Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon
Continuing from my last blog where I suggested that you turn your garden into a wildlife area for your photography. I had a very interesting conversation, via email, with a gentleman who, after reading my blog thought, I thought that everybody has a large garden with fields, woods and moorland surrounding it. If anybody else thought that then I am sorry if I gave that impression, I can assure you that I certainly do not think that. I know there are hundreds of thousands of people that have small gardens or no garden at all. Well if you are one of these people then do not let that stop you. Think outside the box and see what you could do to achieve some of my ideas. If you do not have a garden then you could buy some land, rent some land, use an allotment, ask a neighbour, ask a relative, ask a farmer, ask the council, ask the forestry commission, ask the wildlife trust or ask any other person who has land. Tell them what you want to do with it and keep your fingers crossed. During my life I have asked several of the above and have had good responses as well as negative ones. If you have a small garden then just lower your aspirations and don’t think big, think small, you are not going to get herds of wildebeest majestically roaming your garden but you are still going to get a huge amount of insects and bugs that are just as demanding, if not more so, to photograph. A variety of bird feeders are still a good idea and you never know what you might attract.
One of the ideas was to build a pond, big using a liner, medium using preformed plastic or small using a dustbin lid. A water hole entices a huge amount of wildlife in your garden, from Foxes and Badgers drinking, Birds bathing through Frogs and Toads spawning, Dragonflies mating to Newts, Flies and all sorts of pond life above the water and below. It’s no good just plonking a pond anywhere, you have got to think and plan where you are going to site it. If possible pick a sunny spot that is sheltered from the wind. To help entice amphibians then plant some tall vegetation or put a log pile or rock pile close to the pond as this gives them cover from hunters. Think also about where you will want to photograph this wildlife from. The hard work will be the digging out of the soil. One thing to remember is that there should be a shallow end that slopes down into the rest of the pond so that wildlife can get in and out. If you are using a dustbin lid (DL) then put suitable rocks in it to achieve this. Having a deep end will allow the wildlife to retire to it during the winter if it freezes over. Don’t forget to top the water up in the summer especially if it gets hot. It is better to fill the pond with rainwater then using the water from your tap and to keep it topped up you could use water from a waterbutt. If you have a shed close enough you could divert a downpipe from the guttering on your shed into the pond to keep it topped up then don’t forget to have a run off area and think where the water will go when the pond is full. If you have a DL then you might have to top this up quite regularly. You will have to introduce pond plants to help keep the water clear and entice wildlife. Ask at your local garden centre which plants would suit your pond. Once your pond is built please do not introduce wildlife to it, trust me they will find it on their own accord.
For Christmas I bought myself a new computer as my old one has started to go wrong. Ever since my solid state drive went wrong last year other things started going wrong like the sound card, the motherboard battery, a cooling fan and one of the hard drives doesn’t sound too good so I thought I’d better back my images and other work up so that I don’t lose it and then buy a new computer. Having a new computer isn’t a 100% safe bet that it won’t break down but it does limit it. The only downside is getting all the software and hardware working on it. My first problem was my old keyboard was not compatible with it. It had an old style plug on it and I could not find an adapter so I had to buy a new keyboard. The next thing I had to do was download all the programs I use like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. This took nearly two days due to the “wonderful” speed of my broadband. The next was Microsoft Office which went well apart from Outlook which only loaded about 12 of my emails. Therefore I went back to my old computer to resend all my old emails. This overloaded my server and I did not have any emails for two weeks! A word with my broadband provider and things were sorted within a day. I found another route to save my old emails. Don’t ask why I hoard them, I just do and it has helped me no end in the past. Once this was all sorted I then started to download all my images from my external drive. This along with a few other bits and pieces took four days. There are still a few items that need doing like printers and my Wacom tablet. Once this is done then I can take the two hard drives and the solid state drive out of my old computer and install them into my new one to act as backups. The old computer and keyboard will then be “stored” away in the attic, along with the others!!!!!
