Having returned to my Barn Owl site over the last few days, where I’d previously watched and photographed this beautiful male Barn Owl hunt for food during the country’s really cold weather last month,I was delighted to see the male hunting but at the same time quite bemused as it was raining,with the rain falling as sleet,a behaviour I’ve never seen before in Barn Owls due to it’s hazardous nature.The structure of an adult Barn Owl’s feathers make them perfectly adapted for silent flight,but this makes them prone to waterlogging so consequently they are not suited to hunting in wet weather.The key to an owl’s silent flight is in its feathers, the next time you find an owl feather, turn it on its side and look at the edge — the line of fibers is scalloped, like a stretched seam. The slight alteration in shape allows the feather to cut the air without making sound,making them perfectly aerodynamic.
Hunting is certainly more difficult in these testing conditions, as sound as well as sight are hindered in locating small mammals due to the rain.I watched him hunt for about two hours with little success,the wind buffeting him around like a kite ,expelling loads of energy in the process.There was no sign of the female so I presume he’s alone and may probably move on shortly.I really hope not as I have become quite fond of this very resilient Owl.I also have received a lot of ‘Fan’ emails asking if he survived the recent cold snap which I covered in my first ‘Barn Owl’ post,so thank you to those people and here is the proof that he’s alive and kicking and his plumage is in stunning conditon with the onset of the breeding season around the corner.
And what seems to becoming customary now when I go out photographing of late is the ever presence of Stonechats,whether it be male or female they seem to always find me,and keep me company.The image below is of a female who was really intrigued by me,capturing the mood of the day with the inclusion of the weather conditions in the background.
The following is a list of useful Tips, which will help to increase your chances of successful Owl watching:
Wear dark, quiet clothes
Get to know the area during daylight, and establish the most suitable areas of habitat for the species that you are hoping to observe (i.e. where they are most likely to hunt)
If you suspect that an area is being used as a roost or nest site you must not disturb it, but watch from a safe distance
When watching a nocturnal species, arrive at your observation position before dusk – this will allow for your eyes to become gradually accustomed to the gathering darkness, and will ensure that you are ready and settled before the owls emerge
Do not disturb the birds in any way – remain hidden at all times
I have really enjoyed my close encounters with this tough,hardy male Barn Owl and if he remains in this area I will look forward to photographing him,even better if he attracts a mate and breeds I’ll have another long term project to concentrate on with the images being displayed on future blogs-fingers crossed.I hope you’ve enjoyed the trails,tribulations of this owl documented in my blogs as much as I have on the ground.
Nature and wildlife photography is challenging but extremely rewarding,the creative side of things is a great challenge but also a lot of fun. If you like animals and learning about their characteristics and habitats then this photography is for you.Do your homework first!,taking the time to learn about the animal or subject is likely to pay off for you in creating opportunities for some great shots. Learning about an animal’s behaviour and routine will allow you to plan the best time for you to capture them. I tell people that learning about your subject is by far the most important discipline in wildlife photography far more important than the make of camera or equipment you use.With the weather in your favour you can capture nature in stunning light at dawn and dusk.
