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About the Art: Ed Phillips

We spoke to British Wildlife Photography Awards' photographer, Ed Phillips, about bees, springtails and getting up close with your local environment.

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

We are fortunate in having very sandy soils in our garden. This attracts several species of mining-bees every year. I undertake to record and photograph all the bee species that visit or nest in the garden and have a particular interest in the solitary bee species.

  • About the Art: Ed Phillips, Nomada Cuckoo-bee holding-on with its mandibles whilst "roosting" on a Stachys leaf, Ed Phillips
    Nomada Cuckoo-bee holding-on with its mandibles whilst "roosting" on a Stachys leaf, Ed Phillips

Many bees have particular cuckoo-bees that parasitise their nests. Some of the mining-bee species’ nests are attacked by Nomada cuckoo-bees like the one in the photograph. They enter the nest hole when the host bee is away and then lay their own eggs in the provisioned brood cells there. They don’t need to prepare their own nest burrows or to collect pollen and nectar to provision them.

Female mining-bees often “roost” in their holes during the night or when the weather is unsuitable for flying. Cuckoo-bees don’t have a home of their own and can sometimes be found roosting on plants. Often they hang-on with their mandibles; as in the photo. I’m always on the lookout for this, but have only seen it a few times. The males of various solitary bee species can also be seen doing this sometimes.

How did you go about getting that shot?

  • About the Art: Ed Phillips, I do most of my invertebrate photography in our Staffordshire garden. I suspect that's because I'm lazy, but I say it's to know my patch (taken to the ultimate degree!). I have an interest in the solitary bee species and one of the garden shots shows some of the bees I've photographed there. This summer, I also found a Stelis phaeoptera cuckoo-bee in the garden. First county record since 1948!, Ed Phillips
    I do most of my invertebrate photography in our Staffordshire garden. I suspect that's because I'm lazy, but I say it's to know my patch (taken to the ultimate degree!). I have an interest in the solitary bee species and one of the garden shots shows some of the bees I've photographed there. This summer, I also found a Stelis phaeoptera cuckoo-bee in the garden. First county record since 1948!, Ed Phillips

I get up fairly early and invariably have a tour around the garden looking for insects and other invertebrates. It’s a good time to find potential photographic subjects that haven’t warmed-up yet. They are generally more sluggish and less inclined to fly away or scamper off when they are cold! I found this cuckoo-bee in our front garden handing from a Stachys leaf.

Because the bee was inactive, I didn’t (like often happens), have to rush the shot. I was able to position my camera/flash assembly on a bean-bag, lie down on the garden and get a good side-on shot.

  • About the Art: Ed Phillips, A female Osmia leaiana mason-bee, photographed in her nest hole in the garden. Shortlisted in BWPA but not selected., Ed Phillips
    A female Osmia leaiana mason-bee, photographed in her nest hole in the garden. Shortlisted in BWPA but not selected., Ed Phillips

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

It’s been about five years since I last saw this; so quite a wait! Interestingly though, this was one of three separate individuals that I found hanging from the same Stachys plant that week. All different Nomada species too.

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

  • About the Art: Ed Phillips, This is my regular setup for invertebrates, showing flash diffusers., Ed Phillips
    This is my regular setup for invertebrates, showing flash diffusers., Ed Phillips

Virtually all my photography involves macro work of some sort. I used a Canon DSLR and invariably, my favourite macro lens is attached. This is a specialist lens; the Canon MP-E 65mm F/2.8 Macro. It extends from 1:1 to 5:1 magnification.

It had no focussing mechanism, so focus is achieved by moving the whole camera assembly forwards and backwards. I prefer this method though, even for other macro lenses that have auto-focussing. I have a specialist twin-light flash too, that attaches to the front of the lens.

I run all my images through Adobe Lightroom initially. This allows me to make adjustments to the colour balance, overall lighting and exposure. I will then have made final changes in Photoshop Elements. This will just have involved cropping and the removal of sensor dust spots. Within the rules of the BWPA competition, other editing is not allowed.

  • About the Art: Ed Phillips, This is the setup I use for very small invertebrates like springtails. Gives ~8x magnification., Ed Phillips
    This is the setup I use for very small invertebrates like springtails. Gives ~8x magnification., Ed Phillips

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

Initially, I just wanted to record and photograph invertebrates that I encountered in the garden. I was a late starter to this type of photography (not until my mid-60s) and decided to concentrate initially on solitary bees and wasps. I’m still not very adventurous when it comes to finding new locations. Much of my photography is within a few miles of home. That does help you to know your patch though!

When the solitary bees and wasps are no longer active, I have another interest (my wife would call it an obsession); photographing springtails. These present a further challenge because of their small size. The ones I’m particularly interested in - the globular springtails - are generally less than 1mm long. It’s hard photographing subjects that you cannot see with the naked eye.

  • About the Art: Ed Phillips, A female aquatic springtail (Sminthurides aquaticus) by our garden pond. She is less than 1mm long. She is holding a saliva droplet. This is used for grooming. Shortlisted in BWPA but not selected., Ed Phillips
    A female aquatic springtail (Sminthurides aquaticus) by our garden pond. She is less than 1mm long. She is holding a saliva droplet. This is used for grooming. Shortlisted in BWPA but not selected., Ed Phillips

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

Well, there are the usual difficulties associated with invertebrates. They’re generally small, active and challenging to find. It’s not possible to identify the majority of our invertebrates from photographs. With some of the commoner species though this is possible and I always like to get a name for my subjects!

Because of invertebrate diversity, I enjoy just having a few insect types to concentrate on. This enables me to better understand their particular habitats and behaviours and to develop the required field-craft. I just wish I’d started all this a little earlier in life!

