Entries Tagged ‘One To One Wildlife Photography’:

Precarious Start In Life

Filed in Animal Behaviour, Wildlife, Workshops on Jul.08, 2011

Fraught with danger, and extremely hazardous, it is the precarious life of many young animals as they now turn from a dependent youngster to an adult during this time of the year.  The countryside is awash with animals, fresh from the protection of the homes built by experienced parents several months earlier. High pitched calls litter the river banks and woodlands, as birds, and mammals beg for food from their hard pressed parents who spend all of their time being attentive to their off spring.

Witnessing these special moments can be some of the most enduring moments within mother nature, as we watch the high level of dependence unfold before our very eyes, youngsters mimicking their parents, learning the key skills that will hopefully keep them alive in the cruel and often unforgiving world they are about to enter.

Over the last couple of months when time has allowed I have been watching a few of my favourite species, one being the Dipper and the other the Puffin. At the several different sites I’ve been visiting this year, some Dippers have nested early, others quite late and most have been doing really well. During the many trips to these sites either alone or with clients on my ever popular Dippers of the Dales workshop and one to one’s, they’ve been very active.

In most cases the Dipper nests really early in the year around mid to late March/April time. If the first brood is successful the same birds try for a second brood later on, one of the major problems then though is the water height of the river. If it drops the Dippers are forced to abandon the second nest as they follow the river downstream. This has happened this year with one pair of Dippers, where the river has dried up, leaving small pockets of water in which to feed in.

Over the last several weeks we’ve had a good amount of rain and at other sites where the Dippers have nested and were on their second brood several chicks have died due to rising water levels.  The nests where sighted just under waterfalls and as the level of water rose, the power of the waterfalls have sweeped a large part of the nests away leaving 2 chicks where there had been 4 youngsters to each set of parents.

This left these small, vulnerable birds homeless and alone on the river bank as the parent birds struggled to find and feed them.  The life of a Dipper chick is a dangerous one, as the power of the water calms many of them, then there are the many predators also.  With a high mortality rate among their number nature has evolved these birds to have large broods and sometimes two throughout the breeding season but still only a few survive the dangerously insecure and perilous journey they take to become adults.

The young don’t have the trademark white bib yet, instead their plumage blends into their habitat amazing making these birds really hard to spot among the riverbank vegetation.  The young I have watched that have lost their home have been well looked after, where the parent birds have hidden the youngsters the best they can in darkened areas of the riverbank, so fingers crossed these last few survive.

I have made a short film just to illustrate just how small and vulnerable this Dipper was, turfed from his nest a little too early due to the nest being damaged through rising water levels. Even this young their “Dipping” behaviour can be seen which was so wonderful to witness.  The last remaining Dipper chicks on my last visit had moved further down river, following the flow of water and witnessing how attentive their parents were, so it all looks good for their survival fingers crossed, its one of the most precarious starts though within the natural world with a very high mortality rate.

My other firm favourite also shares that most precarious of beginnings into the natural world and that is the clown of the sea; the Puffin.

I have visited the island of Skomer many times this year and never tire of seeing these beautiful, comical and funny seabirds that come to this little island, off the coast of Wales to breed and rise their young for a short time each year, before returning back to the perilous stormy seas of the Atlantic. They come ashore early to late March and reaffirm their bonds after meeting their partners.  Those that have lost or don’t have a partner then set out on the journey to find one as thousands of these birds come ashore during this time.  Its a frantic time, lots and lots of action, but everything settles down and then they start raising their young in the underground burrows on the island.

My last visit there was this week on a one to one, after a bright start the heavens opened and we both got really soaked as Skomer can be an unforgiving place when the weather changes. I wanted to try and convey the changing weather conditions that were approaching the island with this image below. It shows the incoming storm and a pair of Puffins displaying a resolve to sit the storm out by staying put as the Puffin here in the foreground clearly demonstrated to us.

If you were a script writer that specialized in comedy you’d find it hard to write the script for these birds as they are just so funny to watch, and I am convinced they love non-threatening human company, once you win their trust and keep that distance, you can enjoy unrivaled humour where I’m often seen laughing as I take photos of these birds. Then occasionally they let out a long moan like call, which is their own way of communicating with each other, again it’ll have you in stitches as its unplanned and often unannounced when it happens.

