Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds

My March online photography talk, Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds, went ahead on the 24th, and you can now watch a recording of the entire talk here.

To watch the talk just click on the screen below:

Preparing to succeed

In talking about Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds I first set out the fact that most of what goes into successfully capturing wildlife images has little to do with the equipment you use. Much of the success lies in the preparation, which includes such some of the following points:

  • Understand the behaviour of the animals you intend to photograph;
  • Know what are the best locations/habitats, times of day and times of year in which to find your subjects;
  • Learn how to stalk carefully, or how to use a hide;
  • Decide whether to work wholly with wild wildlife or accept the inclusion of captive animals;
  • When photographing wild wildlife, research locations where your subject wildlife has become used to the human presence, and so is more approachable than might usually be the case;
  • Have huge amounts of patience and persistence, coupled with an ability to act quickly but calmly and smoothly when things suddenly start to happen;
  • Have a willingness to get out of bed very early and/or stay out quite late, since most wildlife activity usually happens around dawn/sunrise and dusk/sunset.
Puffin in flight. Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds.

Deciding what to photograph

Why take wildlife photos? There are of course many reasons, including such ideas as:

  • Simply ticking species lists;
  • Capturing artistically and/or technically perfect images that individually showcase the beauty of the wildlife around us;
  • Putting together a set of images that collectively tell a story about some wildlife or perhaps a conservation programme.

Whatever the photographic motivation, I would always urge photographers not to blindly follow wildlife fads and fashions (of which there are many). You should always think laterally and shoot a wide range of species, not just the cute, cuddly and famous, but also the ignored, forgotten and ugly. They all deserve and often need to be photographed (for the conservation publicity), and not just because a magazine or TV documentary has popularised it.

Cheetahs on the lookout for breakfast. Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds.

Psychology and choice

In subconsciously empathising with wildlife, we are programmed to be more attracted to those animals that in some way look at least a little like us: in other words the higher mammals with flattish faces and forward-facing eyes (abbreviated to 4FE).

These encompass most especially the big cats and apes, but also monkeys, horses and dogs, plus a few others. Think meerkats, orangutans and lions as examples. On top of this, babies of almost any species trump just about everything – cute, cuddly and vulnerable, pleading eyes crying out for protection and care will sway human emotions every time.

Of course, birds rarely if ever fit the 4FE idea, but the cute baby consideration still applies, and the adults of a few species do just happen to have cute, appealing faces – think puffins for example.

So these subconscious considerations can have a major impact on what we choose to photograph. While it is inevitable that you will be drawn to photograph these much of the time, I would always advocate that lateral thinking mentioned above. With this, you can ensure you also include those animals that don’t fit those empathetic or cute criteria, but which nevertheless deserve to be photographed.

Grey Seal pup. Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds.

The equipment and how to use it

Once you’ve done all your preparation, you finally get to use the camera equipment. Camera equipment designed for wildlife photography can be hugely expensive, so don’t be too mesmerised by the glossy adverts for all the kit you ‘need’. Instead, follow these the important points:

  • The camera must be able to work well in poor light conditions typical at dusk and dawn. This essentially means being able to produce good images even when shooting with a high ISO (over 400);
  • Focussing (a combination of the lens and camera working together) needs to be fast, crisp and accurate, and be able to continue working well in low light conditions, when contrast between your subject and the background might well be quite low;
  • A telephoto lens will inevitably be needed, but not necessarily a massively powerful one. The bigger lenses can be very awkward to handle in the field, and it can be annoyingly difficult to find your subject in the camera’s viewfinder, let alone getting it to focus. A smaller lens may restrict certain types of photography, but it can make much of your life easier without cramping your photography overall;
  • Whatever type of lens you have, it must have good optics. Without this, even well-focussed images can come out not as sharp as you would like. This may not be as important if you’re photographing purely for your own enjoyment, but it is critical if you’re intending to get your work published;
  • Although a lot of wildlife photography is carried out with the camera hand-held, you still need to have a good, sturdy tripod, especially for when working in a hide;
  • A flashgun may not get used all that often, but it’s useful to have one to hand, for those occasions when you’re shooting in really poor light and your subject is within the firing range of the flash.
Flamingoes at Lak Nakuru National Park, Kenya. Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds.

