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.