As it rained we scrambled to cover our cameras and were treated to a few and brief sightings of Pufflings, the name given to baby Puffins.  Almost Jackdaw like in appearance with no colour to them.  These birds slowly made their way to the edge of the burrows in which they had just spent the previous several weeks living in underground.  Really nervous at first, with an adult bird there with them, as a show of support for the appearance.

I could see as I watched they were nervous of which they had good reason as large Gulls always patrol the skies over where these birds breed.  Alot of the time the Puffins get robbed of their catch, or even worse the Gulls take their chicks ,so extreme caution is always best. When this chick came out above, the adult bird seemed to be fussing over him, being really attentive towards the young Puffling, eventually he settled down and did a few wing exercises then went back underground. Lovely to see the interaction between the parent and youngsters, very enduring to see and watch.

At another entrance to a burrow a Puffin was cleaning as the rain came down and suddenly the young Puffin appeared, standing a little further out from the burrow, watching his parent clean.  Their beaks will grow over time and their colourless appearance is in stark contrast to that of the adult birds.  In a few weeks all the Puffins along with their young will leave for sea and not return to land for the next 8 months.

The precarious life of an young Puffin is beset with difficulties, fraught with danger in the waters of the Atlantic where they’ll spend most of that time, eating, sleeping out a sea.  It has to be one of the toughest existence’s within the natural world I can think of, where only the strongest will survive and return to land after that period at sea.

Fingers crossed these two make it, many thanks to all my clients who have seen these amazing birds with me over the last several weeks, I know many have learned alot more not only about wildlife photography but also the behaviours of these two charismatic birds, many thanks.

 

 

 


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Early Spring in Norfolk

Filed in Photography Tips, Workshops on Apr.24, 2011

Spring is my favourite time of year, an amazing array of colours, fresh life and wildlife, this season is truly amazing within the different season we have during the year.  Having just returned from my Early Spring in Norfolk photo tour which I run every spring and 3 days of one to ones added on, its been a busy week with a amazing weather.  Early Spring photo trip is a full 3 days exploring the beautiful countryside of Norfolk at the same time staying at one of the best Hotels serving stunning local food, the perfect base to come back to from a day in the field. I had a great group of clients and a real pleasure showing you around Norfolk, at the same time giving you real help to improve your photography, fieldcraft and general understanding of the subjects we encountered and photographed.

Catching the season moving from winter into spring is a beautiful time, the wildlife of the Norfolk coast comes alive.  It is a place that is blessed with a rich and varied wildlife heritage, famous for its wild north coast, the rivers, lakes and marshes of the Broads and the sandy heaths. There are also the fens, grasslands and ancient woods within the wider farmed countryside, all beautiful places where we encountered many photographic opportunities during this photo tour. My knowledge of the North Norfolk Coast helped the group in seeing some of the best places along this beautiful coastline ensuring that they all captured some lovely images.

These 2 x three day photo trips I run every year,one in Spring and the other one in Winter are designed to show you as much of the wildlife and their own habitats as i can during these two trips, whilst at the same time balancing that with the best opportunities to capture the wildlife here.  The weather throughout the week was as kind as it could possibly be, with morning light and evening light offering lovely photographs for the entire group. Every morning on the roof apex a lone male Blackbird would fill the air with what has to be for me the most beautiful call of the British countryside. Standing as proud as punch as we are packed for the days adventures below him.

On the first morning we visited the predicted Spring Tide which was forecast alone with the full moon. Upon arriving we are had some lovely mist and sun rise shots, where I pointed out different images, suggested different compositions etc, all in tern designed to make the group grow within their own photography.  At the same time showing them that the beauty of photography is what the person chooses to capture when they look through their own viewfinder, and never to be restricted to one or two shots, this is how I learned.  There were lots of Bar and Black tailed Godwits gathered and cleaning, and some sleeping with their deep summer plumage warming the slight chill in the air.  They are such a beautiful and striking bird at this time of year and a firm favourite with the group on the day.

We then headed to a great little gem of a site with Barn Owls, Hares and Marsh Harrier all living in close proximity to each other, a mixture of rough grazing, farmland and marshland.  This amazing little place really is a little sanctuary for wildlife.  There are a pair of Marsh harrier living and nesting there, some distance away and protected from the shoreline by a small pool of water.  We watched and saw some amazing behaviours between them both, flying in, dropping into their nest site.  For some it was the first time witnessing this beautiful bird.  Marsh Harriers are doing really well in the county of Norfolk with several nest sites littered along its coastline.

