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About the Art: Victoria Hillman

In our latest blog post, Victoria Hillman - whose work features in this year's exhibition the British Wildlife Photography Awards - talks to us about photographing the smaller creatures that can sometimes go overlooked.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

Overnight, many dragonflies hide deep among the long grasses of the Somerset Levels and if the conditions are right and you know where to look, the early mornings of May you can find them covered in dew in amongst these long grasses. To illustrate just how well these dragonflies are hidden I focused manually on the edges of the wings and used an aperture that would reveal the shape of the body but simultaneously keep it almost concealed.

  • Edges, 'Edges' which features in the 'Hidden Britain' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards., Victoria Hillman
    'Edges' which features in the 'Hidden Britain' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards., Victoria Hillman

How did you go about getting that shot?

I knew roughly the areas the dragonflies roost in overnight, although it is not exactly the same each day so to start with I searched the long grass for any dragonflies and found this individual low down and covered in dew. I found a location to set up my tripod being careful not to crush any vegetation or disturb the dragonfly, once set up I experimented with different apertures and focal points. I manually focused to get just the very edges of the wings in focus using an aperture that would bring just enough detail to bring the rest of the dragonfly into the shot and show the habitat and how well they disappear into the long grass.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

I arrived on the reserve around 5am as it was getting light but before sunrise, this gives me enough time to look around and see what is about and find a suitable dragonfly in an accessible place. This image was actually taken around 7:30am and I stayed with this dragonfly for a further 90 minutes, photographing it as it made its way up the stick until it was dried out and warmed up to take to the wing.

  • Peek a boo, Damselflies are so wonderfully full of character and this one of peeking through the fronds of the bracken, taken at the same reserve as Edges. , Victoria Hillman
    Damselflies are so wonderfully full of character and this one of peeking through the fronds of the bracken, taken at the same reserve as Edges. , Victoria Hillman

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

The equipment used for this shot is my normal macro set-up, Canon 5DMKiii with Sigma 180mm macro lens set up on a tripod, it was shot using only natural light and lots of patience. I have carried out only minimal post-processing within the guidelines of what is allowed for the competition.

  • Camera Shy, Black tailed skimmer dragonfly covered in a thin dew deep in the long grasses sparkling in the first rays of sunlight to hit the area, taken in the same area ad Edges. , Victoria Hillman
    Black tailed skimmer dragonfly covered in a thin dew deep in the long grasses sparkling in the first rays of sunlight to hit the area, taken in the same area ad Edges. , Victoria Hillman

What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?

I find the smaller species (plants, invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles) incredibly fascinating, both from a photographic and scientific perspective, I do have a particular love of frogs and toads. For me, these species have such wonderful characters that are often overlooked or missed being so much smaller and generally harder to find to photograph.

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

There are a couple, the weather and the subject are the main difficulties, the weather you can't do anything about other than be prepared and keep an eye on several different forecasts. Certainly, with my subjects, numbers, timing, and locations can vary day to day and year to year so it's really important to do your research, know your subject and its habitat well and that will help with any difficulties that might arise. Wildlife and nature photography are rapidly growing areas of photography and it can be tricky with more popular species to find a new angle or way of capturing them, for me taking my time and focusing on just a handful of species has allowed me to try out new ideas and perspectives.

  • Snakes-Heads and Rainbows, Conditions were perfect for a thick blanket of dew to form overnight which sparkled in the early morning light. This is shot using a combination of natural light and a small LED hidden in the grass. (Also in the BWPA book), Victoria Hillman
    Conditions were perfect for a thick blanket of dew to form overnight which sparkled in the early morning light. This is shot using a combination of natural light and a small LED hidden in the grass. (Also in the BWPA book), Victoria Hillman

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I would like my work to encourage people to think a little more about the smaller species we have around us and take a closer look at just how beautiful they are.

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I have always loved nature and being outdoors from a very young age and really have never wanted to do anything else other than work with wildlife and nature in some form. I am actually a scientist by training with a BSc in Zoology with Marine Zoology and an MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation but have been taking photos as long as I can remember as soon as my parents bought me my first camera and over the years have found a way to combine the two together, using them for both research purposes and also to highlight the wonderful smaller creatures we have around us.

  • Sand Monster, Around June hundreds of tiny toadlets cross the sandy paths, often tumbling down the mini hills. I came across this individual on an overcast and wet morning, covered in sand and peeking through a gap in the mounds of sand. (Also in the BWPA book), Victoria Hillman
    Around June hundreds of tiny toadlets cross the sandy paths, often tumbling down the mini hills. I came across this individual on an overcast and wet morning, covered in sand and peeking through a gap in the mounds of sand. (Also in the BWPA book), Victoria Hillman

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

Start with researching your subject(s) and their habitat and how they interact with it, by understanding these it really helps with finding what you are looking for and being able to photograph it without disturbing it. The more you know your subject and more time you spend with it the more photographic possibilities will emerge and the more ideas you will have, just take your time, if it doesn't work one day, just go back again and again.

  • Camera set up, this is the set up used for photographing Edges, Victoria Hillman
    this is the set up used for photographing Edges, Victoria Hillman

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

I have just finished the first part of my Forgotten Little Creatures project with brings together photography, interesting science facts and the stories behind the images, this first part has concentrated on what is within 40 miles of my home and is now published as a book and will be an exhibition in early 2018. I'm now planning for part two of this project.