Don’t forget that patience really is a virtue when it comes to wildlife photography. Don’t expect to go outdoors and immediately find the creature of your choice,don’t expect it to stand still for you.,quite often the photographer has to wait in a un- comfortable spot for some time until there are signs of life. Animals cannot be forced to appear, or to stay for your pictures. All you can do is work with the situation when it is presented to you and be as fast and efficient as possible.When using a telephoto lens, use a higher shutter speed even if you are outdoors,a longer lens requires a decent shutter speed in order to get a sharp image and you may only have one opportunity. Also to help the sharpness of the image, choose a decent ISO, at least 400 since you will be dealing with a moving image.I teach people when and where possible to always use Aperture priority– F4,F5.6,F8,F11 are the key ones to use.Focus on the eye of the subject every time,birds in flight focus on the centre of the body between the wings @F8
Time of day
Although there are times where you may want to try night time wildlife photography,the chances are you will mostly be working in the day.Each situation is different but it is better to avoid the bright afternoon sun (unless it is a cloudy day) and the bright sun can affect how the camera interprets the image,animals may also hide away when it is too hot, looking for shade. As the sun goes down, you can also be treated to amazing light but you must remember to use a tripod because low light will result in camera shake without proper support. Different creatures may be accessible at different times of the day so bear this in mind
There are no hard and fast rules on composition although the general consensus is –get close.Check the background to make sure that it is interesting but not fighting for attention from the main subject,small distractions make a big difference to photographs and if you are trying to use the images for sale or a competition, you will definitely need to check there are no unwanted items in the picture. One of the most popular ‘rules’ in photography is the Rule Of Thirds,It is also popular amongst artists, It works like this:
Imaginary lines are drawn dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, You place important elements of your composition,”the subject” where these lines intersect, the diagram below shows you these
Compositon of the subject should be placed on one of the four inter-sections as shown in the diagram
Shown here perfectly with this Brown Hare running towards me and right on one of these inter-sections
Most of us will have Wildlife around where we live or have some kind of park where wildlife is rife. This doesn’t mean that they are any easier to shoot though! the key is being very patient and quiet, and remember to use a long lens.To begin with you may want to visit a zoo or bird sanctuary where the animals are tame or you can set up a bird table and put plenty of seeds on it and place the table close to where you want to shoot. If you sit there quietly waiting, sooner or later nature will appear. A 500mm lens is ideal if you want to crop out most of the background and frame the subject tightly. These lenses are very expensive so there is nothing from stopping you from using the lens you have and cropping the image down afterwards (although you will lose some quality).Morning or afternoon light is ideal for wildlife photography,It is bright but not harsh, morning light can have a beautiful,warmth to it that adds a dramatic effect,and animals can be stunning in this light – if you are shooting in your garden then you will probably attract some standard animals and birds, In this case, remember to be very observant,don’t just shoot mindlessly, look at what the animal/bird is doing that is interesting,is it drinking or eating?
Water droplets are nice to capture, so make sure you put out clean,fresh water for them. Photographing the birds landing and take off in your garden is brillant, capturing the movement of the wings looks stunning when done right,and looks so dramatic and beautiful.If you are trying to capture a bird in flight, you want to use the continous servo auto-focus feature on your camera since it will be too fast for you to focus on manually, combined with this function, where the camera will take photographs one after the other, you are more likely to get a good shot. If you take the time to study the birds behaviour and patterns then you may be able to accurately predict the place where the bird will fly to, so you could pre-focus on that spot and wait for the bird to pass through the next time.
And where possible try to get as level with the subjects eye(s) to give you a more level point of view and I feel making for a much better and balanced image as shown above
All in all, shooting wildlife and nature is both an extremely rewarding but a difficult task. The pictures you see in magazines and in adverts are not shot on a magic whim,they are most likely the result of many hours of investment,someone had to wait for the right weather conditions in the right spot possibly for days in order to capture the best shot. Patience is absolutely the key to getting good pictures of any type of creature.Don’t forget to select the best tools you can afford. If you are focusing on animals you may want to buy a telephoto lens first, If you are interested in plants and insect you may want a macro lens, It is always useful to have a standard lens, something that covers the 50mm mark, whether it is fixed focal or zoom, with a standard lens you can always choose a macro lens or less expensive alternatives such as an extension tube, which can work for macro or long distance work.
You will be spending alot of time outdoors and probably quite a lot of time low down, you should think about buying items like a roll mat, foldable chair, or some waterproof fabric you can place on the ground before you spend time with your knees in the grass, have little comforts too; wear comfortable clothing and footwear, carry some hot water with you for a cuppa,it warms you up from the inside and can lift your spirits if its really cold, and wear a hat if it is sunny and hot, keep warm if it is the winter the more comfortable you are, the longer you will be able to stay out and take more photographs,and the more photographs you take, the more chance there is that you will have a great shot and you will be getting better.Patience and luck is the key! I hope these few tips have helped you in some way and please feel free to contact me should you have any other queries.