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Right place, Right time – Andy Howard on wildlife photography

This week’s blog post comes from a PhotoBox favourite – wildlife photographer, Andy Howard. Andy has previously blogged for us on photographing wild hares, including some brilliant tips & wonderful photography. This time around, Andy talks about being in the right place, at the right time…

‘As a nature photographer I hear the phrase ‘you must have been in the right place at the right time’ a lot and this got me thinking, is it really as simple as turning up at a location and taking a picture? The answer is both yes and no. In this blog I shall explain the three ways you can improve the chances of capturing your dream photo!

Pay to shoot hides

Using a pay to shoot hide will give you one of the greatest opportunities to be in the right place at the right time.

I’m fortunate to have an abundance of wildlife in my locality so I don’t often use ‘pay to shoot’ hides, but I have done so in the past, and I’m sure I will again.

I would happily recommend using a hide ‘set-up’ if you’re planning a trip to the Highlands, they offer as close to guaranteed results as you can get and make for a sound investment in time and money. Renting or paying for a session in a hide comes with many benefits, they are usually run by an individual that has a passion for that species, the species is habituated to that particular food source and is used to the noise of camera shutters and the smell of humans.

Results are almost guaranteed and they make for a very efficient use of holiday time, especially if you’re on a family holiday where everyone needs to be kept happy!

Crested Tit - Andy Howard

The negative aspects to these hides are that the images you capture will more often than not be very similar to everyone else’s and therefore the chance of a unique image is greatly reduced.

Red Squirrel - Andy Howard

Using a Specialist Guide

Using a specialist photography guide gives you so much more than someone just pointing out an animal and letting you get on with it, I can speak with some knowledge on this subject as it makes up a large part of my photography business.

Mountain Hare - Andy Howard

On a typical day out my clients are given access to locations that over a period of many years I have built you intimate knowledge of, in some cases I even got to know individual animals and their unique behavioural characteristics. I also share with my clients my knowledge and understanding of the given species, how to approach them, how to take the pictures with minimal disturbance to them. A good photography guide will also understand the requirements and needs of the photographer, the importance of good light, backgrounds and the technical limitations of their clients equipment.

Dotterel - Andy Howard

As most of my guiding is done in the Cairngorms there is a strong emphasis on mountain safety, in winter it’s not uncommon to have to re-schedule a day in the hills due to severe weather. There’s always another day (or species close-by)!

Visiting the Cairngorms can seem at first a bit daunting, finding a small bird or animal in a vast mountain range can be very frustrating and time consuming. Using an experienced guide who has a great knowledge of the area can vastly help improve your photographic opportunities.

Pic 5 - Ptarmigan

Specialist guides will be a bit more expensive but offer good value for money when you consider the knowledge and expertise they offer, the safety element and associated guidance on field craft and animal welfare. The images taken on the day will also tend to be a bit more unique, no two days in the mountains are the same.

D.I.Y

Do it yourself requires both skill and a large element of luck. I think these encounters can be some of the most rewarding.

Researching the species is essential; I use social media – Flickr, Twitter and Facebook along with Google. By typing your targeted species in to the search box along with a few locations it’s amazing how much information is out there. Learn about the species by reading-up on its habitats, behaviours and its favourite types of food.

I often use this technique for Otters and as a result I’ve had some amazing encounters. This is where the luck element comes in, the image below was taken on a recent trip to the Isle of Skye, I knew I was in an Otter ‘hot spot’ but at the time was photographing seals.

As I sat quietly on a rocky outcrop I heard a noise to my left, I turned to look and noticed an Otter heading straight towards me, the water was so clear I could actually see it swimming under water. It surfaced just a few meters in front of me; treaded water for a moment, sunk back into the water did a summersault underwater and swam off in the direction it came from. This is a classic example of ‘right time right place’.

Otter - Andy Howard

Another great example of this is Chanonry Point, Fortrose. This is without a shadow of doubt the best place to photograph wild Bottlenose Dolphins in Europe, if not the world!

In the summer months (at low tide) the Dolphins congregate in a deep water channel just a few meters from the shore, this gives them a perfect opportunity to ambush the migrating salmon. The action can be fast and furious with multiple Dolphins breaching, Salmon being tossed into the air and all meters away from the crowds of spectators (and the odd photographer, or two!)

Dolphins - Andy Howard

Keep it local

This also comes under the heading D.I.Y and is relevant to everyone, whether its House Sparrows on the balcony of your high-rise flat or the seagulls in your local high street. Any wildlife on your door step is worth studying and photographing, the more time you spend observing them, ultimately the more understanding you will have of that species and the easier it will be to capture a good photograph of them.

I’ve already briefly touched upon how fortunate we are up in the Highlands of Scotland and how we have an abundance of wildlife all around. This leads me onto my next example, Badgers.

In keeping it local I decided to search my local vicinity and was delighted to discover an active Badger set just 250m from my home. I installed a trail cam and baited the sett with peanuts; over the coming weeks I built up an understanding of how many animals there were when they emerged and when they were most active. It was with great excitement I discovered that the sett contained five young cubs and even better, they emerged at all hours of the day, this meant I was able to photograph them in broad daylight. After a month or so I installed a ‘pop-up’ hide to gauge the reaction, as it happens they weren’t the slightest bit concerned by it. The next stage was to induce my scent into the area; I did this by leaving some old jackets in the hide.

It was about six weeks from first finding the sett to taking the first photograph. As you can see from the photograph this is a good example of how to work on a project over a prolonged period of time and be patient. My advice is don’t rush it and always remember the animals welfare if paramount.’

Badgers - Andy Howard

All images © Andy Howard

If you’d like to see more of Andy’s amazing work, head over to his website: http://www.andyhoward.co.uk/

Are you a wildlife photography fanatic? What are your tricks of the trade that ensure you get the best shot possible? Share with us below…

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