Archive for 2012

Mesmerising Madagascar

Filed in Places Of Interest, Workshops on Sep.10, 2012

Madagascar the fourth largest island in the world!  Unique due to its diversity of species. It is known as the 8th continent and is a breathtaking place for wildlife. I have just returned from this amazing place where my 11 day photo tour took clients to some of the best places on the island.  Everyone witnessed the amazing aray of wildlife, flowers, and flora that this special island has to offer. The image below is of two Common Brown Lemurs sitting on posts near to the water as the evening sun began to set.  I under-exposed by two full stops to gain this effect.

A Golden Sifaka Lemur shown above moving through the trees which I was lucky enough to capture here with a fish-eye lens.  I have changed the image to black and white showing you just how dense this area of primary forest in Mantadia National park is. Another fisheye image from the same amazing forest can be seen below, showing some of the forests strange and wonderful trees.

Madagascar as we now know it, separated from the African mainland nearly 160 million years ago. Then 80 million years ago it broke away from India and from that moment it has stood alone in terms of an island within the India Ocean. This isolated so many species of wildlife to this one island, thus making its wildlife very different and unique, where many of the species only live and exist on this island.  You have to constantly look twice at things as you are just never certain if what you’ve just seen is living or a piece of wood, a twig, branch or something like that.

This image below clearly demonstrates what I have just described.  Its a Leaf-Tailed Gecko and it only lives on Madagascar in a few places on this island. It mimics the shape and colours of tree bark to blend in and hunt. It took several minute’s to see this amazing animal after our brilliant guide had found him for us.

The plants, flora and animals are amazing on this island and new species are constantly being found by scientists. The shapes and designs of them really intrigued me, with their armour style leaves, amazing patterns and spiders webs shinning like diamonds in the morning light with droplets of dew decorating them as seen in the following image, along with some of the amazing leaves and flora.  You can see a hole which marks the entrance to this spiders den.  I gazed at its design for ages with no sign of the occupant. We get some much from nature, ergonomic designs, waterproofing methodology and aerodynamics, all found in species of plants and animals everywhere on this island.

Madagascar is most famous for its wide variety of lemurs, these amazing creatures are found nowhere else in the world and new species are regularly discovered. The different species of lemur are spread throughout a variety of parks and reserves on the island.  This lemur was one of the main species everyone came to photograph. With their kind faces they were the perfect animal to photograph during our trip to this mesmerising island set among the Indian ocean.

Due to massive environmental degradation Madagascar’s species are some of the most threatened on the planet. With widespread destruction of habitat known as “Slash and Burn” which can be clearly seen once you travel around the island either by air or road.  This technique that is killing the life blood of this country is the traditional way for locals to plant rice, beans and corn to live off.

Small villages supporting many families are forced to settle right up to the edge of these primary forests where it’s clear to see the pressures on both the wildlife and the growing population. This has taken so much of Madagascar’s forests and replaced them with bare land covered either with crops or left just baron. Which in turn has rendered many species on the endangered list. None more so than the islands Lemurs, known for their wide eyes and by far the most famous of the islands residents.

Our trip started in the forest resort of Vakona Lodge, a complex of bungalows sitting amongst the natural forests of Madagascar.  We were here for 3 days, exploring Andasibe and Perinet National Parks which are set up to safeguard this amazing primary habitat of Madagascar. One of the famous inhabitants is the Indri Lemurs.  These are the biggest of the lemurs with an incredible call that travels for miles. These live in the tree tops and rarely come down as they have a complete fear of man in Andasibe reserve. Capturing images of them was a little tricky due to the dense habitat but all of my clients managed to capture some wonderful images of this amazing lemur.

We had a great guide throughout the trip who’s knowledge helped us all to find and photograph the stunning wildlife this place has to offer. During our stay at Vakona lodge we went on a couple of night walks around these reserves. Madagascar is famous for so much wildlife, alot of which only comes out at night giving you a completely different experience than that in the day. When you lose one of your senses your body over compensates which means your hearing and sense of smell almost doubles in the absence of your eyesight. We’d stay on a road and only venture slightly off path once one of the guides had spotted something with his torch.

A photograph of a Boophus Tree Frog, which has adapted itself to completely blend into the leaves it uses to live and hunt from. We could only just make him out once a small torch light was placed under this leaf. It exposed his shape and his markings that mimic the leaves he uses, just how amazing is wildlife!

A Golden Web Spider sitting among its web waiting for the night time insects to fall fool of its beautiful woven web.

This amazing creature just mesmerised me.  It looked like something from a bye gone era, not out of place in the dinosaur age I thought. It’s a Short-horned Chameleon. I was using a macro lens for this image and the depth of field was very narrow. So I focused on his head while leaving his curly tail in the image to gave a sense of size and depth to this image. What a wonderful living creature this was to see and photograph, the night time walks were truly amazing.