  • Victoria Hillman, Victoria Hillman poses with her photography equipment, Victoria Hillman
    Victoria Hillman poses with her photography equipment, Victoria Hillman

About the Art: Douglas Shapley

As part of our ongoing series of blog posts highlighting the work of photographers featured in our exhibition of the British Wildlife Photography Awards, we spoke to Douglas Shapley whose work was highly commended in the 'Botanical Britain' category.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

I took this photo a few years ago before I lived in Scotland. I was on a walking trip with a friend and we were staying in Kintyre for a week or so. On our first night there was a really great sunset,  I was busy snapping away getting shots of the coastline when I noticed the thrift lit up by the setting sun. The shot means a lot to me as a year or so after taking the photo I started in my first professional job in conservation and the spot where the photo was taken became 'my patch'. I was chuffed when I heard it would feature in the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2017.

  • Coastal Lanterns, Thrift Lanterns by Douglas Shapley, Highly Commended in Botanical Britain category of the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2017, Douglas Shapley
    Thrift Lanterns by Douglas Shapley, Highly Commended in Botanical Britain category of the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2017, Douglas Shapley

How did you go about getting that shot?

The conditions were perfect for photographing the sunset. I took plenty of images of the clichéd shoreline with a long exposure to blur the water but it was these delicate flowers that really caught my eye. I composed it to have the mountains of Jura in the background and took the shot.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

It was quite an opportunistic shot really. I was trying different compositions of the shoreline and the setting sun for a good half hour or so and then as I was setting up from a different position I noticed the 'lanterns'. Of course with plants, you get the benefit of being able to take your time to set up your shot.

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

No fancy kit just my Nikon DSLR with an 18-105mm lens and Manfrotto tripod

  • 3 Red Squirrel Abernethy (1500px), One of Douglas Shapley's favourite places to photograph is the Caledonian pine forest of the Cairngorms. This was a photo he took of a red squirrel at RSPB Abernethy whilst undertaking a volunteer placement there a few years ago., Douglas Shapley
    One of Douglas Shapley's favourite places to photograph is the Caledonian pine forest of the Cairngorms. This was a photo he took of a red squirrel at RSPB Abernethy whilst undertaking a volunteer placement there a few years ago., Douglas Shapley

What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?

I can't say that I have favourite taxa or scene to photograph. I am a keen birdwatcher but tend not to focus on just photographing birds. I am quite opportunistic and tend to photograph whatever subject presents itself. My starting point is usually to pick wildlife-rich places and go from there. I love visiting the Cairngorms and the majestic Caledonian pine forests. If I had to pick a place the West Coast of Scotland and the Argyll Islands are my favourite places to be with a camera in the UK. They have a great biodiversity on land and at sea and breathtaking scenery too.

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

As with most photographic subjects, these days wildlife photography is highly competitive. Good equipment is accessible to everyone and the interest in the field has grown and grown. In addition, the pure volume of photographic content has increased with the rise of social media and advertising. People are subjected to photographic imagery in all aspects of life. This makes it very difficult to stand out from the crowd and of course, make a living. For that reason, I admire anyone working as a full-time professional wildlife photographer.

That said, photography, and video increasingly so has a crucial role to play in engaging audiences in conservation issues and getting others to safeguard the natural world. So, could the rise in wildlife photography indicate that more people are engaged and care about the environment than ever before? I couldn't possibly conclude but I do think in general it should be seen in a positive light. With that in mind I shall continue to use my skills to share the beauty of the natural world and encourage others to connect with it too.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I would hope that people see that the natural world is outstandingly beautiful and are encouraged to connect to it. I would also like to hope that I am introducing new audiences to species, habitats, or landscapes, which they would not otherwise have known existed and that in doing so they are inspired to care for the environment.

  • 4 Common Sandpipier Loch an Eilein (1500px), The Cairngorms has abundant wildlife and lots of good opportunities for getting close to nature. This shot by Douglas Shapley is of a common sandpiper perched on a Scot's pine by Loch an Eilein., Douglas Shapley
    The Cairngorms has abundant wildlife and lots of good opportunities for getting close to nature. This shot by Douglas Shapley is of a common sandpiper perched on a Scot's pine by Loch an Eilein., Douglas Shapley

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I grew up with a strong interest in wildlife, particularly bird watching, regularly visiting my local WWT reserve. My Dad is a keen photographer and his interest rubbed off on me. In my teens he gave me one of his Canon film cameras to get started. Later I progressed into using a bridge camera, which was ideal for photographing distant birds. I then got my first DSLR for my 21st birthday and immediately bought a telephoto lens to begin documenting the species I could see near my home and on my travels. Now, well over 10 years since, I am still out and about most weekends with my camera.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

Get outdoors and always carry your camera. I know it’s a cliché but you never know what you'll see when you go out in the field. I would also recommend getting to grips with your equipment by photographing subjects you know well or have easy access to. That way when you encounter something extraordinary you are well prepared to get a shot of it. Most important though, don't let the pressure of trying to get a perfect shot detract from the experience of seeing the wildlife in front of you. Sometimes the conditions just wont be right and you'll come away with nothing but remember why you are taking the photograph in the first place - because you love wildlife. Appreciate every precious moment you get to share an experience with another species.

