Entries Tagged ‘Photographic Tip’:

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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Wildlife Photography Tip-Back Lighting

Filed in Photography Tips, Workshops on Apr.16, 2012

Back lighting can give your subject a strong outline and add a great atmosphere to your image with a great deal of impact at the same time. Allow where possible you’re subject to be the main feature of your photograph with the use of simple composition with the sun directly behind it. The best times for back lighting to be at its best is dawn and dusk when the sun is low in the sky, creating the warm colours and glow from this wonderful time of the day. If the shape of the subject is easily recognizable through its strong outline it will make for a beautiful photo.

The correct exposure for backlit shots can be tricky so you will have to experiment with darker and lighter exposures in order to get the desired effect and overall feel and mood of the image you want. Use single selected focus point and spot metering where you can take a reading from the subject’s body and set the exposure in camera. Dealing with the ever unpredictable subject of wildlife though the subject may not allow you the time to take a reading for the perfect exposure. And always try to keep the affect of lens flare down by keeping out of direct sunshine as much as possible when taking the photo.

So in closing back lighting can transform an image, adding a beautiful atmosphere within the photograph with loads of impact to the main subject. Great care must always be shown not to point the lens directly at the setting or rising sun as it will damage your eyes. The lens must be clean and free from smears and dust, and sometimes the effects of flare can add a lot to the image so don’t throw the images away until you get them home and reviewed them on your computer. I hope that has helped you a little in understanding back lighting in wildlife photography, if you have an queries about anything I have mentioned then drop me a line here and I’d be pleased to answer them.

I will be presenting my presentation; Dawn to Dusk at Calumet’s spring open days in Manchester and London over the next couple of weeks. Click here for details and dates. I will be available all day to answer any questions or general help or advice you may need for your own wildlife photography. I also run one and two days seminars in conjunction with Calumet, for more details click on their seminars page.

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Choosing Raw or Jpeg

Filed in Photography Tips on Jul.13, 2010

This question is one of the most popular questions asked when people attend one of my One To Ones or Workshops.The debate over Jpeg versus the RAW file format has been an argument with photographers for some time, while consumers are pretty much confused by the concept. The difference, truly, lies in ‘after-shot’ work and how much time you want to dedicate to improving a picture.

The RAW file has often been considered a format for those working to produce advanced graphics layouts for newsprint and magazines as well as posters and similar products. RAW has a wide variety of tonal changes and abilities that can be brought out in a sophisticated image program like Adobe’s Photoshop however, as it requires a fair amount of technical editing know-how to be able to alter the image and create the right picture.I for one always try to capture the image I want in camera,cutting down the need for such processing afterwards.

Purple Heron

When you shoot in Jpeg the camera’s internal software (often called ‘Firmware’) will take the information off the sensor and quickly process it before saving it.Some colour is lost as is some of the resolution,and in some camera’s there is slightly more noise in a Jpeg than in it’s Raw version.The quality of a Jpeg taken with a DSLR will still be far better than the same shot taken with a top-of-the-line point and shoot camera that is as old as your DSLR.If you camera can take a burst (shoot continuously for a few seconds) you’ll actually be able to shoot more shots using Jpeg than Raw because the slowest part of the whole process is actually saving the file/image to your memory card,so the larger Raws take longer to save.

If you shoot in Raw,your computer rather than your camera will process the data and generate an image file from it.Shooting in Raw will give you much more control over how your image looks and even be able to correct several sins you may have committed when you took the photograph,such as exposure,contrast,saturation.You will certainly need to use some software on your computer to process the files and produce Jpegs or Tiff’s.I have found the best is to keep,where possible the Camera’s Raw software to the make of camera you use,example I use Nikon camera’s so I use Nikon Capture NX2 for my Raw files,then Adobe Photoshop to process my images,whether they be a Tiff,or Jpeg.

Artic Tern

Both Raw and high-quality Jpeg file formats will record very good quality images the choices you have to bear in mind when deciding to either shoot in Raw or Jpeg are simply and that is shooting in Jpeg and the camera decides on the adjustments to expose,white balance,contrast and colour saturation while if you shoot in Raw format then you make those adjustments for yourself in you post-processing.I shoot all my images in Raw format and I don’t shoot Raw and Jpeg as this takes to much space on my Compact Flash.

I use Nikon products as I use Nikon cameras,open my Raw file in Nikon Capture NX2 then save as a Tiff file,I then open up my Tiff file in Adobe Photoshop where I do most of my processing,example-curves,levels,brightness,contrast,saturation then save the Tiff and make smaller images from there,saving my images on my hard drive and backing each one up on my external hard drive.This is my work flow as I try to keep the processing time down to a minimal and time in front of the computer also down to a minimal

Today’s DSLR cameras do produce excellent Jpegs though so where time is important and being in the field makes saving images harder shooting in Jpeg can be a very good alternative.I hope this has helped you in some way to understand the two formats and should you have any questions or queries on this subject then please contact me here and I will be pleased to answer you questions

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After The Rain

Filed in Photography Tips on Nov.03, 2009

A photographic tip for when you are out and about in the field photographing wildlife and you get caught in a rainstorm is, firstly protect your camera equipment I use Wildlife Watching Supplies, first class camera,lens covers/hides.Then try to sit out the storm or take shelter because after the rain has passed it will present you with some beautiful light in which to capture your subject.In the four images that acompany this article you will see During the storm and After.

Bar-Tailed Godwits


During-These Bar-Tailed Godwits are seen here enduring the harsh condition of this rainstorm



Afterwards -The rainstorm has passed and the Bar-Talied Godwits are having a clean up

After this amazing rainstorm had passed the light and air changed,the rainstorm acted almost like a purifier in ‘Cleansing’  the air and light and it becomes a magical time to get photographing your subject who will be preoccupied cleaning themselves,so with some good fieldcraft skills in approaching your subject you should be able to get a close and different image in pleasing light,

Rain effects visibility by changing the amount of light reflected  from the subject,back to the photographers eye and after rain that ‘Cleansing’ of the atmosphere create’s this clear,warm light perfect for photography.

Bar Tailed Godwit


As shown here with this juvenile Bar-Tailed Godwit feeding among the reed beds .With the same rainstorm having passed, the water became like glass creating an almost perfect reflection in the water and there was a sharpness to the atmosphere all as a result of  ‘After The Rain’

Singing In The Rain











 If it does’nt stop raining you can always have a little fun and try to catch your subject in an amusing manner as I have done here with this Sedge Warbler in my version of  ‘Singing In The Rain’





In closing I would just like to say where possible and with your safety and that of others first and foremost, just try to sit out the storm,you will be rewarded for your efforts afterwards by the beautiful light on offer.I hope this Photographic Tip has helped you.Good Luck

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