Natures got the Love
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Natures got the Love
For the third year in a row I was invited to Nottingham University to talk to the students their on a masters course in photography. I have really enjoyed the last two years doing this and to inspire, and light someone’s passion through my own work is something I love to do. Your photograph starts in your heart and is projected through your eye is what I told the students.
The talk at Nottingham University about my work, the industry and much more to the next generation of photographers went really well. It was really nice to catch up with the other speakers there I have met on previous years all well respected in their own fields of photography. The image above was taken during the talk and the following images below are from previous years.
I have never had a camera lesson or learnt in a classroom environment and that’s something I pressed home that don’t get to hung up on settings/books and gear, it’s all about knowledge that you cant buy, cheat or make up where you have to learn and know your stuff when it comes to wildlife and behavior the photography bit is easy to learn.
I always enjoy these talks as you can have a real impact on how people think and work once they here you talk . Nothing stops talent and passion twinned with determination though and anything’s possible, I told them all. Be true to your work and yourself. Let your peers/public know how you took the shot and what skills you employed and then they can judge your work and your skills while being transported to that moment you capture.
Thank you to the team at Nottingham University for inviting me once more, you all do an amazing job their for the students. To book a talk or for more information please see the following link, many thanks.
The April issue of BBC Wildlife I’m pleased to say includes one of my Barn Owl images. A bird that has fascinated me since childhood. Amazing birds and hope you enjoy this issue which is packed with tips and advice on these birds.
I’m currently working on a project photographing Barn Owls which started last year, where some of that work can been seen in this slideshow. Hopefully I’ll have more news and images for you shortly in the meantime big thank you to Wanda, Sophie and the team at BBC Wildlife magazine for using my image, many thanks.
Following on from my previous Wildlife Photographic tip ‘Back-Lighting’ which gives your subject a strong outline and adds a great atmosphere, with a great deal of impact to your image, it’s counterpart ‘Side Lighting’ emphasizes a great deal of texture from the use of light highlighting your subject from the side, and when put to use in your image carefully it can produce a wonderful and dramatic image again with bags of atmosphere, giving the image a three-dimensional feel. A word of warning though from my own personal experiences ‘Side Lighting’ gives you the best results when the sun is low in the sky eg. Sunset, Sunrise.
Side Lighting does not work very well if the background is really cluttered or messy with lots of detail and other things going on so keep it as clean as possible, the idea is to isolate the light against your subject with a clear background illuminating your subject from the side bringing out all the texture in the feathers or fur at the same time creating a great deal of depth to the image. Always expose for the sunlit side of your subject, even at the cost of losing some shadow detail.
The way you use light in Wildlife photography is very important for the overall effect you are wishing to capture, Side Lighting is really effective when shooting close up portraits of wild animals and birds. The contours of the face are really well revealed, the texture of the fur and feathers really stand out a great deal more due to this mode of lighting. Try when possible to use the widest aperture you can on your telephoto lens rendering the background blurred, creating a smooth backdrop to your image.
Use ‘Side Lighting’ alongside ‘Back lighting’ as a part of your everyday Wildlife Photography, from the garden to the air, creating two very different images through the use of natural light which is at its very best during sunrise and sunset, illuminating your chosen subject from the side or the back in the case of ‘Back Lighting’.
I hope my photographic tips on ‘Side Lighting’ has helped you understand just how important light can be and how it will change and effect your photography, should you have any questions or queries then please drop me a line here and I will be more than pleased to answer them. Lighting and how to use this to the best effect is one of many things I go through on my one to ones, where the sole aim is to improve your own wildlife photography. For more information on these days then please click here to be taken to my one to one page, many thanks.
I have just returned from the Welsh capital, Cardiff after two wonderful days filming for the online training company PhotoTraining4U. The site 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.
On the first day we went 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 second day I was out among nature, my office as I call it, watching and looking at the beauty of nature all around. 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 where bait is placed out while you wait, preferring the more natural image, as seen or shot when I encountered the subject, not changing an animal’s behaviour to obtain an image. 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 camera settings.
I have always loved helping people 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. Emailing professional wildlife photographers asking for help or advice most of which never return your email, so because of this I like to show others the techniques I have taught myself, what works and what doesn’t while on the ground, in the theatre of wildlife.
