New Photography Workshop, What is a good photo location and Misconceptions about pros.

January 20, 2017  •  1 Comment

Greetings from Dartmoor

I hope you have all had a great festive period and received all the gifts you wished for. If it was camera equipment then I hope you rushed outside and took lots and lots of images. Now the period is over I want you to stop, go back and read the instructions that came with it. Yes I know it’s a pain, time consuming and you know everything! BUT, trust me, you might find out something you don’t know, a new tool perhaps that your camera has and then you can set up the equipment in the correct manner to either suit your photography or the photograph you want to take. I go back and read, or look through, the instructions for my camera every now and then and you’ll be amazed what I find out. When you get to my age, which is just a little over 21, although I do look a bit older, if I don’t do the same thing regularly then I either forget it or forget how to do it. Doing things in Adobe Photoshop on my portrait photographs spring to mind. Always keep the instructions with the equipment and always take them with you when you take the camera on holiday or on a photography workshop. Just to let you know that I still have places on my Photography workshops. These photography workshops are excellent value for your hard earned money. Not only do you get me tutoring you all day, if you wish, but you're also taken to some great wildlife photography locations and are not just stuck in a hide. In fact I have found out that some people just hire out a hide, with no tutoring, for more money than my workshops cost. For more information on my workshops please click on the “Workshop” button at the top of this website. Just to let you know that I have added a new Post Processing workshop to the list in which I will go through my post processing workflow using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. 

On Friday 16th December 2016 I went out in time to hopefully see the sunrise which did not happen due to the low cloud base. The first location I had chosen had thick fog and as there was no wind I moved on to my second location because I did not want to sit in my hide for another few hours staring at a grey wall again. Arriving in the car park at the second location the weather was still cloudy but no fog, perfect, so I quickly got my gear together and went to set it up. I set my chairhide up facing a gorse bush that was covered in yellow flowers as it would make a more pleasing image then just a green bush. I visit areas regularly and apart from looking for wildlife I look for good sites where I can place my hide. I mentally go through “boxes” that need ticking and the more boxes that are ticked the better the site is for me. The boxes are labelled: - Wildlife seen in area, Wildlife seen on the site my hide is looking at, Does it have a flat area to pitch my hide, Is the flat area more than my lens’ minimum focusing distance away from the site, Is the site photogenic, Has it got bushes/trees, What type of tree, What type of bush, Is there enough light getting through to light up the site, Is the site good for front/back/side light, Is the background far enough away to give a good bokeh etc. These should be some of the things you should consider when setting up a hide. Then again you should go through this kind of routine for any preplanned image you want to take not just for wildlife photography. Doing this still does not mean that wildlife will appear when you are there but if it does then great. Please read my blog about the different types of hides ( ( .

I had done this several times for this location and had noticed an area of gorse bushes which also contained a single small tree. When looking at sites that contain trees it is no good if the tree you are looking at, whilst in the hide, has lots and lots of branches interlocking each other. You need a tree with a few branches so that the branches do not spoil the image by overcrowding or covering up the subject.

Messy TreeMessy Tree

This is my preferred type of tree with branches that give the birds space.

Grey WagtailGrey Wagtail

I noticed previously that the area had Wrens, Robins, Bullfinches, Jays and Stonechats to name a few of the birds there. I was hoping that a Wren or a Bullfinch would settle in the tree for me to photograph. I have been here on several occasions and seen Robins and Wrens flitting around the bushes below the tree but they never perched on the branches in the tree. So here I am again, perseverance, one of the things every wildlife photographer should have in bucket loads. I’m sat facing the bushes and the tree which are covered in quite a hard frost and with the clouds thinning and the sun starting to rise over my right shoulder. I take a shot and check the histogram and the image on the LCD screen. The exposure needed compensating by plus two thirds so I adjusted my camera settings and waited. The background of the image was a very light green. In reality it was a bank of fir trees in the distance on the other side of the valley and there was nothing in between my tree and them. After an hour sat in my hide my feet were frozen as it was minus 2 degrees centigrade but I persevered as the light was going to be great. The sun started breaking through the clouds and I could see the shadow of the hill behind me, on the other side of the valley getting lower and lower as it got closer to my hide. Finally it reached my hide and I could feel the warmth on my back through the hide but the ground was still frozen, as were my feet. I was hoping some wildlife would appear before the frost disappeared. A couple of minutes later I noticed some movement in the bracken and a Wren appeared. I fired off a few frames before it disappeared in the undergrowth. I could see movement going to my right and then it flew out of sight to the next set of bushes. About 20 minutes later it flew back onto the gorse bush but before I could focus on it, it took off and flew onto the tree. For the next few minutes I could hardly contain my excitement with a huge big grin on my face and what sounded like bursts of a machine gun going off in my hand. When it finally flew away I examined some of the images on the LCD on my camera and they looked ok but I would check properly on my computer monitor.