  • 5 Waxings Glasgow (1500px), You don't have to go into the wilderness to see wildlife. Douglas enjoys getting shots of the great species that can be found on your doorstep in urban areas. The winter of 2015/16 experienced a waxwing eruption where huge flocks were seen across Glasgow city centre throughout the winter., Douglas Shapley
    You don't have to go into the wilderness to see wildlife. Douglas enjoys getting shots of the great species that can be found on your doorstep in urban areas. The winter of 2015/16 experienced a waxwing eruption where huge flocks were seen across Glasgow city centre throughout the winter., Douglas Shapley

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

In my day job as a conservationist I am currently working on a number of landscape-scale conservation projects. I hope to use my photography to promote the habitats and species the projects are aiming to protect. I shall also continue using my photography to capture wildlife and landscapes at home and on my travels and use them to enthuse others about wildlife and conservation via my social media channels

  • 2 BTS Thrift Lanterns Doug Shapley, Behind the scenes shot of Douglas Shapley capturing the shot of Thrift Lanterns on the Kintyre Peninsula, Argyll & Bute. ' The conditions were perfect for photographing the sunset. I took plenty of images of the clichéd shoreline with a long exposure to blur the water but it was these delicate flowers that really caught my eye. I composed it to have the mountains of Jura in the background and took the shot.', Douglas Shapley
    Behind the scenes shot of Douglas Shapley capturing the shot of Thrift Lanterns on the Kintyre Peninsula, Argyll & Bute. ' The conditions were perfect for photographing the sunset. I took plenty of images of the clichéd shoreline with a long exposure to blur the water but it was these delicate flowers that really caught my eye. I composed it to have the mountains of Jura in the background and took the shot.', Douglas Shapley

Upon being a Horniman Studio Collective Member

Phil Baird tells us about his experiences so far as a member of the Studio Collective.

My name is Phil Baird and I am this artist and a member of the exciting and innovative Horniman Studio Collective.

A decade ago, while recovering from the most serious mental health condition, I considered taking a volunteering post at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, possibly doing some conservation dusting. Little did I know that I was destined to be a part of the multidisciplinary Studio Collective, whose current aim is to curate an exhibition and related events with artist Serena Korda.

It is great to be a small part of what is a large group of about 19  artists, anthropologists, research specialists, publicists, service users and, like me, workshop facilitators for the many and various community groups that are the heart of the process. The project has an egalitarian, forum-style organisation that is new and innovative. It allows Studio Collective members to take part in various levels, and we can leave the areas that we are not specialists in to the other team members.

It is great for me to see behind the scenes of the Horniman and to work with professionals with an incredible vastness of collective knowledge. The whole process for me is a weaving together of ideas, of people in the form of a community, of sounds and their means of production, of places – the whole museum, environment and Gardens, and of objects – Serena's art objects and those from the Horniman Collection both currently displayed and in the ‘secret’ reserve collection.

I feel privileged to have access to hundreds of thousands of objects that we are all custodians of. Had I known anything about anthropology when I was younger I would have certainly considered a career in the profession.

About the Art: Peter Warne

In our latest blog post, we talk to Peter Warne whose work is featured in our exhibition of photography from this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

I monitor wildlife at Copped Hall – a restoration project just south of Epping in Essex. Each year the pond in our four-acre walled garden plays host to a mallard family and in their early days, the ducklings chase after flies on the pond surface.

  • Duckling, Mallard duckling supplementing its vegetarian diet with a St Markâs fly â Walled Garden, Copped Hall, Essex, Peter Warne
    Mallard duckling supplementing its vegetarian diet with a St Markâs fly â Walled Garden, Copped Hall, Essex, Peter Warne

How did you go about getting that shot?

The sides of the pond slope down allowing one to get to the surface of the water and take pictures at “duckling-eye” level. The challenge is to line up fly and duckling, and to use a sufficiently fast speed to freeze the motion.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

I had imagined the image over 3 seasons and tried to get the picture many times – this year it came together.

  • Grey Seal, A grey seal enjoying a sand bath â Wells-next-the-sea, Norfolk, Peter Warne
    A grey seal enjoying a sand bath â Wells-next-the-sea, Norfolk, Peter Warne

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

I used a Canon full-frame DSLR with a 500mm telephoto lens enhanced with a 1.4x teleconverter to get me as close to the action as possible.

What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?

I am particularly fond of birds of prey and the gardens and surrounding fields are blessed with barn and tawny owls, as well as kestrels, common buzzards, sparrowhawks, and most recently, red kites.  In summer we often see hobbies who come for our wealth of dragonflies.  The motivation, as with most wildlife photographers, is to capture the beauty of our subjects and relay them to the general public.

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

I have been given complete freedom of the site which amounts to 25 acres of gardens and there is excellent access to the surrounding fields and Epping Forest. If it’s there, it’s my fault if I don’t find it.  The challenges are to take pictures that best illustrate the behaviour of creatures whose lives are otherwise hidden from us.

  • GCG-fracas-2_0379 copy, Two great crested grebes fighting over mating rights with the female who looks on â Lee Valley Park, Herts., Peter Warne
    Two great crested grebes fighting over mating rights with the female who looks on â Lee Valley Park, Herts., Peter Warne

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

The realisation that wild creatures are very beautiful when you get up close and see their textures and form, and maybe to ponder how they manage to survive in a world dominated by humans.

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

Since the 1970s but seriously following the introduction of digital photography in the 21st century.

  • Hares_2980 copy, Two brown hares staring at a photographer in the early morning light â Epping Upland, Essex, Peter Warne
    Two brown hares staring at a photographer in the early morning light â Epping Upland, Essex, Peter Warne

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

Get to know your subject, especially its behaviour.  Take lots of pictures of the same species in all seasons possible and under all weather conditions.  Learn those field-craft skills which are so essential to finding wildlife and getting close to it without disturbing it.

