Monday, 1 September 2014

BWPA 2014

Tawny Owl over Bluebells - BWPA Commended 2014

Today the British Wildlife Photography Awards winners for 2014 are being announced, and I am very pleased to say that I had the above image commended in the Animal Portrait category, and so it will appear in the coffee table book being produced. The book holds about 200 photographs including all the commended images, highly commended images which also form the gallery which tour the country, and of course the winning images of each category.

This is the sixth photo to make it in the past four years I have entered, and so I am extremely pleased. Maybe it is coincidental, but it appears to me that less and less captive photographs are getting through in recent years making this even more of a surprise, and is why I continue to enter only photographs that are different or very difficult to have taken in the wild.

The award presentation is later this week at the Mall Galleries in London, and then the exhibition of the Highly Commended images will be on display there until this Saturday the 6th of September. If you are in the area, check it out, if it is anything like the last few years it will be an amazing display of stunning photographs from around the UK taken by professional and amateur photographers, really showing off our wonderful wildlife to its beautiful best.

I will keep trying, and hopefully one year again I will be a part of the exhibition as I was a couple of years a go with my otter portrait.

Thanks for looking.


Friday, 29 August 2014

BWC in the Snow

Red Squirrel

Here are a few of my favourite snow photos I have. A few years a go now we had nearly 2 foot of snow around the Centre, it was the most I can remember seeing, and in many places on the reserve it drifted up to 4 foot. I remember taking Bess round the reserve one evening thinking it wouldn't take much longer... but a quick twenty minute circuit turned in to an hour of trenching through the snow. I managed to get a couple of nice photos of her though, which you may have seen in the post I did on Bess a couple of weeks a go.

Above is one of my favourite red squirrel photos.


Snowy Owl in Snow

The snow always brings a conflict of thoughts for me. I do enjoy it while it is pure and white, and love how vibrant it makes the works appear. I like colour, and the natural white background makes the colour really stand out. For photography, this is great, and I missed not having any snow earlier this year to experiment with. Near the top of my list when the snows fall is to get Hedwig out and take him to the reserve for a photo shoot, although that being said, one of my faves of him... above... was taken in the Dell.


Wildcat in Snow

From a work point of view the snow is nothing but a pain. Everything takes longer. Locks need un freezing before going in to a pen, then un freezing again when you need to go bak in later. Water bowls need ice removing before refilling not to mention taps defrosting before being able to use them, bedding replaced more often to make sure all are warm and cosy. Even just walking through the snow to get to everywhere takes its time and repairing any damaged enclosures. If the snow is particularly bad and the keeper scan't get in, then I am on my own to do all the work...

Don't get me wrong, that isn't a complaint, I enjoy it... and the keepers are so good at trying to get here all weathers, it has been a rare occurrence that I have been on my own, but it is all things we need to account for.


Peeking Wildcat

For me, the wildcats are one of the best animals to see in the snow, and it is really where they belong. They look amazing in it, and this is one of my favourite photos of them in the snow. Lex, peering around a trunk where the snow has drifted up it by about 3 feet.


Stoat

Not as many British mammals hibernate as people think... only the hedgehog, dormice and bats. Others like badgers, squirrels and this stoat are still active but do cut down there activity a lot and hunker down to keep warm.


Otter in Snow

The otters love the snow, almost as much as the foxes, and often run around in it. They are very playful animals and love the colder weather, really enjoying playing in the ice too.


Red Deer

A lot of people don't go out with their cameras in the bad weather like rain or when it is actually snowing, but this can lead to some great pics that not many people get as they are indoors or concerned about their cameras getting wet.

Cameras these days are pretty good at being weather resistant, and you can always through a plastic bag over your camera to protect it.


Tawny Flying in Snow

I have only once been around when it was snowing at the Centre, but I tried to make the most of it with a few owls, foxes and deer.


Tawny Flying through Snow

Florence flying in the snow, they seem to get less wet in snow than in rain and so we can get away with flying them.


Flo the Fox

Flo, always photogenic.


Fox

Enjoying playing in the snow and catching snow drops... I think of all our animals the foxes enjoy it the most.


Fox

And I quite like this one, it looks more wild with her battling agains the wind and snow to move.


Short- eared Owl

The last lot of snow we had fell just before an Andy Rouse owl workshop, so I went out the day before to scout out some new positions that would work well with the snow.  While out there I took some nice close portraits of some of our owls.


Little Owl

The little owl really fluffed himself up to keep warm.


Snowy Owl

This one of the snowy was taken on the Andy Rouse workshop day.


Fox in Snow

Fox in snow is one of my more popular pictures, and was lucky enough to win a place in the Country file calendar a few years a go... This is when I first learn't how bitchy photography can be, reading comments on forums about this and others photos. Good came from it though, as it gave me the relaxed attitude that I now have towards photography and taking pictures and means I enjoy it far more.


Otter

Simple otter portrait that was one of our many Christmas cards over the years, and below Lilly running over the ice.