  • About the Art: Ed Phillips, Field Digger Wasp (Mellinus arvensis) with fly prey. They use paralysed flies to provision their nest holes. This shot in the garden, where we have lots nesting., Ed Phillips
    Field Digger Wasp (Mellinus arvensis) with fly prey. They use paralysed flies to provision their nest holes. This shot in the garden, where we have lots nesting., Ed Phillips

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

I love introducing people to types and species that they didn’t know existed before. It’s given me so much satisfaction and it’s lovely to see other people intrigued by the “hidden” wildlife around us all. Lots of people are surprised to know that we have around 270 species of bee in the UK and that there can be thousands of springtails per square metre of soil and leaf-litter.

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

I’ve had a camera since my late teens, but most of what I did was (like most people) holiday and family snaps. I did have a major career change in my 50s when I set-up a small photography business to supplement my main income. As I got nearer to retirement, I reduced activity in my main job and did more photography. I do little commercial photography now; preferring to do my wildlife stuff.

That all really started when I saw a mason bee sealing its nest hole with chewed leaves. The hole was in the wall of our previous house. I didn’t know what it was and that led me into searches though insect books and online. Fortunately, I then got introduced to Steven Falk who lived close to me. He has since produced (together with illustrator Richard Lewington) the wonderful Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland. The guide was long overdue. The previous concise UK bee guide was written in the 1890s! Steven has been a mentor and an inspiration to me.

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

Well first of all, get to know your local environment. Whether you’re photographing, out with binoculars or just walking, there will be lots to see. The more you look the more you find. I think that what really motivated me initially was finding a group of insects (the solitary bees) that really fascinated me. But there’s so much really; trees and wild flowers, fungi, birds. Look at other people’s work for inspiration.

  • About the Art: Ed Phillips, Starling feeding a juvenile. Once again, a garden shot. Submitted to BWPA but not shortlisted., Ed Phillips
    Starling feeding a juvenile. Once again, a garden shot. Submitted to BWPA but not shortlisted., Ed Phillips

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

The autumn and winter is sorted; springtails. Because so few people look for them (although there is considerable work being undertaken in neighbouring Shropshire to complete a county springtail atlas), there are always interesting things turning up.

Last month, I managed to find a previously-undescribed species in the garden of a local stately home. At the same location, I found a species that hadn’t been recorded in the county for 100 years!

I’ll be on the lookout for images for the 2018 BWPA too!

About the Art: David Tipling

We heard from British Wildlife Photography Awards' photographer David Tipling about his photograph, "Crowded Beach."

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

I photograph this seal colony regularly throughout the year as it is only a couple of miles from where I live. I am always looking for new angles to illustrate the seals.

I took aerials on a number of occasions over the space of a month.

  • David Tipling photography, David Tipling
    , David Tipling

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

I specialise largely in birds as that is what I became well known for 25 years ago when I turned professional.

My main motivation for being a professional wildlife photographer is lifestyle, being able to be out in the wilds following my passion for creating artistic pictures of nature rather than simply nicely lit portraits.

  • David Tipling photography, David Tipling
    , David Tipling

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

It is always challenging coming up with new ideas.

The biggest difficulty now is being able to make sensible living because of the competition in the market place. With over supply comes falling fees and a general devaluation in photographs.

  • David Tipling photography, David Tipling
    , David Tipling

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

The aim is always to try and make them go, "Wow!"

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

I have been taking pictures of wildlife for 40 years but a pro for 25.

  • David Tipling photography, David Tipling
    , David Tipling

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

Perseverance.

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

Current project is picture editing and shooting pictures for a book on eagles of the world. My next book a Bird Photographer’s Diaries was published in early December just in time for Christmas.

  • David Tipling photography, David Tipling
    , David Tipling

About the Art: Drew Buckley

British Wildlife Photography Awards' photographer, Drew Buckley talks to us about getting a good shot in an extreme location.

  • Photographs of hares by Drew Buckley, Kingdom of the Hare, Drew Buckley
    Kingdom of the Hare, Drew Buckley

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

I took this image on a trip to Scotland last winter. High up in the western Cairngorms is one of the best place to witness these hardy creatures going about their business. It was an exceptionally cold and windy day and photographing in these conditions was tough.

I started off shooting handheld with a super telephoto with the gusts blowing the lens hood around, meaning even photographing a static animal was tricky. Being able to see became an issue too with the powdered snow stinging my face in the wind, not to mention the lens hood was filling up with snow every few minutes and coating the lens, which needed wiping.

It's probably one of the harshest weathers I've photographed in, however wholly satisfying and totally rewarding.

  • Photographs of hares by Drew Buckley, Drew Buckley
    , Drew Buckley

How did you go about getting that shot?

From being solely focused looking uphill at the hare, after turning around and seeing the vast landscape behind me, I thought I have to include this!

First challenge was to change lenses from the 500mm to the 24-70mm without covering the camera internals in snow, then to move around to a position above the Hare so as to shoot back into the mountainous backdrop finding a pleasing composition.

  • Photographs of hares by Drew Buckley, Drew Buckley
    , Drew Buckley

With the wind blasting across the hillside, the clouds were really shifting across the scene and I must have shot over 50 images, all slightly different as the sun went in and out of the clouds, finally settling on this one as I prefer the subtle lighting on the hills and colours in the sky.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

As with any good wildlife photography, you need to be accepted into their world and to get the best shots. Ultimately you want them relaxed and behaving naturally.

To gain the animal's trust you need you need to spend plenty of time with them, for instance I spent around three hours with this individual, gradually moving closer and checking it was content with me before proceeding. Over time the hare completely accepted me and was happy with my presence. Treat them with respect and they will reward you with a great insight into their world.