This would be a while as my computer was in the "doctors" for repair. The solid state drive, with my windows operating system, had broken down. I thought they invented these type of drives because they were better  and more reliable than the normal hard drives! As long as my photos are OK I don’t mind. I have got some saved on an external drive but my next purchase will be a bigger external drive to save them all, I WAS LUCKY, they were. After 4 hours sat in the hide I packed up, struggled to get out of the chair due to my legs being frozen stiff and went home but, as Arnold Schwarzenegger stated, I’ll be back.

On Sunday 18th I went down to our nature reserve to cut up and collect the last of the fallen trees. Looking around at the next set of trees that need to be taken out, I’ll have to use my chainsaw and it’s in for servicing at the moment but I hope it isn’t going to cost more than a new saw does. I’m also hoping to get it back before Christmas so I can get started during the holiday period because once I go back to work on January 3rd I will be really busy until the end of March. A lot of plants will be growing up by then and it will make it more difficult getting to the trees and getting the wood out. Whilst I was working there were a couple of Jays “talking” to each other and flying from tree to tree within the wood. I am contemplating on planting some bushes at one end of the field. The end I’m thinking of is the one which would be best for the light and therefore photographically. I will start reading up about which ones to plant and ask a few questions down at my local garden centre as I want plants that will entice wildlife.

On Friday 23rd I took Murphy for a walk to an area I wanted to reconnoitre for putting up my chairhide. I have passed the area several times and I constantly see Jays, a bird I would love to get a great photo of. The area is a strip of moorland edged by Devon banks with a road running through it. It has trees, bracken, gorse bushes and a couple of small open areas. I wanted to site my hide away from the road so this narrowed down my options. Whilst walking the area I noticed two problems the first one was trying to find a flat area for my hide to sit on as the ground was quite sloping. I kept wandering around and around looking at places from different positions which was taking quite a while but Murphy didn’t mind with his nose to the ground smelling every bush he was in doggie heaven. I did find a couple of possibilities but they did not tick enough boxes for me. The second problem was the trees in the area were overloaded with branches and there was no way they would not interfere if a Jay landed in them. Whilst standing still contemplating what I was going to do, just to tease me, three Jays flew overhead and landed in the tree in front of me and proved my point about the branches. I wandered around for a couple of hours before heading back to the car. On my way to the car I saw a male and female Bullfinch. On days like this, bright but cloudy, the colours of these birds are stunning because they are so saturated rather than on bright sunny days when the colours are bleached out.

Female BullfinchFemale Bullfinch

It’s strange that in the wildlife world the male is normally the better looking of the species but, I feel and we are all different, it is the other way around in the human world. No matter how many times I hear “He is handsome”, “He is good looking” etc. I just don’t see it. Human males, including the one I see in the mirror, just don’t do it for me. Human females on the other hand, well that is another story! Anyway I’m digressing, back to my blog.

On Tuesday 27th I went for a walk along the river Tavy with Murphy. The part of the river I had picked to walk along is the same part that I will be trying to photograph Dippers in next year. The phrase “Next year” sounds as though it is a long way away and yet it is only a few days away. Is it me or does time seem to be speeding up. It seems like only a few days ago I was watching the fireworks bringing in the New Year, soon I'll be watching the next lot. Anyway I wanted to check the river to see if the Dippers were still around. Whilst crossing the bridge to get to the footpath I spotted one Dipper bobbing on one of the rocks that I want to include on a photograph.


There is a position I can get to that is quite close to the rock but the Dipper faces away from it so is not is a good photography position. I will have to get on the other river bank but then the problem is that I am facing the sun, great if I want a backlit image but that is not what I am after. I will have to spend some more time down here working my image out. After viewing it for a few minutes and Murphy getting impatient I carried on with my walk. He lets me know when he is getting bored by jumping up and kicking me with his back legs, I've heard of kung fu Panda but Kung fu Terrier! After walking a couple of hundred metres along the river bank I saw a second Dipper. This one was in a dark area of the river and no good for photography. After walking for about a mile our walk came to a abrupt stop. This area of the path has been eroded and you need to get into the river for a few metres before climbing back onto the path. Murphy was keen for this to happen but as I only had trainers on it was not going to. We turned around and on our way back Murphy, still on his extending lead, shot off the path and went to the river’s edge. He started sniffing around, caught the scent of something, and was off pulling me into the wood. I wondered what he was after. It must be a great world where we can tell what was around a little while ago by scent, we can do it for some animals, foxes for instance, but not for all. Compared to humans, dog’s sense of smell is out of this world. We went in a half circle and came back on to the path. At this stage he got really excited and started trying to stand up, the scent must have been higher in the air. He then shot off along the path and I started trotting along behind him (I knew I had worn trainers for a reason). After a few minutes I saw, up ahead, what he was after. There was a herd of about 5 Fallow deer standing next to the river. I knew there were deer in these woods as I had seen their tracks but this was the first time I had seen them. The deer saw us and shot into the wood, that’s more info logged for another photography session.