Cool Runnings

Thanks for looking.

Monday, 25 August 2014

My Photographic Advantages

Squirrel Man - taken by Steve Bottom

This is an extended version of a blog post I wrote for "Foto-Buzz", a new online forum/magazine for keen photographers run by pro togs and most famously Andy Rouse...


Let me start by saying I am a "Keeper" first and foremost... I have an undying passion for British wildlife which has grown and developed since I was young, and I have been lucky enough to immerse myself in a life and career working closely with British animals. As the Head Keeper at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, I manage the animals and keeping staff in our daily duties. Everything we do is aimed towards the conservation and education of our, often overlooked, wonderful wildlife!

I am a photographer second... Don't get me wrong, I enjoy it very much, I have taken to it far more than I ever thought I would, but it is still only a hobby for me and another way to spend time with the animals I work with and care for. Where as before I used to spend any spare time just sat watching th animals of an evening, now I do it with a camera in tow. If I get a nice photo, then it is a bonus, and quite often I never pick up the camera and just sit there watching, enjoying and learning.

A lot of people who see my photographs say "Well of course, you are always there... you have all the time to take photographs." But this is far from the truth... Yes, I am always here... practically 24/7... But I am always working! I have little free time to actually spend with the animals, and therefore take photos of them. Far less in fact compared to many of our members who visit us on an almost weekly basis to take pictures. But I am not naive to the fact that I do have advantages. Big advantages in fact, but then I feel I have earned these with my loyalty and dedication to the Centre and our animals.


Scottish Wildcat

Evening light - When I do get spare time, it is usually in the morning or evening after the "working day" has finished. This often leads to the best light wight he sun lower in the sky, and often gives the lovely warm light most of us prefer. Of course this is after everyone has gone home, so I have the Centre to myself to enjoy.

Roe Doe

Entering enclosures - I have the luxury of being able to enter any of the enclosures at any time, removing the obstacles of fences and barriers. And although we allow photographers to enter the enclosures on our photographic days, there are still some animals we can not allow you in with for various reasons.


Dance of the Adders

Right place right time - Animals have some amazing behaviours and rituals, some very rarely seen in the wild and rare in captivity too. But, if our animals display any of these traits I am more likely to be around than most to see it.


Wildcat Kitten

Rarely seen - I am privileged to have seen many rare sights and animals, such as extremely young cubs, kits and kittens... long before they are more visibly on display.


Fox in Snow

Seasons - As I am always there, I am also always there in the different seasons. Perhaps the most enjoyable from a photographic point of view is the snow! No matter how difficult it is to get to the Centre in the snow, I can just step outside the door and I am there. I curse the snow from a work point of view... everything takes longer, and if no other keeper can get in then I have to do all the work. But, I can do it with a camera on the trolley next to the day old chicks, chopped up rabbits and raw fish and stop at every enclosure to take some snaps!


Evening Barn Owl

Pro togs - One of the biggest advantages is having the professional photographers visit us to run their workshops. Helping them by keeping the animals interested for their clients puts me in the best position to eavesdrop in to what they are teaching. This has helped me immensely in improving my photography in more ways than one, but perhaps the most in terms of trying different things and pushing my limits to develop, grow and create my own style.


BUT -  the biggest advantage, and something only I have and ever could, is the bond I have with these animals...


Me and Ethel - taken by Izzy Coomber

I work closely with these animals everyday, and so have built up a mutual trust and respect which does't happen overnight.


And a Nice Chianti...

This allows me to get closer to these animals than anyone else could.


Vole's Eye View

And with the trust we have in each other, allows me to try things that no one else could.


The Grinning Fox

And allows the animals to act far more comfortably and naturally, showing off their true personality, when no one else is around!

My bond with the animals is THE advantage I have, and what I use to try and take some special British animal photographs as souvenirs of the animals I care for.


Thanks for looking.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Albus' Antler Growth, 2014


Master Stag, Albus Dumbledeer; 22.08.2014

A few years a go, with a little point and shoot camera, I took a photo a week of one of our old stags Eric during his antler growth period. The results were amazing, and really showed how the antlers do make a noticeable difference in size week on week.

This year I decided to repeat this with our new master stag, Albus, shown above in all his new glory! It was very difficult to get a photograph I was pleased with every week due to time, but I did manage to get a photo every week and have put them all up below. I am thinking I will repeat this next year with him, and try and schedule aside enough time every week to really try and get some nice pictures of the process.

Anyway, here they are...


Albus at the end of 2013



First antler cast; 11.04.14



Second antler cast the following day



Week One



Week Two



Week Three



Week Four



Week Five



Week Six



Week Seven



Week Eight



Week Nine



Week Ten



Week Eleven



Week Twelve



Week Thirteen



Week Fourteen



Week Fifteen



Week Sixteen



Week Seventeen; Fully grown



Week Eighteen; In Tatters



Albus today, 22.08.2014; Looking Handsome

 Thanks for looking.