Monday, 25 August 2014

My Photographic Advantages

Squirrel Man

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

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.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014


Adder Neonate

Just a quick update... Unfortunately I have had very little time lately to get out there with the camera, apart from the odd one or two snaps for work. It has been very hectic at the BWC, which is great of course, plus I have been and am working on a few little projects for work and my photos. I will bring news of them when they are complete.

I have had quite a few people ask about snow photos, so I will do a post with a few of those in a week or so. 

I also wrote a blog post for "Foto-Buzz" the other night, and will do a straight copy of that to here with a few extra pics in a few days time.

Finally, I have one more photo to take of Albus for this years antler growth series. He is in tatters at the moment, so should be completely clean come Friday when the next photo is scheduled. I will most likely put all the series up here, with just a few choice ones on the main blog to show the growth  of the antlers.

Very small baby Adder

Anyway... Three of the last few pics I took are here. The top one and one above show one of our baby adders... Look how tiny they are! Neither are that great, but both show how small they are with one curled up on a bramble leaf to bask in the sun, and the other at the base of a fairly small log on the sand.

Water Shrew, Neomys fodiens

And a water shrew portrait I got the other day for a blog post that never came to. The shrews are exceptionally difficult to photograph where they are... It is dark, they are constantly moving, it is through glass in a tiny vivarium. This was the best I could manage.

Not to get too technical, but this was taken at ISO 3200 on my D300s. Yes it is a little noisy in the background, but any lower and the image would have been blurry. A lot of people are wary of pushing the ISO up, but I would rather have an image with a bit of noise than no image at all.

Thanks for looking.

Friday, 8 August 2014


Adder, Vipera berus

With the excitement of baby adders at the Centre, I thought I would share a few adders photos, old and new.  Most of you will know I have a soft spot for adders... they have a very bad reputation. They are fairly docile animals, and tend only to bite if agitated or disturbed. But then I think most wild animals would do this.

Above is one of my favourite newer portraits of a male adder.

Male Adder

And this one you may have seen before, one taken of a male while they were dancing. Well, the other two were, this one was more interested in me and ended up crawling over the camera to see what I was doing.

Female Adder

This shows of the coloration of the females quite well. Males tend to have more contrast in their bodies... a paler sandy/silvery base with a very black zig-zag markings. The females show less of a contrast, with a brown/copper base and a dark brown zig-zag.

Adder Neonate

A baby adder! Not from this year, this was from the last litter we bred here about three years a go. The females tend to breed ever four or five years, but it can vary. We a very slow intake of food it takes a while for the females to get back in to good breeding condition.

Adder Feeding

One of our adders feeding on an adult mouse.

Dancing Adders

One of my favourite portraits of our adders. This is actually of two males dancing, but difficult to see that. This was taken a few years a go now.

Fish-eye Adder

And last for this post, one that didn't quite work out... I was trying something with my fish eye lens, and got close to why I wanted, but still needs more work. I will try again next year as it needs to be done when more inquisitive, i.e when dancing and less wary of other things going on.

Thanks for looking.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Owl Awareness Day (Yesterday)

Fly Over

Apparently it was International Owl Awareness Day yesterday... That one slipped me by! Never mind, here are a couple of owl photos in any case.

Big Pete flying above. 

Tawny Owl

Florence in the evening light, this photo is being used for a section in my talk next week.

Evening Barn Owl

I believe this is one of our old owls, Tutoke, taken a few years a go now. I liked the tree in the background.

Nessun Dorma

 Florence singing the opera :-)

Close Up of Archimedes

Close up of Archimedes.

Short-eared Owl in the Snow

Fawkes in the snow.

Long-eared Owl Peeking

And finally, Archimedes peeking around the edge of a tree.

Thanks for looking.