  • Photographs of hares by Drew Buckley, Drew Buckley
    , Drew Buckley

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

Not really, just lots of layers of clothing, digital SLR and lens.

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

Creating eye-catching imagery but keeping it natural is what makes me tick.

In recent years, I've definitely started shooting more 'habitat' images, where the landscape is as much part of the shot as the subject species is, this example is probably one of favourites.

  • Photographs of hares by Drew Buckley, Drew Buckley
    , Drew Buckley

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

Finding the right setting is always an important aspect, as is having a cooperative subject.

So, in most cases I'll work with the familiar species such as garden birds or woodland mammals, and of course my favourite seabirds - Puffins - which I spend a lot of time with in the summer months on my local island of Skomer.

  • Photographs of hares by Drew Buckley, Drew Buckley
    , Drew Buckley

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

I guess the right answer is to be inspired but I can't say that's my objective from the outset. I've always fundamentally photographed for myself and if others like it too, or take inspiration from it, then that's a very humbling feeling.

  • Photographs of hares by Drew Buckley, Drew Buckley
    , Drew Buckley

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

I've been a full time professional for seven years now, before that I was a very enthusiastic amateur that stemmed from an early age thanks to brotherly influences. Both had SLR cameras and that sowed the seed in the early 90s.

  • Photographs of hares by Drew Buckley, Drew Buckley
    , Drew Buckley

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

Definitely start local. Think about composition; the light is very important and how you can tie it up in a creative manner. I find these images much more interesting that exotic shots from far flung destinations.

  • Photographs of hares by Drew Buckley, Drew Buckley
    , Drew Buckley

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

Early in 2018 should see the launch of my third book, Photographing South Wales published by FotoVUE. It has been my project now for more than 3 years working on visiting locations and writing all the text to go with each viewpoint. FotoVUE are making some superb photo location and visitor guidebooks for an ever growing list of locations and I was privileged to be asked to cover my 'patch' back in 2014.

The journey over this time has made me fall even more in love with my home country and showcases the diversity South Wales offers everyone throughout the year. I've tried to select a good variety of photographic subjects in this book, so whether you are looking for coast or beach views, river valleys, upland rambles or castles, then the end result, is a book that will hopefully help and inspire others on their photographic journey through South Wales.

As well as my South Wales book, I'm also working on many other publications to be released in 2018 and into 2019.

About the Art: Jan Galko

In our latest blog post focusing on photographers featured in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, we spoke to Jan Galko about his work.

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

For this particular shot, I just went out as usual with my camera ready. This picture was taken at one of my favourite local places - the River Anton near Andover. I was fascinated by a pair of swans that were building a nest, fiercely protecting any potential invaders. The wire stretched across the river meant that not all of the chased intruders escaped unscathed. As I was born in central Europe the barbed wire is somehow symbolic for me.

  • The Last Song by Jan Galko, Jan Galko's 'The Last Song' features in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards in the 'Close to Nature' category, Jan Galko
    Jan Galko's 'The Last Song' features in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards in the 'Close to Nature' category, Jan Galko

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

Camera Nikon D7100. Lens Sigma 150- 500mm. Photoshop. A pair of wellies. 

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

I have not got a fixed idea as to what I am going to photograph when I leave the house. I am always prepared to be surprised and am grateful for little opportunities that offer themselves to me. The basic criteria for a good photo is good light and composition. But to really feel happy, the photo needs to have a meaning.

  • Autumn above Anton lake, Jan Galko
    , Jan Galko

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

Juggling between my day job and my hobby proves quite difficult at times. I try to seize every moment I have and go out with a camera. Other than that, I also find frustrating the boundaries created by private land. Just as everything is coming together; I have the subject, the perfect light, all I need is to tweak the angle or come a bit closer and the big private sign gets in the way. To set the record straight, so far I have always stayed within the law.

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

I think, just as with any other form of art, I would like people to come away having discovered something new for themselves. That all that they need to do is to look around them as there is a wealth of beauty all around us.

  • The touch of the sun, Jan Galko
    , Jan Galko

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

My background is in the fine arts, with a particular interest in landscape painting. My passion for photography only really came into with the introduction of digital colour photography.

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

Patience.

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

One of my dreams is to capture the misty atmosphere - there is a picture that I painted in my mind: the perfect moment when the balance between sun and condensation in the air results in a myriad of colours and only lasts for a few seconds. This is my next challenge.
Other than that, I enjoy taking pictures of other photographers at work - peculiar creatures, contortionist aren't they?

About the Art: Wendy Ball

In our latest blog post focusing on photographers featured in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, we spoke to Wendy Ball about finding the perfect shot in the Arctic or even in your back garden.

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

Although we have a large variety of birds visiting my feeders in the garden, visits from Sparrowhawks are rare. As I was about to leave home I saw this Sparrowhawk endeavouring to fly with this freshly killed Collared Dove. After unlocking the door of the house, running upstairs, attaching my camera and lens I fully expected the bird to have vanished. However, it was still there trying to fly off with the Collared Dove. I was able to capture this image before it finally left with its prize. Sometimes you need a great spoonful of luck.

  • Murder in the Garden, Wendy Ball's 'Murder in the Garden' is featured in the 'Urban' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards on display at the Horniman, Wendy Ball
    Wendy Ball's 'Murder in the Garden' is featured in the 'Urban' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards on display at the Horniman, Wendy Ball

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

The equipment I used was a Canon 5D Mark 111 and 100-400mm lens, handheld.

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

I find that I am not only fascinated by principally wildlife but the wider picture of landscapes, the minutiae of macro as well as everything in between. It has enhanced my perception of the world around us and made me very aware of the environment, wildlife, and the ever-changing light.

