All too often these days, articles relating to photography – wildlife or otherwise – amount to a technical discussion and fail to recognise the creative aspect of photography. Maybe it’s a statement of the times we live in, but there are more articles about the gear and the technical business of photography that it is all too easy to forget that photography is as much an art as it is a science. Photography allows us to express our feelings and emotions and to do so we do need to master the scientific part of the medium, but all too often, that’s where we stop.

I like to describe myself as a naturalist who photographs what he observes rather than a photographer specialising in wildlife. This is very important to me and I believe it makes for a better wildlife photographer. I am not suggesting for one moment that I don’t ever concentrate on the technical aspects of my photography – you have to understand how to use the wonderful tools we have access to nowadays. In my workshops and talks to camera clubs I spend a great deal of time exploring the technical aspects of photography. Every so often, however, I like to stop, take a break from the technical chatter and remind myself that I take photographs for the love of photography, for the love of observing wildlife.

I have a section of this website that is devoted to technical explorations and techniques, but below I have gathered together my various musings on the other equally important things that drive me as a wildlife photographer. Each is introduced with a short, precise, but to read the full article click the link and download a PDF. You can even print this if you like to read it at leisure and please do share it with friends who you think would find it useful too.

I will add to this section over time and as more thoughts strike me so please check back regularly for new ones or join my mailing list here.

I am always keen to learn if and how these articles have helped you please do take a little time to tell me either through the feedback page on this website or direct to bob@naturesphotos.co.uk.


Photography is an artform, it’s my artform

When delivering one of my series of from the ordinary to the extraordinary talks to camera clubs and groups of photographers I often find myself being asked to comment on what makes a great or even, if we dare use the word, perfect photograph. I usually remark that modern technology in our cameras and indeed phones can produce pretty acceptable images. However, if we want to – in the title of my series of talks – Move from the Ordinary to the Extraordinary – then we need to take control.

I strongly believe that photography is a creative art and what you produce is what you want to say to express yourself or even to challenge the viewer. Artists have done it in other media for years and many are heralded for it. There is however a risk that what you produce fails in all these respects, but surely that’s all part of the learning curve and the journey we travel as a photographer.

I also believe that whilst this journey and the learning is very important but that we must never use it as an excuse for submitting poor work. We must never respond when the judge doesn’t value your work as you do that; “he or she is a poor judge because they gave my photo a low mark”. There is no excuse for blaming a judge for a low mark, if it deserves it. Hopefully, he or she will provide a fair comment on the quality and execution of your work and it’s that that helps you learn. Equally we should never resist trying something new just because someone, judge or otherwise, challenges it. We should consider their comments and learn from them and not let them beat us down for daring to try something new.

 Read my thoughts on Photography as an Artform here  D'load


White balance – What does it mean and what should I use?

On my workshops and safaris, I am frequently asked about white balance and which to use together with the meaning and application of Auto White Balance or AWB.

As with so many other questions I am asked, I have to start by saying that whilst this one is where a lot of space is occupied on the many digital forums available to us all. Most of these give quite different and contradicting information. It is yet another subject where the rules and requirements for digital are fundamentally different from those required when we were shooting on film and key where the subjects and type of photography matter considerably. The authors of most of these digital forums are often not interested in these subtle but important differences, and prefer to describe the solution they use, without saying when and why.

In this article I explore the important differences between film and digital as they relate to the treatment of white balance. I do describe what I do as a wildlife photographer but also explore options and approaches which are appropriate to other genres based on my 50 years’ experience as a professional photographer.

It is a long article and may be better downloaded and even printed. If you are a member of a camera club or group of like-minded photographers, please do feel free to circulate this article to them. You might also find the latest in my Smart Shooter series of camera club talks, From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary, of interest. Full details can be found under camera club talks on this website. It is currently my most popular talk. It explores further how shooting digital differs from shooting film and what options we have in digital to move our photographs from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

 Read my thoughts on White Balance and the choices available to us here  D'load


Captive v Wild

I’m often asked question should we photograph captive animals or should we, as wildlife photographers, concentrate solely on wildlife photographed in the natural world It used to be the case that wildlife photography was about capturing images of wildlife in a natural situation to illustrate that animal, its behaviour and its environment. In more recent years many of us are seeing photography more as an art form rather than a scientific process of simply capturing an image. We therefore need to concentrate as much on improving out technical photography craft as much as we do our wildlife skills.

I’m guessing this article may only fuel the debate but I do hope I’ve also made you think. I have been shooting wildlife now for nearly 50 years and had the good fortune to work with excellent naturalists and photographers. I guess that I’ve had the “best of both worlds” in that I worked with wildlife in the wild and I’ve had opportunities to learn my craft working alongside professionals. Times are different now and restricting our opportunities to shoot wildlife solely to wild animals is not going to allow us to develop our technique fast enough nor the limited time many of us now have will it allow us to produce memorable wildlife images.

 Read my thoughts on Wildlife Photography – Captive v Wild hereD'load


What camera and style should I adopt?

