NGTI Raw File: How the Tables Tern

British Wildlife Photographer Tim Flach reveals his key tricks to photographing anthropomorphic portraits of birds.

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Tim Flach strikingly photographs an Inca tern against a black backdrop. Photo Courtesy: Tim Flach

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NGTI Raw File, National Geographic Traveller India’s monthly series is back with a new installment, with a key feature on Tim Flach—the British photographer known for his expressive wildlife portraits. Through this series, we celebrate travel photography in all its glory, spotlighting the craft of photographers who bring us wallpaper-worthy shots. We give you a rare sneak peek into a special story behind these signature shots.

For our seventh feature, we train our lens on a Peruvian bird, the Inca tern, from the photo book Birds (2021)—a pandemic project that took the photographer from Germany to Antarctica and Skomer Island.

In Focus: The London-based photographer draws gleaning inspiration from Rembrandt and Turner for their expertise in chiaroscuro and luminescence, and the legacy of 19th-century bird illustrators such as Edward Lear, John Gould and Audubon. His anthropomorphic approach to his subjects, be it birds, animals or insects, is strikingly visible as he fashions charismatic portraits against black backdrops that remarkably capture the creatures’ whimsical expressions.

Currently, Flach finds himself immersed in photographing for a new book project on soil and insects, as he remains keen to continue his interest in conservation communication.

 

Ngti Raw File: When The Caged Bird Sings

 

Signature Shot: At the Weltvofgel park, Germany, Flach framed a comical-looking Peruvian bird—the Inca tern—looking straight into the camera. Rooted in the idea of shortlisting the most striking avian, the tern’s exquisite handlebar moustache is more than a fashion statement, which as Flach explains, “is an advertisement of good health.” It is an indicator of a strong immune system, and therefore a more attractive proposition for courtship, he adds.

All 140 species selected for the book, right from the chinstrap penguins to the Atlantic puffins, explore the beauty and wonderment of birds. They were carefully shortlisted to form a collation of the iconic value and curiosity quotient to attract an audience to be empathetic to the wildlife conversation scene.

Most of the birds Flach photographs are bred in captivity and are studio-shot. “I choose to photograph animals often separated from their natural habitat because I want to emphasise their character, personality and kinship,” he writes in an email exchange. To capture live shots, days or even weeks of photographing happen inside specialised aviaries that are built to keep the subjects relaxed and oblivious to the camera.  “This encourages natural behaviour and most importantly minimises any stress on these captive-bred birds.” Other props to imitate natural environments include turntables, rotating perches, ponds for ducks and in one case, suspended lights for diving penguins.

The equipment used for this was a Canon 5DS EF 200-400 with an extension. Shot at 560mm, exposure 1/25. F11. ISO 1600, natural light.

 

To read more stories on travel, cities, food, nature, and adventure, head to our web forum here or our new National Geographic Traveller India app here.

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  • Muskaan Gupta believes visiting local markets is the best way to unearth a city's gems and jewels. She admires Delhi more than any other city and travels with her film camera that doesn't fret to capture very touristy pictures.

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