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The Wildlife Photographer's Year - part 1 of 1 2 3 4

by Mike Jones Published 01/04/2012

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There are 'pixel peepers' as I call them, and there are photographers. All photography is art and in my time studying art I never once wondered what type of brush the great masters were using. I did, however, stand in awe at the skill and composition of the image. Technical competence is a given for a photographer in my book, but what makes the difference to an image is not the equipment that was used, but the skill that was shown to create and compose the image, and above all the skill that took place to even present yourself in that place in order to capture the image.

What I end up photographing during the year depends to a large degree on the time of year and what may be current for a talk or lecture. My work can also be influenced by any images that I am trying to obtain for sale.

The year for the British wildlife photographer depends on the type of photographer but for me I am open to capturing images of any wildlife that are in season. With a Scottish or coastal/upland leaning most of my work takes place up north with the occasional foray down south.

Although I have portfolios for most British mammals/birds, I am always trying to obtain better images for the areas in which I specialise. Unsurprisingly these are species such as wild deer, otters, seals, eagles and raptors. Sea birds are always on the list and all have their seasons which give a small time slot with which to obtain the images.

The first task for the wildlife photographer is not, however, to read technical journals on the latest photographic development but to study in depth the life cycle of the species that you are going to photograph. In turn you need to become an expert on the species and the field craft required to photograph the animal.

The following is brief description of a number of photographic subjects and the importance of understanding your intended subject.


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Seasons and species

Red Deer

(Winter/Spring on the Isle Mull)

One of the first commissions that I picked up was to capture an image of a wild, red deer in Scotland. The iconic view of the red deer in the highlands may not be the most visually aesthetic image but it does sell pictures and occasionally you need to prostitute yourself to your art in order to make some money. So all that aside, with the task of finding a wild red deer stag with a set of antlers holding at least 12 points (known as a Royal in deer circles!) I set off around Mull only to find that stags shed their antlers in late spring and that every stag I found had recently lost its headset. So finding out that the antlers returned by late summer I next found out (upon my return) that the antlers are covered in velvet whilst growing and after calcification the antlers are unsightly with the the velvet skin hanging off. So another trip was pencilled in for the autumn and a chance to photograph the rut. And so this journey continued with the rut starting early and us arriving late! And so it goes on, and on.

Frustrated by this I looked into the prospect of photographing deer on the parkland estates of England. As convenient as this may be the parkland deer look nothing like wild deer and their diet and supplements give a hefty set of antlers but none like the wild deer of the north. And so 12 months after starting the project, I managed to find a Royal at the roadside in the light of a sunset. Not the image I was after, but still good enough to put in a frame to await the arrival of a potential buyer who wants to purchase an image of a proud and wild Royal photographed on the Isle of Mull.

Now had I taken the time to research my subject before setting out I might have avoided a wild goose chase and no small amount of frustration, more importantly learning the lifecycle of my subject would have made me a more effective photographer. The long-term objective has always been to improve and expand the portfolio every year until you can close the book on that particular subject (not happened yet on anything by the way!)


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1st Published 01/04/2012
last update 25/03/2020 12:33:28

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