On my workshops or at camera club talks I often hear people telling me its their equipment that is holding them back and asking what to buy instead. Often delegates tell me that they really need to upgrade their camera and then they could take amazing photographs. I am also asked more and more what manufacturer or type of camera should I buy. Many tell me that if they swapped from manufacturer A to manufacturer B then they would be bound to improve and can I recommend a manufacturer B. There is also the debate regarding mirrored v mirrorless and many other variants of the same thing. My retort is always the same so I thought I would document some of my thoughts here.

If there were such a magic box that we could point at a subject and that would produce a perfect picture every time. A magic box that would work despite the conditions, behaviour of the subject, lighting etc then I think I would give up photography tomorrow. There simply isn’t now, nor will there ever be, thank goodness. To quote Ansel Adams photographs are made not taken. Despite the equipment, it requires the skill and the vision of the photographer to produce the truly great photo.

 Read my thoughts on Camera and Photo StyleD'load


Is it time to move beyond technical to craft ?

Those of you who know me will have heard me talk about how I feel that my photography is moving on from simply capturing a photo to something more. When I started in photography I was happy to capture an original photograph but now I want to do more to, dare I say, produce my own form of art. I want to produce the sort of photograph someone might be happy to hang on their wall, the sort of photograph that sums up the way I felt when I experienced the moment.

When I started out in photography every frame I exposed cost so much money that I thought more carefully before we pressed the shutter and thus did not experiment in the way we can these days. As a result I concentrated more on the craft and getting the photo right technically than capturing the vision. I think in truth however that this might have been an excuse but an excuse that no longer stands scrutiny. If we are to stand out from the crowd we need to understand how to use our tools, yes craft is still important, but as a means to capture that wonder we first felt and communicate it to others. There is however no excuse for not mastering the craft and if you want to capture and communicate your vision master your craft well and always continue to push the boundaries.

 Is it time to move from technical to craft ?D'load

Technical ability, field craft or just plain luck?

I often hear debates between photographers as to which is the most important for successful wildlife photography – field craft or technical ability. In addition there is often quoted retort ‘isn’t it all just down to luck anyway’.

As always there is no one golden bullet and in view it’s a mixture of all three, miss out on one and the results will suffer. In addition when one of these three lets you down it’s how you resolve it and move on that makes you better next time. Luck most certainly does play a large part but none of us will be lucky all the time so you need to learn how to manage things, adjust your approach and hone your skills in all areas to increase your chance of ‘getting luckier next time’.


Please read my thoughts on whether field craft or technical ability contributes most to successful shots.

 
Technical ability, field craft or just plain luck?

D'load


My solution to the great camera bag dilemma !

If you’re like me you will own many different camera bags, one for each situation and a few more just in case. I’m not sure how many I have but if you asked my family they would say too many! Like most people I started out with the traditional backpack to carry my increasing collection of kit. Whilst they are flexible and convenient their main downfall is their weight when fully laden and the strain it puts on your shoulders and back. In addition there is the difficulty getting things in and out. It’s often tempting to get a bag big enough to carry everything but that only exacerbates the problem. I know I have such a camera bag!

A few of years ago when visiting the photo show in Birmingham I became particularly interested in the modular component system or belt system sold by ThinkTank™. I very quickly became a convert and now seldom take my heavy backpack unless I really need to.

Please read my review and recommendations on this approach by clicking the link below.

 Access my thoughts hereD'load

With a camera like that you are bound to take excellent photos !

I am sure we have all had this said to us or heard it said to others when we appear somewhere with a full size DSLR and maybe a large telephoto lens.

After a recent visit to the Photography Show in Birmingham’s NEC and my annual lusting after a new camera I started to reflect on the old question does a new camera improve your photography. I remembered a conversation I had once had with a fisherman along these lines and an article I once read encouraging us to stop desiring a new camera and start taking better pictures.

Please read my thoughts on this here and whether new and better cameras make us better photographers here.

I would welcome your own thoughts and comments which I will add to this page. Please email them to bob@naturesphotos.co.uk 

 Access my thoughts hereD'load

Most common mistakes made by a wildlife photographer.

I was asked a while ago what I thought were the most common mistakes a wildlife photographer could make. It set me thinking; what are the things I do, or see others do on my workshops that result in images that we are less than proud of.

In this article I have given my top 8, I am sure that you can think of more but hope that these will help you when out shooting wildlife, a subject which is often very challenging as action often happens very fast and where conditions e.g. lighting etc. are frequently very demanding.

Having read my thoughts here if you can think of any that you might like to add to the list please do email me at bob@naturesphotos.co.uk and I willingly post them with this article so others can benefit too.

 

 What I think are the 8 most common mistakes we all make.D'load


“Rinse and repeat” – why it’s good to chimp to improve as a photographer.

I once heard somebody say that “a good photographer knows what he has shot without having to look at the back of the camera, chimping is for beginners who are not confident with their photography”. I’ve heard some very arrogant things said in my time but this has to enter the list somewhere near the top. I started shooting in film days when you took 36 frames, put the film in an envelope and posted it to the processing laboratories. One week later you receive the results of your labours. I don’t suspect I am alone in saying that when I went through them I often cursed and said gosh if only I had realised, I wouldn’t have done things quite like that. Oh how different it would have been if I could have seen the image and the image data immediately made some correction and reshot the image.