Each afternoon, taking us into the evening we’d settle at one of the groups favourite places and capture whatever would show.  Throughout the several days there the Barn Owl actively was really quiet, with little or no sightings at the several sites I know, plenty of white feathers, pellets and pooh markings though.  My conclusion was they maybe sitting on eggs.  During this time one bird sits on the eggs whilst the other sleeps so their combined actively is really small, only venturing out to feed so fingers crossed they are still around and not been disturbed at any of the sites.

At one of the sites while we waited for the Owls to show, there is a  good amount of Brown Hare, so we all voted as a group to try our luck at these while we waited for the main act to show.  When I go somewhere new I always have a look around , east and west for the respective light source, as light equals speed, speed equals sharp images.  I demonstrated to the group some tracking and fieldcraft skills that they can remember and maybe take home with themselves and apply in their own work, going through the behaviours I have learned on the said mentioned subjects.

Over the last few days we visited this site a few times and everyone came away with some great shots, where I demonstrated the different composition options and encouraged the group to push their own boundaries in regard to how they see an image. On one of the mornings the sun was coming up and the hares were chasing and playing almost underneath the suns rays, so some careful fieldcraft and slow approach got us into place for some nice and very different images I felt, capturing that beautiful and atmospheric morning we all encountered.

Lighting, mist,sun and subject all coming together on those rare moments when all photography key elements work together. I chose to compose small in the frame, a style I love and here I was able to show a little of the habitat and the rising sun which adds so much to an image.  The Hares were fun to watch, even chasing off a Pheasant that was among the field, during other visits we witnessed two Hares following each other, the male behind the female constantly sniffing the female waiting for her to come into heat so he can breed with her.  The poor fellow was really hanging onto this female with stiff competition from other males knocking around,such great behaviour to watch where you learn some much about the subject all benefiting your work.

This male Hare seemed to be top dog and had a few females in his harlream,the battle scars are clear to see with a half chewed ear reminding me of Bigwig from the film Watership Down.  The first film I saw at the pictures. I also had a lovely encounter with a Wheatear who seemed to check me out as I was lying on the ground.  Here I composed the bird in the morning light with the dew from the grass reflecting light making a lovely, soft appearance to this image.

Had some lovely feedback from clients and Andrew Hall wrote :

“I would like to say a massive thank you for the fantastic time I had on your spring waders workshop Your willingness to share your knowledge and techniques was extremely refreshing from the guarded nature of most other professional photographers. The technical tips you gave helped to improve my photography, however the highlight for me was the amount of fieldcraft knowledge that I was able to gain Our time spent crawling and lying around the field photographing the Hares was fantastic and incredibly rewarding when we walked away with the photographs we had in mind at the start Once again a huge thank you and I look forward to future workshops/trips that I hope to do with you soon! I will never hesitate in recommend you to anyone and everyone”

David Naylor who attended a day in Norfolk with me :

After recently purchasing a new camera and years of average bird snaps from my old camera I took the recommendation from a friend and booked a day out with Craig in Norfolk. I can honestly say that in the first hour with Craig, albeit at 5.30 am, in a damp field, I leaned more about how to take really excellent photos than I have in the last 10 years of reading books and magazines. Craig covered all the basics of the camera then moved on to composition, exposure and auto-focusing and gave me real confidence in both myself and the equipment. We spent the rest of the day consolidating the advice in a variety of lovely locations and I am truly grateful to Craig for his open and informative tuition. Nothing is kept back and Craig shows you exactly how he takes truly superb photos. I cannot recommend Craig highly enough if you want to learn how to take better photographs”.  

More testimonals can be viewed here

Thank you to all my guests on the Early Spring in Norfolk, great company, great food and great weather, many thanks also to the three clients who booked one to ones in Norfolk.  I wish you all well and very nice to meet and help you all in improving your photography, at the same time learning more about the countryside amd fieldcraft.  I have a few days off now until my next photo tour to Texel.  My Texel trip starts on Thursday evening, co-hosted by my friend and fellow wildlife photographer Jeroen Stel from Holland.  

This beautiful island of Texel is full of birdlife at this time of year and if lasts years trip is anything to go by then the whole group is in for a real treat, its home to one of the most stunning and beautiful waders, the Black Tailed Godwit which was photographed from last years trip. I will update my blog on my return before heading to India to photography the amazing Bengal Tiger with clients booked onto my Tigers of India trip.

Best Wishes and Happy Easter.