During our time at Vakona Lodeg we had 3 days of wonderful walks through the primary forests of Mantadia National Park and Andasibe National Park, both areas saved from the slash and burn policy that has ravaged the forests of Madagascar. We came across a lot of wildlife during our time here and one of the best encounters was of a group of Golden Sifaka Lemurs.

These are one of my personal favourite Lemurs with their striking colours. This image is taken with my fisheye lens.  I wanted to try and show you how dense these amazing forests are and I managed to sit down as he fed above my head.  I was with a completely wild Golden Safaka Lemur, feet above my head, as he reached for this branch to feed on.  A truly amazing moment.

A truly beautiful species of Lemur that only lives in this area of Madagascar, hanging onto survival with its forest homes being cut down. A real pleasure to see this lemur who once covered the whole area of Madagascar. Now only really existing on the east coast in protected areas.

Another wonderful encounter at Mantadia National Park was seeing a pair of Collared Nightjars. Our guide had spotted these among the forest vegetation cuddled up so close to each other.  These birds have very poor eyesight during the daylight hours as they are totally nocturnal birds.

This renders them a little vulnerable during the day from prey.  I was also told by our guide people hunt them up for food. One by one we carefully approached these sleeping beauties and took a few photos of them before leaving them in the peace that we found them. They had such stunning markings and feathers and were so well camouflaged for their forest home.

After an amazing start to the trip we said goodbye to Vakona Lodge and the amazing reserves we had visited, and headed towards our next destination.  After a 45 minute boat ride along the Pangalanes canals, passing by local villages on the east coast of Madagascar we arrived at the private reserve of Palmaruim.

Staying at the Palmarium Lodge all clients had a wonderful bungalow overlooking the large lakes giving that real contact with nature feel within the location. This place has around 8-10 different species of lemurs including nocturnal lemurs too. Once we settled in we headed out for our first night walk with our guide at Palmaruim to witness the unseen wildlife that this area of Madagascar has to offer.

A wonderful close up of this Boophus Tree Frog.  Lit up by our guides torch light.

We had an incredible encounter with a Pigmy Kingfisher during our night walk.  This bird is only found in Madagascar. The light from the guide’s torch brings out the wonderful colour of its plumage under the cover of the moonlit evening. During our night walks we had to stay on a path and could’nt go off track, so to see this wonderful bird so close to our path was amazing.

The peace and tranquility of this place made it a wonderful few days, with each bungalow set among the reserves vegetation. A lot of the Lemurs here live in lowland forest, which is completely different to that of the primary forests we’d spent the previous several days at beforehand. Most of the lemurs were fed here and made for wonderful images for the clients. Seeing these beautiful primates up close with the help of a few bananas from our guide.

The wonderful face of the Coquerel’s Sifaka here, again only found now in a handful of places on Madagascar.

This is the Crowned Lemur named after the crown of brown colour seen on top of his head.

Along with the Golden Sifaka or Diademed Sifaka Lemur these Indri Lemurs are one of my favourites. It was very interesting to see that here in their lowland habitat the colour is more darker than that of their  black and white counterparts that live in the primary forests of Andasibe and Mantadia reserves which we’d seen earlier in our trip. Indri are the biggest Lemurs and for me are beautiful and very graceful as they move through the canopies of the forests.

During our stay at Palmaruim we were able to photograph the largest of the Chameleon family, a true dinosaur looking creature that only lives in a few places now. The Panther Chamelleon has a massive tongue which it hunts and catches its prey with. Their markings are truly special and here I captured him moving from a high branch to a lower branch. Giving a different view point to this amazing living creature who’s markings are just stunning.

We had a great time at both Palmaruim and Vakona Lodge which are staying on my itinerary for next year’s Madagascar photo tour as clients really enjoyed these places and its peacefulness along with its variety of wildlife. I took a few images of a wonderful spider we kept seeing during our time on Madagascar, the stunning Golden Web Spider.

The following day we took the boat once more but this time headed to Tamatave for our overnight stay at the Sharon Hotel. Traveling for two hours this time to reach our destination by boat we settled into our wonderful hotel in readiness for our early morning flight to the beautiful island of Sainte Marie where we would be finishing our photo tour hoping to see the Humpback Whales that come to this area to give birth and raise their calf’s.

Sainte-Marie, known as Nosy Boraha, is an island off the east coast of Madagascar, it’s a fantastic location to see Humpback Whales during the months of June until September.  The channel between Sainte-Marie Island and Madagascar is a hot spot for these whales.  Substantial groups of Humpbacks migrate from the Antarctic to this idyllic breeding place. These quiet giants find conditions here favourable for the growth of their young and it is also well suited to their courtship before their return towards the cold seas in late September.

