Musings of a Wildlife Photographer
 
All too often these days articles relating to photography - wildlife or otherwise - amount to a technical discussion and fail to recognise the creative aspect of photography. Maybe it’s a statement of the times we live in but there are more articles about the gear and the technical business of photography that is all too easy to forget that photography is as much an art as it is a science. Photography allows us to express our feelings and emotions and to do so we do need to master the scientific part of the medium but all too often that’s where we stop.
 
I like to describe myself as a naturalist who photographs what he observes rather than a photographer specialising in wildlife. This is very important to me and I believe makes for a better wildlife photographer. I am not suggesting for one moment that I don’t ever concentrate on the technical aspects of my photography – you have to understand how to use the wonderful tools we have access to nowadays. In my workshops and talks to camera clubs I spend a great deal of time exploring the technical aspects of photography. Every so often however I like to stop, take a break from the technical chatter and remind myself that I take photographs for the love of photography for the love of observing wildlife.
 
I have a section of this website that is devoted to technical explorations and techniques but below I have gathered together my various musings on the other equally important things that drive me as a wildlife photographer. Each is introduced with a short precise but to read the full article click the link and download a PDF. You can even print this if you like to read it at leisure and please do share it with friends who you think would find it useful too.
 
I will add to this section over time and as more thoughts strike me so please check back regularly for new ones or join my mailing list here.
 
I am always keen to learn if and how these articles have helped you please do take a little time to tell me either through the feedback page on this website or direct to bob@naturesphotos.co.uk.
 
 
I often hear debates between photographers as to which is the most important for successful wildlife photography – field craft or technical ability. In addition there is often quoted retort ‘isn’t it all just down to luck anyway’.
 
As always there is no one golden bullet and in view it’s a mixture of all three, miss out on one and the results will suffer. In addition when one of these three lets you down it’s how you resolve it and move on that makes you better next time. Luck most certainly does play a large part but none of us will be lucky all the time so you need to learn how to manage things, adjust your approach and hone your skills in all areas to increase your chance of ‘getting luckier next time’.
 
 
Please read my thoughts on whether field craft or techncial ability contributes most to successful shots.

 
I am sure we have all had this said to us or heard it said to others when we appear somewhere with a full size DSLR and maybe a large telephoto lens.
 
After a recent visit to the Photography Show in Birmingham’s NEC and my annual lusting after a new camera I started to reflect on the old question does a new camera improve your photography. I remembered a conversation I had once had with a fisherman along these lines and an article I once read encouraging us to stop desiring a new camera and start taking better pictures.
 
Please read my thoughts on this here and whether new and better cameras make us better photographers here.

 
I was asked a while ago what I thought were the most common mistakes a wildlife photographer could make. It set me thinking; what are the things I do, or see others do on my workshops that result in images that we are less than proud of.
 
In this article I have given my top 8, I am sure that you can think of more but hope that these will help you when out shooting wildlife, a subject which is often very challenging as action often happens very fast and where conditions e.g. lighting etc. are frequently very demanding.
 
Having read my thoughts here if you can think of any that you might like to add to the list please do email me at bob@naturesphotos.co.uk and I willingly post them with this article so others can benefit too.
 

 
I once heard somebody say that “a good photographer knows what he has shot without having to look at the back of the camera, chimping is for beginners who are not confident with their photography”. I’ve heard some very arrogant things said in my time but this has to enter the list somewhere near the top. I started shooting in film days when you took 36 frames, put the film in an envelope and posted it to the processing laboratories. One week later you receive the results of your labours. I don’t suspect I am alone in saying that when I went through them I often cursed and said gosh if only I had realised, I wouldn’t have done things quite like that. Oh how different it would have been if I could have seen the image and the image data immediately made some correction and reshot the image.
 
To me the whole idea of telling people not to use the wonderful technology that is now built into their cameras is mind-boggling. Don’t get me wrong I don’t feel we should be checking the viewfinder after every shot .......ead more in the article linked below

 
This is a very difficult and some would say controversial topic which I believe is unfortunately often treated far too lightly. Photo retouching has been around since the dawn of photography and image retouching has for much longer. It does need to be treated seriously however it needn’t become the tool we all rush for all the time.
 
What then is and what is not acceptable? What’s my line as a wildlife photographer and has that changed as my approach to my art and the tools have changed? Does it reflect badly on my skills as a wildlife photographer if I use Photoshop? Does using image editing tools make me less proud of my art?
 
In this article I discuss all of these and also where I personally draw the line. I am not someone who thinks Photoshop isn't a useful tool for the wildlife photographer but rather one who feels it has its place and used carefully can make a valuable contribution to help me produce art that I am proud of. There are however things I most certainly will not do.

 
I have been asked many times how I go about sorting my photos. This is not a new question and as some of you will know prompted me to put together one of my camera club talks, “My Digital Workflow”. In this talk I go through the processes I adopt both in the field and at home for a) preserving my photos and b) sorting and cataloguing them. This is very much a technical approach and revolves, in my case, around the use of a superb package from Adobe called LightRoom™.
 
When recently asked this question whilst running a safari in Tanzania I launched into just such an explanation of the software tools I use but as I did so it occurred to me that there is another side to this namely how do we select our best photos and how do we continually hone our craft to ensure that we improve. How do we step aside from the investment we have in a photo simply through the emotion of the shoot, the difficulty we had in making it or even the money we spent to get there. How do we decide if we have truly created art and that the image is worth keeping ?
 

 
There is one question I receive more than any other either from people at camera club talks or booking on one of my workshops or tours. “How long a lens do I need for wildlife photography ?”
 
I have thought about this often either as I write a response to a fellow photographer or as I ponder which lens I should take with me on a trip. We all too often read statements such as “you can never have enough focal length for photographing wildlife”. The more I think about it however the more I wonder if these statements are written by those with an interest in selling lenses. I guess we have all told ourselves if only I had that better lens or better camera then I would produce better pictures.
 
I was out with a friend of mine a few weeks ago both of us trying to photograph robins in the snow. I had my 600mm lens on its sturdy tripod with full gimbal head. He had a much more nimble 70-200mm. Who go the best shots ? Well it certainly wasn’t me.
 

 
 
I am often asked for my top ten tips as a wildlife photographer and always mumble my way through a reply but recently when sitting on a bench with a workshop participant his question set me thinking harder.
 
Those of you who have heard my camera club talk entitled “The Art of Wildlife Photography”, more details here, will know that I often quote some sage advice I was given 40 years ago by the late H.G. Hurrell. As a highly competent photographer and pioneering early natural history film maker he counselled me that if I wanted to be successful as a wildlife photographer I had to first be a naturalist. A naturalist, who has his eyes and mind open, is prepared to observe everything and above all ask questions. Only when I started to understand the natural world could I possibly photograph it. First hand observations were central to H.G’s approach and one that has served me well ever since.
 
He also told me to always remember the 5P’s of Passion, Patience, Practice, Preparation and Purpose. I quote it at the start of my “Art of Wildlife Photography” talk, as it is as valid today as when it was given to me all those years ago.
 
 
This article first appeared in my Autumn 2013 newsletter where it received such positive comment that I felt it worth including in this section of my website.
 
It was written following a very interesting and thought provoking question I was asked at a camera club where I gave a talk. “What do you do” the questioner asked “to ensure that your camera is always ready for action”.
 
I gave him a few carefully considered answers at the time but it’s something that I thought a great deal more about after the talk. There are plenty of comments from photographers on their blogs on various websites which I am sure will add to the debate but these are my top 10 tips.
 
I would welcome your own thoughts and comments which I will add to this page. Please email them to bob@naturesphotos.co.uk