Learning from Photographers, Jen Bryant, Mark Sisson, Fieldfare, Redwings & Red Squirrels

November 29, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Well today, 10th November 2018, I went to Belstone craft fair. Belstone is a beautiful little village on north Dartmoor and just a short drive from my house. I often go to country shows and craft fairs because usually there is at least one photographer or artist displaying their work. One of the best ways of learning photography, after understanding everything about your camera and how it works, is looking, and I don’t mean just glancing I mean actually looking at, and studying other people’s images. See where your eye leads you through the image and you should go on a journey that the photographer wants you to follow to finally end at the desired focal point. Doing this in an image is one of the hardest things to learn in photography and it is down to composition. Basically it is placing shapes in an order that pleases the eye and a photographer does this to lead you through their image to a focal point of their choice. Wildlife photographers want you to look at the wildlife so one of the things they do in their image is they will have things like branches, walls, grass, stems, fences etc. leading you into the image and they will place the wildlife in a prominent position. This is called “leading lines” and is a rule of composition. (Please see my blogs www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/3/ramblings-and-photographic-composition-for-a-wildlife-photographer-part-1, www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/3/photographic-composition-part-2 , www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/3/photographic-composition-part-3 , www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/4/photographic-composition-part-4 for more info). Landscape photographers will sometimes use the same rule to point to their chosen focal point. There are a lot more “rules” of composition and every photographer will use different rules for different images. You don’t have to stick to any rule of composition but they help when you are learning photography. So when you study, look at, other photographers work, work out of what they have done to lead you through their images to their chosen focal point. Another way to learn from landscape photographer’s images is that whilst looking at their images, see what they have done and then think what you want to do or could do with a similar image. It is no good just copying their image you have got to change it to make it your own work and enhance your creativity. When I say “change it” I don’t mean by using Photoshop I mean change the image you take in camera. Take it in different light, weather – snow, rain etc. include something else or exclude something, the world is your oyster and you can be as creative as you like.

“Moan alert”

When I am looking at photographs at a show I often hear people say a few things but 2 things they say really do bug me. They are both related and they boil down to the person commenting not appreciating the work that the photographer has had to do to get the image. The first is that they say “That’s a good / great / fantastic photograph, he / she, the photographer, must have a really good / expensive camera.” Yes the photographer might have a good or expensive camera but the bottom line is that the camera is a tool. I have yet to hear about a camera that can choose its own settings and take an image all by itself. Even trap cameras have to be setup before they take a picture. I’ve also never heard of a camera that will jump out of the camera bag, set itself up and take an image just because a good photo opportunity presents itself. The photographer has to be ready and learn to anticipate any action that’s going to happen and that takes time. The second thing I often hear is “That’s a good / great / fantastic image; you could take an image like that with your camera.” (This comment usually applies to landscape photographs). That person who is being spoken to might well be able to take an image like that but that image did not just happen. It might have taken the photographer days, weeks, months or even years to get that image. First of all the photographer had to see the image beforehand and this can be achieved in hundreds of ways. They might have seen the image in another photo, on TV, in a book, visited the area, driven by the area etc, etc, etc. Then they had to work out where to photograph the image from, don’t forget there might be up to 360 degrees to choose from and then how far away do they go, don’t forget how high above the ground do they go. Then they had to take their camera equipment to their chosen position and set it all up. Work out the settings, which lens to choose, the composition, and then the main one; wait for hours or even days for the right light to fall on the area. So yes anybody could take any landscape image because it is there all the time but they will have to do “ALL” the work before, during and afterwards – don’t forget the post processing that is involved nowadays if you take digital images. If you don’t put the work in you will not get the results. So the next time you are looking at someone else’s photographs think of the effort they have put in to achieve the image you are admiring.

OK moan over back on track now.

