Here it is, my first post on my 'the wilds' page blog! For those of you who are landing on my site for the first time, here's a bit of background about me...
First and foremost, I'm a wedding photographer and have been working professionally as such for the last 7 years. I love my job and find that it continues to excite and inspire me with every wedding I do. I guess this is because the way I approach weddings is to work as naturally as possible; I work almost entirely with natural light, capturing the real emotions and moments as they unfold, trying not to stage any photos throughout the day. I photograph what creatively gets me going and, thankfully, I've been lucky enough to be hired by loads of amazing clients who share in that creative idea. I feel very lucky that I'm able to not compromise this 'style' and still be able to maintain a really great business at the same time.
I've been interested in photography for many years and have had real passion for wildlife and the outdoors as long as I can remember. This passion has only grown as time has gone on and it was a natural progression for me to want to try and photograph what I was experiencing around me. I'm a completely self taught photographer and have endlessly researched as I've gone along, gradually improving my technical knowledge to try to create photos that better reflected what I was seeing in my head. Easier said than done! As I improved, I got asked by friends to photograph various events for them and that's how I ended up doing my first wedding in 2010. The rest is history!
I want to use this wildlife and landscape blog to share a bit more of the thought process and approach to my work - not always sharing just the marquee, stellar portfolio images but sometimes the ones that were part of getting to that final result. I'd also like to share technical data about some of the shots, which will hopefully explain a little more about the resulting image and why it works, or doesn't!
Right, on to kingfishers...
Here it is, my first ever kingfisher photo worth looking at. It's a mile away from what I wanted but it was a start. I'd had a couple of fleeting glimpses of a kingfisher when on family walks around our local village and after a few fairly regular sightings in one spot, I thought it could be a potential opportunity. As it wasn't a suitable spot to set up a more permanent hide, I actually took this shot from the car window which, I've found, the kingfishers are more than happy about! In this early stage I was just absolutely ecstatic that I had such a beauty in my sights at all, so happily snapped away whilst the moment lasted. The light was horrible (hence ISO 6400), and the background very distracting but the project was a goer!
I knew that the spot from my car was fine for watching the bird but no good for getting the photos I really wanted. The stream I'd been parked by is fed by a natural spring, which fills a large, privately owned, pond before flowing down into the stream itself. I spoke to the landowner of the pond and was gratefully allowed to set up a more permanent tent hide, on the pond's edge. I had several sessions in the hide, arriving about an hour before sunrise, to make sure I got into position early enough not to be seen and disturb the kingfisher. Every morning, about half an hour before sunrise, the male I'd been watching would fly past the hide, calling as he flew up to the top end of the pond, to begin his day's fishing. I'd catch regular glimpses of him as he flew from one favourite perch to another, calling as he went. This time, whilst yielding no decent images whatsoever, was essential, as it allowed me to get a better idea of the bird's routine. Essential when trying to photograph any wild species over a sustained period of time. So, everything sounds perfect, right? Well, not quite!
The pic of the pond above shows what I was up against - the entire thing is surrounded by natural perches; it's a pretty large pond and the pic only shows half of it! Whilst I could wait and hope the kingfisher would land close enough to my hide to get a decent shot, even with a 400mm lens and a 1.4 teleconverter, he would still be way too far away for anything but a shot displaying him in his habitat, like the one above.
It was time to try to engineer the situation a little more, to help me out...
This was the first decent image I took of our now infamous male kingfisher, on my own perch! As many a fisherman's tale will atone to, a kingfisher is likely to check out any new perches in it's territory, including a rod they've just set up on the bank - understandably, they want to exert as little precious energy as possible, so every new perch has to be checked out, as it might be a potential hot spot for feeding.
As this was taken before the rising sun reached the perch I'd set up, the light, whilst nice and warm, was at a very low level. Because of this I had to use ISO 3200 to get just a 1/40 second shutter speed. As kingfishers tend to sit pretty still on their perches (apart from an occasional bob of the head to judge diving distances), and my camera and lens were on a tripod, I knew I could get away with a very slow shutter speed and still get relatively clean results from ISO 3200. Any real movement though and everything would've been out of focus.
The three images above show some of shots I managed to get from my next day in the hide. I set up a new perch, with a cleaner background, and removed some of those distracting grasses that were slicing through the frame of my previous day's shots. Not only did the kingfisher use the new perch but actually successfully fished from it LOADS!
