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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.

About the Art: John Moncrieff

In our latest blog post, we spoke to John Moncrieff whose photographs feature in our display of the British Wildlife Photography Awards about his work photographing seal pups.

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

I’ve been visiting this small and remote Grey Seal colony for several years now. It’s at the bottom of 600-foot cliffs and is often exposed to bad weather. I love to spend time watching and listening to the seals, as they sleep, scratch, and make little noises - the pups actually sound a bit like human babies. 
I had specifically wanted to get some overexposed shots so that just the details like eyes, nose, whiskers were the main features in the shot. I also did a series just concentrating on their flippers and tail details.

  • I'm new here, John Moncrieff's photograph 'I'm New Here' features in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards under the 'Portraits' category., John Moncrieff
    John Moncrieff's photograph 'I'm New Here' features in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards under the 'Portraits' category., John Moncrieff

How did you go about getting that shot?

It’s quite a long walk and a steep climb down to the beach - then it’s a case of moving very, very slowly and just waiting for a seal pup to do something. They spend a lot of time sleeping - so I just need to be ready to grab a shot when they yawn or scratch themselves with a flipper.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

I was probably crawling among the rocks for around three hours to get the shots I was after.

  • fitful seal mono, A mono shot of a seal pup chewing on its own flipper, John Moncrieff
    A mono shot of a seal pup chewing on its own flipper, John Moncrieff

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

I used my D800E (recently replaced with a D500) and my Nikon 200-500mm lens. I never use a tripod as they’re a bit cumbersome for how I like to move around, so everything is handheld or rested on my camera bag. I use Adobe Photoshop CC for editing purposes.

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

The rare times I do scenery, I like a stormy day or a good sunset. My favourite wildlife subject has to be Otters as I love the hunt and fieldcraft involved in getting a good shot. Just getting up close with nature is fantastic and makes for an enjoyable experience even without taking any photos.

  • fitful seal tail, Detail shot of a seal pup's tail, John Moncrieff
    Detail shot of a seal pup's tail, John Moncrieff

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

Living in Shetland, wild weather and lack of decent light can be a problem for the much of year. With Otters, just finding them can be very hard, then a degree of luck is needed for what photographic opportunities will arise.

  • fitful beach, The beach at Fitful Head on a windy day, showing how exposed the seals are during a storm. Several die each year due to storms., John Moncrieff
    The beach at Fitful Head on a windy day, showing how exposed the seals are during a storm. Several die each year due to storms., John Moncrieff

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

Hopefully, people would think “oh that’s nice” or maybe be inspired to get out and about with their own cameras - as long as they don’t do a much better job than me.

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

I started around nine years ago, with a lot of trial and error and reading various internet forums for tips. Without digital cameras I would probably have given up. I think the reason I started was just to try and capture some of the things I was seeing and be able to share them.

  • car seal, A Grey Seal pup in my car. This was a storm victim, who washed up a mile from the colony, with a few injuries. We had put him in the boot to go to the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, but he managed to climb over the parcel-shelf and on to the back seat. I braked sharply and the seal shot into the front along with me and my stepson. We got out quickly and managed to get the seal back in the boot - it was successfully released a few weeks later., John Moncrieff
    A Grey Seal pup in my car. This was a storm victim, who washed up a mile from the colony, with a few injuries. We had put him in the boot to go to the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, but he managed to climb over the parcel-shelf and on to the back seat. I braked sharply and the seal shot into the front along with me and my stepson. We got out quickly and managed to get the seal back in the boot - it was successfully released a few weeks later., John Moncrieff

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

Spend a while watching from a distance to see how your subject behaves and reacts at first. Then gradually (over days or weeks if necessary) begin getting close enough for photos. Avoid causing any disturbance to the subject’s natural behaviour and hopefully you’ll be rewarded with some good photo opportunities.

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

I’d like to do some photography involving animals and slow shutter speeds to try and give a dynamic feel to my photos. Someday I would love to visit the Arctic to photograph Polar Bears and Walrus.

  • fitful, Scenic shot of Fitful Head, at the southern tip of Shetland, which is where I do all the Grey Seal photos., John Moncrieff
    Scenic shot of Fitful Head, at the southern tip of Shetland, which is where I do all the Grey Seal photos., John Moncrieff

About the Art: Norman Watson

In our latest blog post, we spoke to Norman Watson 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 photos in this exhibition?

I happened across a grass snake in an old gutter, and the shot I took of the snake coiled became ‘Life in the Gutter’ which was highly commended. As the snake moved off into the undergrowth it crossed a log pile which is where I captured 'I Speak with Forked Tongue' - the snake was tasting its way as it went.

  • Life in the gutter, 'Life in the Gutter' was highly commended in this year's 'Urban' category, Norman Watson
    'Life in the Gutter' was highly commended in this year's 'Urban' category, Norman Watson
 

How did you go about getting that shot?

A combination of the right lens focal length and aperture to get the depth of field. I had to lie on the grass with the camera on the ground to get the best angle.

  • I speak with forked tongue, 'I Speak with Forked Tongue' appears in this year's 'Portrait' category, Norman Watson
    'I Speak with Forked Tongue' appears in this year's 'Portrait' category, Norman Watson

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

I happened across the snake so no waiting, it was a case of good timing and a bit of luck. I once waited six hours for a barn owl, it never showed up.

  • Norman Watson_Kingfisher, Norman Watson
    , Norman Watson

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

I used Adobe Lightroom but I don’t like too much editing. If I spend more than five minutes editing I go and take the shot again.

  • Norman Watson_Puffins, Norman Watson
    , Norman Watson

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

I love Owls, birds of prey, and big cats. Nesting or breeding season is always interesting as there is lots of displaying and hunting going on. I want to create a moment captured in a still image.

  • Norman Watson_Kestrel, Norman Watson
    , Norman Watson

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

Challenging myself to get a shot that’s different of an everyday animal, using field craft to get close, and getting the subject to do what you want them to do.

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

Simply to enjoy the image, whether dramatic, colourful, or brutal - nature can provide it all.

  • Norman Watson_Leopard, Norman Watson
    , Norman Watson

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

Know your subject, spend time watching to see if there’s any kind of routine (marking territory etc) then look at the shot you want to achieve. Position yourself and your camera in a position so as not to disturb the natural behaviour.

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

In 2018, I will be capturing images of owls, watervoles, and kestrels. I've also planned trips to India and Maasai Mara.

  • Norman Watson, Norman Watson
    , Norman Watson

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.

  • Phil_1, Phil Baird
    Phil Baird

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.

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