  • Polar Bear, As we anchored off the atmospheric remote island of Karl X11-Oya, in the Svalbard archipelago, a female polar bear was spotted on the cliffs scouring a kittiwake colony. For me, my images transport me back to the occasion of their capture. I can hear the cries of the kittiwakes, the gentle sound of the water, cracking and popping of the ice and the breath of an apex predator., Wendy Ball
    As we anchored off the atmospheric remote island of Karl X11-Oya, in the Svalbard archipelago, a female polar bear was spotted on the cliffs scouring a kittiwake colony. For me, my images transport me back to the occasion of their capture. I can hear the cries of the kittiwakes, the gentle sound of the water, cracking and popping of the ice and the breath of an apex predator., Wendy Ball

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

I suppose one of the main difficulties that I face is the lack of time. I would love to be able to spend more time adding to the already amazing bank of wildlife experiences that I have shared with my husband. There are many, many more places and wildlife to see and experience, and time is becoming increasingly more precious. As our knowledge increases, I find there is so much more to learn, not only about photography but about the species that I am capturing and the wonderful world we live in.

For example, I was taking pictures of solitary bees that were establishing nest sites in our garden. Another rather different looking bee was in the vicinity, so I took pictures of it. Later, using the photos as ID, I found out that it was a cuckoo bee of the leaf cutter bees that I had been observing.
On another occasion, I found that one of the Bumblebees had parasites that were clearly seen in the photos - again something that would have passed me by. You learn something new every day.

  • Walruses, These two Walrus were lying on a floating ice platform in Svalbard. These animals forage on the sea floor, searching and identifying prey, principally bivalve mollusks such as clams, with its sensitive whiskers and clearing the sediment with jets of water and active flipper movements.  The walrus sucks the meat out by sealing its powerful lips to the clam and withdrawing its tongue rapidly into its mouth, creating a vacuum., Wendy Ball
    These two Walrus were lying on a floating ice platform in Svalbard. These animals forage on the sea floor, searching and identifying prey, principally bivalve mollusks such as clams, with its sensitive whiskers and clearing the sediment with jets of water and active flipper movements. The walrus sucks the meat out by sealing its powerful lips to the clam and withdrawing its tongue rapidly into its mouth, creating a vacuum., Wendy Ball

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

For me, the joy of taking photographs is that it has taken me to places in the world that I would never have visited otherwise. I have been very lucky that my husband and I have the same sense of values, love of the outdoors and wildlife, and have been able to enjoy the same hobbies together. It is wonderful that other people get a taste of these things through our photographs. My photographs have been a great learning tool too. As a former teacher they provoked many questions, excitement, and wonderment of the world. The fact that I could relate the tales behind the images as first-hand experiences definitely brought them alive in quite a unique and personal way. This has also applied to friends and family too.

  • Arctic Fox cubs, Arctic Foxes are able to survive in the harshest environments due to the quality of their fur providing insulation and by building up their fat reserves in the autumn, sometimes increasing their body weight by more than 50%. This provides greater insulation during the winter and a source of energy when food is scarce. We have watched them on several occasions predating on Kittiwake colonies taking birds and eggs and caching them in dens.  These two cubs were fighting over a kittiwake wing.  The photo was taken hand held from a small zodiac close to the shore., Wendy Ball
    Arctic Foxes are able to survive in the harshest environments due to the quality of their fur providing insulation and by building up their fat reserves in the autumn, sometimes increasing their body weight by more than 50%. This provides greater insulation during the winter and a source of energy when food is scarce. We have watched them on several occasions predating on Kittiwake colonies taking birds and eggs and caching them in dens. These two cubs were fighting over a kittiwake wing. The photo was taken hand held from a small zodiac close to the shore., Wendy Ball

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

My father was a keen photographer and I was fascinated as a young child to see images emerging like magic from blank paper. I began taking photos myself in order to record family life and family holidays. With the luxury of more time when I retired, it became a natural progression to take photography more seriously and it became a steep learning curve in order to take more imaginative images and to progress from ‘record shots’ to aesthetically pleasing images. This steep learning curve has not diminished - it is increasing. Primarily I take photographs for my own purposes and enjoyment. For me, they transport me back to the sight, sound, and feeling of the location where they were taken. Increasingly more people have taken an interest and gained enjoyment from my photographs. It is lovely to be able to share them with a wider audience.

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

Firstly, do not underestimate your immediate locality. My image that achieved a Highly Commended in the 2016 British Wildlife photography awards is a good example. Many of my images have been taken in our small garden which is located in a village on the South Downs. I have attracted a lot of wildlife into the garden by setting up bird feeders and a regular supply of water. I have two water features in the garden with running water. Both have attracted wildlife such as birds, frogs, snails, and newts. An old Belfast sink had seven newts breeding in it this last year which was fascinating to see. I have grown many pollen-rich plants for bees and butterflies. I purchase a colony of Bumblebees each year which the family finds fascinating to watch. We also have a large cedar tree in the garden and erected a Tawny Owl nest box which is sited so that it is visible from the bedroom windows. To our delight, it has been used for the last two years and enabled us to witness the development of the young owlets.