We spent 2 days and nights at our beautiful Masoandro Lodge, with 1 whale watching trip each day.  The first day we saw nothing as we sailed in our small boat in the vast India Ocean. Crossing our fingers for the next days trip we all hoped we’d see the incredible Humpbacks.

I see many things while among nature that blow me away, many private moments I’m able to see and photograph, where I count myself very lucky indeed.  So following a mother Humpback Whale and her calf in the Indian Ocean the following day ranks right up there with the very best moments I’ve been privileged to see in my lifetime so far. The weather had turned from sunny to cloudy on this day and the sea looked rough, very rough and all of my clients decided to give the boat trip a miss instead opting for our last day in Sainte Marie, so I went alone, as fortune favours the brave I believe.

The sea was choppy at first but the weather broke and the sun came out.  We adopted a different tactic than that of the previous day and waited for signs that whales were around. We saw one and ended up following her and her calf, the guides kept the boat at some distance away and stopped the engine as not to make a single noise. Floating in the massive Indian Ocean in a small, tiny boat with the current throwing you around certainly gets the blood pumping through your veins to say the least.

We had followed her and her calf for nearly an hour, often we just drifted as they dived and played around our tiny boat. Sometimes stopping to play and flap one of their fins at each other, such lovely tender moments for such a massive animal. A few minutes had passed where we thought they’d dived deep and vanished. Then from nowhere the female jumped up, clearing the sea then landing in seconds. I had around a faction of a second to take these images. The power, noise, splash and the wave that happened during and after this jump, I just cannot explain in words.

Never have I seen anything so powerful created by a living animal in all my life.  I was speechless. The following sequence of images captures that incredible moment. What a way to end an amazing trip to Madagascar, my clients went the following day and were also able to see this pair and take some lovely images but the female never jumped so I count myself very lucky that day, as I witnessed something that will stay with me forever.

I would like to thank my clients who came from as far afield as the USA and Australia to join me on my photo tour. We had a great time, brilliant images, fantastic accommodation and a real laugh along the way. Thanks to Shaun Stanley from World Primates Safaris for helping me with the logistics on the ground, guides, hotels and transport as it’s the small things that make the big things happen. And lastly I would like to thank my guide, Rija whose knowledge of the amazing wildlife in Madagascar helped us all in capturing some wonderful images with our cameras.

I will be returning to this breathtaking island of Madagascar in October 2013. Visiting a lot of the places you’ve seen on this blog. So if you’d like to join me on this amazing photo tour next year then please click here to be taken to the link and all the information you will need, many thanks.

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Keep The Tigers Alive

Filed in Articles on Aug.22, 2012

They say a picture paints a thousand words, I hope this one does, tt’s a Female Tigress wondering through her territory in the morning light, taken in Ranthambhore Tiger reserve, India. This photograph captures the moment when she became aware of my presence as I sat in a small jeep, hidden from view, thousands of miles from home, engine turned off and the air thick with alarm calls.  I could not only feel my heart beat I could hear it among the forest noises as I captured this photograph.

On 29th August 2012, the Supreme Court in India decides the plight of the Royal Bengal Tiger by those that maybe haven’t even seen or even been to those areas now that they may condemn to the history books. India is home to half the world’s tiger population, according to the latest census released in March 2011 by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the current population is estimated at 1,706 – up from 1,411 in 2008.  A link hear to the recent ruling can be seen.

The Supreme Court wants the Tiger reserves to restrict tourism to the buffer zones, but the problem in Ranthambore, as well as other reserves, is that the only area it can designate as buffer is not somewhere tourists would want to visit, let alone tigers. There, the buffer zone is a wilderness with very little flora or fauna, littered with gravel mines. To reach the zone, tigers would have to travel 35 miles from the main park, and even cross main roads. So these proposed plans and buffer zones just won’t work and will be the beginning of the end for Tigers in India.

Ranthambhore Tigers are doing really well and the reserve is run to a strict rule. At present there is 25 cubs there doing well, one family being brought up by their Father, the first time in history this has been reported. And my group of clients this year had the amazing privilege of witnessing this and capturing the images of dad with his two cubs as their mum had died and he was bringing them up alone. To read the story of this case click here.

Animals only breed when they are happy, so how are tourists distributing them? as in core areas Tiger numbers on the whole are on the up. Nature would tell us if it wasn’t happy with falling birth rates, Tigers numbers falling or dying. But she tells us the opposite here in Ranthambhore. A place I know well and love, having visited many times over the last several years. I’ve met many drivers, guides and people that live in and around the tourisms area of Ranthambhore whose whole economy is based on tourism, take this away and they have nothing.

All of which rely on the Tiger for their livehood, but more than that they love, cherish and look after these animals. Keeping them as safe as they possibly can. Remove all of this and this will send the Tigers into the history books I believe and many others on the ground also do. I’ve been told its called – community based conservation, and the tiger will be exterminated without it.