 




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Norfolk in Monochrome

Filed in Photography Tips, Places Of Interest, Workshops on Feb.22, 2011

I have spent the weekend in the sleepy, tucked away county of Norfolk, one of my favourite places within the UK.  A bounty of diverse birds and wildlife which enrich this area throughout the year, making this a mecca for wildlife loving people.  I had clients with me during these two days on One To Ones covering the Spring Tides, Barn Owls and the many other species of wildlife that live along the North Norfolk coast, dominated by the Wash a large area of salt marsh which has one of the greatest concentrations of bird life within the UK, internationally important for many breeding birds and over-wintering wildfowl.

During the two days the weather became testing at times where the the sun stayed hidden behind a wall of cloud for the best part of the two days, just giving us enough light to capture some of the wildlife through photography.  With an almost colourless appearance to most of the images from both days I have chosen to present them in a black and white manner or Monochrome as the term is better known, where you have to look further and deeper into an image to see what is captured within its frame.

Devoid of colour the human eye is forced to look right into the image, spending more time in the absence of colour which can often let you know which species is displayed.  I have always loved black and white images, glimpses of a bygone era where you wonder in the absence of today’s technology how on earth they managed to capture such wonderful images.

Photography is the art of taking or making photographs, it is the creation of images by exposing film or a computer chip to light inside a camera.  The word photography comes from Greek words meaning to write or draw with light.  So by presenting these images in a black and white format from a well visited place I visit, it gives a different account of the images I capture during my many visits there during the year.  Simple composition and strong elements are key to all photography, more so with black and white, where some images you take and review on the back of the camera will lend themselves very well to this monochrome format.

Black and White Photographs are among one of my favourite styles, both to look at and to create.  Shooting for black & white is challenging, you immediately eliminate one of your building blocks of design;  Colour.  That’s one less tool that you have to compose with.  Personally I am drawn to the beauty that is created by black and white and always have been.  It makes the viewer focus on the strong compositions, textures and shapes as opposed to symbols, colours.  Contrast in photographic composition is an effective means of directing the viewer’s attention to the centre of the interest.  The positioning of the subjects elements to create contrast gives them added emphasis and directs the viewer’s attention all brought about in the absence of colour.

A photograph of wildlife on an overcast day can result in a dull photograph, but taking that same scene in black and white will help the viewer to see the contrasts and graphics of that image. Focusing on the emotions of the subject.

I have always said that there is always an image to be had from the moment I picked up a camera , if the main subject does not turn up then never put the camera down.  This is the advice I always give to clients.  Adopting this attitude and ‘can do’ approach will broaden your own ideas along with your creative style resulting in many interesting and different images from your encounters with nature, while at the same time learning new and exciting techniques within your  own photography, which can cross over into many different formats of this discipline.

Animal behaviour is something I love to capture within my work.  However simple you can learn so much from wildlife in general and more so the subject you are photographing.  This is another ‘learn’ I like to show all my clients and it can make the difference to your photographs on a massive scale.  During one of the days at Norfolk we were at one of the sites I know, where the incoming tides flood the gullies and inlets which provide great feeding for many different birds.  The Turnstones were busy turning stones, foraging for food, doing all the leg work for often little reward in terms of food.

Black-headed Gulls watched them, perfectly still, not really attracting any attention, then in the next breath bully their way in after the Turnstones had found a food item.  These couple of images show one Gull alone, watching a Turnstone feed, break open the mussel shell, for him to come in and steal the prize.  I chose to focus on the Gull with the second image clearly showing him watching this poor Turnstone work on this food source he’d found, clearly showing the Gulls intentions.

How wonderful nature is in every form and these simple behaviours are right under our noses alot of the time.  Always stay tuned in to where ever you are and never put the camera down.  This is the very best advice I can give.  My clients over the weekend hopefully went away with this and much more from the One To Ones– Spring Tides, Waders, Barn Owls days I run almost three times a month now throughout the year.

I show clients keys sights, go through their cameras and settings, I also cover fieldcraft, wind direction and the use of natural light, enabling all clients to go home with more tools in their ‘own box’, in turn helping to improve in all aspects of wildlife photography, at the same time showing behaviours in wildlife and the subject  in question, looking for impending action and movement, using whats around you to hide and conceal your presence and much more during these action packed days.

If there is anything I have touched on here that interests you or you want any further information on workshops etc then please send me an email here .  Thank you to Karl and Ingrid on Saturday and Jonathan on the Sunday for your company and I wish you all well in your photography.


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