BBC Interview

Had a lovely time with the BBC last week talking about the ethics of wildlife photography, tigers and the art form itself. The piece was shot at my local RSPB (Sandwell Valley) nature reserve, with the BBC’s Shefali Oza.

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The huge 400mm f2.8 and the mini EOS RP

The huge 400mm f2.8 and the mini EOS RP

The beautiful Sonam, of Tadoba tiger reserve, India, getting some air time.

The beautiful Sonam, of Tadoba tiger reserve, India, getting some air time.

In the 15 years I have been photographing wildlife I have seen a steep change in the number of photographers in the field. There seems to be and endless list of courses/workshops relating to wildlife photography, camera settings but only a few that cover ethics of wildlife photography, field-craft and animal behaviour. The UK National Wildlife Crime unit has launched a campaign called undisturbed which seeks to raise awareness and it will be active on social media until the end of the year. Some useful references can be found on the below link

Ethics of Wildlife Photography.

Here are some behind the scenes images of the shoot courtesy of Andy Purcell - thank you for hosting on the day!

A serious rig!

A serious rig!

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AP7_1078 TAL 7X10  (c)Andy Purcell_resize.JPG

Until next time…

A leopard at night

Tadoba tiger reserve, 2016, late evening we encountered a pack of Dhole that seemed somewhat excited and were circling around a patch of forest. It was only when the whistles subsided and one of them looked up, that we spotted a very young leopard silhouetted against the darkening sky.

We were shocked to see how high the youngster had shot up, and even though she was safe, she kept looking down at the dogs as they circled below her.

We were shocked to see how high the youngster had shot up, and even though she was safe, she kept looking down at the dogs as they circled below her.

Leopards are great climbers and seem just as much at home in the trees as some primates.

Leopards are great climbers and seem just as much at home in the trees as some primates.

I decided to use multiple focal lengths of  70-200, 400mm and 800mm to attain the above sequence, all stabilised with a beanbag. The sheer fright the leopard was feeling meant she stayed relatively still and I was able to use slow shutter speeds to extract as much detail from the scene as possible.

I decided to use multiple focal lengths of 70-200, 400mm and 800mm to attain the above sequence, all stabilised with a beanbag. The sheer fright the leopard was feeling meant she stayed relatively still and I was able to use slow shutter speeds to extract as much detail from the scene as possible.

A large hearted gentleman

Deep in the buffer zone of Tadoba tiger reserve, we come across a huge male tiger. He was walking with an intent, a purpose, and as always we gave him a wide berth. We calculated the general direction he was travelling in, and by using the guides knowledge of the jungle topography, we backed off and managed to have all of our photographic opportunities of him facing us. We would patiently wait for him to walk through the small clearings in the thick forest, and time photography with these windows. He seemed to oblige, and we captured multiple compositions at different focal lengths. The main challenge I had was managing the harsh late morning sun, so I predominately took my images as he passed through shade, which enabled me to get some nice diffuse light on the face and eyes. His sheer presence and grace of movement reminded me of a quote from famous tiger hunter (turned conservationist) Jim Corbett :


”The tiger is a large hearted gentleman with boundless courage and that when he is exterminated, as exterminated he will be, unless public opinion rallies to his support – India will be the poorer by having lost the finest of her fauna “

Canon 1dx, 400mm f2.8 . The first sight. I do enjoy taking habitat shots with the 400, it beautifully compresses space and blurs out foreground leading nicely into my subject, which seems to pop out, if correct and accurate focus is attained. I also positioned myself at an angle to help separate the tiger from the background by having his figure against the lighter grass, not the shaded jungle.

Canon 1dx, 400mm f2.8. The first sight. I do enjoy taking habitat shots with the 400, it beautifully compresses space and blurs out foreground leading nicely into my subject, which seems to pop out, if correct and accurate focus is attained. I also positioned myself at an angle to help separate the tiger from the background by having his figure against the lighter grass, not the shaded jungle.

Canon 1DX, 400mm f2.8.  Breaking the ‘rules’ here a little in terms of composition, but I am satisfied with the final piece. I always strive for perfection in my tiger works, and reflecting back, the posture could have been a tad nicer, with more of the right eye showing, but I’m happy with the positioning of the ears and the lovely pointing of the shoulder blade in the sun. He was focused on what was in front of him, and not distracted by our jeep.

Canon 1DX, 400mm f2.8. Breaking the ‘rules’ here a little in terms of composition, but I am satisfied with the final piece. I always strive for perfection in my tiger works, and reflecting back, the posture could have been a tad nicer, with more of the right eye showing, but I’m happy with the positioning of the ears and the lovely pointing of the shoulder blade in the sun. He was focused on what was in front of him, and not distracted by our jeep.

Canon 1DX, 400mm f2.8.  This particular shot was composed to show the sheer muscle mass in his arm. One can imagine him bringing down a one tonne Gaur (Indian Bison).

Canon 1DX, 400mm f2.8. This particular shot was composed to show the sheer muscle mass in his arm. One can imagine him bringing down a one tonne Gaur (Indian Bison).

Canon 1dx, 400mm f2.8. The contrast on a tigers face and eyes allows one to easily lock autofocus and track the subject. A beautiful male, approaching his prime, it was a sight to behold and left us all inspired.

Canon 1dx, 400mm f2.8. The contrast on a tigers face and eyes allows one to easily lock autofocus and track the subject. A beautiful male, approaching his prime, it was a sight to behold and left us all inspired.