I am no scientist but it’s so clear the Tigers are ONLY living because of these people and tourism, let’s hope they carry on keeping Mother Nature’s most beautiful animal as safe as it can. I hope they make the right decision for the Tiger first and foremost, keeping this animal alive, safe and well for the future generations to see just how beautiful they are, good luck to the Tiger and also the Indian people.

I am off to Madagascar at the weekend for my 11 day photo tour there so once I return home I will up date my blog on the courts ruling as the date of the hearing coincides with when I’m away, many thanks.

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Spotlight Sumatra

Filed in Articles on Aug.14, 2012

Spotlight Sumatra is a celebration of the breathtaking array of life found in the island’s unique rainforests, and a call to action to collectively do all that we can to save this fragile ecosystem, the last stronghold for many critically endangered species. I will be travelling to Sumatra in September 2012  for two weeks. Alongside my guides, we will venture deep into the jungles for up to three or four days at a time, even longer if we are lucky, to track and photograph wild Sumatran orangutans.

Jungle life will be basic but great, trekking by day and sleeping in hammocks by night. I have many ideas and plans for different images and photographs that SOS can use to help raise awareness of the plight of this Great Ape – maybe the first Great Ape to become extinct should current trends continue in the destruction of their forest homes. With many tour operators, photographers and members of the public venturing to the island of Borneo to see and photograph orangutans, I was shocked that very few people go to Sumatra. I hope to show the world Sumatra needs help just as much in saving its rainforests as the neighboring island of Borneo.

Only 6600 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild. Most of these depend on the rainforest habitat provided by the Gunung Leuser National Park in northern Sumatra for their survival. Removal of illegal palm oil plantations, replanting and guarding the orangutans’ home territory along with education and public information campaigns are carried out by the Sumatran Orangutan Society and their partners in Sumatra, the Orangutan Information Centre.

SOS is dedicated to the conservation of Sumatran orangutans and their forest home and their work is helping to protect and conserve this area for the future. I first saw one of these amazing animals in the year 2000 in a rehabilitation centre in Thailand, where I saw a male orangutan, an experience that touched deep into my soul, as I watched and looked into the eyes of one of our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom.

This has stayed with me until the present day and now I am trying to help in my own way by using my photography to help SOS, in turn helping this animal. The principal focus of my trip will be the orangutan, capturing them within their natural habitat, looking for behaviors to capture and so on.

I will be capturing some beautiful photographs of these animals, alongside images showing their rainforest home. I will visit some of the most magnificent forests on Earth, which is also the domain of many other beautiful and stunning animals and birds, some of which only live in this part of the world and nowhere else on the planet. I will be using my tracking skills and fieldcraft, camouflage and jungle survival, having spent some time in these environments previously as a member of the armed forces.

I will be reporting back once I reach the few places where there is internet access, and you’ll be able to read my updates from the field on this SOS blog. I will be capturing images of SOS and OIC’s different projects but on the whole my time will be spent in the jungle, listening and watching for clues of what wildlife is around us. I am looking forward to meeting and working with the locals there, whose knowledge of these jungles is second to none and without whose skills it would take me much longer to navigate this landscape.

I cannot wait to wake up to hear the sights and sounds of the jungle, the calls, the noise, the smells. It’s going to be an amazing two week adventure where I hope to capture the beauty of this animal with my lens, which is controlled with my heart and eyes. I will be getting involved also helping the locals, I will be presenting some short films and slideshows showing them wildlife outside of Sumatra. A lot of people will not have ventured outside of their native country but it’s my aim to bring wildlife to them during the time I am there using a small bicycle-powered cinema which is used for educational talks and film screenings.

The sole aim of this trip is to highlight the plight of this most beautiful of apes. I will be showing you the kit I’m taking, clothing and equipment, posting live updates and hopefully transporting you to this rarely visited part of the world.

I visited the UK headquarters of SOS in Oxford this week to finalise my two week trip there soon with the UK director, Helen Buckland. Going through some projects and work the charity want me to visit once I’m on the ground. Capturing the whole story of Sumatra the best way I can. While I was there these two orangutans where really keen for me to see where they originally came from and gladly posed for me in front of a map of Sumatra.

There will be more news and updates soon before my departure and to keep up to date with this amazing trip please visit SOS’s website here and view the projects, alternatively click on their blog. Its going to be an amazing trip, never been done like this before with a complete view to highlighting the plight of this great ape. I look forward to showing you this island and its amazing wildlife very soon.

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Beautiful Wildlife

Filed in Wildlife on Aug.10, 2012

I use the medium of photography as a method to capture the beautiful things I witness in nature, placing a frame around something I have seen, letting the image convey the true beauty of that moment in time that my words could never describe. Photographing wildlife with my camera is more than just a photograph for me, its about capturing an animals spirt, heart,and letting you look right into their lives.