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

I will continue to work at Copped Hall, to monitor the wildlife in the face of its restoration and the improvements to the gardens.  I am expanding my observations to the surrounding countryside where the signs are that agricultural bird numbers such as yellowhammer, are increasing, brown hares flourish and red kite numbers continue to increase.

I also run study days and evenings at the Hall upon close-up techniques and night photography.  The latter are especially popular and the 2017-18 winter season is already oversubscribed. My own night photography continues to develop.

I give a variety of talks upon photography and wildlife to camera clubs, conservation groups and other interested parties.  These can number five to six in a month and are a real pleasure to me.

  • Folley-crop_6313 copy, Night photography at Copped Hall, Essex, Peter Warne
    Night photography at Copped Hall, Essex, Peter Warne

About the Art: Dan Bolt

As we continue to highlight the work of the photographers featured in our exhibition of the British Wildlife Photography Awards, we caught up with Dan Bolt who travelled 600 miles to capture his image.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

Every April for the past seven years, I have travelled the 600 miles north from my home in Devon to the village of Lochcarron on the western coast of Scotland to spend a week diving the area’s Sea Lochs.

One of the most amazing sites is on Loch Carron itself, at a place called Conservation Bay which has a bewildering array of marine life clinging to every surface it can. Swimming straight out from the beach, in around 25m of water, is a huge area that is simply covered in starfish and sponges. This ‘brittlestar bed’ is home to countless numbers of brittlestar starfish, all waving their spindly arms in the water to grab a morsel of food as it is swept past by the current.

From a distance, the area looks like a barren moonscape but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth and I wanted to portray a sense of uniformity in this almost 2-dimensional habitat; where almost nothing rises above the beds of starfish. The crab in the shot looks like it could be planning a route through the crowded sea-bed, or perhaps just taking a rest.

  • The Lookout, 'The Lookout' which features in this year's 'Habitat' category, Dan Bolt
    'The Lookout' which features in this year's 'Habitat' category, Dan Bolt

How did you go about getting that shot?

As with all wildlife photography, respect for your environment is paramount. In this particular habitat, there is quite literally no ‘ground’ for a diver to settle onto, or to put even a hand down to steady yourself. It took some time to find this solitary piece of kelp sticking up out of the brittlestar bed, and as soon as I saw the crab perched there I knew this was a shot I had to make work.

From a distance, I made sure I could control my in-water buoyance simply by how much air I had in my lungs, and I approached the crab very carefully so as not to scare it into moving off the kelp. I wanted to have the foreground well-lit by my strobes and the background with natural light only, so as to add to the sense of scale and distance. This took some time to get right by slowly adjusting the angle of my strobes – all the while ‘hovering’ just inches off the inquisitive mass of starfish just below me.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

With underwater photography, you are limited to how much air you have in your tank, and how deep you are, which dictated how long you have to grab your images. On this particular site, you are limited to around an hour before you have to make your way back into the shallower waters.

  • Conservation Bay, Loch Carron from the air, Conservation Bay is bottom-left, Dan Bolt
    Loch Carron from the air, Conservation Bay is bottom-left, Dan Bolt

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

I use a normal land camera (Olympus OM-D EM-1), but in a special aluminium ‘housing’ that means I can take it underwater. As light is absorbed very quickly in water (giving the gorgeous green colour) I have to use two waterproof flash-guns (or strobes) so restore the true-colour of any subject I work with.

  • Corkwing Wrasse, An inquisitive Corkwing Wrasse in Loch Creran, Dan Bolt
    An inquisitive Corkwing Wrasse in Loch Creran, Dan Bolt

What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?

I love the Scottish Sea Lochs for their unending diversity of marine life. From tiny colourful sea-slugs and rare flame shell molluscs, all the way up to huge walls of life over 15m tall. The scope for an underwater photographer is immense.

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

Obviously the limitation of being underwater and having limited time there is the greatest difficulty. That’s why you’ll find many underwater photographers returning to the same spot time and time again so to better understand the nature of it and the life it contains. When you know what is usual for a site, it becomes easier to spot the unusual when you find it.

  • 7, A huge Lions Mane jellyfish in Loch Fyne, Dan Bolt
    A huge Lions Mane jellyfish in Loch Fyne, Dan Bolt

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I love the reaction when you show people the colour, shape, and form of UK marine life. Almost to a person they are surprised about the wealth of diversity I can show them – and I’d like to think that my work is a window on this hidden world we have just a few metres off our coastline.

  • 8, A large Dahlia Anemone amongst the brittlestar bed in Loch Carron, Dan Bolt
    A large Dahlia Anemone amongst the brittlestar bed in Loch Carron, Dan Bolt

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I’ve been shooting underwater since 1999. This is when compact digital cameras became more affordable, and plastic housings made taking them underwater very accessible. It was a natural progression from my life-long fascination with the sea. I learned to dive when I was 13, and before that, I’d been snorkeling for as long as I can remember.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

No matter where you are in the UK, your local water be it in the sea, lakes, or rivers will have a wealth of flora and fauna to interest you. The longer you can spend in those environments the better your understanding will be – and from that understanding of weather, seasons and behaviour will come some great imaging opportunities.

  • 1, Dan Bolt takes a selfie with a seal off the island of Lundy, North Devon, Dan Bolt
    Dan Bolt takes a selfie with a seal off the island of Lundy, North Devon, Dan Bolt

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

I will be visiting my beloved Lochcarron again in 2018, and have plans to spend more time in the rivers of Dartmoor to try and capture photos of the, frankly alien-esque, aquatic insects that can be found there.