  • Mouse in the compost bin_60A4196, I had noticed that there had been some disturbance in the compost bin in our garden.  After observing at a distance using the car as a hide, I discovered that some mice were foraging amongst the discarded vegetable matter.  So I set up my camera on a tripod at the side of the car and waited.  Eventually, the mice reappeared and continued with their foraging.  During the course of three or four days, I continued to photograph them, gradually moving closer.  By keeping very still the mice accepted and appeared totally unaware of my presence, and some even began caching food in the flower bed adjacent to my feet.  It was fascinating to watch their antics and the interaction and personality of some of the individuals.  It is a good example of nature on your doorstep., Wendy Ball
    I had noticed that there had been some disturbance in the compost bin in our garden. After observing at a distance using the car as a hide, I discovered that some mice were foraging amongst the discarded vegetable matter. So I set up my camera on a tripod at the side of the car and waited. Eventually, the mice reappeared and continued with their foraging. During the course of three or four days, I continued to photograph them, gradually moving closer. By keeping very still the mice accepted and appeared totally unaware of my presence, and some even began caching food in the flower bed adjacent to my feet. It was fascinating to watch their antics and the interaction and personality of some of the individuals. It is a good example of nature on your doorstep., Wendy Ball

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

On a local level, I am baiting an old post in our garden to hopefully attract the Tawny Owl in order for me to take photos using techniques that I am learning at present. I am applying these techniques to foxes that are visiting the garden too. I discovered they were visiting the garden on a regular basis by setting up a couple of trail cameras. This year I want to experiment with trying to capture the newt activity using underwater photography.

On a wider front, we have two major projects planned for next year. The first is a trip to Canada to photograph Snowy Owls. This will present quite a few challenges working in an extremely cold environment. We have worked in the cold before in Finland, Norway and Svalbard.
The second involves underwater photography which will be a new venture for us. We will be snorkelling with Whale Sharks, Manta Rays and hopefully Humpbacks on the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.

  • Wendy Ball IMG_0631, Wendy Ball
    , Wendy Ball

About the Art: Daniel Trim

We caught up with Daniel Trim whose photograph 'Heathrow Roostings' was picked by judges as the overall winner of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards.

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

I’d heard about an amazing roost of pied wagtails at Heathrow Terminal 5 and during a cold snap in winter I felt it was the perfect time to pay the area a visit. When I arrived, there were no birds and as dusk fell I thought maybe the roost had moved. However, over the space of the next 20 to 30 minutes, hundreds flew into the trees just outside the terminal building, an amazing sight. I wanted to include as many man-made lights as possible to highlight the urban setting – it took a while to find a bird near fairy lights that I could line up with one of the yellow gate number signs within the terminal behind too. I then just had to wait for the bird to untuck its head for a split second to give a more interesting silhouette, it didn’t take too long thankfully.

  • Heathrow Roostings, 'Heathrow Roostings' the overall winner of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards., Daniel Trim
    'Heathrow Roostings' the overall winner of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards., Daniel Trim

How did you go about getting that shot?

It wasn’t too difficult logistically, it just involved an expensive few hours parking in the short term car park at Heathrow Terminal 5.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

I had to wait about an hour and a half but took several others in that time.

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

The only equipment of note was a tripod to keep things steady in the dark conditions.

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

I love urban wildlife, using man-made lights and celebrating how wildlife copes and thrives in our towns and cities.

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

For me it’s finding the time, I have a full-time demanding job. It can also be very tricky finding something new in the UK, that doesn’t mean I’m against using other people photos for inspiration though.

  • Three Amigos, 'The Three Amigos' which features in the 'Botanical' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards., Daniel Trim
    'The Three Amigos' which features in the 'Botanical' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards., Daniel Trim

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

Hopefully, it helps them realise what amazing nature is there to be seen and to celebrate what we have in the UK. I would also like to think it inspires people to get out and take their own photographs.

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

Since I was around 10, so roughly 20 years but more seriously in the last 6-7 years. I have always been interested in wildlife and my mum let me use one of her old film cameras on nature holidays, this was the trigger.

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

Get up early and stay out late – that’s the best time to see most wildlife but also when there’s the best light for photography. One thing I find good in photography is to keep it local, visit places multiples times and focus on certain specific subjects – you’ll take better photos than one-off visits to faraway places.

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

Recently, I’ve been photographing otters in Suffolk and seals on the Norfolk coast but plan to start some more regular visits to London over the next few months to photograph the urban birds (starlings, pigeons, etc).

Specimen of the Month: The Red Fox

Emma-Louise Nicholls, our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, tells us all about our foxy neighbours - Vulpes vulpes.

It's a girl! Or is it a boy?

Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have very little sexual dimorphism, that is - they are hard to tell apart. If you spot two of them together, ask them to stand side by side and (assuming you’re definitely talking to a male and a female), one of them will have a wider and more domed shaped head and look a little heavier-set. That is the male. It is slightly easier in the mating season (though approaching foxes at this time may be impolite), as certain external organs become larger on the male as they fill up with the DNA of future cubs.

Female foxes also go through morphological changes if she breeds. When nursing, the mother’s teats will become enlarged and her belly fur, normally white or grey in colour, turns a deep red. If you would like to observe this phenomenon, cubs are born in the spring but won’t emerge from their dens until the summer. So your best bet for teat spotting is when the mother and cubs are running around between May and July. If it’s a very hot summer, the cubs may venture out sooner however, so keep an eye on the barometer.

  • Red Fox at HMG, Telling a male from a female is difficult if you don't have one of each to compare, like this visitor to our gardens in October., Emma-Louise Nicholls
    Telling a male from a female is difficult if you don't have one of each to compare, like this visitor to our gardens in October., Emma-Louise Nicholls

Baby Blues

As tiny balls of dark fluff, newly sprung fox cubs are blind and deaf for the first few days of life. When their eyes eventually open in their fuzzy-furred, stumpy-nosed faces, the irises are slate-blue in colour. As they begin to grow into their delightfully oversized ears the muzzle lengthens into a shape beginning to resemble that of their parents. When the cub reaches between four to eight weeks old, the blue eyes darken to an amber colour, to match those of the adults.

