Ways to Photograph Wildlife and Photographing Wildlife on the River Tamar

October 23, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

There are several ways of actually taking photographs of wildlife for free, from the basic to the really complicated way; by complicated I mean that there are more things for the photographer to do to get a photograph that they want. When I say basic this could include photographing wildlife from an open window of your house or at work to just going for a walk with your camera and taking photos of any wildlife that you happen to come across. Even though I say it is basic you still have to get the camera settings and the composition right to get a good photograph. Moving along from basic you could set up a feeding station in your garden and use it as an outdoor studio which could be as complicated as you wish; you could also go to nature sites, RSPB, Wildlife Trust etc. and photograph any wildlife that visits that area. The really complicated way starts at home researching the wildlife you are after. Then going out and about looking for the wildlife in an area that you have researched. You need to recce the area to find where and what the wildlife does, which could entail several visits, finding a location where you can actually photograph the wildlife, thinking about the light direction and the background of your photo, and then finally going there and waiting, sometimes for ages, for the wildlife to appear so that you can photograph it. The common denominator with all of these ways is waiting, wildlife photographers have got to have patience and perseverance in abundance. I'm very good at sitting still and waiting for the wildlife to appear. I used to go beach fishing so I am used to waiting and then going home empty handed. As long as I am comfortable I can sit for hours only moving my eyes to see what wildlife is approaching. I have had some fantastic experiences whilst sitting still and waiting to photograph something. The other day I had a Wren land on a branch that was only about a foot, or 30 cm for you young un's, away from my face. It stayed there for about 30 seconds looking around before flying off but during this time I had a fantastic close up of this bird showing me all its delicate details, what a moment. At times I have done all of the above, because wildlife appears and does things when it wants, but I enjoy the really complicated way the most as it gives me the most satisfaction when I finally get the photograph.

As I informed you in my last blog that last weekend I had decided to go and sit on the banks of the river Tamar. I have been carrying out a lot of reconnaissance of the river because I am after photos of Dippers, Grey Wagtails and Otters. I've looked at maps, Google earth and other websites reports to see what they have said and to point me into the right direction. I have also visited the area several times to hunt out locations that I can set up myself and my camera equipment. The location has to give me four elements and is harder to find then you think. The type of area I am looking for has to be accessible as I do not trespass on other people's land, light enough for me to take photos with a fast shutter speed, must allow me to have a decent background in my photo and low enough for me to be able to get my camera level with the water. OK there is a fifth element but it is the obvious one, the wildlife has to be there or close by.

After finding a few areas I picked one and decided to go there for a morning session. I parked my car as close as possible but it was still about a mile from the location I had chosen, the time was 6am. I was hoping to get in position, set up and be settled in about an hour before sunrise, this I achieved. I had picked a small sandy area so I had to place a few rocks on the sand near the river so that my shoes would have something to rest against. I then placed my ground mat on the sand with my "comfort" mat on top and settled down. I checked my camera settings F5.6 with an ISO of 1600, it was still quite dark so I was not bothered with the shutter speed at that moment. Then I camouflaged myself and pulled in a couple of branches so that my human shape would be broken up. Although I pulled them in close I made sure that they would not interfere with my movement of the camera. The camera and lens were on a monopod as a tripod is too much hassle to move about when you are sat down. I don't know about you but I hate monopods, I feel that they are two legs short of a sharp photo. The main reason for me is that they lead you into a false sense of security. You have to really concentrate, just as much as hand holding, on holding the camera and lens steady to get a sharp photo. The only good thing about a monopod is it takes the weight of your camera and lens off your hands/arms and when you have a Canon 1dx camera and 500mm F4 lens its a lot of weight.

After about an hour or so I had two Grey Wagtails in front of me flying around in circles, dive bombing each other, going from boulder to boulder which was great fun to watch. I also had two Dippers, one adult and one juvenile, feeding in front of me. The adult was collecting the food and the juvenile was standing on the boulders flapping its wings saying feed me, feed me. I find this behaviour amusing in birds because usually there is food at the juveniles feet if they'd only look. So much going on but it was too dark to photograph even with the high ISO capabilities of my camera so I just sat and watched the show they were putting on. This show went on well past sunrise and I was now taking photos and in my element. The Dippers went further down river but the wagtails stayed for a few more hours. As it was a very sunny morning, and I was photographing wildlife on water, I had to really concentrate on the exposure.  Being dark brown with a white breast I would have preferred to photograph the dippers on a bright cloudy day as it diffuses the light, but in bright sunshine it is easy to blow the highlights. Later on in the morning the grey wagtails flew off. During this lull in the show I had a grey Squirrel come within 2 feet or 60cm of me and just sit there looking at me. It could not decide what I was and after about a minute or so it wondered off in the same direction it had come. After about 20 minutes the dippers returned and I carried on photographing them. When these finally flew off I decided to pack up as it was 1:30pm and my tummy was rumbling. I had filled up two 8gb cards which is about 700 photos. No otters but I had a great time and I will be back.


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