Wildlife photography is a fantastic activity, not only is it fun and creative, but it can also benefit your mental health and is a great tool for helping to identify the different species that you see.
It’s been a favourite hobby of mine for as long as I can remember, and I feel very lucky that it has now become part of my job, as I often take photos and videos whilst I’m out around the Solent coast, later using them on our website, social media pages or for articles and presentations.
There is so much more to photography than just simply taking photos and capturing a great image though. For me, I like to use it as an opportunity to learn, connect and gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural world. And whilst we all want to get that ‘perfect shot’ it’s vitally important to remember that the welfare of wildlife must come first, before any photograph.
The most simple piece of advice I can give you is just to keep your distance. If you notice birds becoming alert (raising and turning their heads, looking at you or calling out) or you see them moving away – then you are too close! If you’re not sure, the best way to tell is to watch for any changes in an animal’s behaviour, for example with birds, if they stop feeding or resting because of your presence then that is disturbance and you need to move away so that they feel safer.
I’ve put together a few tips below on how to get the most out of your photography, whilst ensuring we keep our wonderful birdlife safe. This advice can apply to all kinds of wildlife, including other creatures you might see around the Solent coast such as seals.
One of the best ways to improve your photography is to get to know your subject. Rather than just taking photos, why not spend some time watching the birds and observing their behaviours. They’re more complex than you might think.
What are they doing? Where is their favourite spot to feed? How do they interact with each other?
I watched this little egret for some time before snapping this photo (with a long lens) just as it caught a shrimp. Little egrets have a pattern of behaviour when it comes to feeding – using their bright yellow feet to stir up the mud and confuse their prey before watching, waiting and then quickly striking.
Timing and light
Good lighting is key, and you’ll find one of the best times of day is in the ‘Golden Hour’ – the period of daytime shortly after sunrise or before sunset. Due to the sun’s low angle, its rays filter through a greater distance and it creates a warm colour temperature. It can also be a good chance to take flight shots as some birds will be moving around at this time, coming or going from their overnight roost sites.
I photographed the golden plovers below on the Isle of Wight just before sunset, with the low sun enhancing their beautiful golden plumage. I really love these birds and it was such a pleasure to watch and photograph them over the winter.
If you are at the coast, it’s also really important to think about the tides. Not just for our own safety, but because birds will behave very differently depending on whether the tide is in or out. Low tide is when they will be busy feeding and high tide is for resting/sleeping. Remember these are important times for the birds, and by making sure they not disturbed we can give them the best chance of survival.
Get the right kit
If you do want to take close up photos, you will need to invest in decent zoom camera or a long lens so that you aren’t in danger of disturbing wildlife.
Alternatively, if you’ve already got a spotting telescope and a mobile phone, and you don’t want to buy a camera or lens, you can try pointing your phone camera into the eyepiece of your scope –there are even special mounting adapters to help you do this. It’s called ‘digiscoping’ and it’s something I often do when out on patrol or when I don’t have my camera with me. It can be a great tool for helping to identify birds, and I find filming videos particularly work well.
Consider a distant shot
Not all wildlife photography needs to be close up, sometimes a wider and more distant view can have an even greater impact. I really loved this image below taken by Mary Michael Patterson, so much so it was the winning photo in our Great Solent Birdwatch 2021 photography competition!
Finally – learn and appreciate!
The more we learn about wildlife the better our understanding and appreciation will be, which in turn is reflected in good and responsible wildlife photography. It’s as much about the pleasure and experience of being outdoors and amongst nature, and isn’t something to be taken for granted.
We are so lucky to have such a variety of birdlife around our coasts, so let’s remember to share the shore so that we can all continue to enjoy our wonderful wildlife.
If you take any photos while visiting the coast don’t forget to share them with us! I love to see photography from around our shores, and to find out what species you have spotted.