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.


  1. Fantastic article Matt, very well written and you certainly earned my appreciation for all you do at the BWC.
    Thanks mate...