About the Art: Mark Hamblin

As we continue to highlight the work of the photographers featured in our exhibition of photography from the British Wildlife Photography Awards, we spoke to Mark Hamblin about his work and the natural beauty of Scotland.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition? 

This picture was taken as part of the ‘SCOTLAND: The Big Picture’ project that I am working on alongside colleagues to amplify the case for a wilder Scotland. Scotland hosts some of the most important wild forests in the UK but the old Caledonian forest that once cloaked much of Scotland has been reduced in size and fragmented over millennia and now less than 5% remains, much of this within the Cairngorms National Park. Part of the problem today is that very little natural regeneration is taking place as a consequence of high deer numbers in and around our forests, which are preventing saplings from becoming established as a result of grazing pressures. This means that we have an ageing forest that is not being replaced by younger trees. This trend is being reversed in some areas where grazing pressure is being reduced by controlling deer numbers, and the result of this management is that trees are rapidly regenerating from a local seed source. This clearing in Abernethy Forest, owned by the RSPB is an example of how thousands of trees can quickly become established and fill in gaps in the forest that have been lost in the past. These young trees, in turn, provide shelter and opportunities for a wide range of other species including thousands of spiders, their webs highlighted perfectly on this misty autumnal morning.

  • Forest of the Future, Mark's 'Forest of the Future' which appears in our exhibition of photography from the British Wildlife Photography Awards until 14 January, Mark Hamblin
    Mark's 'Forest of the Future' which appears in our exhibition of photography from the British Wildlife Photography Awards until 14 January, Mark Hamblin

How did you go about getting that shot?

In all honesty this was not a difficult picture to take and was a consequence of an early morning drive around the forest close to my home in the Cairngorms National Park. As a close observer of the weather forecast there was a good chance of suitable conditions for photography that morning and so I set off aiming to take some landscape images at first light, but before reaching my destination I saw these spider’s webs highlighted by dew and felt that it was too good an opportunity to pass by and so stopped and spent the next 30 minutes or so exploring various compositions to highlight both the webs and the densely regenerating pine saplings.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

For a change, there was no waiting around for this picture since it presented itself as I was driving by and it was simply a case of taking advantage of the opportunity before the conditions changed. As is often the case with these kinds of opportunist pictures, the conditions may be short-lived and the shot may be gone so I needed to work quickly and efficiently to capture the scene as best I could.

  • Red Squirrel by Mark Hamblin, Red squirrels are reliant on an expansive, well-connected forest but the loss and fragmentation of our native woodlands has resulted in the species being absent from many parts of Scotland. As forests become better connected in the future through a mix of tree planting and regeneration it is hoped that our only native squirrel will become more widespread and resilient to diseases and competition in the future, Mark Hamblin
    Red squirrels are reliant on an expansive, well-connected forest but the loss and fragmentation of our native woodlands has resulted in the species being absent from many parts of Scotland. As forests become better connected in the future through a mix of tree planting and regeneration it is hoped that our only native squirrel will become more widespread and resilient to diseases and competition in the future, Mark Hamblin

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

I have an array of cameras and lenses that allow me to shoot from macro to long telephoto. These are the tools of my trade as a working professional and I use Canon gear that is both durable and optically superb to try to achieve the best quality images I can from any given situation. I use Lightroom and Photoshop for processing my images.

What are your favourite scenes, species, or motivations behind your photographs?

For the past few years I have been photographing almost exclusively in Scotland, and whilst I have been lucky enough to travel to many overseas destinations, my home and my heart now lie in Scotland. I enjoy photographing all species and landscapes primarily within the Cairngorms National Park but also throughout the Scottish Highlands. The mountain landscapes of Torridon and Assynt remain high on my favourites list. I am currently working on golden eagles and this species together with birds of prey in general would rank highly and provide me with plenty of inspiration and motivation.

  • Sunrise in the Cairngorns, The first rays of sunlight splinter through a mist-laden pine forest in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, where some of the first examples of the Great Wood of Caledon can still be found. , Mark Hamblin
    The first rays of sunlight splinter through a mist-laden pine forest in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, where some of the first examples of the Great Wood of Caledon can still be found. , Mark Hamblin

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

Whilst the UK supports a diverse range of wildlife species, many are wary of humans, which presents a challenge in terms of getting close to your subject. Many are also in low or decreasing numbers, and others, particularly birds of prey such as hen harriers and eagles continue to be persecuted by humans. This is of course of great concern and as part of the 'SCOTLAND: The Big Picture' project is something that ourselves and others are aiming to highlight. The challenges faced by our native wildlife remains a real threat to their future existence throughout the UK and whilst competitions such as BWPA go a long way to highlight the beauty and importance of our natural world, there is still a lot more to be done in this regard and so that is a constant challenge.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I hope that people feel a connection to the subject within the photograph and that it provides enough interest and perhaps intrigue to hold the attention for more than a few seconds. In today's digital world we are bombarded by outstanding imagery on a daily basis and so the challenge remains to try to make your picture stand out, which is becoming more and more difficult. People’s attention span is very short and we are all very guilty of skipping through images at a lightning pace, certainly on digital devices. Pictures showcased as prints and presented in a gallery environment offer the chance to really look at a photograph and hopefully appreciate and enjoy it. As a body of work, I hope that my pictures provide some inspiration and motivation for people to really appreciate and care for the natural world.

