian gelding Zareeba, 1991 (taken by Brian)





However, when it came to photographing horses the Olympus, while an excellent camera, revealed its limitations. When trying to capture horses moving at anything faster than a slow trot I found that by the time I had twiddled knobs and fiddled with manual focus, the moment had passed. Yes, I know that in some circumstances, such as when photographing, say, showjumping, you can pre-focus on the point where the horse is going to jump. But this technique has its limits – for example when the animal is moving erratically. I also found that I desperately needed the freedom that comes with a zoom lens.

Moving on

 So I broke my allegiance to the trusty Olympus and invested in a Nikon F60: still pretty basic as autofocus cameras go, but it did the job, especially when coupled with  decent (not brilliant, but decent) telephoto zoom.           I was able to frame shots that I had often missed in the past because I was either too close or too far away; the on-camera flash was a boon when I needed fill-in flash (at that time I was still saving up for a dedicated Speedlight). And no more missed shots because I had to wind the film on manually! The Nikon served me well for several years, enabling me to provide pics for several books with rather more freedom than I had had with my old Olympus system. I used up a lot of film, because when you photograph horses moving around you're never quite sure what's going to happen next, and you can't always wait to frame that perfect shot.

Kruger  Arabian x Warmblood gelding, Kruger.  The F60, though very basic, enabled me to capture many shots I would otherwise have missed.

Armed with the F60 as well as my trusty Olympus, I was able to supply photographs for several equestrian books and a number of magazine articles. This prompted me to expand my stock photograph portfolio, until I had several thousand photographs of horses and equestrian events, as well as of other animals, in the form of prints and transparencies.

Going digital

In the meantime the digital era was upon us: was it time for another upgrade? It was several years before I became convinced of the advantages of digital photography; early digital cameras (the affordable ones, that is) were simply no match for even the cheapest film SLR. However when Nikon and Canon started to make digital SLRS that – while still expensive – did not require a second mortgage, then I started to think hmm, well, maybe...A book contract in which I actually got paid for supplying pictures (instead of simply being expected to do so gratis, as most publishers take for granted) made me consider upgrading my equipment to pro or near-pro-quality gear. But which way to go? Film or digital? Nikon made that decision for me when they brought out the D70, the D70s and then the sublime D200, followed by the even more sublime D300  In 2009 I went a step further and invested in a D700 – so  I then had full-frame capacity at a more affordable price. 

The D700 is a brilliant camera all round, but its performance in low-light conditions is truly staggering. While taking the shots of the Kremlin and St Basil’s referred to below, I used ISO1600 film (Fujichrome); the resulting shots were slightly grainy (in the digital era this would be referred to as ‘noisy’), but acceptable; ISO 1600 was about as high as you could go in those days. In several recent photo shoots I cranked the D700 up to ISO4000 and above, and there is hardly any discernible noise at all. This is a Godsend when photographing indoor events, because even though the venue may appear to be well lit, that's just the human eye doing its amazing light-adjustment thing. The camera doesn’t think the light is bright at all. A good example of this is the Horse of the Year Show; those lights may seem bright, even dazzlingly so, but the camera’s meter says otherwise. In those circumstances you need a combination of a fast lens and a high ISO, because you can’t use flash (not that that stops a lot of people taking flash photos with their compacts or their phones). (Oh – and you also need a Press Pass at HOYS; without it anyone using camera equipment will fall foul of the ever-vigilant stewards. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to get a Press Pass for several years.)

Update to the above: in December 2012, as a Christmas present to myself after a very difficult year, I invested in a Nikon D800 – a full-frame digital SLR with the performance of a medium-format camera. The amount of detail it captures is truly astounding, and I'm looking forward to adding to the galleries on this site in the near future. More recently,  I splashed out and part-ex-ed my D700 for Nikon's (then) flagship full-frame camera, the D4. The D700 was a remarkable piece of kit; the D4 is simply astonishing!

You can of course take excellent photos of most subjects with very modest equipment; expensive gear is not essential. But boy, it helps!

My digital revolution

Going digital has revolutionised my whole approach to photography. Because it costs me no more to shoot 1,000 images than it does to shoot 1, I can afford to be much more adventurous.

Even before going digital, I was able to provide almost all the photographs for several  books and numerous magazine articles. Since going digital, I have supplied images for use in books published by J.A. Allen, New Holland Publishing, and several other publishers besides my own imprint, Black Tent Publications, as well as to any number of magazines, including the Classical Riding Club newsletter, and an exciting new quarterly magazine called Tracking-up, aimed at readers who want a thoughtful and enlightening approach to all aspects of riding, training and caring for horses and ponies. My ever-expanding database of images (see our galleries) means that instead of having to devote a considerable part of my production budget to the use of third-party images, I can now supply most of my own at no extra cost.

My current kit

So now my working equipment consists of:

Nikon D4 body, usually with a Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm VR 2.8f zoom attached

Nikon D800 body, usully with a Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm 2.8f zoom attached

Nikon D600 body, usually with a Nikkor 20-35 mm zoom lens  attached

Nikon D200 body, usually with Nikkor DX 18-70mm 3.5-5.6f zoom attached

Nikon Nikkor 60mm 2.8f macro prime lens

Nikon SB-800 Speedlight

Nikon SB-900 Speedlight

Nikon SB-910 Speedlight

Whenever possible I also use a a Manfrotto 294C3 carbon fibre tripod with 322rc2 heavy duty grip action ball head, a Manfrotto 190ProB tripod with an 804RC2 3-way head , or a Manfrotto 680B monopod with a 234RC pan-and-tilt head and quick-release plate; the corresponding plate is permanently fixed to the tripod support on the AF-S 70-200 mm lens. The tripod collar is removable for hand-holding but I rarely remove it as I find it’s just as easy to hand-hold the lens with the collar/support in place. If I can’t use a tripod or the monopod I use a bean-bag instead. Although this is a big, heavy lens the Vibration Reduction feature does make hand-holding possible when there is sufficient light to use a fast shutter speed, but some kind of support is better, even if it just consists of jamming yourself up against a building, tree-trunk or whatever (I have fond memories of using the wall of the GUM department store in Moscow in this manner in order to get hand-held shots of the Kremlin and St Basil’s at night). I know I should use a tripod more often, but when photographing horses in a relatively confined space a tripod may be too cumbersome to get out of the way quickly if I have to! Besides, most of the time I just can’t face lugging it around with all the rest of the gear.  

I shoot in Raw format, and for post-processing I use Adobe Photoshop and  Lightroom, which as well as sharing many of the features of Photoshop is fabulous for cataloguing and organizing photos. I’m also in the process of scanning in the many photographs I took on transparency and print film, using the Epson Perfection V750 Pro scanner. This has a great gizmo called a fluid mount, which allows you to position transparencies and strips of negative film flat on a glass mount using a special fluid to ensure the film lies completely flat. The fluid doesn’t damage the emulsion on the film (in fact I’ve found that if anything it cleans it nicely); all the photos on this page  were scanned from the original negatives and transparencies using this mount. The software (Silverfast) does a great job of converting negatives to positive images.  

I like to photograph all kinds of things, but I get most pleasure out of taking pics of animals, special occasions and historical places.

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