The person’s work I was admiring at Belstone was Jen Bryant of Jen Bryant photography, www.jenbryant.co.uk. She lives in North Devon and it appears, by looking on her website, that she does most of her photography in the county of Devon which is not a bad thing. Devon has a lot to offer the landscape photographer and by concentrating on this county, which is both large and very beautiful, means that she can really work the area and find new landscapes to take images of rather than just the usual visitor haunts. Check out her website to really see what I mean. The other thing that is different about her photography is that she still shoots in film, read her “about” page to find out how she does this. Whilst speaking to her she said that she does not know much about the camera, she just takes her pictures in manual mode! Well if she does not know how to “work” the camera then how is she consistently taking such great images? You might be lucky once or twice but not all the time. Not just working the camera but also working in her darkroom at home creating the images – I think there is a little fib going on here. Give yourself a pat on the back Jen, your photography is really good. What do you readers think? You can leave a comment on my comment page, or click on this link www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/contact.html

On Tuesday night I paid a visit to my old camera club at St Neots in Cambridgeshire for three reasons. The first is that I wanted to use my motorhome (Isla) again. The second was that I wanted to visit some old friends which I had not seen in a while and the third is that a great wildlife photographer, Mark Sisson (www.marksissonphoto.co.uk/), was giving a presentation entitled “From Alaska to Argentina - wildlife through the Americas”. The journey from Tavistock to Huntington, our campsite, was trouble free and we had the campsite all to ourselves. The welcome I got from St Neots camera club was absolutely fantastic. I really do miss this club and if anybody in the Cambridgeshire / Bedfordshire area wants to join a really friendly camera club, that offers a warm welcome and knows what they are doing, then you would not go far wrong than by joining this one (www.stneots-camera-club.org.uk/). There were so many members that wanted to talk with me and say hello that the time before, during the break and after Mark’s presentation went really quick, so nice. Mark’s presentation was fantastic, not only did he show us some stunning photography also his narration was superb and he kept us all on the edge of our seats enjoying every spectacular image with a story of each one. One thing I was hoping for about this trip, after my bad year, is that it would give me a kick up the bum (it did more later on) and get my photography back up and running and it has. Mark showed us images of wild bears fishing for salmon whilst the photographer was in the same water, my dream. I spoke to Mark after his presentation and he gave me the details of his “workshops and photography holidays” (www.natures-images.co.uk/) I would look into this when I got home. As you know I would love to go on a “Bear” holiday but it all depends on how Murphy is getting on. He is getting on very well at the moment and has just started to walk without his harness. His back needs strengthening and I think the harness was holding him back. He’ll never walk “smoothly” again but it does not seem to bother him too much, but I digress. When I got home I looked at the website and I am hoping that I can go in 2020, fingers crossed.

Well it’s that time of year again yep, Fieldfare, Redwings and hopefully Waxwings. The kick up the bum is working, I have already seen lots of the first two and found a location where I can sit in my car, using it as a hide, and photograph them. I place camouflaged netting on the windscreen, the driver’s side window and the rear passengers (driver’s side) window. This hides my shape and darkens the inside of the car. I wear camo netting on my head and hands to darken the flesh shown and I sit in the front passenger’s seat with my camera lens poking out of the window all the time. If you don’t have the lens outside the window then as soon as you put the lens out you will scare the birds also by doing this you are ready for any action that might happen. At this location I have only seen a couple of Fieldfare but there are quite a few Redwings. I worked out, by using The Photographers Ephemeris (www.photoephemeris.com/), the time of day I needed to be there so the light was right (if the sun appeared) and it was from 10:00hrs till about 14:00hrs. So for the last few days that’s where I have been, sat in my car waiting for the light. The birds have been there but the light has not, even though it has been dry and sunny. The location is about a mile from my house which is in bright sunshine but my location is higher and is covered by grey cloud! What is annoying is that I can see my house with the sun shining on it, I really don’t understand it. I have taken a few images but not with the light as I want it but I will persevere. Here are a couple of images I have taken.


The sun was just showing when I took this image of a Redwing but it disappeared within a few seconds afterwards.


This is one of the Fieldfare that was present for only a few minutes on day one. I never saw them again that week.

Whilst trawling through the internet the other day I have found a location to photograph Red Squirrels. I have been to the Isle of Wight and to Brownsea Island but never had much luck with photographing Red Squirrels mainly because I’ve never seen one for any length of time. The only Image of a Red Squirrel I’ve got is a “blob” in a tree I found in the Lake District. So next week I am going up north, no not Scotland but the north of England, in Isla and try to be lucky. I will report my findings and images, with luck, in next month’s blog.

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