Me and British wildlife photography

Who is the Carol behind this British wildlife photography site?

I don't know about you, but when I visit a site, I like to discover a bit about the person who created it. This page is an introduction to me and the reasons behind creating naturewalkswithcarol.com.

I have always been interested in photography, having my first film camera (a Kodak Instamatic) when I was just 8 years old. I have some prints from my first roll of film, taken on a school holiday. Even then, my photographs featured animals!

Recently author Felicity Radcliffe wrote a poem about me, which she entered into a writing competition. She has kindly given me permission to share it on this page. Click here to jump to the bottom to read it. 

Me in a bird hide at Rutland Water. (Photo Credit to Mel Parsons)Me in a bird hide at Rutland Water. (Photo Credit to Mel Parsons)

Why British wildlife photography?

Carol sitting on the moors in Dartmoor, Devon, UKCarol sitting on the moors in Dartmoor, Devon, UK

My grandfather instilled in me a love of the British countryside and its inhabitants.

  • He could name the butterflies we saw on our walks and recognize the bird songs that we heard. 
  • He would point out leaves and identify the trees they came from. 
  • He would notice the tiniest wild flowers and provide their common and Latin names
  • He knew what animals had left their tracks in the earth and snow

 I absorbed his knowledge like a sponge and always hung back to walk with him during family outings. I wish he was still around to enjoy such times now.

If I could only recall all he tried to teach me, I would be a lucky girl, but each time I go for a walk with my camera I learn more about the natural world. Sharing that knowledge and my images through Social Media lead to the decision to document my travels for my friends and family, and this site is the result.

So, back to my photography journey...

My first SLR camera

The years rolled on; I got married and had two lovely children. As they grew up, they quickly became used to having a camera aimed at them.

These were the days when a roll of film had 24 or 36 frames and had to be sent away to be processed. The costs involved meant that I could only take a few images of each "event", and it was disappointing to find a week later that I badly exposed some and others were out of focus.

A captive kestrel photographed with black and white film and processed in my home dark roomCaptive kestrel - printed in the darkroom and later scanned into the Mac

Therefore, I set up the spare bedroom as a darkroom so I could develop and print my black and white photographs. Sadly, my husband got fed up with the smell of chemicals and a bathroom full of drying negatives, so that period of my "career" didn't last for long. I enjoyed it tremendously, though.

I was using a completely manual Russian Zenit SLR (single lens reflex) camera with a moderate zoom lens. They had not invented Autofocus, and I had to rely on a handheld exposure meter to determine my settings. 

This equipment was not ideal for British wildlife photography, often resulting in an unrecognizable dot on the horizon. However, back then I enjoyed visiting zoos or wildlife parks, as the captive birds and animals were close enough to practice on. I rarely do this now, as finding a wild creature is a big part of the challenge and excitement. 

The digital photography revolution

An early digital photograph of Highland cattleOne of my early digital photographs - Highland cattle on a nearby farm

When digital cameras were first released, the quality left a lot to be desired, and it took a few years before I gave this new fangled technology a trial. My brother-in-law was working for Fuji cameras and could get me a discount on a basic model so that I could see whether I liked it. 

There was no screen on the back of my first digital camera, meaning I had to download the images to my computer before I could see my results, but this was light years ahead of waiting for film to be developed. This little point-and-shoot had a digital zoom, but as it just enlarged the center of the image, it still didn't fulfill my desire to get closer to wild creatures. 

I eventually migrated to a digital bridge camera with a long zoom, but aspired to a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) which would enable me to achieve the out-of-focus backgrounds from my film days. 

My first Canon DSLR

Cock Sparrow taken on the Canon 100DCock Sparrow taken on the Canon 100D

By the time I could afford my "dream camera" the children had left home and were parents themselves. With no willing human models around, I turned my attention to the local wildlife with a vengeance.

I had picked a Canon 100D (known as a Rebel in the USA), because of its light weight and small dimensions. Coupled with a short telephoto zoom lens, I was at last able to get passable images of the garden and farmland birds that lived here in Cambridgeshire.