The shoot itself

So, finally you get to take some photos, something that can be both exciting and frustrating. The latter results from the many photos you’ll inevitably get of disappearing backsides, tree branches where a fraction of a second before a bird had been sitting, or pictures that seem to be well composed but which are blurred due to a failure of focus. But the excitement and buzz that comes when everything works makes it all worthwhile!

Little tips to bear in mind include:

  • Do not disturb or frighten your subjects. Not only is the stress bad for the animals, but it will result in failure for your photography;
  • When photographing a portrait, try to shoot while the animal is looking at you, giving the sense of interaction;
  • Always focus on an animal’s eyes: we are programmed to look at these, so if they are even slightly blurred the image will not work;
  • Make sure the animal’s eyes are open in the final picture(s). Closed eyes (even if just in a blink) usually ruin a shot, so don’t be shy to take a series of shots in quick succession if necessary;
  • Ensure that your backgrounds are blurred so the animal will stand out clearly from that background – especially important when an animal is a similar colour to the background. This is usually easily achieved when shooting with a telephoto lens;
  • If photographing two or more animals interacting, carefully judge the moment(s) to shoot in order to make the most of the inter-animal interaction. Don’t be afraid to take a series of shots in quick succession;
  • When photographing movement/action make sure your lens is set to track the animal(s), continually adjusting focus. This is one area where lens quality is critical. You’ll often need to shoot with bursts of rapid continuous shooting.

Yet another list, but hopefully these pointers will set you on the road towards successful wildlife photography!

A wildlife photography course

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog, and watching the recording of my talk, Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds. To learn more about how to actually do wildlife photography in a real life situation, you could join one of my wildlife photography courses. The next one is scheduled for 24th April 2021, and will take place on Exmoor, southwest England. Click on the link to find out more and to sign up.

Philippine Tarsier.

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Low light photography

A talk about photography techniques between sunset and sunrise

My February online photography talk covered techniques needed for low light photography. These mainly focussed on the photographic skills needed between sunset and sunrise: in other words the time when the sun is on or below the horizon.

Watch the talk here

To watch the talk click on the link below. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

The low light photography talk’s takeaway tips: 1

The principle points while there is still light are:

  • Low light photography usually encompasses the period from sunset to sunrise; in other words when the sun is close to or below the horizon. It can, however, also include photography on dark stormy days;
  • Dawn and sunrise are not the same event, but are two separate events; similarly for sunset and dusk. While dawn and sunrise/sunset and dusk may be separated by only 15 minutes in the tropics, in temperate zones (such as the UK) they are usually separated by at least 30 minutes, and often as much as an hour;
  • When shooting in the evening, don’t put the camera away the moment the sun has set; the best is yet to come with the lovely sky colours often seen in the following dusk. Similarly at dawn – you’ll need to be ‘on location’ nearly an hour before sunrise, in order to be sure of catching the best light;
  • Predicting when there will be a good dawn/sunrise or sunset/dusk is really quite tricky, but can depend on how much dust or water vapour is in the air, as well as how much cloud, of course. Be prepared for disappointments on many occasions;
  • Atmospheric ground mist is mainly a feature of dawn, though it does occasionally appear at dusk. Predicting when there will be a photogenic dawn ground mist is difficult, but chances are good if the ground is very wet, the air above it is much colder than the ground, and the air is completely still;
  • The colours of the ambient light change radically from being warm reddish/orange in the final thirty minutes before sunset, to rather flat and increasingly blue or violet as you progress through the dusk from post-sunset to full darkness;
  • If photographing urban skylines at dusk, try to balance the levels of ambient light (and their degree of blueness) against the intensity and warmth of the yellow manmade lights of the town;
  • Always shoot such an urban skyline while there is still light in the sky – don’t continue once it is completely dark.
Shanghai skyline at dusk: low light photography.