I have a deep emotion within my work which comes from my great love of wildlife. Photographs can move people, they speak in a language I cannot and that’s what I have always hoped to achieve within my work as a wildlife photographer.

Here are a few of my most recent images on subjects I’ve been working on to produce this Beautiful Wildlife slideshow, to view this on YouTube please click here I hope you enjoy.

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Brown Bears of Slovakia

Filed in Places Of Interest, Workshops on Aug.05, 2012

Slovakia is one of Europe’s most mountainous countries, with lofty summits and deep-cut valleys making up almost a third of its area.  With the dramatic Tatra Mountains forming an amazing backdrop to this stunning area. The Carpathian Mountains in Slovakia has everything a photographer could wish for, beautiful landscapes and wildlife with that unspoilt feel to the whole area which is set in one of Europe’s most dramatic mountain regions. I’ve just returned from this amazing place after running a photo tour there with clients to photograph the beautiful Brown Bears that live in this region of Europe. It was my first trip there and I was blown away with the beautiful landscapes and wildlife.

This country offers a chance to get close to these amazing and powerful mammals from well protected hides. Where you are able to photograph wild Brown Bear in their natural habitat. Our hides were located at beautiful locations, very basic in design as they double up as places in which the rangers count the bear numbers. The scenery around each one was stunning, providing you with the perfect backdrop for Bear images.

Working from hides positioned in varied habitats gave us the best opportunities to photograph this amazing predator in the safest way possible. Each guest had the opportunity to photograph the animals in different locations against a variety of backgrounds, gaining a unique and privileged insight into their lives.

Photographing the Brown Bears took place mainly during the early mornings and nights, spending the time in these 2-3 person hides. During the day we grabbed as much rest as we could at our comfortable lodge and I also presented some slideshows which gave an insight to how I work and the key elements that I feel are important within wildlife photography. In between this I went through some of the images clients have captured, offering help and support to improve what they had already captured during their time with me.

In the 1920’s Slovakia’s brown bear population was almost eradicated by hunting.  From around 1932 until the 1960’s the hunting was stopped and the bears were protected. However, in the 1960’s this ban was lifted as the population of bears had reached a high level and conflict with humans was becoming a common event.  During this time though the population sharply dropped and by the mid 1980’s the bears were again at risk of eradication.

EU legislation was imposed as the European brown bear was now classed as an endangered species and therefore protected by EU law. To date the hunting of bears is still allowed in the Carpathian Mountains, but the number of animals killed is strictly controlled and only regulation shooting or protection shooting is permitted. Keeping the population at around just over 1,000 brown bears living in Slovakia’s mountains.

Still largely undeveloped, the glorious natural landscapes remain home to many animals such as Chamois, Marmot, Lynx, Eagles and Wolves. The mountains are also home to the brown bear, one of Europe’s most impressive and threatened predators. Amidst rugged mountains and ancient forests lies hidden one of the last strongholds of European wilderness. This whole area represents thousands of square kilometers of nature encircled by a sea of civilization.

It felt almost like a miracle that in the middle of Europe there still exists such a refuge for these amazing mammals. Throughout Europe there remains almost no area untouched by humans. Wildlife though is returning again to these places where it was once forced out. Around sixty years ago it wasn’t chamois or deer herds that roamed these valleys, it was cattle, grazing. Vast forest areas were destroyed and burned to make way for grazing areas for the livestock. Wolves were completely wiped out, and the entire National Parks records only showed several bears remaining.

Everything has changed since then, the valleys have become a safe home once more for the brown bears. Wolves are increasing their numbers with new cubs recorded each year. Species only found in primeval forests many years pervously are reclaiming their territories once again. This fascinating evidence of the power of nature tells us that many similar stories can happen anywhere in the world.  We only have to give nature enough time and space and by allowing this to happen the wilderness will return, and will become a place of inspiration for us all. A place where we can meet wild animals, living their lives in peace, while wondering through these ancient forests once more.

I felt I’d almost been transported back in time, hundreds of years back in time when these animals would have roamed all if not most of Europe freely without persecution. This story for me though is as much to do with the people who work and live in this area as it has the bears. Their patch covers hundreds of kilometers and staff and resources are thin on the ground to say the least. But it’s these guys here and many others throughout the world that are helping key species to hang onto life among the surrounding populations.

Whether it is Africa, India or here in Slovakia these people are key to the subjects survival, their knowledge, passion and love for the subject cannot be counted. In this area only 30 Brown Bears remain, the rangers have two camera trips, placed in and around these basic observation hides that we used, which record bear numbers at certain parts of the year.

Seeing a different environment for me always sends my brain into over drive, new smells, different tracks, different animals and remains of deer eaten by Lynx that roam these forests. I sat by the bones to try and get an idea of size through the prints of the these very rare animals.  Just sitting and watching always helps me in my thought process when trying to build a picture or recreate what went before me at that particular place.

