Archive for 2012

Take Nothing For Granted

Filed in Animal Behaviour, Spring, Wildlife on Feb.12, 2012

What a difference a few weeks makes and always be careful what you wish for. In my last blog I was only just saying how mild it was for this time of year and how wildlife has almost started making a home in readiness to rear their young. Cold temperatures and snow with freezing fog and frost all mixed in over the last several days, giving nature the worst kind of wake up call.  You must never take anything for granted more so nature as this just may come back and bite you when you least expect it.

Grabbing my camera on one such day I captured a few images of the birds from my local park , looking for a different angle in which to capture the bird’s spirit.

Once the roads had cleared a little I did manage to visit the Peak District with Paul my client where we were hoping to see Red Grouse.  The snow was also a wonderful bonus, as it had fallen covering the whole area in a beautiful blanket of snow. Thank you Paul for being a great sport in such testing conditions when walking up to where the grouse were.

I have just spent a couple of days in Norfolk photographing a much loved event in nature’s calendar, the Spring Tides. I’ve written so much about these days and had articles published showing my images. It was nice to be back and witness this event over the last couple of days having not been to Norfolk since November due to work commitments. Little did I know what was waiting for me in Norfolk, as I set off for this event from my Staffordshire home in the early hours of the morning, with the weather changing constantly as I passed through the different counties on route to Nelsons County, Norfolk.

You park up and get dressed ready for any event the weather may throw at you.  Snettisham and the surrounding areas are open and very bleak where great care must be exercised in poor weather. Once in place depending on the tide times your normally greeted with a fanfare of calls, sometimes if your timings are spot on the sky can be awash with actively too as flocks seem to wiz by you, feet above your head, drowning you in a vast chorus of noise and calls as they whistle past.  It’s a truly remarkable feeling and one you just never tire of witnessing in whatever weather or conditions.

A mixture of different light conditions and weather gave me a chance to play around with compositions and shutter speeds, giving a different effect and feel to my images. The slow shutter speed images are something I have always loved to do when photographing wildlife.  I like to refer to this practise that I am so fond of within my work as capturing the animals but in slow motion. Freezing a moment in time, giving the image a sense of movement in the absence of any sound is what I hope to achieve by using this technique.

I mentioned their sound and if you could hear the noise generated by these birds during these spring tides it would mesmerize you, it’s so uplifting to hear.  A bird adding a different key or note, I always like to try and listen then listen again to hear those individual bird calls because if you view the flock as a whole it’s hard to make out which birds are there and which aren’t.

This part of Norfolk is always bleak and remote offering you a great platform in which to view this amazing spectacle. Different days offer different images for me, where I am always trying to capture something different, learning from the past visits here. On the whole it was a good few days with many lovely images, once the peace returns and the tide begins to retreat the waders start their return back to the mudflats. When it gets to this point there’s always the queue to leave and I go back to my transport for a warm drink and often to dry off.

There are several areas in Norfolk I have regularly visited over the years to watch and hopefully photograph Barn Owls, and I was lucky enough during my recent time there to have seen two pairs at two of the four locations I know of. The others maybe there but the weather may have played a part in them staying in rather than venturing out. Again as previously mentioned I am always looking to push my own photography when I am alone and not with clients. Seeing something different and then trying to capture that idea with my camera.

This is one of the main parts of photography that always excites me, as my arty streak in me comes out and working alongside your cameras abilities you can often capture something different. With the few sightings I witnessed of the Barn Owls I tried different compositions, manual focusing, and extreme positioning of the subject in the corners of my viewfinder, creating lots of blank and open spaces to the front of the main subject.

Norfolk’s also a great place to for Brown Hares and I came across a few during my time there, wonderful mammals to spend time with and watch.

Many different images from the various different weather conditions that I’ve endured and as I write this blog there are still areas of the country where snow is around, but in the coming week the temperatures are set to rise so maybe nature has seen the last of winter now but I don’t want to speak to soon as before. On a serious note I do hope wildlife hasn’t suffered to much during the recent cold spell and fingers crossed spring is just around the corner.

Tigers around the world need help, they are crucially endangered, with their numbers in the wild at a dangerous level. Upon first seeing these animals in the wild it reddened me speechless because of their amazing beauty. They cannot just be left to die out with just a few remaining in zoos and parks. A world devoid of wild Tigers would be a very sad place indeed.