However, those into British wildlife photography always want to get closer, and so I regularly upgraded my gear as and when finances allowed. 

Building my skills

Male StonechatMale Stonechat

I soon discovered that success in British wildlife photography required more than a good camera and long lens combination. Practice, patience and determination were equally important! 

I can't text wild birds and animals to ask them to join me and pose. The best I can do is turn up at a suitable location and wait for them to show up. And continue to wait. Sometimes for hours! Hoping a bird will perch in the perfect spot to have its portrait taken takes a lot of patience. It can also involve getting up and out in the countryside early in the morning, sometimes before the sun is up, while the birds are active and wait for the wonderful light.

If I am lucky, I might get a glimpse of the elusive creature I am hoping to see. On a good day, I might even press the shutter button before the animal or bird disappears. 

Imagine the elation when I got a sharply focused, well exposed critter.

The decisive moment in British wildlife photography

Last but not least is capturing the wildlife at the right time. I attempt to take the picture when...

Short-eared owl Short-eared owl "pooping" in mid air
  • The creature is doing something interesting
  • It angled its head towards the camera instead of turning away
  • The eyes of the creature are visible and catch the light
  • There is interaction between multiple subjects if possible
  • There is nothing distracting around the edges of the frame or in the background
  • There are no distracting elements between the creature and the camera, such as a grass stem
  • There is enough light to ensure a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action
  • The sun is not causing parts of the animal to cast distracting shadows

I don't always succeed, but when I fail I am more determined to get it right, the next time I go out. 

As I progress in my pursuit of British wildlife photography, I challenge myself. Whether it be birds in flight, mating behaviour or photographing a rare species, there is always something out in the countryside calling my name.

Successes in 2018

I entered several photo contests this year. Not hoping to win, but to compare my photos with those of others in the same field. I was delighted with the results!

I entered the 2019 Calender Contest held by the Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trusts and they picked my robin picture for the month of December. They sent me a free copy of the calendar which included some wonderful wildlife images from other photographers as well. 

A newspaper held a photo contest in collaboration with the local Camera Group and there was a special section for wildlife entries sponsored by Paxton Pits. I won first prize in that section and also runner-up for the overall competition, with two different images. 

I occasionally visit a nearby zoo and they hold an annual photo contest. I entered a meerkat photograph this year, which was picked as a winner. 

They used one of my photographs during a TV weather forecast in the Spring of 2018. While in the Autumn, Canon EOS Magazine printed one of my pictures.

I am sure I will enter further contests in the future. If I do, I will update this page.

Moving forward

Before I ramble (and I don't mean in the countryside) I had better wrap this page up.

I hope this short (!!!) introduction has given you some insight into what lays behind my decision to begin this site. I hope you will enjoy a virtual walk with me, learning more about British wildlife photography as you peruse these pages. 

As the months and years go by, I hope my pictures will improve and I will never tire of going out and about with my camera. I hope I have also inspired you to photograph the wildlife and nature in your own patch. 

Poem written about me

Felicity Radcliffe wrote...

The theme of the competition was a quote from Wordsworth about poetry:

"The spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings reflected in tranquility".

This quote made me think of Carol Leather, a really talented wildlife photographer and artist who lives just down the road from me. She's superb at capturing powerful feelings in her photographs and paintings, so I thought I'd write a poem about her and her work. I often see her in her camouflage gear, off to scour the woods and fields for photo opportunities!

Carol Leather

Her lens arrests the spectacle
Of starlings’ airborne strife
The robin’s breast glows rampant red
She snaps it into life
With poise she lures the camera-shy
With pace corrals the rife

The bouncing boxing of the hares
A tiny, timid wren
The rug-swathed horses chilled by snow
The stonechats on Holme Fen
A pheasant, but with feathers white
A lone equestrienne

Her patient paintbrush animates
With each precise caress
Enlivening a treasured pet
With flair and sheer finesse
Wild, wingèd creatures pause mid-air
And hover to impress

She brightens every lockdown day
With pictures that amaze
Her social media feed lights up
With accolades and praise
She’s modest, but her artistry
Augments all she surveys

Felicity's books are available on Amazon here. 

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