The case on display in the Natural History Gallery houses two adults and four cubs. Those with sharp skills of observation will notice that the adults have brown eyes whilst the cubs have blue eyes, suggesting therefore that the cubs are less than four weeks old - eight weeks at the most.  The case is by Rowland Ward historically one of the most prolific suppliers of taxidermy to museums across the world. The fox case came to the Museum all the way back in 1939. So in fact, despite still having blue eyes, the cubs are quite a bit older - more like 78 years and eight weeks, say.

  • NH.39.78, If you look closely, you can see the cubs have blue eyes whereas the adults have brown eyes., Emma-Louise Nicholls
    If you look closely, you can see the cubs have blue eyes whereas the adults have brown eyes., Emma-Louise Nicholls

British Wildlife Photography Awards

These beautiful animals are extremely adaptable and have set about world domination with enthusiasm, only avoiding Iceland, the Arctic islands, and a few areas within Siberia. Sadly, experts believe they have become locally extinct in Korea, though it is inconclusive as to why. They even appear absent within the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea which is otherwise considered a wildlife haven due to the (relative) lack of human presence.

The UK, however, has a healthy population of around 240,000 according to the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, 14% of which live in urban areas. One such individual was caught on camera in the gorgeous image below, on display in our new temporary exhibition of images from the British Wildlife Photography Awards. As you can see the cub’s irises are brown, not blue as in our Rowland Ward case. Together with the white and red patches of facial fur coming through, this means that this little cutie pie is at least eight weeks old. The things you learn on blogs.

  • 02.27_PORTRAITS_BWPA_Peeking_Red_Fox_Cub (c) Luke_Wilkinson, This beautiful image was selected for the British Wildlife Photographers Award exhibition, and is on display in the Portraits category., Luke Wilkinson
    This beautiful image was selected for the British Wildlife Photographers Award exhibition, and is on display in the Portraits category., Luke Wilkinson

About the Art: Peter Cairns

We spoke to British Wildlife Photography Awards' photographer, Peter Cairns, about 're-wilding' Scotland and getting up close and personal with some of Britain's most magnificent birds.

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

Around 15 years ago, I erected an artificial nesting platform close to my home in the Cairngorms. Two years later an osprey pair moved in and have been there ever since. This is the male and I’ve been photographing him on and off for most of that time.

  • Rewilding Icon, Peter Cairn's Rewilding Icon appears in the Habitats category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, Peter Cairns
    Peter Cairn's Rewilding Icon appears in the Habitats category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, Peter Cairns

How did you go about getting that shot?

I’ve had a hide set up on a perch near the nest for a number of years but I really wanted to show the wider habitat so over a number of weeks I put a dummy camera on a tripod and gradually moved it closer to the perch, making sure each time that the osprey was accepting of this new element in the landscape. Eventually, it was close enough to put in a real camera with a wide-angle lens, which I activated using a radio transmitter from the nearby hide. The osprey was totally unfazed and allowed me to get a series of images showing the inter-dependence between the bird and the habitat on which it depends.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

For this actual shot, not that long – a couple of hours maybe – but this is the result of many years work before I even got a chance to press the shutter. Wildlife photography is 90% preparation and just 10% execution – pressing the shutter is the easy bit.

  • K2_pine_marten_forest, The pine marten is symbolic of a rare wildlife comeback. This super-sized stoat used to be one of Britain's most common carnivores but through habitat loss and persecution, was forced to the most remote reaches of the Scottish Highlands. With improving habitat and more enlightened attitudes, the marten has staged a remarkable recovery in recent years and through active conservation can now be found in parts of England and Wales., Peter Cairns
    The pine marten is symbolic of a rare wildlife comeback. This super-sized stoat used to be one of Britain's most common carnivores but through habitat loss and persecution, was forced to the most remote reaches of the Scottish Highlands. With improving habitat and more enlightened attitudes, the marten has staged a remarkable recovery in recent years and through active conservation can now be found in parts of England and Wales., Peter Cairns

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

Just a transmitter in the hide and a receiver fitted to the camera so that I could watch the osprey and then fire the shutter when he came into the perfect position.

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

I’ve travelled quite a bit over the years but these days I prefer to work close to home in the Scottish Highlands, covering stories that relate to the growing momentum behind ecological restoration or 're-wilding.' Britain is one of the most ecologically depleted nations on Earth and I want my photography to show how the country could be so much more – not only for the benefit of wildlife but human life too.

  • 5, I've been attracting red squirrels to my forest hide for over 10 years. This individual, photographed leaping across a forest clearing, was a regular visitor to my feeding station and was at least five years old when he disappeared - a pretty good age for a squirrel. Scotland's Cairngorms National Park remains one of the red squirrel's strongholds against the tide of non-native grey squirrels which have displaced the reds across much of the country., Peter Cairns
    I've been attracting red squirrels to my forest hide for over 10 years. This individual, photographed leaping across a forest clearing, was a regular visitor to my feeding station and was at least five years old when he disappeared - a pretty good age for a squirrel. Scotland's Cairngorms National Park remains one of the red squirrel's strongholds against the tide of non-native grey squirrels which have displaced the reds across much of the country., Peter Cairns

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

Where do I start? Scotland isn’t the Serengeti so getting close to almost anything takes time and planning. At a professional level, the business has changed beyond recognition so competition these days is intense and the standard of photography just keeps growing. That’s why I tend to focus close to home on what I know and can photograph in depth.

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

The great thing about visual imagery is that it transcends age, gender, and background and can touch people on an emotional level. If you can tie spectacular imagery in with a compelling narrative, you have a very powerful communication tool. I want my images and the stories they tell to primarily inform but if they inspire as well, I feel my job is done.