Through 3 limited edition prints I raise money to help these beautiful animals, where 50% of the profits from the sale of these images goes directly to 21st Century Tiger. They spend every penny on saving this most beautiful of animals we have roaming the earth at present.  In several weeks I return to India once more hoping to share my passion for these animals with my clients booked onto my Tigers of India photo tour. Each one has a dream of seeing these animals and along with the brilliant guides I work with there I hope to show and help each person capture some wonderful images of this amazing animal.

I am donating one of my 2010 Year of the Tiger images as the first prize in a photography competition for another UK Tiger charity called TIGERS4EVER.org. It hopes to raise awareness of the plight of the Tiger in the wild. The print is only 1 of 100 ever printed and will be the first prize in this competition. Calumet UK  are very kindly supporting Tigers4Ever’s 11-16 age category photographic competition also with a 1st prize of £100 Calumet gift vouchers.

If you are interested in entering and helping this charity where all monies raises through this competition goes towards helping Tigers then please click on this link http://www.tigers4ever.org/ many thanks and the best of luck.


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The Power Of Nature

Filed in Wildlife, Workshops on Feb.02, 2012

There is a real air of spring around at the moment among the UK countryside, with the odd spell of frost or even snow on the higher grounds, just to add to the confusion for nature. 2011 was one of the warmest years on record with lengthy periods of warm weather each month right up until the end of the year. In with the New Year and again those mild, warm temperatures seem to be still with us with little promise of the cold spells we’ve had in previous years.

On the ground nature is confused, the sudden warming temperatures for this time of year is playing a cruel game with nature, one minute warm the next an overnight frost. You can see and hear the birds singing to attract a mate, defending their territories with great cause. Dippers displaying and starting to gather nesting material, the countryside really feels like it should be much later than it really is due to the influence of the warmer weather.

Mother Nature is powerful though and animals and plants will overcome and survive.  I believe as nothings is as powerful as nature. While being among wildlife you get the impression that you’ve missed something or they have, what I mean is by watching the behaviours of the wildlife its seems that winter has been by-passed and were heading straight into the season of spring. I really hope that the cold spells of weather that nature has endured in 2010 and 2011 wont now come along and catch the wildlife out as that would be one of the cruelest lessons in which to learn from.  However, I fear that this could happen quite soon.

As each year passes and we hear that a warming record has been broken, or nearly broken again, it provides further evidence that unfortunately we are not just seeing a natural cycle of global warming, but instead humans are having an effect on the climate. I am not qualified on paper to start debating what is right or wrong I just know on the ground among wildlife things are changing and I do hope nature won’t be caught in between these warming temperatures and strange happening among the seasons.

Over the last three months though there has been one bird that seems to be doing really well within the warming temperatures and that is the beautiful Short-eared Owl that seems to have invaded many areas of the UK feeding on the bountiful supply of rodents. The internet is awash with brilliant images showing this often rarely seen owl outside of the breeding season. Recently I have spent back to back days there trying to capture different angles and images of these stunning owls.

Over that time the owls are late risers and rarely come out before the early afternoon but I go there at dawn and wait as you never know what may happen, as the site has other birds of prey. Fortune often rewards me and I was lucky enough to see a lone Shot-eared owl hunting in the morning light. I’d located an area in which these ground dwelling birds roost overnight and then just suddenly appear in the afternoon. I set my gear up overlooking this area, not to close to disturb them, placing my converter on my long lens as I waited.

Often the periods of waiting were greater than the time I’d see them but for me it’s just the enjoyment of being around wildlife.  That’s enough for me anything else is always a bonus. I often say I could sell all my camera equipment tomorrow and still be happy sitting and watching with my binoculars.

I have witnessed them diving for prey, perched in the morning light, and hunting in the pouring rain, which is very rare to see.  This is a costly exercise for owls as they don’t do well in rain. As I witnessed this it does pull on my heart strings as you just know that owl is hungry and gathering enough food to stay alive.  It was tough viewing this.

I also have had some lovely encounters with a pair of Barn Owls that have lived in this area for some time now. They appear when they want to and unlike some Barn Owls I photograph in Norfolk they are rarely seen in the day. They don’t have any routine here and this Barn Owl came out as the sun was setting and gave the whole area a lovely warming glow and feel, which is a welcome relief if you have been there since before dawn. You have to use fieldcraft skills and patience when photographing owls as they sometimes fly past you, and in this case straight at me.  Another amazing encounter as the sun was setting.  I am really lucky to see and witness this.