During the first day Mark Cleghorn, Director and founder of PhotoTraining4U went through several interviews with me on film, going back to the beginning, where it all started which was fun. As I was talking I was reliving some of the funny moments I could recall, the tiny things that made all the difference, which all set me onto the path today. We went through some of my images where I explained the motivation behind each shot, how and why I captured the images on show while being filmed, which was very new to me as I am normally behind the camera a lot of the time, when not working with clients on various workshops and trips.
That evening we went to a local marshland area not far from Cardiff town centre, this for me was perfect to go through some basics within wildlife photography. I had not visited this area before and upon arriving to a new site I wanted to demonstrate that you can always witness something within wildlife. A saying I have said from the beginning of my own work is that there is always an image to be taken no matter where you are.
When I arrive somewhere new I always look for the light and get a feel of the place, where the wildlife is or may turn up, direction of light, possible different images and so on, I find my brain is almost scanning around and presenting me with choices in an almost automatic way, if that makes sense? While the photography was going on, Jay the cameramen was filming and I was explaining what I was doing and looking for, giving useful tips and advice. Both Mark and Jay where brilliant in helping me to relax in front of camera and I think my sheer passion and true love of wildlife carried me through.
That evening we all went for a lovely meal and I got to see the passion and resolve behind the company and I was very impressed with all of the team and their future plans. Then it was back to my hotel in readiness for the early start and the amazing light I was hoping for. Mark had found a place not to far again from the town centre which was surrounding by housing, a little oasis within the urban environment which supports many different species of wildlife.
We wanted to show and demonstrate that when you are just starting out or have started out that wildlife is everywhere, lakes and marshland/grasslands are everywhere around the UK, ‘green lungs’ as I have called them in an early blog posted a while back now. These areas have often been left to their own devices, brimming with wildlife which makes a great addition to the urban habitat surrounding them, which can be photographed in close proximity to where you live, capturing those moments with your camera.
Both Mark and Jay came with me on that early morning start, after the first days interviews I had told mark of my affection with cold toast,so it was a nice surprise to see two slices prepared and wrapped up in foil as I was picked up, which was really funny and made me laugh in the darkness of that morning. When I arrive in a new place that I have no knowledge of, I always find myself looking around, smelling the air and really trying to build a picture in my own head of what’s going on around me and tell tale signs or clues to what wildlife may or may not be around.
I always find east with my compass, knowing where the light will come from will really help in capturing images in the morning light. I had a look around the lake, worked out where I’d like to settle and got myself into place and all set up for the rising sun, which had slowly started to creep up before me. Jay and Mark set up their cameras and again just left me to it and started to film and photograph me while at work, as I explained all the time what I was doing, looking for ,camera settings and so on. The light was amazing, calm water with no ripples giving you that affect that the birds, in this case Mute Swans were floating in space.
Swans are big and powerful birds that are really beautiful when you take a closer look. They have a calmness about them if left alone which shows off their great elegance and beauty. I wanted to capture that beauty within these images as they calmly drifted effortlessly around where I witnessed at times them closing their eyes and sleeping. Such gentleness and calmness I saw and that I hope I have captured with these images.
These Swans kept me company throughout that morning coming in close to see if they would be fed, then retiring to a safe distance should I present some bread or other food for them. I didn’t use any food as I just wanted the birds to come and go as they wished, even though they had a slight tolerance to humans they were still wild animals and free to come and go. As it happened I captured some wonderful moments using my trusted long lens and much loved wide angled lens which is perfect for wildlife and getting those wider shots I love seeing and photographing.
I spent a good several hours around the lake and surrounding area that morning and had some wonderful moments, making several short films, all explaining my craft for PhotoTraining4U. I will be going live on the site in January 2012 when I will officially join the site as one of their masters, covering my passion of wildlife photography for them. The films I’ll be shooting with the team will follow me as I work the land, from dawn to dusk. I will showing members how I work, photographing wild animals within their habitat, showing their different behaviours and characters within photography.
I had a really good time, big thanks to Mark, Jay and the rest of the team. Thank you all for your hospitality and warm welcome, and I look forward to working with you guys. As I mentioned I will be going live on the site in January 2012, becoming their master on wildlife photography. Where all the films I will be making can be seen on there website, so if you’d like to know more information then visit PhotoTraining4U’s website or email me direct here.
And just before I go I heard back from the British Wildlife Photographic Awards – BWPA last week and my short-listed Red Grouse image in the Habitat category was beaten by a Red Grouse wide angled shot, almost the same as mine, without the light, so I was a little gutted there, the winning image there was amazing. I entered some amazing images captured in the wild but they didn’t get anywhere, with alot of images doing well from set up sights which aren’t the same as finding the image through your own hard work in my eyes.
