The following images were taking during the (obviously) snowy period we had a few weeks ago and, by the looks of it, there’s more to come by the end of the week. If you’re anything like me and reside in southern England, when we do get it I kind of go into panic mode, frantically thinking of places to visit. Bird feeding station? Marshes? North Downs? It’s unpredictability prevents us from planning, slowing down and thinking more carefully about what pictures to take.
These woodland scenes were taken at a local nature reserve called Cromer’s Wood, just south of Sittingbourne. I’ve been a voluntary assistant warden here since it’s conception in 1990 and although not a huge area (62 acres) it does have some very interesting plant species as well as a large pond where, amongst others, sparrowhawks occasionally come down to bathe.
Freezing fog regularly occurs on the marshes and as I drove along a track early in the morning I noticed this pair of pheasants feeding on a hawthorn.
The last week or so hasn’t been terribly productive for me on the wildlife front. Aside from photographing nature and landscapes, for on average 2 days per week, I freelance for a number of regional newspapers. It brings in the pennies and I actually quite enjoy it. You never know from one day to the next what you’re going to photograph and for anyone who has ever been self employed, there’s nothing better than having jobs booked in the diary so you can at least, plan a little for the future.
But, regardless of work commitments I try to get myself out before and after a day’s work which, at this time of the year, invariably means an early start. A 4.45 sunrise means I am home by 7 and can afford an hours kip before getting ready for ‘work.’ And sunset at 9.15 gives me a few hours in the evening. Over a period, it’s remarkable just how much processing, paperwork and correspondence builds up! Oh, how Iwould love an assistant to find the work, process the images, submit them to my agents and upload them onto my website!
Several springs ago while topping up the feeders at my bird feeding station, I arrived to find half a dozen hens and a cock pheasant crowded around the base of the feeder picking up the seeds that had fallen from above. Previously, I had only photographed pheasants from a hide or from a vehicle, rarely as the prime target but as something to shoot (pardon the pun!) while waiting for the intended quarry, notably smaller birds and squirrels. It occurred to me that here was an opportunity to take advantage of their relative tameness and to obtain images that were a little different to the norm.
The closest I could approach at this point was about 10 metres, far too distant for what I was after. So, every morning, I would jump over the gate, shake my bag of bird feed and sprinkle it in the area where the pheasants frequented most. After a week I could get to within 5 metres and after 2 weeks, within 1 metre. I became somewhat of a pied piper, that wherever I went, they would follow. The following week was then spent either following them around or them following me. I would take advantage of this by placing the food in attractive settings, such as the bluebell wood, often using a wide-angle lens to get that unusual perspective. By this point I could get to within touching distance.
At the tme, I was using film and used a Nikon F90 with a 28-105mm lens, Fuji Sensia 100 and a Nikon Speedlight SB-26 flash-unit set to -1.3 for fill-in. All were taken handheld with the camera set to shutter priority, possibly 1/125 sec. with the aperture fluctuating from f5.6 to f11, depending on the day’s brightness.
There’s an awful lot to be said about working with animals we see on a day to day basis, rather than concentrating on rarer kinds. The more we encounter them, the more the likelihood of recording something interesting, as opposed to a mere portrait taken with a telephoto lens. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good portrait as much as the next person, but it really can’t compare to an image with the subject either actively doing something or photographed in an unusual way. With so much subject matter to choose from, the only thing we need to do is open our eyes a little wider and explore the possibilities.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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