Their hearing is one of the best in the animal kingdom so great care when you start to shoot is needed otherwise they will bank off from where they hear that noise, in this case the camera shutter, so hold your nerve and wait and then press when you’re happy.  I’ve seen some wonderful behaviour in both the Short-eared owls and this pair of Barn Owls recently that I have tried to capture within these images.

After the success of my previous wildlife workshops with Calumet Photographic I have several others now lined up on their seminars page. Two dates for the amazing Spring/Summer Tides in Norfolk covering this event which has captivated me for many years and Sping Time on the Moors in the Peak District. For those that live in and around the capital, London, I will be doing a two day Beauty of Wildlife workshop at Calumets Drummond Street branch on April 14th and 15th. These workshops are open to all skill levels and backgrounds within wildlife photography.

The workshops are designed to give you the best opportunities to take the best images from your day in the field whatever nature throws up. To ensure that everyone’s needs are met the workshops are limited to 8 participants. You’ll be in good company, sharing your ideas, images and love of photography amongst the beauty of wildlife.

You’ll take your photography to the next level and in the process you’ll immerse yourself in your photography and I will be right there giving you a personal photography lesson. For more details click here to be taken to Calumets seminars page, then either click on the Drummond Street branch in London or the Manchester branch to see the full list of wildlife workshops that I am doing in conjunction Calumet Photographic.

Many thanks and I look forward to seeing you.


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Magical Moments

Filed in Wildlife, Workshops on Jan.20, 2012

During the last several days I have been busy working in my office, the great outdoors, as I call it, amongst nature which is a place I find great peace in, capturing more magical moments. With a couple of one to ones in the Peak District, and a visit to the SWPP conference alongside PhotoTraining4U who had a stand there, my other free time has been put to good use watching and looking at the several subjects I am hoping to photograph this year.  It’s always enjoyable at the same time very time consuming setting up your own work from scratch.  But when it works and you see the subject(s) and capture them going about their lives it’s the best feeling you can possibly have as wildlife photographer.

I have been lucky enough over this time to have had some wonderful close encounters once again with different wildlife, the Short eared Owls are still very much around, hunting in the late afternoon sunlight.  They normally stay at sea level until around late February to early March, but with the warmer temperatures they may just disappear at anytime. They are also very nomadic out of the breeding season and once a food source has dried up in the area that they are staying in they just leave without warning and find another vole rich habitat in which to spend their winter months before returning to their spring breeding grounds.

A Kestrel hovering right above me in the first rays of dawn light was one such magical moment. I got into place just before dawn, hid myself away along a natural gully and waited, as the sun’s rays began to warm me I heard Magpies and Crows calling which can give you your first clue wildlife is around. In most cases they call when there’s a bird of prey around hoping their calls and mobbing behavior will somehow move that bird on. I watched this Kestrel, hunt, then back track on itself, covering the ground in a sweeping motion, doubling back on himself to cover every inch.

He carried on coming forward, searching in vain the grasses and reeds below him, those same reeds that were sheltering me. He then hovered right about me, and in the still of the morning I could just make out his faint wing beats as I watched and captured that moment with my camera. We made eye contact, watching each other which always has a deep impact on me, a powerful feeling I cannot explain. Those briefest of moments are captured here with these images shot with my 1.4 converter on. He stayed for around 15-20 seconds then went. He’d heard me and as I am writing this blog I can see him looking down at me, remembering that moment as though it was seconds ago, that’s the power of nature.

Barn Owls are without doubt though one if not my favourite UK birds, and I have enjoyed lovely moments too over the last several days with these beautiful owls. Only recently I have read with great interest a report on how they hunt. Having been fascinated with this bird from childhood I’ve learned a lot about them and their feather structures having taken them home with great interest having found them on the ground. The way in which they hunt or quarter and their heart shaped faces have always amazed me, the heart-shaped face works in a similar way to humans outer ear , collecting and directing sound toward the inner ears which helps this amazing hunter do what it does best, slightly glide over land hunting in almost pure silence.