It really puzzles me to what judges are looking for within a wildlife photograph for a competition, where it comes down in the end to the photographers integrity to disclose the facts of the shots, that can be judged alongside the image. Good luck to all those who won or where commended. Here is the image, 15 minutes crawling forward to capture this male Red Grouse calling down the valley which was covered in morning mist, shot with a 24-70mm wide angled lens
And one of my favorite images entered into the same competition, two Great Crested Grebes going about their courtship, captured here swimming alongside each other in a show of affection towards each other.
An early start to photography the Red Grouse this week turned into a lovely close encounter with a family of these iconic moorland birds. I begin my ascent in the dark, where your visibility is lessened in the absence of any natural light, as the sun hadn’t risen above the horizon yet. Having lost your clear vision heightens your other senses, your ears become better at hearing, more in tune as I call it with the environment, your sense of smell increases, as every step you take is carefully placed. You pick out a prominent feature in the direction you are travelling and focus to the left or right of that subject and that’s how you see and navigate yourself in the dark.
Reaching the plateau the ascent levels out a little, it is a welcome sight and what greets you is miles, upon miles of rocky outcrops littering the moorland. Its home to specialized animals that have evolved and adapted to living in this hostile environment. They live through the most testing weather conditions that Mother Nature can through at them. On this day though the sun was rising over the valley below, slowly warming and filling the place with light. With that nature awakens, birds begin to call, distance calls, close calls echo around the place and for me it is truly the best time of the day as everything begins to wake up around you.
It’s one of the best times to photograph wildlife as the light is softer, less harsh and adds so much to an image. The wildlife can be more trusting at this time of day and you must never betray that trust in order to get an image. If you use your fieldcraft skills, watch and listen and respect the subject, they will settle once that trust is gained. You then can carry on always mindful of your advance and approach and the welfare of the subject. If the subject shows signs of distress, is defending their territory at your presence then you’ve gone to far.
Once the sun had come up, the colours of the moorland popped out, turning a black and white landscape into a colourful one, blooming with colours all warmed by the sun. I saw a few Grouse in the distance, their bubbling call so unique within the bird world. In the distance I saw a lone Mountain Hare, feeding in their brown summer coats. With the onset of winter these hares change to their white winter coats, which makes them almost invisible within this landscape. This is very important as there are many raptors that patrol these areas, so they have perfectly adapted to their habitat with the changing seasons and different weather, how wonderful nature is.
Between myself and the hare there was open ground, so I used the lay of the land to advance. The wind was in my favour, blowing away any slight noise as I placed my feet down on the ground, at the same time blowing my scent away. Hares have an amazing sense of smell and hearing so the pursuit of such animals is fruitless if your fieldcraft is poor and you don’t use what’s around you to your own advantage here in the Peak District.
Once I was happy, I managed to see two, as the other was hugging the ground feeding, I let a few shots off and they stood up on their hind legs to see. I stopped everything, turned myself into a low-lying bush, and this image below was that first contact I had with these two hares. They had heard my camera noise but just couldn’t make out where it was from, I took a few more slow, single shots and they settled and carried on feeding. While this was going on I could hear the distinctive calls of Red Grouse in the distance so I said goodbye to the Mountain Hare and advanced towards the calls.
I always try to move slowly, all the time watching and listening as I always say that nature will let you know what’s around you, she can also be your first indication that something is wrong as alarm calls can ring out at any time, letting other animals know there is danger around, more so you’ve been spotted, if so stop, go to ground and wait. I did that here behind this set of rocks when this Red Grouse came from nowhere. I watched, perfectly still, hoping my slight movement hadn’t disturbed this Grouse as I was really close.
I captured the bird yawning, it made no sound what so ever, unlike their call. Afterwards the grouse came from the protection of the rocks and picked away at the heather shoots. The light was amazing and lit up the colours of these beautiful birds really well, the background was the valley below, some 600m beneath me. With such close encounters involving a wild animal going about its life you feel your heart rate greatly increase, you go into auto mode, trusting the settings and routine you’ve practised many times before along with the element of luck on your side.
I stayed put among these large rocks and within no time a whole family of Red Grouse came out from cover. Mum, Dad, and several excitable youngsters. Mum and Dad were constantly on guard, watching for any sign of predators, then they’d disappear back to the safety of the stones and rocks.