Canon 1dx, 400mm f2.8 . A dash of colour to finish. The bold orange and black, contrasts and compliments beautifully with the greens of Tadoba, and it is feature of my work there.

Canon 1dx, 400mm f2.8. A dash of colour to finish. The bold orange and black, contrasts and compliments beautifully with the greens of Tadoba, and it is feature of my work there.

We can all do our bit to help conserve and protect tigers in many ways, please click below to start.

Wild Cats Conservation Alliance

An early start

I sometimes forget that I have great opportunities to work with light, space and local species up the road. On clear mornings, the light and mist can be heavenly at my local nature reserve. The challenge I have set myself, is to look again at common species, and try to photograph them not just in a new way, but capture beauty in the scene and in the moment…

A common coot with a simple bull- eye composition

A common coot with a simple bull- eye composition

Swans on an early misty morning taken with an ultra wide lens

Swans on an early misty morning taken with an ultra wide lens

Canada goose using a low perspective and not being afraid to shoot direct into the light. I like the abstract shape the reflection of the sun forms around the bird and the warmth of the colours.

Canada goose using a low perspective and not being afraid to shoot direct into the light. I like the abstract shape the reflection of the sun forms around the bird and the warmth of the colours.

A royal bath

A beautiful, bright eyed male tiger rests during a warm evening at Tadoba tiger reserve, India. Tigers love water unlike most cats. and can often be found resting in small lakes and waterholes, especially April onwards. The temperature during this time can reach 45 degrees Celsius and is very challenging to shoot in, so its vital we have enough fluid and protect our skin.

I am always looking for the perfect reflection, so when the water is moving, sometimes it is best to take a burst of images in order to have the key elements in the reflection as clear and as distortion free as possible. Also, when the subject is stationary, I try to extract as much detail from the scene by shooting at the lowest iso, exposing to the right and keeping the camera and lens as stable as possible. This gives me a great foundation for processing and scope to enlarge images for prints and exhibitions.

77d, 800mm f8, 1/125th sec, iso 100.

77d, 800mm f8, 1/125th sec, iso 100.

People often ask me why I don’t sometimes include the tigers ears. The reasons are simple, it is an artistic choice as I am drawn to the beauty of markings, and the eyes of the species. I hope you are too…

Toned processing

I am really getting a feel for toned and fine art style processing on my images. The approach mostly seems to work when the image is relatively simple with few elements, and the subject is distinct. I’ve used a variety of methods to get the look am after utilising both lightroom, and especially photoshop to get the tonality I think suits the image. Here are some cheetah from yesterday, taken with the usual canon 400mm f2.8 and 1DX setup at a local wildlife park.

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The 400mm f2.8

For a long time I had used standard telephoto lenses such as the canon 100-400mm zoom, the 400mm f5.6 prime. I had always adored the rendering of out of focus areas at 400mm, and how it enabled my subjects to pop. However I wanted more, so a few years ago I bit the bullet and acquired a canon 400mm f2.8 IS lens. The weight, price, size was all forgotten when I created my first images. The isolation, sharpness and speed of focus enabled me to further my creative vision.

Below are a couple of recent shots, one taken at f5.6 and one at f2.8, so you can see the difference, even at small image sizes.

Canon 400mm f2.8 IS @ f5.6, 1DX.

Canon 400mm f2.8 IS @ f5.6, 1DX.

Canon 400mm f2.8 IS @ f2.8, 1DX.

Canon 400mm f2.8 IS @ f2.8, 1DX.

Whilst in India, the lens allowed me to carry on photographing into the night. Whilst everyone else had to put their camera’s away, I was able to capture images of tigers with expanded pupils (due to the lack of light) and bring back some novel imagery. Combining with a full frame camera body gives me the maximum background diffusion and image quality and it will now take a lot to move me away from this set up.

Clouds

Just for fun, some images of a beautiful clouded leopard taken at a wildlife park. The first time I had seen this species and they are unique and beautiful. All shot with the 1DX and 400mm f2.8.

A rich coat, full of pattern, texture and shape.

A rich coat, full of pattern, texture and shape.

After a few yawns it was stretching time and finally some minutes of activity.

After a few yawns it was stretching time and finally some minutes of activity.

Proportionally, the biggest canines of any cat.

Proportionally, the biggest canines of any cat.

My favourite portrait posture which I have attained with most cat species.

My favourite portrait posture which I have attained with most cat species.

Colour, texture, pattern, beauty

A beautiful, regal male kingfisher perched in the sunshine. A 25% crop to show all the detail close up for those who view my work on mobile or tablet. This was taken during my hide days a while back, last spring. The morning was cold and wet, the river had swelled slightly due to recent rains reducing the likelihood of a bird arriving as the extra water makes it harder for them to fish. However, a double stroke of luck was to come, as the high pitched call sounded and the sun pierced the clouds for a few minutes, or even seconds. The male landed, surveyed the water below, and was gone before I could switch camera’s. A lovely encounter with one of Britain’s most iconic species.

Canon 5D mk iii, 800mm f11

Canon 5D mk iii, 800mm f11

A moving picture

I love kingfishers, they are one of my favourite bird species and I have been lucky enough to have spent countless hours in their presence. Some encounters are fleeting, as they assess the below lake for any signs of fish, some can last hours. Below is the former, but a lovely sight nonetheless.

Some more of my Kingfisher works can be found by clicking here

Rules

I dislike rules in art, one such ‘rule’ is that the subject must be looking into the frame. Perhaps we risk creating formulaic compositions with such mindsets and philosophies…

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Canon 1DX, 400mm f2.8, iso 100, 1/350th sec.