  • Mark Hamblin youg pines, Overgrazing from deer species and sheep is one of the greatest threats to Scotlandâs forests, preventing a natural succession of trees and other species and leaving just old pines where once there would have been a mosaic species including a rich understory, providing a home to a plethora of wildlife. Where grazing pressure has been reduced young pines such as this are able to get away and established. , Mark Hamblin
    Overgrazing from deer species and sheep is one of the greatest threats to Scotlandâs forests, preventing a natural succession of trees and other species and leaving just old pines where once there would have been a mosaic species including a rich understory, providing a home to a plethora of wildlife. Where grazing pressure has been reduced young pines such as this are able to get away and established. , Mark Hamblin

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I began taking pictures aged 14 (37 years ago) having been a keen birdwatcher, as a way of recording what I’d seen. Photography quickly became my main pastime and I began photographing the birdlife of my home county of Warwickshire with my father. I was hooked from that point on and continued to photograph as a hobby until I started to make a living from wildlife photography in 1995.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

My best advice to anyone is to get to know your local subjects as well as you possibly can. There is no substitute for knowledge and this will always stand you in good stead. Some of this knowledge can be short-circuited these days with professional guides and hides available to rent, something that I offer myself - but finding your own subjects and producing original work is not only far more rewarding in the long term but will provide a much stronger portfolio of images. And dare to be different. Try different techniques and unusual shooting angles to produce unique images.

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

I am currently working on 'SCOTLAND: The Big Picture' producing a range of visual imagery to amplify the case for a wilder Scotland. Alongside colleagues, we are covering a wide spectrum of species and stories within Scotland that are connected with habitat restoration and rewilding. We are interested in documenting how and where habitats are being restored and the benefits that this brings to not only wildlife but for local people as well, especially through increased tourism. Within this project, I am continually taking pictures that relate to forest regeneration and expansion as well as covering individual species such as golden eagles, which I’ll be working on over the course of the winter. 

  • Golden Eagle, Old pines remain an important part of the forest ecosystem providing nest sites for many species such as this golden eagle seen here leaving its nest containing two well-grown chicks. , Mark Hamblin
    Old pines remain an important part of the forest ecosystem providing nest sites for many species such as this golden eagle seen here leaving its nest containing two well-grown chicks. , Mark Hamblin

About the Art: Charles Everitt

With our exhibition displaying images from the British Wildlife Photography Awards now open until 14 January 2018, we spoke to photographer Charles Everitt about his work.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

I had been watching a bank of snowdrops emerge as they are only two minutes walk from my home.  When the time was right, I originally went up to photograph one of them against a setting sun but a cloud bank rolled in to wipe out any hope of a golden backdrop.  Nevertheless, the cool, blue evening glow in the sky gave the image some atmosphere - with the helping hand of a little additional lighting to illuminate the flower.

  • Standing Tall, Charles' photograph, 'Standing Tall', which appears in this year's 'Botanical' category at the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2017., Charles Everitt
    Charles' photograph, 'Standing Tall', which appears in this year's 'Botanical' category at the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2017., Charles Everitt

How did you go about getting that shot?

It was very much a case of monitoring the snowdrops until they were at their peak, identifying potential flowers and backdrops that would make possible photographs, thinking around where to position the camera and how to illuminate the flower. Then you go and take the shot to see if all the forethought and preparation worked.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

With all the preparation previously undertaken, it did not take long to capture the photograph.  I was probably working the flower for about 30 minutes to capture a variety of images.

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

Nothing hi-tech; just basic photography equipment - camera, macro lens, cable release and a torch.  The image was processed in Photoshop Elements.

  • Twin Flower, Twin flowers are a rarity in Scotland and stand only inches from the forest floor.  I wanted to convey an atmosphere akin to grabbing a fleeting glimpse of this secret flower within the shadows of the trees and felt black and white suited this best., Charles Everitt
    Twin flowers are a rarity in Scotland and stand only inches from the forest floor. I wanted to convey an atmosphere akin to grabbing a fleeting glimpse of this secret flower within the shadows of the trees and felt black and white suited this best., Charles Everitt

What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?

I enjoy all aspects of nature photography.  My approach these days is project driven; I identify an area and spend around four years familiarising myself with it and photographing its natural features - the wildlife, landscape, wildflowers and natural abstract patterns.  From the collection of images, I am then able to tell the story of the particular project in a photographic book.  Previous projects and books have included Water of Leith: Nature’s Course, following the river that flows through the centre of Edinburgh from source to outlet, and Forthshore: East Lothian’s Coastline, illustrating a beautiful stretch along the Firth of Forth’s shore.

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

Time, there’s never enough of it. I would dearly love to be able to spend more time to research, experiment, simply watch wildlife, and to visit locations more frequently.  There’s so much I’d like to do but no time to do it in.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I would like them to be transported to the scene and wish that they could have witnessed it themselves.  That means all the emotion, power and influence of the image (or set of images) has worked.

  • Red Squirrel, I have a red squirrel feeding station in a wood in the Cairngorms which attracts these adorable animals. The challenge is to take a variety of images and not just cute portraits. Given time and patience, they can be very obliging with regard to sitting on branches and stumps., Charles Everitt
    I have a red squirrel feeding station in a wood in the Cairngorms which attracts these adorable animals. The challenge is to take a variety of images and not just cute portraits. Given time and patience, they can be very obliging with regard to sitting on branches and stumps., Charles Everitt

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I have been photographing seriously since the the late nineties after my knee bent the wrong way on the rugby field.  Looking for something else to fill my time, I invested in a camera and read widely on photography.  Starting out photographing landscapes, I soon progressed onto wildlife and general nature.  It has now become my passion.  Many mistakes were made along the way - and still are - but one never stops learning and I find myself now thinking about how to capture images differently and creatively. 