I had a privileged ten minutes watching this family, the youngsters all happy to be out from cover, their tireless energy on show, up and down on these rocks, flapping and exercising their wings building strength and confidence. It was really funny to watch at the same time very enduring to witness. They all started to walk off, coming down from the high vantage points of the rocks, they slowly disappeared from view and that was the last I saw of that family.
A beautiful encounter among this stunning landscape, where you can see no one the whole time you are there, giving you a sense of true wilderness, something I love to be among, photographing the beautiful and stunning wildlife. Sometimes that beauty is hard for me to put into words. I hope this recent slideshow of a few beautiful moments I captured in the wild, put together and arranged alongside the tempo of this music will help.
Over the last couple of days the weather seems to have become a little colder which results in those frosty, sunny mornings I love, where the cold hits the back of your throat while at the same time the sun comes up and bathes the countryside in a beautiful warm glow. Most of my wildlife photography is where I like to work the land, finding whats around me and the areas I visit, tracking through foot prints and waste food and droppings trying to build a picture in my head what has passed by or has visited recently. So over the last few days I have had a break from the Deer Rut and have been walking in my local countryside not to far from my Staffordshire home. A lot of the countryside at the moment has been harvested meaning sort, rough grazing and grass, crop etc ideal for one of my favorite UK birds, the Barn Owl.
While out walking over the last few days my attention was drawn to a few feathers, one a primary and the others being belly or flank feathers softer in appearance than the primary, white in appearance and in and around a prominent natural perch I had come across. There was also white droppings at the base telling me this was a popular perch maybe for a Barn Owl, I found a few small pellets or a mass of hair as they looked and upon separating them, something I loved to do as a child, tiring to rebuild the skeleton to found out what the prey was. I found a small set of bones and a jaw bone from a tiny rodent and I knew then that this area and perch were being used by a Barn Owl.
And here he was, with primary/secondarie feathers missing in his wing, the sunrise was amazing with a small blanket of frost all over the ground, not a bad frost but just enough to give that crunch sound under foot when walking, which by the way is not great when you are stalking a wild animal. I have spent a few days there and have watched this male hunt, he seems to have appeared from knowhere, as often Barn Owls do outside of the breeding season as they can become quit nomadic, wondering the countryside on the lookout for prey.
Amazing birds that I call the Ghost due to the fact without warning and no clue they can just turn up, hunt for a few minutes make eye contact with you as you witness their very distinctive appearance with a white heart-shaped face with no ear tufts and sharp black eyes all contributing to its striking appearance. Those large black eyes only let the Barn Owl look forward in a fixed position and cannot move to the side so consequently the Barn Owl has to turn its head to see to the side or back. Their hearing is amazing and the ability to locate prey by sound alone is one of the best in the animal kingdom.
Barn Owls are fascinating creatures and anytime I spend with these amazing birds is priceless. I have been back a couple of times and been able to capture him a few more times, I do feel with no sightings in the past here he may just be passing through so in the meantime its a very welcome treat for me among my other projects I am working on at present including; Mountain Hares, Short-eared Owls and my little female Kingfisher on the river Trent.
My advice would be to walk the land and watch and look for clues of whats around and you maybe surprised at what you find as this time of year so much wildlife is on the move in readiness for the oncoming winter. This for me is the true meaning of fieldcraft a word I hear used alot within wildlife photography, but fieldcraft means to use whats around you, reading the clues and signals all animals leave behind where most if not all the clues are right there all you have to do is just look that bit closer.
Your reward will be something you have seen and learned all about yourself and when the subject appears as did this Barn Owl its a great moment as you view a moment in their lives something I truly love. Its one of the main things I teach and show on my One To Ones and Workshops in order for the client(s) to take this skill away with them. So they can apply this in their own photography and get close to wildlife without impacting on the subjects life. If you would like any further advice or help on anything I have raised then please send me an email here many thanks.
Humans have spent many thousands of years adapting to natural environments, yet have only inhabited urban ones for relatively few generations,Whilst those individuals living in an urban envoriment who seek out parks and gardens appear to understand the personal health and well-being benefits arising from a ‘Contact With Nature’,tapping into this vital resource that nature provides.As more people survive to older age, and as patterns of living,working,feeding have changed,diseases such as coronary heart disease,diabetes and cancer have come to dominate our population.Where mental, behavioural and social health problems are increasing in this time of great change in the way we live our life’s.The answer for me is one I have benefited from since a small child and that is a ‘Contact With Nature’ .
