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How my first birdwatching outing of 2020 has given me my New Year's goals.

One day of birdwatching and photography has given me so much motivation - how to improve my knowledge of the natural world, photography and story telling.

First of all, happy New Year, I hope you all had a lovely Christmas! Now on with the blog…

Yesterday, I visited my first RSPB reserve of 2020, Blacktoft Sands – a reserve comprised mostly of reed beds and marshlands and I couldn’t really have expected much more, many species ticked off the 2020 to-see list! Kingfisher, barn own, kestrel, hen harrier and marsh harrier just to name a few!

A soaring kestrel against a lovely clear sky to help with minimalist isolation of the subject (yes I just made that up).

Perhaps THE kestrel shot?

It got me thinking about a few different things, first of all, about how great it would be to keep track of the different British bird species that I see throughout the year, so that’s one thing that I am going to do – a New Year's resolution if you will.

It also got me thinking about how I need to invest more time in learning about British bird species. Whilst at University during an Animal Diversity module, I had to learn British water bird species, but since that module, with not having put time and effort into it, I have lost much of that knowledge, something that I really want to get back. I also realised that I really want to take any opportunities I can to be out in nature, observing, filming and photographing from now on.

A couple of shots of soaring marsh harriers.

There's something magical about watching birds of prey soar.

This morning before I started to write this blog I picked up a magazine that was very kindly gifted to me by a family friend – PhotoPlus, The Canon Magazine and in it, The Pro Interview with Michel D’Oultremont, who, I hate to admit, I wasn’t aware of until reading this magazine. Throughout this in-depth interview, Michel talks about lots of different aspects of his photography, but one bit that stood out is the importance that Michel places on the environment he is shooting in.

“I try to photograph the environment first, along with animals that live in it, pass through it or engage with it.”

This really got me thinking, a frame-filling wildlife shot is often what people are after, push your lens to its limits, see how big you can make your subject in the frame. Shots like these are extremely popular, I don’t know if their popularity has sky rocketed due to Instagram pages posting nothing but this style or maybe something else.

I hold my hands up, I do take a lot of these shots, and I do really like them, the ability to get a close-up portrait of an animal and have that real connection by having their eyes big in the frame can produce a really lovely shot.

Sometimes a tight shot can be used to eliminate a background that may not be the nicest, take my recent swan image on Instagram for example. By getting tight to the swan I was able to get rid of the hordes of tourist boats, buildings and tourists that otherwise would have been distracting.

A tight shot to avoid distractions in the background (above), vs a wider shot with no distractions, to show the habitat and behaviour of your subject (below).

However, one thing that tight shots struggle to do is tell a story. For example take a barn owl, a portrait of a barn owl would be absolutely stunning (and I would love to get one at some point) but it doesn’t really tell you much, whereas a much wider shot can tell a whole story. The shot below that I managed to get yesterday does this very well, from this image you can tell a barn owl's habitat, hunting strategy and their time of activity. The shot of the marsh harrier below illustrates that these two species are very similar in these aspects.

A barn owl at dusk (can't believe I saw this 4 days into the New Year?!).

Marsh harrier hunting at dusk.

The beauty of RSPB reserves is that often you are not able to get frame-filling shots, unless you have a lens that gives you unbelievable reach. I have a 500mm and all these shots were pretty much at full reach and even cropped a little in the edit, and as you can see, they are far from frame-filling. As frustrating as this may be, it makes you think a lot more about composition and how you may be able to tell a story through the image - focus on the environment then place your subject in it.

This is something I strive to do a lot more in the future, and a trip to Mull in April will be the perfect place to get some shots like this, so until then I’m going to practise and practise some more.

Thank you for reading,


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