  • 4, Capercaillie are the world's largest grouse and one of Britain's rarest birds, now thought to number no more than 1500. They are confined to the pinewoods of northern Scotland where habitat fragmentation means they face an uncertain future. This male, photographed close to home, is a so-called rogue that displays uncharacteristic aggression towards anything that enters its territory - including photographers., Peter Cairns
    Capercaillie are the world's largest grouse and one of Britain's rarest birds, now thought to number no more than 1500. They are confined to the pinewoods of northern Scotland where habitat fragmentation means they face an uncertain future. This male, photographed close to home, is a so-called rogue that displays uncharacteristic aggression towards anything that enters its territory - including photographers., Peter Cairns

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

Typically I guess it was on an African safari back in the early nineties. I became a freelance in 1999. Since then, as I said before the business of nature photography has changed beyond recognition.

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

Work locally – get to know the species and/or habitats that you have regular access to. Set yourself a challenge or a project. It might be documenting the wildlife of your local park or canal. Better still focus on a story – the life of a garden robin or a local conservation project. Try and avoid a haphazard, machine-gun approach – trying to cover too much leads to frustration. Above all, however, enjoy your photography.

  • K1_golden_eagle, Shot using a remote camera trap, this golden eagle is feeding on a dead red deer hind, culled as part of efforts to regenerate native woodland across large parts of the Highlands. Golden eagles breed on the west coast of Scotland in high densities but further east, many territories remain vacant where persecution of these majestic raptors is sadly still widespread. , Peter Cairns
    Shot using a remote camera trap, this golden eagle is feeding on a dead red deer hind, culled as part of efforts to regenerate native woodland across large parts of the Highlands. Golden eagles breed on the west coast of Scotland in high densities but further east, many territories remain vacant where persecution of these majestic raptors is sadly still widespread. , Peter Cairns

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

With colleagues I’m totally focused on SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, a multimedia initiative amplifying the case for a wilder Scotland. Right now, I’m doing stories on wildcats and red deer.

  • K4_autumn_forest_MF, The story of Scotland's Great Wood, the forest which once cloaked much of the country, is one that has fascinated me for years. Sitting beneath an ancient pine perhaps 400 years old, it's not hard to imagine the distant howling of wolves or the dawn calls of cranes, both now long gone. There is however, a growing will to restore significant parts of the forest and the return of ospreys, pine martens and more recently beavers, shows it can be done. I might not be around to see the results of that restoration but I hope that my images help towards the vision becoming a reality., Peter Cairns
    The story of Scotland's Great Wood, the forest which once cloaked much of the country, is one that has fascinated me for years. Sitting beneath an ancient pine perhaps 400 years old, it's not hard to imagine the distant howling of wolves or the dawn calls of cranes, both now long gone. There is however, a growing will to restore significant parts of the forest and the return of ospreys, pine martens and more recently beavers, shows it can be done. I might not be around to see the results of that restoration but I hope that my images help towards the vision becoming a reality., Peter Cairns

About the Art: Alex Mustard

We spoke to Alex Mustard as part of our ongoing interview series with photographers whose work is being featured in our exhibition of the British Wildlife Photography Awards.

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

Grey seals are not only one of our largest predators, but the UK is also a very important place for them. The British Isles are home to about 40% of the world population, yet many people have never even seen one.

This a major reason why I like to photograph them and I am happy with the success that they have had in the contest.

  • Snoring seal, Snoring Seal, Alex Mustard
    Snoring Seal, Alex Mustard

How did you go about getting that shot?

Having photographed seals many times before (I have twice been a category winner in the BWPA with seal photos) I wanted to try and do something different.

I guess most photographers would ignore a sleeping seal, but I decided to spend some time slowly creeping up on this pregnant female. I was really drawn to the scene of her relaxed in this bed of soft kelp.

I used an ultra wide angle fisheye lens to I could capture her and her bed clearly in the frame. As I hovered above her, she let out a trail of small bubbles from her nose, never opening her eyes. This small detail made this shot a special one.

  • Alex Mustard with his camera, Alex and his kit, Alex Mustard
    Alex and his kit, Alex Mustard

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

This is never an easy question to answer as a photographer. Each photo takes just a fraction of a second to make, but to get exactly that frame in your viewfinder builds on knowledge and experience of cameras, locations, technique and wildlife that have taken all your life up to that point.

This photo took about 15 minutes from spotting the sleeping seal, to finally creeping into position to photograph her without disturbing her sleep.  

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

Underwater photographers use the same types of cameras as other wildlife photographers, but we need to put them into underwater housings and then use underwater flashes for light and special lenses with them.

This picture was taken with a Nikon D5 camera and Sigma 15mm fisheye lens, in an underwater housing, build in Austria by a company called Subal specifically for that model of camera.

  • Alex Mustard with his camera, Alex with his camera, Alex Mustard
    Alex with his camera, Alex Mustard

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

I love photographing seals and sea lions (we only have seals in the UK).

They are very fast, but also curious and sometimes playful. Especially the youngsters. They are very expressive and have a range of interesting behaviours to capture in photos.

  • Alex Mustard with his camera, Seal selfie, Alex Mustard
    Seal selfie, Alex Mustard

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

As an underwater photographer, I take pictures in an environment that I can’t survive in without specialist equipment and that my camera cannot function in without special protection.

In British Seas, it is also pretty murky – which is a problem for producing clear and detailed images. Fortunately, marine wildlife is not naturally scared of people, so we are rewarded with close encounters. And it is a great place to take photos because so many of our subjects are unknown to our audience, there are many surprising stories to tell. 

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

I hope that they get to know the sea. Not many people get to see the wonderful wildlife that lives off our shores, and I hope that people get a window to this world through my pictures.