To me the whole idea of telling people not to use the wonderful technology that is now built into their cameras is mind-boggling. Don’t get me wrong I don’t feel we should be checking the viewfinder after every shot read more in the article linked below

 

 Why I think its important to chimpAccess


To Photoshop or not to Photoshop.

This is a very difficult and some would say controversial topic which I believe is unfortunately often treated far too lightly. Photo retouching has been around since the dawn of photography and image retouching has for much longer. It does need to be treated seriously however it needn’t become the tool we all rush for all the time.

What then is and what is not acceptable? What’s my line as a wildlife photographer and has that changed as my approach to my art and the tools have changed? Does it reflect badly on my skills as a wildlife photographer if I use Photoshop? Does using image editing tools make me less proud of my art?

In this article I discuss all of these and also where I personally draw the line. I am not someone who thinks Photoshop isn’t a useful tool for the wildlife photographer but rather one who feels it has its place and used carefully can make a valuable contribution to help me produce art that I am proud of. There are however things I most certainly will not do.

 
Learn when I feel ‘Photoshopping’ is acceptable

D'load


How I go about selecting my “keeper” photos.

I have been asked many times how I go about sorting my photos. This is not a new question and as some of you will know prompted me to put together one of my camera club talks, “My Digital Workflow”. In this talk I go through the processes I adopt both in the field and at home for a) preserving my photos and b) sorting and cataloguing them. This is very much a technical approach and revolves, in my case, around the use of a superb package from Adobe called LightRoom™.

When recently asked this question whilst running a safari in Tanzania I launched into just such an explanation of the software tools I use but as I did so it occurred to me that there is another side to this namely how do we select our best photos and how do we continually hone our craft to ensure that we improve. How do we step aside from the investment we have in a photo simply through the emotion of the shoot, the difficulty we had in making it or even the money we spent to get there. How do we decide if we have truly created art and that the image is worth keeping ?

 
Learn how I select my keepers

D'load


Top tips for successful wildlife photography.

I am often asked for my top ten tips as a wildlife photographer and always mumble my way through a reply but recently when sitting on a bench with a workshop participant his question set me thinking harder.

Those of you who have heard my camera club talk entitled “The Art of Wildlife Photography”, more details here, will know that I often quote some sage advice I was given 40 years ago by the late H.G. Hurrell. As a highly competent photographer and pioneering early natural history film maker he counselled me that if I wanted to be successful as a wildlife photographer I had to first be a naturalist. A naturalist, who has his eyes and mind open, is prepared to observe everything and above all ask questions. Only when I started to understand the natural world could I possibly photograph it. First hand observations were central to H.G’s approach and one that has served me well ever since.

He also told me to always remember the 5P’s of Passion, Patience, Practice, Preparation and Purpose. I quote it at the start of my “Art of Wildlife Photography” talk, as it is as valid today as when it was given to me all those years ago.

 My top ten tipsD'load


What a robin taught me about my choice of lens.

There is one question I receive more than any other either from people at camera club talks or booking on one of my workshops or tours. “How long a lens do I need for wildlife photography ?”

I have thought about this often either as I write a response to a fellow photographer or as I ponder which lens I should take with me on a trip. We all too often read statements such as “you can never have enough focal length for photographing wildlife”. The more I think about it however the more I wonder if these statements are written by those with an interest in selling lenses. I guess we have all told ourselves if only I had that better lens or better camera then I would produce better pictures.

I was out with a friend of mine a few weeks ago both of us trying to photograph robins in the snow. I had my 600mm lens on its sturdy tripod with full gimbal head. He had a much more nimble 70-200mm. Who go the best shots ? Well it certainly wasn’t me.

 Learn what the robin taught me about my choice of lensD'load


Always “being prepared” as a wildlife photographer

This article first appeared in my Autumn 2013 newsletter where it received such positive comment that I felt it worth including in this section of my website.

It was written following a very interesting and thought provoking question I was asked at a camera club where I gave a talk. “What do you do” the questioner asked “to ensure that your camera is always ready for action”.

I gave him a few carefully considered answers at the time but it’s something that I thought a great deal more about after the talk. There are plenty of comments from photographers on their blogs on various websites which I am sure will add to the debate but these are my top 10 tips.

I would welcome your own thoughts and comments which I will add to this page. Please email them to bob@naturesphotos.co.uk

 Access my thoughts on being prepared hereD'load


Some little extras bit of kit that help a wildlife photographer

I was telling a guest about this article on my recent really successful safari to the Mara in Kenya and describing some of the little bits of extra kit I take on a wildlife photo trip that help enormously. They suggested that I add to the article with a list of just these “little extras” so I decided to add it to the growing musings section of my website.

Over the years I have gathered a selection of little extras that help and support my wildlife photography. None are very expensive but I would find it very difficult to manage without them. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I need to add that I am not in league with any of the suppliers thus don’t get paid to advertise them.

I would welcome your own thoughts and comments which I will add to this page. Please email them to bob@naturesphotos.co.uk

 Access my ideas for helpful bits of kit hereD'load