You'll notice I used ISO 1600 for all of the above shots, as I wanted to keep the files as clean as possible, as the light levels were very low again. The light wasn't in my favour but these were definitely my best kingfisher shots to date and I was a happy man! Until...
...the sightings completely dried up! I went back to the hide for several days in a row and saw nothing, not a glimpse. After such a great couple of sessions, it was a real shame to pack up the hide but I knew it was time to move on to something else and hope for more activity in the spring, as birds begin to pair up to breed. The disappearance could've been down to any number of factors - kingfishers are a notoriously delicate species and anything from predation, another male entering the territory, to the bird simply moving on to pastures new, could've been a possibility. Kingfishers are known to move closer to the coast in colder weather, so I hoped that was case and he'd be back later in the year. Fingers crossed.
Whilst the hide was bagged up again for the time being, I still wanted to work with kingfishers, as they're such an amazing bird and I didn't feel like I got any of the images I was constantly planning out in my head. So, after a bit of research, I booked a session at a local hide near Leeds, run by Mark Hughes - http://markhughesimages.net. Let's just say I wasn't disappointed!
Even on a very cold and mostly grey day, before the higher activity of the breeding season, his resident male visited the hide at least 5 or 6 times. The first visit was just 10 minutes after Mark left me in the hide and the kingfisher fished a few times and then seemingly just chilled for nearly 45 minutes! It was very clear to see that Mark's birds aren't in any way bothered by regular photographers visiting their local patch. A really great thing to see. Mark's set up is fantastic but I'm not going to share specific details of it here, you need to book a session to see for yourselves.
Most kingfisher photography can be split into perching shots and diving/action shots. The perching shot in my mind's eye was to see the bird's incredible iridescent blue stripe down it's back, as it looked almost over it's shoulder to the fish below - the final shot of the three above, just about nails that, so I was really happy (check out the close up below, that really shows those amazing colours. Pretty remarkable). The middle shot was one that stood out to me, purely for the fish's expression! You'll notice nearly all of the shots were taken on my new 5D4, rather than the 1D, which would be a more obvious choice for wildlife photography. This was intentional for the perching shots, as I was in better light and wanted to be able to use the flexibility of a full 30MP file, in case I wanted to creatively crop etc.
The next three images show some of the juggling a kingfisher does with a fish, once it's been caught. Once they've got a decent grasp of it, they usually whack the fish against their perch to stun it, before swallowing it whole. If the kingfisher is eating the fish for itself, it will eat it head first - this is particularly important for species like sticklebacks, as the spines could get lodged in their throats, if swallowed tail first. You'll notice in the pic above, the fish is pointing tail down first - this is because this little fella had eaten his fill and was going to present that particular fish to his mate, who was waiting down river. Mark told me that it would be another couple of weeks before the male and female would both visit his hide together, which I would love to witness, later in the year.
The last three images show my first attempts at some diving photos. Before I go any further, it's worth saying that a kingfisher dive is over in a literal flash - it's so quick! To photograph this with any success takes a lot of pre-planning and Mark's set up is amazing for getting great results. However, it's still a matter of being as prepared as possible...and then getting lucky!
One of the main reasons I'll be back to Mark's hide again is that these diving pictures, whilst ok, really aren't what I'm seeing in my head. To capture these shots, the camera is positioned outside the hide and triggered remotely, whilst the photographer is sat hidden in the hide. Unfortunately I had to use my 5D for these, as I didn't have a wireless remote shutter release for my 1D and it doesn't have WiFi built in. 7fps vs 12 fps is a HUGE difference when doing this kind of thing, so I can't wait to go back when I have the proper kit. Also, the light was pretty horrible, as you can see, so it was a struggle to balance everything and still get a quick enough shutter speed to freeze any of the action. Ideally, 1/4000sec and quicker is required and I didn't quite want to risk the extremely high ISOs to attain that speed, in those really bad lighting conditions. Hopefully next time. Despite all that, it's just amazing to look back at the pics and be able to see such an incredible bird doing what it does best!
I hope you've enjoyed reading about my first forays into photographing kingfishers. They're a truly iconic bird and the reaction to some of these photos on my social media has been testament to how much people love them. Being allowed a little closer into their world, is what really excites me as a wildlife photographer and I can't wait to spend some time with them again, both at Mark's hide near Leeds and, hopefully, back on my local patch in Brompton, North Yorkshire.