Studies of ecology, biology, psychology and psychiatry have attempted to examine the human relationship within the natural world, some concluding that as well as being totally dependent on nature for material needs (food, water, shelter, etc.) humans also need nature for psychological, emotional and spiritual needs.Yet how dependent humans are on nature for psychological and well-being needs, and what benefits can be gained from interacting with nature are just beginning to be investigated by experts around the world.
The healing effects of a natural view are increasingly being understood in stressful environments such as hospitals, nursing homes,military etc. In these environments particularly, as well as for people who work in windowless offices, studies show that seeing nature is important to people and is an effective means of relieving stress and improving their well-being,so in this time of stress the only real answer to help us is in getting back to nature,having contact when and where we can and tapping into these ‘Green lungs’ that our parks,fields,reservoirs play within our urban,city lives.
I live within an urban environment in Staffordshire,where from a small child I was able to find these, little ‘Green Lungs’ within that world,in which unknowing to myself at the time, were helping me,my contact with nature building a love,a empathy towards the natural world,and in turn the world I lived in.There is a place known locally as ‘Bluebell Wood’ where I have visited as a youngster,playing tree houses,soldiers,hide and seek etc, right through to the present day as an adult.Its an old coppice of woodland,made up of hazel, magnificent beech, elegant silver birch and ancient oak forming the backbone to this wood.
Beneath their foliage they shelter a vast carpet of native bluebells which have taken several centuries to reach perfection. The intense azure haze and glorious heady scent from these beautiful, elegant flowers is one of the chief delights of the English countryside and a truly unforgettable sight.Its a place I go too,often finding myself just sitting,laying down and listening to nature,the corus of birds signing their hearts out,the distance noise of urban life occasionally piercing the silence of this magical place.
Over the last year I have been trying to capture a family of Foxes that I caught abrief glimpse of last year while visiting this place.Giving me the slip everytime I tracked them down, through foot prints,tracks,smells etc.As quick as I’d find their den,they’d move to another. I’ve had this relationship with this family of Foxes now for over a year,and to this day it bring a big smile to my face, as trying to capture a wild Red Fox away from rubbish bins,street corners is very hard I have found.I have used my many,many trips to this place to build a picture of their lives and behaviour’s and just as I getting somewhere the famous dog walk comes around the corner and breaks that silence and trust I have built up,in turn making the Fox really sensitive to disturbance.
The den is under a thick,dense tree line,making for poor light,but I have been able to find a way in, almost disappearing within the stinging nettles,and thorny vegetation this Fox family have chosen to live in,affording them a private world only available at ground level.Over the last week I have observed their cubs coming out and playing,most of the time to dense for a photograph.With several holes into the den its been a trail and error exercise for me to place my hide where I think they will appear while moving at a snails pace,most of the time though they outwitt me!!.This week I have been lucky as the cubs are getting more bolder and don’t see my hide which I have left there now for weeks,each time I return to the hide, the adult foxes have covered it in their distinctive ‘Smell’ which after several hours makes your noise and eyes run its so strong,nice to know they’ve ‘accepted’ my hide though. The male Red Fox can been send above with the beautiful Bluebells as the backdrop.
Often as a Wildlife photographer you wait on the off chance for a wild animal to linger in front of your lens longer enough to be able to get a decent picture of that special moment,placing a ‘Frame’ around what you have seen,showing this to others so in turn the picture of Wildlife around us becomes clear to them.This is the essence for me what Wildlife Photography means.Where my unique philosophy when it comes to Wildlife Photography that was derived from those early encounters with nature,where being at ‘One’ with nature to get the best from your subject is key, also helping your well-being in terms of this encounter with the natural world.
In my conclusion on the topics I have mentioned in this post,and as our understanding of the natural environment has developed, and the massive destruction human activities can have on natural systems has been observed, a more clearer view has emerged. This view recognizes that plants and animals,including humans do not exist as independently as was once thought, but instead are part of complex and interconnected ecosystems on which they are entirely dependent.The ‘ecosystem’ is the fundamental point on which all life is dependent.It is clear that nature and the natural environments relate to human health and well-being.Where that’ Contact With Nature’ is key to un-locking the door to human well-being and happiness, where my advice would just be simple,seek out these ‘Green Lungs’ within your place of work or where you live,learn and watch nature,through the changing seasons as they come and go,look out for whats happening around you,the noises,the smells etc and in turn it will enrich your life more than you can imagine.