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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March 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography News

Looking forward to a post-Covid world

March 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography News. Windsurfing at Bigbury-on-Sea, Devon.
Windsurfing at Bigbury-on-Sea, Devon, Great Britain.

Moving towards a better spring

Welcome to the March 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography news!

With an official roadmap now pointing a way out of Covid lockdown, coupled with the growing success of the vaccination programme, I’m ever more hopeful that my plans for most of what I intend to do this year will be possible.

Coupled with a lot of work online aimed at keeping things going despite lockdown, it has been quite a busy time here, ranging from my ongoing online talks to the development of a new online shop.

So I hope you’ll enjoy reading this newsletter. Below is a list of what you’ll find here this month. Click on any of them to go to the relevant section.

A new Farne Islands photo gallery

February’s talk: Low Light Photography, the recording

Upcoming March online talk: Wildlife Photography, Mammals and Birds

This spring’s photography courses

A tour to Iceland this autumn

Farne Islands: a new wildlife photo gallery

March 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography News. Puffins greeting, Farne Islands.

Back in the dim and distant past, namely the summer of 2019, I was able to undertake a great photo shoot in the Farne Islands, off Northumberland’s coast.

The visit coincided with the height of the breeding season, so the islands were a raucous scene of thousands of seabirds, ranging from kittiwakes to puffins to guillemots and razobills.

I finally processed the stills images from that trip during this lockdown, and there is now a gallery of sample images on the website. I’m hoping you might enjoy seeing this latest batch of wildlife photography. Just click on the link below to see the images.

The bulk of the photos are now making their way into a number of photo libraries. I’m also hoping to be able to use some of the images in a new book project in the next year or two.

Watch February’s talk online: Low Light Photography

March 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography news. Low Light Photography talk.

My February online talk about Low Light Photography, went ahead on the 24th, with an audience of over 40 people, and seemed to go down very well.

Not surprisingly, the talk covered photographic techniques primarily for shooting between sunset and sunrise: in other words, when the sun is very close to or below the horizon.

Subject matter ranged from landscape photography at dawn, sunrise, sunset and dusk, as well as photography of urban skylines at dusk, combining the ambient blue dusk light with the manmade warmer lighting.

Also covered was night sky photography, which included photography of the moon, the stars as either pinpricks of light or long-exposure trails, and the Northern Lights.

The talk can now be watched online on You Tube, on my website or on my blog. Click on any of the links below.

Wildlife Photography: Mammals and Birds

March’s online photography talk
March 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography news. Cheetahs in the Maasai Mara, Kenya.

This month’s online photography talk is already rushing up towards us, scheduled for:


Wed 24th March, 8pm


As you can see, I’ll be talking about wildlife photography, specifically as it relates to photography of mammals and birds; in other words the (mostly) relatively large stuff!

As usual, the talk is free to attend. You just need to register to be sent the link. Registration is open for this talk, as well as the subsequent three talks.

To get more details and to sign up, click on the link below, and then fill in and submit the short form.

You will see on the registration page that there is now a Donation button, so if you feel like making a contribution towards my costs for running these talks by all means feel free: it would be hugely appreciated.

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

Spring Workshops

Provided things continue to improve, then it looks very much as though only one of my spring photography workshops will have to be postponed. That fate belongs to the Low Light Photography course, scheduled originally for 21st March.

I’ve now postponed that event to 7th November, so there’ll be a lot more news on that much later!

So, my first workshop of 2021 will now be South Devon Coast Photography, scheduled for 17th April.

An outline of the planned list of spring workshops is shown below.

The cost for all courses this year is £95 per person, the same as for 2020.

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.

See an outline of this spring’s courses below.

South Devon Coast Photography

Bigbury, Burgh Island and Bantham

17th April 2021, 1.30-8.30pm

Photography of some of South Devon’s most beautiful coastline; the beaches, cliffs and river estuary of Bigbury, Burgh Island and Bantham.  Finishing at sunset

Wildlife Photography

Dunster and Lynmouth, Somerset and Devon

24th April 2021, 10am-5pm

A day of wildlife photography on Exmoor, stalking deer in countryside near Dunster, followed by Dippers at Lynmouth.

Travel and architectural photography

Bath

16th May 2021, 10am-5pm

A day spent photographing the magnificent Georgian architecture of Bath, in this combined architectural and travel photography course.