To get any idea of the numbers of bears in this area or to see if any have gone missing the rangers place small amounts of maze around these hides. This is designed to basically get the bears to come to the area in which these several hides are placed. So they can keep tabs of the population. Either by using the camera technology or good old fashioned sitting and waiting. Censors are conducted once or twice a year at key times.

The other reason this food is put out is to hopefully discourage the bears at key times of the year traveling down to the towns and villages below these areas in which the bears live. Where conflict often results in the killing or serious injury of the bear, as people protect their property or livelihood.

To hear this was a shock for me and really sad as I hate any form of cruelty towards any animal, but in panic people often dont think until after the event.  Unfortunately this means that the lives of around 30 bears lie in the hands of wonderful and passionate people that work in this beautiful area daily. With population numbers increasing and tourism on the up, the bears sole existence is in the hands of man. On one side you have the gun, either to protect or to hunt them and on the other you have this amazing animal who was here first hanging onto life, while roaming these vast forests that once almost stretched the whole area of Europe.

They where just so amazing to watch and at times very comical and enduring. Here a female is seen scratching her nose area after a fly had just landed. The fly can just been seen hovering above after she’s moved the fly with her massive paw.

So for us as wildlife photographers on this trip, the real work of getting to see the bears had been acheived, as over the many years the rangers had placed maze as a supplementary food source, designed to bring these amazingly shy bears into a few areas of safety within this vast mountainous range, where you just may get the briefest of glimpses into their lives.

This place really only has one road in and one road out, you cannot roam around or create damage, as there are very strict rules in place to protect the wildlife. It’s also not safe to wander around because if you spook one of these bears they may attack you, otherwise they are frightened of man and just walk away. Often though at dusk you might see a lone bear using this road to navigate their way through the forests or just a short cut.

Once they have eaten the maze they disappear just as quickly as they had arrived, no playing around, no climbing, nothing. They are so quite for their size, and without any indication alot of the time they just turned up. Sometimes though you would hear a distinct noise of a fallen branch snap, breaking the silence of the moment, as a bear approaches or passes. Heart racing as your eyes almost pop out of your head looking for what had made the noise. Alot of the time the noises came from deep within the forest canopy so it left you wandering whether it was a bear or not.

I explained that as a wildlife photographer myself you have a duty of care to the subject but also to the viewing public, to tell the story and facts behind the image, as the power of wildlife photography rests on the belief that the image you captured represents an event that occurred naturally in the wild, something witnessed and recorded by the photographer with his/her camera at that given time. The moment it goes away from this is when you have to explain to the viewing public what is behind the image and how you took this.

For me personally you have to have a complete transparency to your work, even more so as a professional, in order for your peers and public to judge your skill when working with wild animals, demonstrating fieldcraft and sharing subject knowledge. In this case we wouldn’t have got near these bears without firstly the expert help from Jaro and secondly the small amounts of maze placed out for the bears.

This maze is only placed out for counting purposes at certain times of the year and for the very few photo tours that come to this beautiful place throughout the year. Again this is done so in such a delicate way as not to impact on any the wildlife and more so the bears. Which made the whole experience feel that bit more special knowing that only a limited amount of the public have been where you were sitting.

It was good to see that the bears hadn’t become use to the food and at the same time would never become use to humans or any form of interaction with them, which in turn will keep them safer from being harmed in the future. All that was left to do for us was to wait in those areas inside these very basic hides for our moment with this amazing and very rare mammal.

My aim as the professional wildlife photographer on this trip was to have all the clients ready for those moments and to have the confidence to use their equipment to the best of its ability, while watching and learning about this amazing predator. Everyone on the trip captured some really nice images of the bears, as at times they were elusive, which in turn made those encounters we did have just that bit more special.

I met some lovely people during my time there and I would like to thank every one of you for all the laughs, the company and for sticking with the early mornings and late finishes very well. I wish you all well in your photography, many thanks.

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Nature Always Shines

Filed in Wildlife, Workshops on Jul.23, 2012

With the weather in the UK still presenting wildlife with some very testing conditions I find nature always gives off her beauty whatever the weather. I will be sad to leave behind the Barn Owls that I’m currently working on. Hoping that on my return the UK wildlife won’t have had more rain and flooding to contend with. For me though rain or shine nature always shines and makes me smile whatever the weather.

I’m heading to one of Europe’s most mountainous countries, Slovakia, leading two trips for Tarta Photography. I will be photographing Brown Bears within the Carpathian Mountains so I’ll be a little quiet on my blog for the next two weeks. Really looking forward to the trip and meeting clients during this time, where I hope to bring you more on this amazing trip upon my return home.

I’ve had a few one to ones over the last several days amongst my own work, photographing Red Grouse, high up on the moors of the Peak District. Also Dippers, where some river levels have risen and the wildlife have either moved or drown, which is incredibly sad. On the days my clients booked we braved the weather reports and were treated with sunny but at times wet weather.