The report has found that each of a Barn Owls ears is a slightly different size and shape, and one is higher on the bird’s head than the other. The owls can analyse the differences in the sound received by each ear to automatically calculate the exact position of that sound-source. Which means that they can detect prey below them in pure darkness and hunt with great effectiveness and stealth. In most parts Barn Owls hunt in the dark so visual information is not possible, so their hearing really is their lifeline. Flying in silence helps them listen for movement, prey that’s moving.

Most if not all of the owls plumage is covered in a dense covering of feathers, those feathers produce more lift with each beat due to their shape and design, having a high curvature. This design allows the air to pass through and they offer little turbulence, reducing friction noise between the feathers. The end result is one of the most prolific hunters within the natural world. And the report suggests in time the structure of the Barn Owls wing may provide a guide for the design of quieter and more efficient airfoils for the aviation industry. Proving yet again that so many designs of man-made products are derived from the wonderful world of Mother Nature.

Barn Owls are amazing and they are just so wonderful to watch and photograph, the following slide show shows images taken over the last three years, from several different sites, showing these amazing birds of prey hunting and flying on the wing, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did putting these images together.

 

Thank you to my two clients, Mike and John for your company on your one to ones within the beautiful Peak District. I will continue working on my subjects and fingers crossed I’ll have some wonderful images to post on my blog in the coming months.


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Wildlife Master-Photo Training4U

Filed in Events, Photography Tips, Workshops on Jan.10, 2012

I have officially joined PhotoTraining4U today as one of their masters, covering my passion of wildlife photography. The films I’ll be shooting over the next 12 months with the team will follow me as I work the land, from dawn to dusk. I will be showing members how I work, photographing wild animals within their habitat, showing their different behaviours and characters within photography. Going through the camera settings and what skills I employ myself in order to try and work with the wildlife I encounter out in the field.

Their website offers quality training for all photographers at an affordable price. The site is based on streaming video that capture photographers at work. PhotoTraining4U is aimed at both professional and amateur photographers alike and is structured into bite size learning films, over 800 at present, each around 20 minutes.

I have always loved helping people throughout my life and when I first started in wildlife photography this carried through. I know how hard it is to get help or advice when you are first beginning to take photos of wildlife – What works? What bag to buy? Is this lens any good? What camera settings? the list goes on. I like to show others the techniques that I have taught myself, what works and what doesn’t while on the ground, in the theatre of wildlife.

In this first film we go through where and how my love of wildlife, nature and photography began, forming the great passion I have for the natural world today which is the foundation to my work and images. The beauty of photographing wildlife is that it is always changing and evolving, encountering the unexpected and in this environment the photographer must learn to work with these changing environmental conditions and behaviours. The result cannot always be predicted, which makes fieldcraft one of the most important skills you have to learn to be fully connected to wildlife.

I always try where possible to ‘work the land’ as I put it, and stay away from staged or set up shots preferring the more natural image, as seen or shot when I encountered the subject, not changing an animal’s behaviour to obtain an image is so important to my work. You just never know what will turn up working in this manner, so being ready to capture what you see is key through composition, fieldcraft and the correct and simple camera settings.

I am not from the techie camera settings background, glued to the histogram strangled with numerous settings and different buttons and functions.  I show simply and real techniques in camera that work.  I know they work because they are what I use within my own work. An image should come from the heart via the human eye, the camera only captures what the person behind it sees most of the time. This interview in February’s Practical Photography illustrates perfectly how I work and where my true love and passion comes from for wildlife, in this case waders and spring tides in Norfolk. Click here to see the interview in PDF format or you can buy the magazine which is out now.

It’s important to me that in every image I take it represents an event that occurred in the wild, something that I witnessed and recorded with my camera. My skill lies in interpreting and presenting this in a way that invokes the beauty, mood and emotion of that special moment I captured.

The first interview on their site can be viewed here. If you’d like to join this site and see the amazing advice, videos, and help from many different masters not just myself then there is £100 pounds off the marked price of £229 per year.  Please quote JONES which is the discount code. This then will give full access to the site and all the help and advice. I will be filming several short films in the wild over the next 12 months, going through different advice and help that will offer you the best chances to capture those beautiful images of wildlife you want, at the same time learning more about the habitats and behaviours of the subjects your watching.

I really do hope the films and advice I will be offering here will be helpful, twinned with the help I have always given on my blog, facebook and twitter pages, which all form a strong base in which to show the beauty of wildlife and help and inspire you all into seeing just how beautiful wildlife is. Its been a great start to the year for myself, with a full page image in the BBC Wildlife magazine, a 6 page interview and images in Practical Photography, click here to see the article.