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

It’s not about the equipment, it’s about ensuring that you use it regularly.  One doesn’t improve if the camera always remains in the bag.  Work close to home so you can familiarise yourself with your environment and visit it on a frequent basis.  Cut yourself some time each week to dedicate to your photography.  Always take the shot because it won’t ever be the same again if you come back another day.  Photograph for yourself; not for what might please others.  Finally - and most importantly -  experiment widely and enjoy your photography.

  • Firth of Forth Sunset, The sunset, the birds and the reflection from the damp sand all came together for this image taken during my project Forthshore: East Lothian's Coastline.  I felt it showed the wild beauty of the beach at Yellowcraigs, East Lothian., Charles Everitt
    The sunset, the birds and the reflection from the damp sand all came together for this image taken during my project Forthshore: East Lothian's Coastline. I felt it showed the wild beauty of the beach at Yellowcraigs, East Lothian., Charles Everitt

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

Only two minutes walk from my home in Edinburgh is a golf green with a small strip of woodland around it.  I’m currently photographing the nature within a 50-metre radius of the green - wildflowers, birds, badgers, foxes, roe deer, it’s all there and on the doorstep.

  • Badger, I have become well acquainted with this badger during my current project photographing the nature around a golf green.  I attract the badgers to a space well away from the sett so there is no disturbance to them and, sitting very quietly, they can be extremely accommodating.  Having photographed them for over four years now, I still feel the excitement every time they appear.  It is always a privilege to be so close to wild animals., Charles Everitt
    I have become well acquainted with this badger during my current project photographing the nature around a golf green. I attract the badgers to a space well away from the sett so there is no disturbance to them and, sitting very quietly, they can be extremely accommodating. Having photographed them for over four years now, I still feel the excitement every time they appear. It is always a privilege to be so close to wild animals., Charles Everitt

About the Art: Luke Wilkinson

The Horniman will be hosting the British Wildlife Photography Awards until 14 January 2018. Here we talk to photographer Luke Wilkinson about this work.

  • Peeking Red Fox Cub, 'Peeking Red Fox Cub' which appears in the 'Portraits' category, Luke Wilkinson
    'Peeking Red Fox Cub' which appears in the 'Portraits' category, Luke Wilkinson

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

I had spent five months on this one project; watching and documenting the lives of this family of foxes. It was a huge privilege to watch the cubs grow from just a few weeks old to the cusp of adulthood. This image was taken within a few weeks of finding the den. I was spending up to 10 hours a day, waiting for the cubs to appear, this individual suddenly popped his head out for a quick to look to check if it was safe to venture out. 

How did you go about getting that shot?

Just by being patient, lucky, and putting in the time. I spent as much time outside the den as possible to hopefully get 'that' shot. 

  • Fox Cub, Another view of the fox cub, Luke Wilkinson
    Another view of the fox cub, Luke Wilkinson

What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?

Obviously, I love photographing foxes, they are so entertaining to watch. I also like spending my time with grey seals on my local beach. Heading to the beach in the dark and watching the sunrise with just myself and the seals is magical. I like to try and create more unique images of my subjects, so they stand out from the crowd more. They take more time to get and plenty of failed attempts but the end results make it worth it. 

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

Just trying to stand out from the crowd. Photography is very popular, so it's best to try and be that little bit different from everybody. 

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

To hopefully inspire people to get outside and to see wildlife for themselves. If people stop and look for a few moments there is wildlife all around us. 

  • Fox Cub at night, A fox cub emerges from the shadows at night, Luke Wilkinson
    A fox cub emerges from the shadows at night, Luke Wilkinson

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

To capture this image I used a Nikon D4 with a 500mm lens plus a 1.4 teleconverter. I used Adobe Lightroom to process the image. 

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I have been into photography now for about five or six years. I only bought a DSLR camera for a holiday to get some nice 'snaps'. However, I have always been interested in wildlife from a young age, so in the end decided to take that route as I found it the most rewarding form of photography for myself. 

  • Equipment, Luke's equipment, including his Nikon D4 and 1.4m teleconverter, Luke Wilkinson
    Luke's equipment, including his Nikon D4 and 1.4m teleconverter, Luke Wilkinson

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

Get out and use the camera as much as possible. Don't be afraid to try different things. The more you use the camera the more you learn. Try and get low and at eye level with your subject to make a more personal image. 

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

Over the next few months, I will be spending most of my time on the beach working on grey seal pups. I have been working with them for many years now, so will be aiming to add a few different images to my portfolio. I've also got a few weeks up in Scotland focusing entirely on mountain hares. I love being up north, I'm just hoping for a decent amount of snow this year. 

  • Luke and Fox, Luke Wilkinson poses for a selfie with a foxy friend, Luke Wilkinson
    Luke Wilkinson poses for a selfie with a foxy friend, Luke Wilkinson

To find out more about Luke's photography, you can find him on Facebook or Instagram.

Specimen of the Month: The Hawfinch

Our latest exhibition has got Emma-Louise Nicholls, our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, twitching as she tells us all about Hawfinches (Coccothraustes coccothraustes) in her latest Specimen of the Month blog post.

New delights at the Horniman

At the Horniman, we currently have the pleasure of playing host to the British Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. These 87 invariably fetching images were submitted across 13 categories including the intriguingly named ‘Hidden’, which got imaginations whirring and macro-lenses reeling.