The low light photography talk’s takeaway tips: 2

Once darkness has fallen, consider these points:

  • Once complete darkness has fallen think about photographing streetlife details, such as festivals and/or moving traffic;
  • In rural areas, away from light pollution, move to photograph night skies. To photograph a full (or near-full) moon shoot before it is completely dark and while the moon is low in the sky. Doing this reduces the contrast between the bright moon and the dark sky, making it easier to grab a shot that captures all the moon’s details;
  • To photograph the stars you have a choice of two techniques: a) short exposures that capture the stars as pinpricks of light, and b) long exposures that capture long star trails drawn by the stars as the rotate around the Pole Star;
  • For the former, use a high ISO (say, about 4000), a lens aperture that is wide open, and an exposure of up to about 15 seconds;
  • For the latter, use a low ISO (100), a wide open lens aperture, and an exposure of 20 mins to one hour;
  • For both methods shoot when there is little or no moon;
  • For both methods always have your camera’s high ISO and long exposure noise reduction functions switched on. These will greatly improve image quality, though they will also increase exposure times;
  • It may also be possible to improve image quality by shooting multiple images of the same sky and then merging them together in a star-tracking software, such as Deep Sky Stacker;
  • If shooting the Northern Lights, again use a wide open lens aperture, exposure times of up to 15 seconds, and an ISO of about 800 to 2000, depending on the brightness of the lights. Very often post-photography processing in the computer reveals much more detail and colour than is visible to the eye.
Moonrise; low light photography.

A final word

As a final word about low light photography, bear in mind that although there is a lot to remember by way of techniques and tricks, this time of day frequently yields the most creative and most beautiful images of all. Tak the time to learn and practise these skills. And have fund doing it!

The next photography talk

My next online photography talk will be on 24th March, and will cover Wild Photography: the Mammals and Birds. So a talk about photography of some of the larger animals with which we share this planet.

As usual, the talk is free (though there is the option to give a small donation towards costs). You just need to sign up to receive the talk’s link. Just follow the link below – the donation button will be on that page too.

I’ll look forward to seeing you online on 24th March!

Dawn over the Somerset Levels: low light photography.

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February 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography news

Spring is almost here (honest!)

February 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography news. Grey seal on Teignmouth beach.
A Grey Seal on the beach at Teignmouth, Devon, Great Britain.

Spring photography is almost possible

Welcome to the February 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography news, the first time our monthly newsletter has been posted on the blog. We hope you’ll enjoy it!

It may not feel like it right now, but spring is kicking off all around us, from longer days, to more birdsong, to the first daffodils and snowdrops.

So, if you’ve forgotten where you put your camera during winter lockdown, it’s time to hunt around, dig it out and get ready for a few photo shoots. Even if Covid restrictions continue, you should be able to get out and about in your local area, with reasonable seclusion, to photograph many of the burgeoning signs of spring.

The above Grey Seal photo, while hardly a harbinger of spring, is nevertheless an indicator of just what luck you can have with subject matter close to home. This lone male was photographed last week, inside the harbour at Teignmouth, just a couple of miles from my home.

While you’re thinking about what you might be photographing this spring, you can find the following items in this month’s newsletter:

January’s talk can now be watched online

February’s talk: Low Light Photography

Writing reviews of Nigel Hicks Photography: and getting a discount voucher

This year’s photography workshops

Would you like to have our regular newsletters sent straight to your inbox? To sign up for our mailing list click on the link below.

February 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography news. January's Focus talk.