Have you bought or acquired items, on the spur of the moment or thought about an item that would be really necessary to improve and help your photography only for it to be put in your camera bag, drawer, cupboard etc. for it not to be used or to never even see the light of day? Or have you upgraded your camera equipment and are still hording your old equipment just in case you need it sometime? If you say no I would find it hard to believe you. Most, if not all, the photographers I know have, why we do it I really don’t know. I was cleaning out my photography cupboard the other day, well it’s a couple of wardrobes actually because I have all my camouflage clothing, boots, netting and hides as well as my camera equipment in them, and found so much stuff I do not use. This included several camera and lens bags that I either: - got as presents, bought because I really needed another one or got free by subscribing to a magazine. It also included several sizes of flashguns from quite small for macro through large to two floodlights with umbrellas which I could use for portraits (if ever I do any). I found a light meter, an old Sigma 300mm apo lens, four old cameras with sensors starting at 2mp upwards, two film cameras including a Canon EOS 600 (what a great camera that was), several tripod heads, small cases for small “gadgets”, straps, batteries, other bits and bobs and several electronic devices for doing something which I can’t remember what. I found a Jessops Target Tele-Grip which, when attached, made your camera and long lens look like you were holding a sniper rifle, it was really good at keeping your equipment steady because you were using your shoulder to steady it. Sadly I cannot use it now because the shutter release on my cameras does not have a screw thread.
This is an image of a similar type of Tele-Grip.
Last but not least I found a Lee Filters “Big Stopper” filter which I bought, for a very good price, at a show a few years ago and it has not even been unwrapped. For those that don’t know, a “Big Stopper” is a filter that nearly blocks out all the light so that you can reduce the shutter time of your exposure to several minutes. Anything moving within your image will either be a blur or disappear completely. I was going to use it for Landscape photography but it never happened, maybe one day! Along with clearing out my cupboards I cleared out my camera bags and had to laugh at a certain items I found in there. During my time in my last job I had to go away on several courses and during these times I would be put up in a hotel by my job. Some were very posh hotels and some we shall say were not so posh but nearly every hotel had one of these either in a drawer by the bed or in the bathroom. What is the item I am talking about well it’s the humble shower cap. Now you might laugh and wonder why I, who is follically challenged on my head, took a shower cap, but a shower cap acts as a very good waterproof cover for your camera and lens if you are ever caught in a downpour. It weighs next to nothing and so small that it easily fits into a pocket. The thing is that after checking my bags I found over 20 of these and again I have never used them! Going through and finding all this “stuff”, which I have not used in years cluttering up my cupboard, has given me a kick up the backside and I am going to try and sell them on Ebay or Gumtree. Does anybody know the price of a showercap?
This last week I have been practicing what I have been preaching on my blog and have been working on a wildlife studio setup in my field at the rear of our house. I have not been able to do this previously because of my wife’s horse using the field. But last year it was with great sadness that he passed away and as we are not going to get another means that I can use the field for my photography. I have been digging holes and putting drainpipes into them for different branches. Also, as I still have the old garden table, I have positioned it within the setup and built a dry stone wall on it. I am hoping to get other wildlife on it for me to photograph. Having the wall raised up on the table means that I do not have to lay down on the floor for ages to get eye level images of the wildlife. (Remember I am 60!) Whilst on that subject, I went to photograph Dippers along the river the other day. I arrived at about 07:00hrs and the weather was cold but dry. I found a good position with some boulders in the river, settled down on a sandy area, and waited for the wildlife to appear. Even though I was in my camouflaged clothing when I do this, I hardly move at all as any movement will scare the wildlife. After about an hour and a half, as nothing had appeared I decided to move up river and try my luck there. I tried to get up and found that, due to the cold (OK and my age), my legs had seized up and would not move. I had to physically move them by hand and wait about ten minutes, whilst the blood got through, before I could stand. (I am not too impressed with this getting old lark!) The move proved fruitful because within fifteen minutes along came a Grey Wagtail which I photographed for the next half hour. The light was not great, clear sky with bright sunshine, as the front of the bird was burning out even though I was photographing it with minus one stop exposure compensation but beggars can’t be choosers.
Grey WagtailGrey Wagtail
I digress and back to my wildlife studio setup. I collected a couple of fallen branches from our nature reserve and placed them in the drainpipes. Once that was all done I then put out some feeders to attract the birds. I left the setup for a few days and then setup my hide to see what was taking the food. Whilst I was in my hide I could see where the birds were coming from and noticed that my feeders were too high for the birds to land on the branches. I therefore reduced the height of the feeders by taking out the middle section of the feeder and nearly straight away the birds started landing of my branches. The images below were taken on this new setup.
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