Thanks to all the people who have booked onto my 2012 photo tours and workshops. My India trip is now full, this will be the third year in a row now I’ve visited this magical place in search of one of the most beautiful animals on the planet, the Tiger. My Magical Mull June trip is full with a few places left for my October trip. I do have places left for my Madagascar trip which you can view here, Masia Mara trip, view the itinerary here and a few others. I’m really looking forward to 2012 and all the trips, plans and filming I have got in store. I hope you all make the best of your time within nature and capture those wonderful moments you witness yourselves, good luck.

And just before I go wanted to say there were some great winning images in the WWT photo comp for autumn, I had two category’s to judge which was nice with a very good standard all round so well done to all that entered. I have been asked back to judge the remaining 3 rounds where the overall winner will be announced later in the year, so good luck to all those that enter.


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In With The New Year

Filed in In the Press, Workshops on Jan.02, 2012

A New year and new life, with 2012 a few days old now it won’t be long before the air is filled with Spring bird song and new life, a real favourite time of year for me. You can just about witness anything by wondering around anywhere during the season of spring. Between then and now I am hopeful for a bit of winter weather and maybe some snow as I will be concentrating my efforts on Mountain Hares, Foxes and Owls during the next couple of months.

I have also been spending a lot of time with the adorable Red Squirrels, watching, photographing them and generally enjoying their unique characters over the last several weeks. Capturing a little of their behaviour and antics as they comb the forest floor looking for food and other food items they’ve stashed some weeks previously. Over the time I have watched these mammals I’ve become aware that it’s all about the size of your ‘ear tufts’ that gets you noticed, way before any introductions have taken place between the two sexes.

There is also a wide range of colouring between some of the squirrels at this place, ranging from really dark red to an almost light, red- ginger colour. The lighter coloured Red Squirrel seems to even detect or know he’s different in colour and seem more jumpy and whenever he appears the dark ones try to run him off, getting him away from the area in which the other squirrels seem to be.

It’s funny at times, as their seems some outward jealousy displayed, but quite cruel to see him have this amount of unwanted attention from those darker and more self aware Red Squirrels sharing this same habitat. But by just watching as I do, a whole community comes alive in front of you, animals living their lives right in front of you and most of the time these behaviours are just not seen.

I’ve watched and witnessed Magpies, the ever opportunistic bird watching the squirrels find food and bury the food, only to be dug up once the squirrel had gone. Here as you can see this Red Squirrel buries his stash while being watched by this Magpie who has other ideas about that food, again how cruel nature can be at times, witnessed by just spend time simply watching.

I made the best use of the light and cover, which  slightly hid my presence from the shy squirrels, the result was a more relaxed and less jumpy subject, this approach allowed me some wonderful views. Often not knowing where or when they will turn up, you have seconds to compose and take your shot before they’ve gone. I always use the natural habitat and vegetation that is around, which the subject is naturally using of his own free will. This makes for a more “as seen” image which I feel is so important in today’s wildlife images.

The above image was down to luck and beautiful morning light as I captured this squirrel looking into the forest with the morning rays of light illuminating his beautiful coat. The image below captures this squirrel using this small branches to come from the tree canopy down to the forest floor. I used the two trees left and right to conceal myself, shooting through the middle to give this out of focus frame to the image. Such wonderful and beautiful mammals to spend time with.

There will be more Red Squirrel moments captured, fingers crossed, throughout 2012 I hope.  I don’t like to use the word project as its too formal and as a wildlife photographer I never put a time limit on photographing a certain subject as its never ending for me. But I can guarantee I will be spending as much time as possible photographing these very endearing mammals.  Over the next few weeks I have a number of workshops, Mountain Hares, Red grouse and Dippers, so I look forward to welcoming my first clients of 2012.

In February’s issue of the Practical Photography magazine there is an interview with myself covering my obsession with waders. In the interview I reveal the reasons behind my passion for these birds and these amazing Spring Tides in Norfolk, and I also discuss the field craft techniques, capturing these amazing events in natures calendar. I touch on what wildlife photography means to me and how I hope to inspire people to see the beautiful world of wildlife which is everywhere. Click here to see the interview in.


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