Watch January’s Focus talk online any time

My January talk, Focus: the third critical component of successful photography, went ahead live on the 27th of the month. The talk revolved around the central idea that good focus is much more than just getting your subject sharp, although of course that is critical. It also involves important decisions about how much of the rest of the image should be sharp too, whether that be absolutely all of it, or just a thin slice, for example.

The implications of this, and the use of some techniques, were illustrated for wide-angle landscapes, telephoto portraiture, wildlife, interiors, and macro photography. The use of wide-angle or telephoto lens, narrow or wide-open lens aperture was described as an essential part of controlling depth of field. As a finale, the possible use of image stacking in Photoshop – that is. shooting a series of identical images that are focussed at slightly different points in the view, and then blending them together in the computer- was introduced.

A video of the whole talk can now be watched online. Click the link below to see it.

February’s talk: Low Light Photography

February 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography news. Clifton Suspension Bridge at dusk, Bristol.

February’s online talk is already looming on the horizon, scheduled to be held on:

Wed 24th Feb, at 8pm

Covering low light photography, in this talk I’ll introduce a range of techniques that can be applied in a variety of low light situations, including: Dark stormy days; Rural, urban and coastal landscapes at sunset; Photography at dusk; Photography at night: events, from carnivals to fireworks; Photography at night: the night sky. Not surprisingly, this talk will give only a general introduction to each of these, as any of them could easily be the subject of a whole talk by themselves (and perhaps will be in the future!), but this should give you pointers to a range of generally applicable techniques.

As always, this talk will be completely free to join. There is now a Donation button on the talks’ registration page, so if you feel like contributing to my costs that would be wonderful. But you should feel no compulsion.

To register for this talk, and the subsequent one (on 24th March, Wildlife Photography), click on the link below, and then fill in and submit the form.

I’ll look forward to seeing you online!

Writing reviews for my photography services

As previewed in my last newsletter, I now have an up-to-date system for reviews of my photography services up and running on the Nigel Hicks Photography website.

So if you’ve ever received any of my services, whether a photography course or tour, a talk (online or in person), or some commercial photography, then I’d be delighted if you would like to write a review.

These photography service reviews run separately from those for my books, prints and cards: for these you need to go to each product in the Products part of the website.

Discount coupon reward

As a big thankyou I’m giving a 10% discount voucher, for use anywhere on the Nigel Hicks Photography website, to anyone who writes a review: 20% if you write more than one. Each coupon will be valid until 30th June, and can be used just once.


To write a photography service review click on the link below.

A Goldfinch on a blackthorn tree in spring flower.

This year’s photography workshops

With optimism slowly growing about our future and the kind of year 2021 is likely to be, I feel increasingly hopeful about the possibility of being able to run at least most of my workshops this year.

This year’s programme is scheduled to kick off on 21st March with Low Light Photography, in Exmouth. Admittedly, there is still some doubt as to whether this course will be able to go ahead – inevitably a lot hinges on how much longer lockdown lasts, and what any post-lockdown tier restrictions are likely to be like. As you can imagine, I’m watching this closely, but I won’t make a firm decision until nearer the date. 

Regardless of whether or not this spring low light course has to be shelved, I’m considering introducing a low light course in November, if I can find the right date (viz a viz sunset, low tide and moon times). So, if you want to come on a low light photography course but are nervous about March, keep a look out for an autumn event.

Subsequent courses

The second course this spring is not until 17th April, South Devon Coastal Photography, at Bantham and Bigbury, not surprisingly on the coast of south Devon. I’m quite optimistic this will be able to go ahead, along with all courses that follow.

The line-up for all of this year’s photography workshops is:

21st March; Low Light Photography, Exmouth, Devon.

17th April; South Devon Coastal Photography, Bantham and Bigbury, Devon.

24th April; Wildlife Photography, Exmoor National Park, Somerset and Devon.

16th May; Architecture and Travel Photography, Bath, Bath and NE Somerset.

22nd May; Exmoor in Spring; Tarr Steps and Lynton, Somerset and Devon.