This is important because the sea effects our lives in many ways – healthy seas provide us with oxygen, create our rainwater and provide food. But often we ask too much of them, taking too much away or dumping too much in them – this stops them working as they should. Which is bad for the wildlife that lives there, but also bad for us.

  • Alex Mustard with his camera, Diving with seals, Alex Mustard
    Diving with seals, Alex Mustard

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

I took my first photos underwater when I was 9 years old and have been doing so ever since. I have worked as a professional photographer for the last 14 years and now shoot all over the world.

Contests such as BWPA are really important steps in developing a career and getting your name known to potential clients. They are very valuable for photographers keen to enhance their credentials.

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

Become and expert, not a generalist. Pick and area of photography to specialise in.

If it is wildlife, choose a species that you have good access to and challenge yourself to learn everything about it. Then challenge yourself to build the best possible portfolio of images of just that species.

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

I have just returned from photographing Californian sea lions in Mexico. At this time of year, the new pups born in the summer have just started swimming. They are small and powered by mum’s milk, so they are full of energy and very playful. They are a lot of fun to shoot.

Soon I head to Indonesia to photograph the weird marine life that lives on coral reefs there – strange creatures such as the mimic octopus and the flamboyant cuttlefish!

Although I only shoot still images, not video, you can currently see images of mine in the BBC Blue Planet II book and in much of the promotional material used by the BBC for that series. 

Visit the British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition to see Alex's work.

About the Art: John Brackenbury

We hear from John Brackenbury as part of our ongoing series with photographers whose work is shown in the British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition.

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

My main subjects in nature are insects, plants and the landscapes in which they live.

As a close-up photographer, I am constantly aware of what is going on beneath my feet but at the same time I am also conscious of the backdrop to these macro scenes - the landscape and the sky - and this stops me from becoming too myopic!

Sometimes I set out with a specific subject in mind, and this certainly applies to the project which has preoccupied me throughout the spring and summer of 2017. At other times I simply keep my eyes open for opportunities that might present themselves.

  • Spiderlings on gossamer tent, Spiderlings on gossamer tent, John Brackenbury
    Spiderlings on gossamer tent, John Brackenbury

How did you go about getting that shot?

The spider shot was one such opportunity. For several days in succession I had noticed a steady build-up of gossamer tents on – of all things – a large dung heap in the corner of a field. The autumn sky is full of countless tiny spiderlings ballooning through the air at the end of silken threads, driven by an impulse to disperse. The warm, cosy environment of the dung heap evidently encouraged these migrants to stay on!

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

A few preliminary shots failed to bring out any sense of drama in the shape of the tents themselves. What was missing was dramatic lighting and this meant waiting for a low sun to provide back-lighting.

I had already identified one or two individual tents with interesting symmetrical shapes but it was several evenings later that the sunset supplied the missing element.

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

To diffuse the background I used a medium telephoto lens rather than a conventional macro lens. Time and environment precluded the use of a tripod so the shot had to be done hand-held. This forced me to use a relatively high ISO number – always a negative in macro work – but also a narrow aperture which was a plus because (as bird photographers know) it provided the “bokeh.". Photography like everything else is a compromise.

  • Dragonfly, John Brackenbury
    , John Brackenbury

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

It is not always easy to describe the motivations behind one’s photography, indeed it might be counter-productive to try to analyse this too closely.

I speak as a nature photographer trying to capture something indefinable in my subject, although of course certain boxes – technical in nature – always have to be ticked. My motivation is ultimately to be found in the opening statements above: a wish to present my close-up subjects. Not as isolated things seen through the end of a lens, but as creatures inhabiting a landscape. Hence my attempts over the years to develop the vision and the equipment to make this happen.

  • Insects, John Brackenbury
    , John Brackenbury

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

In my own case there are two kinds of difficulty. The first is technical and I could write a book describing the way in which I have tried to match aspiration to technical innovation. Perhaps at a later point …

But equally, success has meant trying to understand the behaviour of the beast. In my latest work I photograph insects in flight with a hand-held camera. The technical problems are considerable but the biggest challenge has been trying to predict the behaviour of the insect in the next half-second of time. That half-second is my only window to getting a shot.

If I say it is a battle of wills (the insect’s and mine) that might sound like over-statement, but it is nothing less and nothing less gets the shot.

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

The beauty of nature of course, and this applies particularly to the more conventional macro work.

Macro work is rarely going to have the emotional impact that, for example, a photograph of a tiger or a shark might have because people cannot project their emotions onto a beetle. Beetles are not cuddly or ferocious.

But in my 'panoramic close-up photography' I ask the viewer to don a different pair of spectacles, to see the insect or flower in the larger landscape. Almost as if they were momentarily shrunken in size and standing next to it.

Does this bring the viewer closer to nature? It will never be possible to empathize with a butterfly but I do believe a 'close-up within a landscape ' shot can instil the feeling that tiny creatures such as insects live out their lives alongside us humans and share the same space, rather than existing remotely beneath our feet.

  • Insects, John Brackenbury
    , John Brackenbury

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

Since about 1987. I was on a springtime visit to the Mediterranean island of Rhodes and was entranced by the colours of the mountainsides, but realised on returning home that I had only mental images where photographs might have done a better job. Never an advocate previously, I picked up a camera and began an adventure.

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

Forget the camera for a few weeks: go out into the countryside and use your eyes. In that period you may well come home and say to yourself regretfully, “I wish I had had the camera, I missed that wonderful shot!“ Good, you are on the right road, so go out and buy a camera – and don’t worry that the best shot got away.

  • Insects, John Brackenbury
    , John Brackenbury

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

Autumn has just brought my present project to a close since the insect season is now over – for a few months at least.

See John's work in the British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition.

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