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Behind the Image

“I love animals and nature and so to photograph the beauty means you firstly have to see and find the beauty and it never ceases to amaze me how wonderful nature is.”  – Gigi Williams


Graceful Great Egret
Gigi Williams, BAppSc, FBCA, FRPS, FAIMBI

Tell us about your professional background.

I went to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and graduated with an Applied Science Degree in Photography. I then went on to gain my Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society, BCA and the Australian Institute of Medical & Biological Illustration.

I’ve been taking photographs since I was a teenager when my uncle introduced me to photography. After my degree I became a medical photographer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and then moved to the Royal Children’s Hospital where I worked my way up from a Grade 1 medical photographer, to the chief medical photographer, and then to Director of the department growing it 3 fold to a staff of 24 with medical photography, graphic design, video and web development sections.

I’ve always had an interest in infrared photography taking landscape photos for my student portfolio but after meeting Robin Williams, (my now husband) whilst at the Royal Children’s Hospital he rekindled my interest in this and I subsequently gained my Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society with a 50,000 word thesis on both infrared and ultraviolet photography. Since retiring in 2016 Robin and I have pursued our love of photography combining it with travelling the world and I have taken many infrared landscape photographs one of which – Joshua Tree – won an Award of Excellence in a recent BCA salon.

So I love taking landscape photographs and photographs of nature. I love being outdoors and the excitement of going out in the morning – often well before sunrise – and not knowing exactly what I’ll come back with is really motivational, and to share it with a fellow passionate photographer, my husband Robin is just a dream.

What photographers inspire or influence you?

So many! From Ansel Adams to Annie Liebowitz, from Jack Vetter to my husband Robin, from the most talented amateur and professional youth of today, I eagerly look at photographs and draw inspiration from them all.

Tell us about this particular photograph.

Graceful Great Egret was taken in Costa Rica in the Tarcoles. Robin is always setting us a challenge and so off to Costa Rica we went to photograph the birds and other wildlife. I really hadn’t taken serious bird photos before so it was a whole new learning experience. We practiced at home at the local zoo for a few days to work out whether to use a tripod or a monopod or to handhold, and discovered just how difficult it was to get the bird in focus even when they were captive and only a few feet away! The equipment was heavy and needed to be lifted above your shoulders as birds are usually high in the trees and so was really difficult to hold the camera still and then of course the bird moves!!! I found the only way for me was to hand hold, take a really deep breath and keep as still as possible whilst shooting at a really high shutter speed.

Can you walk us through the actual process that you used to set up this photograph?

It was taken on my D7200 using an 80–400 mm lens at 330mm ISO 800, 1/4000 sec, f/8.0. This photo was taken from a boat which introduced new problems – a motor that vibrated the boat and of course water that always kept it moving. However, I finally mastered the art of steadying myself and captured this egret on the bank. It was so beautiful and posed so gracefully for me.

Was this taken for an artistic or scientific purpose, or both?

Art or science? This has been the difficulty for Robin and I as medical photographers. Changing from the strict rules of medical photography to creative and artistic landscape photography has been challenging and then when we are taking photographs of wildlife – well that does beg the question of whether it is a true and accurate scientific record of the bird or an artistic one. I think this is an artistic one because the bird is so beautifully posed.

What inspires you about nature photography?

I love animals and nature and so to photograph the beauty means you firstly have to see and find the beauty and it never ceases to amaze me how wonderful nature is. The challenge, as always, is to capture it successfully.

What is the influence of digital technology and post-production software on your photography?

Phenomenal influence. Digital has enabled much more freedom. I take thousands of photos now, the quality is far superior, it is instant and cheaper than film however the costs of hardware and software and the turnover rate is excruciatingly high and the post-production time very long. But so worth it and so much more flexible. My photography has improved 10 fold because of it. And there’s always more to learn.

What has technology enabled you to do that you were not able to do before?

The ISO abilities has made it so there is a huge range of low and high light levels that can now be captured, and of course did I mention the thousands of shots you can take?!!

Why did you select this specific image for the BioImages competition?

I chose this shot because of the bird’s pose. It looks so delicate and graceful – almost bridal with the lovely white feathers and its head tilted down a little like a ballerina. It’s a more unusual portrait of the Great Egret.

According to you, what makes a winning shot?

I think a winning shot needs to be technically competent but then offer the viewer something a little different than the norm. I love the BCA competition. The standards are high and the judges are all from our own area of expertise – biocommunications – and so understand the work.

What motivates you to go out and take photographs?

A love of nature, a desire to get outdoors and away from the hum-drum, a passion for capturing something new and a great joy of sharing the experience with the love of my life.

Do you have any advice for photographers who are interested in a career in biomedical/life sciences?

Follow your dream, work hard, keep working hard and continue your education. I loved working with the many talented doctors and health professionals especially at the Royal Children’s Hospital where I stayed for 33 years. It was a privilege to be part of their support team.