29th May; Dartmoor in Spring, Dartmoor National Park, Devon.

2nd Oct; Jurassic Coast Photography, Lyme Regis and Charmouth, Dorset.

16th Oct; Exmoor in Autumn, Exmoor National Park, Somerset and Devon.

23rd Oct; Wildlife Photography, Exmoor National Park, Somerset and Devon.

30th Oct, Dartmoor in Autumn, Dartmoor National Park, Devon.



I hope you’ll like some of these courses and will decide to give yourself something to look forward to by booking onto any of them.

Refunds and deferrments

Rest assured that, if you are booked onto a course that has to be postponed or cancelled, then as with last year, you will have a full range of options, namely:

  • To accept the new date (for a postponed course);
  • To transfer to another course of your choosing;
  • Simply to defer your booking to an as-yet undefined future event;
  • Have a full refund.

Hopefully, things won’t come to this, but I want to put your mind at rest, that you will not lose any money you’ve paid.

To get all the details of the workshops programme, click on the link below:

A photography course shooting the sunset

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Focus: the third critical component in successful photography

An online photography talk about the critical role of good focussing in great photography

Focus: the third critical component in successful photography was the subject of my first online photography talk of 2021. I have called it the third critical component because focus forms a holy trinity with composition and lighting. All three must come together for any photograph to have a chance of being successful, dare I say even great. If any one of these three elements is substandard in any photo then that image will be a failure.

Watch this talk here

This talk was recorded, and so you can watch it here now. Just click on the embedded link below. The talk is 40 minutes long, and I really hope you enjoy it.

What does this talk contain?

It may seem blindingly obvious, of course, to say that the main subject of a photo needs to be sharply in focus for that photo to be a success. However, correct focussing goes well beyond just this limited definition.

There are many other issues to consider, such as:

  • Does the entire image need to be sharp, not just the main subject, as is often the case with landscape photography?
  • Or would it be better, for example, to have the background blurred, enabling the sharply in-focus subject to ‘pop out’ of the picture, such as is common in portrait or wildlife photography?
  • Perhaps you need to have just one small part of the photo sharp (containing the main subject) and everything else blurred, ensuring that attention is directed just to this area of the frame;
  • What about blurred motion as the main subject? Does this need to be sharply in-focus even though it is blurred anyway as a result of movement?
Focus: the third critical component

Techniques and technologies

What all the above points cover is the subject of depth of field, and the need to control this in order to control just how much of any photo is sharp.

Depth of field is the amount of an image that is in focus from its nearest point (to the photographer) to its furthest point. This can be varied in a number of ways, primarily:

  • A wide-angle lens naturally has a bigger depth of field than a telephoto lens;
  • A narrow lens aperture (ie a high f-number, eg f/16) creates a bigger depth of field than a wide open aperture (ie a low f-number, eg f/5.6).

So, if you use a wide-angle lens shut down to a narrow aperture you will have a big depth of field, potentially ranging from shortly in front of the camera all the way to the horizon. This is commonly used in landscape photography, though also in other photographic genres.

On the other hand, if you use a telephoto lens with a wide-open aperture you will have a very small depth of field, perhaps a metre or less. This is a technique commonly used in portrait and wildlife photography to ensure the face really ‘pops out’ from its background and commands the viewer’s attention.

As the subject-to-camera distance decreases, perhaps once it is less than about 10 metres, then the depth of field starts to decrease for any lens and any lens aperture. Finally, when you get down to macro photography, such as of butterflies, the depth of field even at a very narrow lens aperture is quite tiny, usually no more than about 1 cm or thereabouts.

Focus: the third critical component

Further content

During the talk I show a range of images that illustrate the above points about depth of field. The final third of my talk covers some practical examples, in which I have deliberately taken sets of photos at different lens apertures and focussing distances, to illustrate how changing these, along with lens focal-lengths, can have a dramatic impact on the type of image that results.