Exmoor in Spring

Tarr Steps, Winsford Hill and Valley of Rocks (Lynton)

22nd May 2021, 2-9pm

An afternoon and evening spent photographing some of the beautiful rivers, woodlands, moors and coastal views, along with one of Exmoor’s most famous prehistoric sites. Finishing with the coastal views at the Valley of Rocks, for a glorious sunset.

Dartmoor in Spring

Dartmeet and Bench Tor

29th May 2021, 1.30-8.30pm

An afternoon and evening spent doing landscape photography in the ancient woodlands along the banks of the River Dart, followed by the rocks and open moors of Bench Tor.

To get full details and to sign up for any of these courses, just click on the link below.

A special note about the Jurassic Coast course, scheduled for October: The first workshop in the autumn will be the Jurassic Coast course, in Lyme Regis and Charmouth. Originally scheduled for 2nd October, I’ve had to reschedule it for 9th October, due to a mistake I made with the tides!

March 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography news. A photography course on Burgh Island.

An autumn photography tour to Iceland

March 2021 Nigel Hicks Photography news. Iceland photography tour.

I’m still intending to run this autumn’s Iceland photography tour, unless Covid restrictions have other ideas!

The dates for the tour are;

18-24th Sept 2021


The itinerary is planned to cover mainly northern Iceland, taking in several major waterfalls, volcanoes and the central mountain ranges, as well as a whale-watching trip.

Admittedly, the way things stand at present the tour cannot happen, but if the roadmap works out well then things should change rapidly in the coming few months.

Already, Iceland (as with Cyprus) has lifted restrictions for arriving travellers who can prove they’ve been vaccinated. Further steps needed to make the trip viable include an increase in the number of flights running between Reykjavik and the UK, and relaxation of quarantine rules upon returning to the UK. I’m optimistic that these issues will improve over the summer.

So, if you fancy awarding yourself an overseas photography break to celebrate an escape from Covid, then of course I would love you to sign up. When making a booking the only payment you need to make at this stage is to pay a £100 deposit, returnable if the tour does have to be shelved.

For the full details, including itinerary and pricing click on the link below.

Books about southwest England

Our books about southwest England are of course still out there, still available. Click on the link below to find out more.

Books about southwest England

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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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Light in Photography

The critical role of light in creating great photography

The role of light in photography.

My November 2020 photography talk (which went ahead online on 11th November) explored the critical role of light in photography. It may seem blindingly obvious that light is an essential ingredient in any kind of photography. However, the essential point is not light per se, but the type and quality of the light used, coupled most importantly with how the photographer makes use of that light.

A recording of this talk is now online, and you can watch it by clicking on the embedded link further down this page.

An exploration of the type and quality of light in photography

In this talk I initially introduce the very nature of light, as a part of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. I then cover some terminology used in the technical description of light, including the colour temperature scale and how this is expressed in our daily lives in terms of types of light sources encountered.

The main part of the talk covers an exploration of what is meant by the type and quality of light, specifically as it applies to natural light. This ranges from consideration of the angle of the light, relative to both the subject and the photographer, resulting in three basic angles: front lighting, side lighting and back-lighting (which may or may not result in your subject being a silhouette).

These angles are then of course further influenced by the sun’s height in the sky, something that impacts on the length and strength of shadows, and the colour temperature of the light delivered.

For the latter, this results in white light during sunshine in the middle of the day, but very warm light, rich in red, shortly after sunrise or before sunset, with cold blue-rich light in shadows and at dawn and dusk.

Sunrise on Mte Fitzroy, Patagonia, Argentina. The role of light in photography.

The talk also explores the role of flat, sunless light, in which the lack of shadows and highlights is helpful in photography of such subjects as details, woodlands and people.

Throughout the talk, I use my own photography to illustrate my main points, showcasing the critical role of natural light in photography, and most especially in the creation of great photography.

Watch the recorded talk here

To watch this talk click on the embedded link below.

Naturally, I really hope you like this talk.

Light and my programme of photography talks

This talk covering the role of light in photography forms just one part of my programme of photography talks, following on from my ealier talks Goals in Photography and Photographic Composition: the critical base of all great imagery.

The programme continues, the next talk being Stunning Landscape Photography, which will be live online at 8pm on 9th December. The talks will continue in the New Year with a further programme which will be published shortly.

To find out more about my talks and to register for the 9th December talk, click on the link below.

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