On Wednesday 28th I went to an area where I had seen several Redwings and Fieldfare. I had already looked around the area and there were several trees still full of berries. I positioned my hide facing four of these trees with the sun shining, when it rises, over my right shoulder and then moving round to my left shoulder about midday. After a few problems setting up my hide due to it being on quite a steep hill I settled down and waited for the birds to appear. The time was 07:30 hrs and there was a slight frost on the ground. My car was the only one in the car park and I was the only person in this valley. Whilst waiting for the birds to appear I was looking around for other wildlife to appear like Foxes and Deer but none did. After three hours of no activity, in fact I did not see or heard a bird, I decided to move to another location in the area. I had heard that there was a Greater Grey Backed Shrike in the area so I moved to a site that would appeal to it. After another two hours of nothing I decided to pack up, because my feet were frozen, and go home to carryon repopulating my computer which I had collected from the “doctors”.

On Thursday 29th true to my “Arnold Schwarzenegger “ word I again went out early to the valley after an image of a Wren on a frosted gorse bush. The temperature this time was minus 8 degrees centigrade but I was hoping it would warm up when the sun rose. When I reached the valley the ground was covered in a hard frost, perfect. I set up my chairhide and started my vigil. I set it up facing several gorse bushes all with yellow flowers. The sun rose and started shining for about twenty minutes before cloud covered it up again and the temperature did not rise, in fact it seemed like it was dropping even further. After four hours of inactivity I could stand it no longer. Although the rest of my body was warm my feet were so cold they were hurting. On my way back to my car I decided that I was going to buy some warm Caribou snow boots – I’ll give you a report on these when I’ve bought and worn them. I know I stayed in the hide for only a few hours and the chap on Planet Earth II stayed in his hide for 100 hours to get the shots of the Golden Eagle on a Fox carcass but his hide was wooden, had a floor and he had a heater. Mine was a thin sheet of semi-waterproof cloth, no floor and no heater. Plus on the big side that’s his job and he gets paid for doing it. Please don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the anticipation whilst waiting for wildlife to appear but I do have lots of other things I have to do especially at this time of year.

The next couple of days were spent repopulating my computer with the software I use and tidying it up, getting rid of a lot of crap that I don’t use. It’s surprising how long all this repopulating takes and then once the software is on the computer you then have to set it up how you had it before so you know how it all works.

We had a wildlife photographer as a speaker at our camera club the other night so my wife and I went to see him. Before he started his talk one of our committee members, Tom (he asked if I could say his name), said to me that this should be good because he is a professional! I asked "What is the difference between an amateur and a professional?" Knowing that a lot of amateurs nowadays have the same equipment as professionals and some take excellent images, just look at Facebook or Instagram for instance. He replied "He sells his photos."! I kept my thoughts to myself until I saw what the speaker had to offer. Now I know a lot of amateur photographers, not just wildlife photographers, that sell their photos but I knew where he was coming from. A lot of people, especially amateur photographers put themselves down and have this great misconception that if you are a professional then you must be better than me and take great photos to sell. Tom takes great wildlife images (I don't tell him that because he'll get big headed!!!) and he's an amateur. Some professionals are really good, but some leave a lot to be desired. I know I have seen some professional wildlife photographers websites and a lot of their images are of wildlife flying or running away. All this tells me is that he or she got too close and scared the wildlife away. Some people take a poor landscape photograph, add a high saturation in post processing and call themselves a professional landscape photographer! To me the difference between an professional and a amateur is that in order to make enough money to live they have to find a niche in which they use their photos or their knowledge to enhance other work because they would not live on just selling photos nowadays. Please read a previous blog for more information (  ). This niche could be anything from workshops to writing articles or books. This view of mine was actually proved by the speaker at the end of his talk. He was asked, by a club member, where he saw his photography going. He replied that he actually does very little photography nowadays because he teaches photography and leads workshops at university, he travels the country giving talks and he writes a lot of articles for magazines and accompanies his images with these articles. As a speaker he was excellent and I would go to another of his talks, he has about 20 in total, if he is in or around our area. As a photographer he showed us some really good images but, to me, others were not so good. Remember you can't please everybody all the time.

On a last note I have often told you that work gets in the way of my photography, like most amateur photographers, but today, Wednesday 18th January. it REALLY did. At about 9:15am I received this text from my wife " 30+ Waxwings are on our Cherry Tree". The tree is about 3 metres from my lounge window, the background is North Brentor church over the other side of the valley, the sky is blue and there were about 3 small clouds. Where was I? stuck at work feeling sick as a parrot. I hope you all have better luck and get to see plenty of Waxwings as they are such splendid birds.


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Craig MacInnes(non-registered)
Excellent stuff as usual Robin. I feel privileged getting to share your part of the world like this. I like your down to earth practical approach to selecting the best possible locations for good wildlife photos. And great advice about reading and re-reading the manual as I'm one of those impatient types who fire right in and then wonder why my shots didn't turn out quite as I imagined...after admitting defeat I finally turn to the manual and lol and behold I get the answer Keep up the good work and I really felt for you re the waxwings...funnily enough I'd been following their southward progress and when I heard they'd hit Devon I immediately thought of you and that at last you'd get the chance to see and photograph them! might happen yet
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