There is, in my opinion, no better place to blow the cobwebs away and relieve you of the daily stresses and strains, than a walk in the woods. Couple this with completely still, misty, ”golden” conditions and you have the perfect tonic. As a professional photographer, I am always on the look-out for exciting (commercial) images and occasionally lose touch with why I love nature photography so much. Those four hours I spent, a few days ago, wandering and losing myself in the intoxicating solitude, reminded me so and was one of the most rewarding forays I have ever had. Oh, and as I retraced my steps along that woodland path, a fox walked across it, right infront of me!
The 2009 wildlife Photographer of the Year recipient, José Luis Rodríguez, has been stripped of his title. Why? Evidence has come to light that the wolf pictured jumping over a gate was in fact a ‘model.’ Much has already been written about this, with particularly interesting views on Niall Benvie’s 3-way blog with Andrew Parkinson and Paul Harcourt-Davies. I won’t go into too much detail other than that the investigation first came to light in the Finnish magazine Suomen Luonto where they show striking similarities of the background between the winning image and that of the Cañada Real Center zoological park near Madrid and a tame wolf named Ossian. It was in fact other Spanish photographers that brought it to attention as they didn’t want the reputation of others tarnished.
The competition rules clearly state ”Images of captive animals must be declared. The judges will take preference to images taken in free and wild conditions.” The photographer claimed it was a wild wolf and indeed still does. Many had suspicions over the authenticity of the image, an overriding factor being that it was jumping over the gate as opposed to creeping through it, which would be much more normal behaviour for this notoriously shy species.
It’s a great shame that this has happened in the most prestigious wildlife photography competition and to be honest I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner. There seems to be an overwhelming desire these days by many wildlife photographers to succeed, whatever the cost. Whether it be by digital manipulation, using wildlife models (passing them off as wild) or photographing schedule 1 species without a licence, such as a kingfisher at the nest. Now, I’m not condemning the use of captive wildlife or falconers come to that. Indeed it is common practise to use them and you could argue that by using a controlled animal such as a jaguar or golden eagle you don’t disturb it in the wild. But it’s when it is passed off as being wild or when manipulation in the computer is such that it is no longer a true representation of what was seen that I feel the line has most definitely been crossed. Ultimately we can only look to ourselves and reach deep inside to our own ethics and morals before even thinking about entering a ‘dodgy’ image into a competition in the hope that no-one will ever find out. It absolutely baffles me. I’ve been photographing wildlife since I was a boy because I love to be outdoors and experience nature’s wonders first hand. If I happen to get anywhere in a competition then that is simply a bonus. When it becomes the sole purpose of your work, then I feel its time you choose something else to photograph.
The last week has been a complete wash-out, photographically. I don’t need glorious wall to wall sunshine to feel inspired but a glimmer would be nice! Even on the dreariest of days I force myself out, even if it’s just to give me a break from the computer. I’m quite lucky in that I can hop in my car and in less than 10 minutes be in woodland. It’s good for the soul and always gives me inspiration for new images. It’s also important as a nature photographer I think to keep regular contact with what’s going on out there. This is particularly true in the spring when it seems that each day something new appears, whether it be a bird or a flower.
I’ve had a bird feeding station set up in a local woodland for the last 6 weeks but hardly anything is turning up at the moment, a testament to the mild weather we have been experiencing of late. I understand it’s due to change in the next few days. I’m hoping for goldfinches this winter and with niger seed feeder in situ I have my finger”s crossed that they notice it.
The image below is a reminder of the wonderful autumn we had here in Kent. I went out one afternoon for a stroll to some private woods I have access to and as usual took my kit with me. Leaving it at home only means one thing…that a great photo opprtunity will be missed! As it turned out I had quite a productive few hours, shooting some tiny mycena sp. fungi amongst others and this. I liked the feeling it gave of being at a junction. Left for the woods or right along a hard track. You can guess which path I chose! The colours, light and depth cried out to be shot as a panoramic. One of the most useful pieces of kit that I have purchased over the last 18 months is a camera leveller made by Acrotech. Having read various reviews I opted for this model and have found it to be indispensable for this kind of work. It’s beautifully made and makes levelling the camera a breeze. They were then stitched using PTGui.
The forecast didn’t look promising but I decided to go anyway knowing just how quickly it can change here on the north Kent coast. A few weeks ago I headed off to a wader roost I know of and since there is public access there was no chance of me erecting a hide. I therefore kept myself patially hidden some distance away and shot a few general scenes. Some with the 300mm and others with either the 1.4x or 2x attached. The camera was mounted onto a tripod and due to the sometimes slow shutter speeds I used to convey movement I would often employ the mirror lock-up.