The final section looks at the problems of macro photography and the tiny depth of field available here. In particular I introduce the technique of focus-stacking: taking a series shots focussed at different points, and then blending them together in the computer post-photography.

Overall, the talk gives a tour of the techniques and skills of good focussing, taking it well beyond the simple process of just getting the subject sharp. Instead, the aim should be to control the depth of field in an image through appropriate use of lens focal length and aperture to produce an image that works for the particular subject and its surroundings.

Focus: the third critical component

Find out more about my talks

I hope you enjoy watching this talk. If you’d like to find out more about my talks click on the links below, where you’ll be able to watch recordings of earlier talks, and sign up for some of my upcoming talks.

Each of my talks takes place on a Wednesday evening, once a month, and are free to attend.

I’ll look forward to seeing you online.

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Stunning Landscape Photography

Nigel’s fourth online photography talk was held on 9th December 2020

My December 2020 photography talk was held live on 9th December, entitled Stunning Landscape Photography. Using my own photography, this was an exploration and overview of the main types of landscape photography and some of the techniques used to capture some stunning landscape images.

Watch the recorded Stunning Landscape Photography talk here

You can watch the whole talk here. Simply click on the photo to start the video. Naturally, I hope you’ll like the talk, and of course feel free to subscribe to my channel.

About the talk

‘Genres’ of landscape photography

The talk started off with a brief repetition of a previous talk by saying that the best images come about as a result of simple compositions, ones with a single, strong subject that dominates the frame, unimpeded by confusing clutter or competition from other potential subjects.

It then moved on to an overview of the main categories of landscape photography, summarised as:

  • Wholly natural landscapes
  • Landscapes that contain people as secondary, supporting elements
  • Views that contain buildings or other manmade structures as secondary, supporting elements
  • Generic landscape images, views or details that could be just about anywhere and which convey wholly beauty and/or mood
  • Views of famous locations but which are more than just travel shots, containing strong mood and beauty elements.
Stunning landscape photography

Some technical stuff

I then went on to cover the one piece of kit that is essential to landscape photography but which many people overlook: neutral density graduated filters, usually abbreviated to just ND grads.

I introduced what they look like and what types are available, as well as showing how they fit onto a camera. Their use in landscape photography was then summarised using before-and-after photography.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I covered why it is important to use them. The first reason is to overcome the digital sensor’s inability to see as large a contrast range as the human eye can, changing disappointing images into views that look every bit as beautiful as the original scene did to the eye.

The second reason can be to enhance the drama of a sky, particularly on a stormy day, for example turning a moderately grey, cloud-strewn sky into an angry cauldron of roaring clouds!

Stunning landscape photography

A range of landscape environments

The second half of the talk covered stunning landscape photography in a range of environments, which included:

  • The sea and coastline
  • Woodlands and forests
  • Moorlands
  • Rivers and waterfalls

Photographs shot in these environments showed the creative power of photographing into the light, or at least side-on, and particularly with the use of an ND grad filter. Such views were commonly shot very early or very late in the day when the sun was low, though I also demonstrated the use of a high tropical sun.

When talking about photography of water, particularly moving water, I compared and contrasted the techniques and results of slow shutter speed to blur movement, versus a fast shutter speed to freeze it. When done well, the results give very different moods and tell very different stories.

When it came to photography in woodlands, I introduced the idea that it is so much easier to photograph in flat light, such as under cloudy skies or in fog, in order to have the woodland composition shown off to its best. In addition, I showed the importance of using clearings created by such items as streams to enable you to step back from the chaos of the trees and so create meaningful compositions.

Stunning landscape photography

Panoramics introduced

In the final few minutes of the talk I introduced panoramic photography, firstly as created simply by cropping a standared image into a narrow rectangle. My main approach, however, was the shooting of multiple images followed by stitching in Photoshop. This was illustrated with a number of images that were a mix of coastal, mountain and urban views.

Stunning landscape photography

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