In the 'Habitat' category, a colourful hawfinch sits in a cherry tree, showing off its striking golden eyeshadow and jet black ‘beard’ in remarkable detail. It also reveals the ‘ringing’ that is evidently being carried out on this species in the shape of jewellery about both of the finch’s ankles. The gifter of these adornments is a brave soul indeed. As much as I too would like to get up close and personal with such a beautiful bird, its incredible biting force makes this comparatively tiny bird capable of cracking open tough nuts such as cherry stones - the human equivalent is a force of 60 tonnes.

  • Hawfinch in a Cherry Tree, This image, taken by Jeremy Moore, shows off the beauty of this bulky but shy finch species. − © Jeremy Moore
    This image, taken by Jeremy Moore, shows off the beauty of this bulky but shy finch species.

Twitching is a coincidence

This rather eye-catching bird is not one I’ve ever had the personal pleasure of seeing in the wild. However, in carrying out research for this article I came across, and am now an avid follower of, @HawfinchesUK on Twitter (there has to be a pun in that alone) which documents hawfinch sightings throughout the UK. The regular images of this beautiful bird popping up in their Twitter feed brighten a dreary autumn day and I’ve become thoroughly sold on the idea of a becoming a birdwatcher, who I am reliably informed are not to be called twitchers. Fair enough I’d say… as a palaeontologist, I get extremely irritated when someone says- “Oh you mean like archaeology?” (Another blog for another time).

The word ‘twitcher’ is connected to birdwatchers purely, it seems, due to a gentleman called Howard Medhurst, a British birdwatcher. Depending on your source, his twitching is attributed to either a ‘nervous behavioural trait’ of his or alternatively his shivering in the cold. Bracing against the English winter (and occasional summer) is not something specific to birding, but I can imagine it gets pretty darn chilly sitting motionless in a hide awaiting the arrival of a bird on its own schedule. I quite like the word twitcher, and it certainly appears a damp and chilly day in this nevertheless stunning image caught by birdwatcher Nick Truby, but it is for birdwatchers to decide on their own noun.

  • Nick Truby-1, Two hawfinches in a hornbeam tree, taken in Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire. Note the striking patterns on the wings and tail, being kindly displayed by the bird on the right for your appreciation. Image used with kind permission of Nick Truby− © Nick Truby
    Two hawfinches in a hornbeam tree, taken in Great Hampden, Buckinghamshire. Note the striking patterns on the wings and tail, being kindly displayed by the bird on the right for your appreciation. Image used with kind permission of Nick Truby

In the Hart of our Collection

The Horniman has an alluring case of taxidermy hawfinches that belonged to the esteemed taxidermist and wildfowler Edward Hart (1847-1928). The description of the case on the Museum’s database and Hart’s original catalogue lists the fine feathered figures as ‘two adult males, one immature male, and one adult female’. Those of you who got as far in maths as four will notice that only three hawfinches adorn this case - one is intriguingly absent. The missing male absconded before the case arrived at the Horniman in the 1980s and his original incorporation is only known at all due to Hart’s description of the case.

Of the three remaining finches, the doleful-looking one on the left is the female, identifiable by her slightly lighter plumage (or ‘much’ lighter in the case of certain faded historic specimens). The resplendent young man in flight is an adult male in his summer finery (the missing finch was in winter plumage), and in the bottom right is an immature male, indicated, as in many human teenagers, by the spots on his chest. Hart collected, and subsequently prepared, all three himself between 1873 and 1896 in Christchurch, Dorset*.

It is possible that the female (on the left in the image below) has faded, or perhaps that she was always slightly paler (leucistic) than your average lady hawfinch. Certainly, oddities were a fascination amongst Victorian collectors such as Hart. Thoughts on an electronic postcard (@HornimanMuseum).

*During Hart’s lifetime Christchurch was located in Hampshire, but has since been adopted by Dorset.

  • Hart's Hawfinches, Edward Hart would collect, prepare and mount the taxidermy specimens himself.
    Edward Hart would collect, prepare and mount the taxidermy specimens himself.

Museum Shop Sunday at the Horniman

On 26 November, the Horniman will be taking part in Museum Shop Sunday. Be sure to visit for some one-off bargains.

This Sunday, the Horniman will be offering 10% off the price of any Horniman branded products in our gift shops as part of a Museum Shop Sunday promotion. Museum Shop Sunday is a way for shops in cultural venues across the world to raise their profile during the busy Christmas shopping period.

The Horniman has extra reason to celebrate as ACE (Association for Cultural Enterprises) who run Museum Shop Sunday have awarded the new Butterfly House gift shop the ACE Shop of the Month award for October.

To give you a taste of what's on offer, our shop staff have picked out some of their favourite items in the shop.

Horniman Walrus Necklace

Designed exclusively for the Horniman by Just Trade, this hand-carved necklace is made from a single tagua nut by a fairtrade project in Ecuador. 

Regular Price: £25
Discounted Price: £22.50

Horniman T-Shirt

Display your love of the Walrus with pride by sporting this fetching T-Shirt.

Regular Price: £12
Discounted Price: £10.80

Horniman Kids' Handbook

The Horniman Kids' Handbook is a great way for little ones to get the most out of their visit and to help them keep learning afterwards. Full of facts, quizzes, puzzles, and stickers, it will keep the kids entertained for hours.

Regular Price: £6
Discounted Price: £5.40

Cuddly Walrus

Take the Walrus home with you with this incredibly soft cuddly walrus which makes a great gift for all ages.

Regular Price: £11
Discounted Price: £10

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