After rain there always comes wonderful and very usable light for photography so sometimes it’s just worth taking a chance, where fortune often favours the brave, and those weather fronts I like to study turn out wrong sometimes.

Some of the moors are just starting to show some colours now, in full bloom it can be just a carpet of soft purples covering vast areas, making a wonderful back drop to the grouse. I have a number of workshops during the best times, so if you’d like to join me, learn more about these iconic birds and at the same time learn fieldcraft and how best to approach these birds then click here to see these ever popular days I run.

Many thanks to my clients for your company, where the gamble paid off and everyone got some very nice images of their chosen subjects.  The message here is work with what you have and the wet weather fronts can pass as quickly as they arrive, but wildlife will still have to feed to stay alive. For more information on my one to ones I run throughout the year and at the varoius locations I know well around the UK, then please click here to be taken to this page.

Dates for my talks in 2012/13 covering a wide variety of my work are filling up fast, so if your a camera club, organisation or chairty that would like to see beautiful images of wildlife, whats behind the images and my work then contact me for more details and rates, many thanks.

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Fieldcraft-Rutting Deer Photographic Workshop

Filed in Articles on Jul.23, 2012

Announcing a new wildlife workshop I’m doing in conjunction with Calumet Photographic covering fieldcraft. After the great response to my article in Practical Photography giving my top ten tips and advice on fieldcraft I will be running this workshop over two days enabling you to learn one of the most important elements to wildlife photography. The dates for this workshop are Saturday 27th October and Sunday 28th and can be seen by clicking here

All wild animals that have no or very little contact with humans are scared and fear man. They see and smell us the moment we enter their world of which they are designed for and we aren’t. They have an in built fear of man and see us as a threat to their lives. For me, it’s how the person deals with that level of fear and stress using their fieldcraft that’s important.

Good fieldcraft is especially important for the effectiveness of wildlife photography. Concealment is what keeps you from being seen and allows you that private window into the subject’s life. Fieldcraft is the art of looking and reading the animals behaviour in parts dealing with the visible signs the animal will show you.

Come and join me on this two day Fieldcraft/Rutting Deer workshop. On the first day I will present some slideshows, go through what fieldcraft I use within my own work. I will demonstrate what you need to do in order to improve your own wildlife photography. The second day will start just before dawn and fingers crossed with get a frosty morning with some nice light as this will add a great deal to your images.

You will be able to put into practise what you learned on the first day on the ground on the second day. Wind direction, smells and watching for the behaviour that will be around us all.  The month of October is a key time in the Deer’s own calendar, it’s a time when the males fight to keep control of their females that they will later go on and breed with.

Many male Fallow Deer’s want this chance to mate and so the rut is born. The air will be thick with testosterone as we witness one of autumn’s magical times. You will learn many skills during these two days,where fieldcraft for me is one of if not the most important tool in any wildlife photographer’s box.

For more information or to book this workshop then please click here to be taken to Calumets website many thanks.

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Beautiful Barn Owls

Filed in Articles, Projects, Wildlife on Jul.11, 2012

Quartering over farmland, hovering with moth like silence, flying effortlessly on the wing in the half-light at dawn or dusk is the supreme hunter, the Barn Owl. A bird that has always created a sense of great excitement and fascination for me. In British folklore, a screeching Barn Owl is believed to predict that a storm or cold weather was imminent. During a storm, if a Barn Owl was heard, it indicated that the storm was nearly over.

The custom of nailing a Barn Owl to a barn door to warn off evil persisted into the 19th century, something you just wouldn’t believe people would do but back then strange things went on and happened to these amazing owls.

The Barn Owl had a sinister reputation, a bird of darkness, where people associated it with death. The Ancient Greeks and Romans saw owls as a symbol of wisdom. Athena the goddess of wisdom is often depicted in art with an owl perched on her shoulder. Sometimes owls were also viewed as messengers from the gods, full of wisdom and helpfulness.

Over the last several weeks I have been watching a family of Barn Owls live out their lives in an old disused building overlooking some beautiful countryside . In some of the most testing weather since records begin two adult owls have raised three healthy chicks that now are almost ready to take their places among our countryside. With the wettest June on record it’s been hard work watching the parent birds put their own lives on the line by hunting in this wet weather.

A lot of the time though the weather has broken and this has allowed the owls to hunt and build up their larders of food which is a key behaviour among Barn Owls. This stored food then helps during the long periods of wet weather.

With no sign of improvement it’s hard to believe its summertime in the UK. I like to study air pressures and weather fronts as it really helps within my work.  The reasons for this wet weather are simple when you take a look at the weather charts, the jet stream.

During most summers the jet stream lies to the north of the UK, so rain-bearing weather fronts and depressions miss us and hit Scandinavia instead. This year however this jet stream has shifted southwards and is lying over France and southern Europe, this has left the UK wide open to these depressions and all this wet weather.