It was very windy so as a result the clouds kept moving until eventually the sun appeared and lit the scene with dark, brooding clouds in the distance. The tide was still rising and the roost consisting of knot and dunlin couldn’t settle thereby giving me several chances of getting lift-off and landing shots. The sun would appear and disappear over the next hour or so and as the day dew to a close the weather improved further until as if on cue the tide receded exposing the huge ‘bird-table’ that is the mud-flats as the sun was setting.
I spent a wonderful few days photographing grey seals last week. Referring to the previous post, I have been searching for a new site since the other, well known one has become too popular for my liking. I had no previous experience with this new one so decided to just go and see for myself. There was a window of good weather forecast last week in Norfolk so I packed and went. Sometimes you can prepare too much and since the weather can never be fully guaranteed I tend to just go and see how it goes. I arrived at the site Wednesday afternoon and walked to the where the seals were which entailed a walk of about a mile. However, I wanted to work on the edge of the colony to avoid disturbance which required a further half mile. I didn’t do much that afternoon as the light was quickly fading and much of the beach was cast in shadow by the enormous sand dunes. But it was good to know where to go and what to expect the following day. It was getting dark and I hadn’t booked any accommodation. Before I left however I wrote down a couple of phone numbers of B&B’s I had found on the net and booked into one just around the corner from the beach. Perfect. I’m not a great lover of these I have to say. A small part, well a large one actually, sort of resents spending £50 a night when all I want is somewhere to lay my head. For this reason I would usually use a tent, regardless of season. However, most campsites shut down during the autumn and winter except for a few, largely in National Park areas so I had no choice. I guess I could have slept in the car which I have done during the summer months but in the autumn and winter when it gets dark around 4, that leaves a rather long night of doing nothing. I’ve also had some wonderful experiences camping, none more so when in March of 2008 while in the Peak District, a storm very nearly had me looking up at the stars instead of nylon! In the end however I was quite glad of the accommodation for after the first full day I was exhausted. These seals were more skittish than those I had previously encountered and had me crawling along the sand and making wide detours climbing the dunes so as not to disturb them. They are after all very sensitive at this time when females (cows) are giving birth or lactating and the males (bulls) are competing for space near a female so that as soon as she finishes lactating he can mate with her.
On the equipment side I tried to carry as little as possible. One camera, a Nikon D300, 300mm f2.8 AFS VR, 1.4x tele-converter, 12-24mm and flash unit. For support I toyed with taking the beanbag instead of the tripod but due to the uneven terrain I opted for the lightweight Manfrotto 190 with the large but low profile Gitzo pan and tilt. This in the end proved to be the best choice. Low angle with great stability. I took an 8gb and 2x4gb cards and at the end of the day downloaded them onto a portable Smartdisk Flashtrax. For clothing I didn’t have to dress too warm since the beach was well sheltered by the towering dunes. I wore waterproof leggings which were useful against the sometimes damp sand, thin, thermal gloves and hat kept me comfortable. After that first day, boy did I ache. I’d spent close to 7 hours crawling around getting my body and head into very awkward, un-natural positions. I just hoped it would be worth it. Come the evening a nearby pub kept me fed and watered and a comfortable bed made me reasonably fresh for the following day.
It was a glorious dawn. As I walked the mile and a half to the seals I could hear the call of geese leaving their roost for their feeding grounds. Norfolk being very flat is in many ways similar to the North Kent Marshes where I do much of my photography. It has a feeling of wildness and big skies The final morning was reserved for pups, in particular the continuation of locating one on the edge of the colony on its own away from other seals, where I could slowly crawl up to it to get a wide-angle shot showing its habitat. Through scanning with binoculars I eventually found one, fitted the body with the 12-24mm and polariser and slowly, very gingerly made my way. I kept a constant watch for any signs of stress by the pup but it took no notice whatsoever. Rolling over, sunbathing, occasionally scratching its nose. Adorable. After 15 minutes or so I got to within a meter and obtained the images I was hoping for. I have to stress that getting the image was just a bonus. I had left it to the final day of searching before I was satisfied I had located a suitable pup. If it had shown any signs of distress, I would have backed off immediately.
I hardly saw a soul during my stay and only one other photographer who turned up as I was leaving. I will most certainly return. Perhaps later in the season when the pups are a little older.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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