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Views from the Ridge (Julian Kenny)

Views from the Ridge by Julian Kenny

For over 50 years, Julian Kenny explored the reefs and ridges, the mountains and shores, of Trinidad and Tobago, recording the islands’ habitats and species with camera and notebook.

Views from the Ridge is a concise but comprehensive account of the country’s ecosystems, accompanied by over 100 colour photographs of its plants and animals. More than simply a textbook of species, this is an appreciation of the rich and complex web of life that exists on two islands in the southern Caribbean. The final chapter pleads for greater awareness of the need for conservation and sustainability.

About Views from the Ridge

  • Author: Julian Kenny
  • Publisher:  Prospect Press (2000 & 2007)
  • Genre: Natural History
  • Format: Hardback (Coffee Table)
  • Pages: 127
  • ISBN: 976-95057-0-6
  • Price: TT$350.00 (Hard copy – SOLD OUT). Coming soon to Amazon’s Kindle Store.

About Julian Kenny

Author Julian Kenny was a professional zoologist and one of the Caribbean’s best known natural scientists. He was a professor of zoology at the Trinidad campus of the University of the West Indies, and an independent senator in the parliament of Trinidad and Tobago. His nature photography constitutes one of the most important collections in the Caribbean. He has written extensively about the natural history of Trinidad and Tobago, for both academic and popular audiences. His books include Native Orchids of the Eastern Caribbean; Views from the Bridge (on freshwater fish); Orchids of Trinidad and Tobago; Flowers of Trinidad and Tobago; and A Naturalist’s Notes: the Biological Diversity of Trinidad & Tobago. He passed away in August, 2011.

Introduction – Views from the Ridge

This book is a compromise. Originally I intended to produce a memoir covering my years of studying the natural history of Trinidad and Tobago. After retiring, I started work on the manuscript, appreciating the fact that no single individual can write even a broad natural history of the islands. Nevertheless, some of the preliminary writing came out of my earlier research projects.

Then came a request from the newly established Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to produce an assessment of the biological diversity of Trinidad and Tobago as part of their information programme. Some of the material which I had already written was incorporated into that report, which was completed in collaboration with Paul Comeau and Leslie-Anne Katwaru.

Later, as part of a fund-raising effort for the Guardian Life Wildlife Fund, an independent trust fund, I mounted an exhibition of photographic prints. The response to that exhibition was so encouraging that I stared to consider publishing a collection of my photographs.

Books of photography then to follow a general format with minimal text. Such books make strict demands on the photographer. Images must be well composed and lit, and of such quality and interest that they stand out, catching the eye of the viewer. They have to be much more than mere snapshots.

One of the problems of natural history photography, however, is trying to find a balance between the aesthetically pleasing and the informative. There are many extremely striking photographs of common organisms and natural systems which do more to display than to inform.

The photographs in this book attempt to do both. Combined with a broad general text, they describe the origins, climate and landform of Trinidad and Tobago, the nature of its biota, aspects of the biogeography of well-known organisms, and characteristics of the many natural systems. I hope that the text paints, without broad brush, systems that are thought of as islands, but which biogeographically are small parts of South America.

The selection of photographs has been purely personal. My collection of slides numbers about 6,000, but only a small proportion of these are good enough to be published. At the same time, some of the groups of photographs, such as the orchids, wildflowers and marine invertebrates are numerous and were very difficult to select.

Natural history photography has its own peculiar demands. Quality work can be done with basic equipment such a good off the shelf 35mm single-lens reflex camera with a standard 50mm lens (Canon, Nikon and Olympus are all excellent). The basic camera will serve for scenic photography and some moderate-distance close-up work. Modern versions often supply a macro or zoom lens with a focal length ranging form 35mm, for wide-angle work, to 100mm, for moderate telephoto work. A quality 50mm macro lens allows close-up with magnifications, on the film, of about 1:0.5. Such equipment can be used with available light and a steady hand.

But specialisation demands special equipment. Areas such as bird photography require longer focal length lenses, in the order of 200, 400 or 800mm. Long-focus lenses require a sturdy tripod, although some modern moderate long-focus lenses have built-in stabilising systems. Close-up work requires a suitable blind or hide, and may call for artificial lighting as well. So the cost of equipment is a major problem.

In order to achieve some of the close-up work printed in this book, I used a range or macro lenses and associated equipment including bellows and artificial illumination. I generally used macro lenses to cover the required range of magnifications — 1:0.5 (50mm basic lens), 1:2–6 (38mm with bellows and lens board) and 1:6–14 (22mm with bellows and lens board). This kind of macro photography requires artificial illumination. The choice is either a ring light, which is very expensive, or a pair of micro lights, which are more affordable. Close-up macro photography invariably requires a tripod, and a turntable of adjustable height is useful, especially at higher magnifications.

Underwater photography has its own challenges. The most popular tool is the Nikonos underwater camera, which has gone through several models. The basic camera with 35mm lens can be used in and out of the water. The basic underwater lenses are the 28mm for wide-angle work, and the 100mm for short telephoto work. Both can be used with close-up attachments involving a supplementary lens and close-up frames. Lighting is critical, for the simple reason that light is selectively absorbed as it passes through the water. There are several different types of electronic flash available for use with underwater cameras.

Naturally, underwater photography demands that the photographer is a good swimmer and can scuba-dive. There is little opportunity to change lenses underwater, so a session has to be carefully planned. This is not just a question of setting up the camera with the most appropriate lens, but also of equipping oneself for local conditions. At 30 metres in Speyside, visibility may be 15 metres or more, but at Chacachacare it may be only two or three metres, and the light can be so attenuated that a diving light is necessary. The photographer also has to have some protection where colder water may be encountered, such as around the Bocas islands of north-west Trinidad.

Cave photography presents fewer difficulties. A powerful electron flash and high-speed film are necessary for scenery. Close-up work can be handled with basic equipment and artificial illumination, depending on the material, though secondary lighting is necessary for focusing: a tripod- or camera-mounted penlight is usually more than adequate. Night photography can be undertaken quite easily with the same equipment. For focusing in macro work, a secondary light covered with red film is useful when sensitive animals are involved, including frogs, snakes and many insects.

The most critical factor in using the equipment described above is lighting, but there are other challenges too. For general scenery in well-lit conditions, no artificial illumination is necessary. But in poorly-lit situations, in the forest for example, artificial illumination creates problems of its own: it diminishes with distance, so that while the foreground may well be lit, the background may be quite dark. To make best use of natural light, a solid tripod is essential. Close-up work, of course, can be done with electronic flash, regardless of available light.

Natural history photography in Trinidad and Tobago presents no serious physical hazards if one is careful. During the day, it is simply a matter of keeping one’s eyes open. At night, things are more complicated. Many of our animals are nocturnal and prefer to avoid the human intruder. But looking for things at night requires illumination. The easiest is a hand-held flashlight; a more useful tool is a head-mounted light, which keeps the hands free and can help illuminate a subject when focusing. Unfortunately it tends to attract flying creatures, which may include night-flying wasps and clouds of tiny flies. These can be accidentally inhaled, bringing an expedition to an uncomfortable conclusion.

I hope that readers of all ages will enjoy this book, and share an appreciation for these special islands.

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