One possibility to what maybe moving this jet stream is warming temperatures between the Arctic and the tropics and the shrinkage of the north polar ice cap. These changing weather conditions and patterns may be around a lot more than we think in the future where alongside wildlife we’ll have to learn to live and change alongside this ever present climate change that are here to stay for sure.

My hide is some distance away, completely hidden from view and well camouflaged.  The image above is the view I have from my hide and one of the perches they are using now, exercising their wings and doing their tester flights just before sunset each evening. I move my hide to a different place under the cover of darkness as not to disturb them and also once the dawn light comes up the wildlife will see the hide and accept it as part of the landscape. Again cutting down on any stress, and disturbance to the wildlife and in this case the Barn Owls.

With a mixture of different focal lengths, tele-convertors, crop modes in camera and time I’ve been able to photograph this family and capture them going about their lives at this location.  Wild Barn Owls are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and so should never be disturbed in any way. I am using really high ISO’s on my camera in order to get some shutter speed, as they aren’t coming out until around 9-9.30pm. I never use any sort of flash with wildlife as I feel any form of bright light suddenly hitting an animals retina disturbs the subject.

When you work somewhere new like this site, you gradually build a picture of movements, favourite natural perches, flight patterns etc. This is a skill you have to learn in order to try and second guess where and when your images will come from. This takes time and is very time consuming but for me its the very essence of real wildlife photography. At the same time you learn so much about the subject, and the habitat in which they live. The image above is of the paler male Barn Owl perched on a stone lintel, he is so stunningly beautiful.

The Barn Owls use the main barn as well as some smaller buildings which often both the adult and young perch on. Hours pass by, with nothing, not a sound, then a white flash passes by my hide, a corus of loud hissing noises can be heard as the adult owls come in with prey. This image below is the male Barn Owl who likes to perch on the pitch of this old roof here and on this evening my hide was close and by pure luck he landed, stopped and looked straight through me.

I was too close really, so I went for a close up of his amazing and beautiful, heart-shaped face. I managed to take just one photo on silent mode before he flew off and carried on hunting, and this is that amazing moment captured here. The male has much lighter plumage around the breast and face and has a completely white chest nothing else, the female on the other hand is slightly bigger and has black spots on her chest.

The ability to see things that are hidden and hunt completely undetected are key to a Barn Owls life and survival.  Often without warning they arrive and vanish before you have any chance to capture this. I always like to capture wildlife as seen on the ground, going about their lives with no disturbance by my presence at all, I like to compose my subjects on whatever they land on.

They are venturing out more and more now and it won’t be long before they completely leave the comfort of this building and start to live and roost among the many trees littering the surrounding landscape. When I leave the site in almost total darkness I often see one or both of the parent birds flying over the farmland with one of the younger ones in tow, their white bodies giving an almost floating appearance as they fly and dive.

Maybe they are having hunting lessons, learning their craft, who knows but it’s very enduring to see and both adult owls have been brilliant parents that have managed to feed and bring up their brood in some of the wettest weather since records begin.

I hope to continue to follow the progress of this Barn owl family over the next several months, where any day now the young will fully fledge and leave the place that’s been their home now for several months. Its been a special and privileged time for me to witness these amazing owls live their lives around me. Often I’ve just sat and marveled at their antiques, and behaviours, with each youngster having their own personality. They is one that’s just slightly smaller than the others and seems to need more attention from his parents which is so enduring to see and watch.

I will be releasing a few more Barn Owl limited edition prints soon which will be available framed or unframed and in canvas format to go along one of my favourite ones that can be seen and purchased here if you scroll down to the bottom of the page. Where 50% of the profits from each sale go to this trust I support with my work, because I love Barn owls and want to help them.

The Barn Owl Conservation Handbook is a comprehensive guide for ecologists, surveyors, land managers and ornithologists written by the Barn Owl Trust. I help this trust in any way I can in order to help this amazing owl keep safe and it’s survival. After the launch of this guide last week I received this from the Barn Owl trust, which was wonderful and I’m so glad my Barn Owl images can help.
Dear Craig

I am very pleased to say that the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook we started writing in January 2010 has finally arrived and the first copies are being mailed out today. This publication represents a major milestone in the Trusts history.

On behalf of my co-authors and all the books future beneficiaries I would like to thank you for your unique contribution in providing your wonderful photograph of a Barn Owl hunting in flight during daylight that appears in colour on the back cover alongside Mike Toms testimonial.

Without your photos, the Handbook would not be as good as it is. Thank you very much indeed.

David J Ramsden MBE

Senior Conservation

Click here to be taken to their website and to purchase this guide. Also this as many charities in today’s times is run on donations so if you can help them to carry on their wonderful work then please do so and visit their website by clicking here many thanks.

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