August, 2013

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Natures Home magazine uncovered

Behind the scenes at the RSPB magazine and much much more...
  • Clouded judgement

    I scrambled over my garden fence on Bank Holiday Monday and went exploring around the empty reservoir, where my badgers have their sett, in the hope of catching up with a real gem of a butterfly.

    It has been a MUCH better year for butterflies following a couple of awful summers and one feature of the last few weeks has been a big influx of clouded yellow butterflies. This is a true migrant and in some years very few are seen at all. This year looks like being one of the best in my lifetime, so I thought that I really should have caught up with one by now. I'd been scanning the field next to my house where an astonishing estimated 5,000 small whites were in residence in July, but no golden-yellow bonus for me.

    I'd only walked up the track 200 yards and a clouded yellow appeared, nectaring on clover growing by the field margin. Thoughts went through ky head of racing back to my garden and trying to add it to my "garden list", but I carried on over the bank. A good walk round this short turfed, flower-rich site produced another five clouded yellows and I went back home a happy man. I also clocked up 60 common blue, which was a pleasing count.

    I recommend keeping your eye out for clouded yellows over the next few weeks because it might be a good few years before we get another influx like this - and they are stunning!

    I'm afraid I didn't get any pics to share (they are very mobile insects), so do go to our friends at Butterfly Conservation's website to see some.

  • Singing in the Rain!

    Last Tuesday with my image of a crested tit, I looked at getting creative by understanding and utilising exposure correctly.   This week I’m focusing on the importance of perspective.  Perspective, in wildlife photography, can be controlled by a number of elements including lens choice, the physical position of the photographer and the composition they choose to capture.


    As ever, it’s important to understand your equipment if you are to control the outcome of your images.  Conscious decisions need to be made prior to pressing the shutter if you are to capture an image you are going to be truly proud of.  By following a few simple steps, you can vastly improve your imagery:

    "Singing in the Rain"



    Above is a photograph of a male black grouse (Tetrao tetrix) calling at a lek site in North Scotland.  These birds return to the same areas every year in the spring to strut their stuff and try to impress any spectating females.  Usually this will consist of displaying to one another in a back and forth of confrontational gestures, goading each other on to make the first move.  When showing off is no longer enough, a battle ensues with a heated exchange of beaks, claws and an eruption of feathers.  

    Research and knowledge of my subject helped in the planning of this photograph.  Knowing that they return to these traditional lek sites every spring, I could get in position and wait for the birds to come to me instead of me going to them.  This involved some very early mornings and the use of a photography hide in order to avoid disturbance.  Each morning for a week, I would wake up at 3am to be in my hide for 4am, around 40 minutes before the grouse arrived.

    Being such good looking birds, I knew that I wanted some up close and personal portraits.  To achieve this I would want the bird to be perfectly in focus, with an out of focus background and foreground in order for the subject to stand out and be centre of attention.  Much like the crested tit of last week’s blog post, but instead of using exposure I controlled the perspective.


    A long telephoto lens was used, this not only allows a zoomed in perspective but also compresses the background behind the subject more than a wide-angle lens could achieve.  In order to exaggerate that blurred effect, you then want the background to be as far away as possible from your subject.  If the point of focus is on your subject in the foreground, this will then decrease with distance behind and infront of that plane of field. 


    By positioning myself as low as possible, the perspective means I’m eye level with my subject and the background is some distant hills, allowing for that really nice blurred background effect.  If I had remained standing, I would be looking down on my subject and the background would be the floor behind, just a few feet away and it would therefore still be in focus.  When you’re next photographing wildlife, if you get the opportunity, get as low as possible to control your perspective.  This one very simple step will vastly improve your images and can make all the difference to the end result.


    For more of my work you can visit my website at: or if you’re on facebook you can like my page at

    I’ll be back next week with another photograph and more tips.

    Thanks for reading,


  • Back in Black!

    Last week I wrote a small blog post on one of my photographs looking at the importance of light.  Once you understand the different aspects of light and know how to control it with your camera, you can get creative with Exposure.  Exposure is defined as the amount of light allowed to fall on the sensor if digital, or film if not.  

    An underexposed image means there will be large areas of detail lost to blacks and shadows whereas an overexposed image will look washed out with the details lost to bright whites.  Correctly exposed photographs will generally have a broad range of tones and will allow for the most amount of detail to be kept.  By understanding how your camera reads a scene, you can then take control of your exposure and get some stunning results:

    "Back in Black"

    Here is a photograph of a crested tit (Lophophanes cristatus) taken at a dedicated feeding station in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.  This is a true highland specialist here in the UK and can only be found in the remnants of Ancient Caledonian Pine-forest in North Scotland.  This was a bit of a bogey bird for me the previous year as I'd only ever caught glimpses of them at the tops of tall pine trees so it was fantastic to see them so close up.  

    By positioning myself to shoot with the sun (instead of against it like with last weeks mallard), I would have the perch and bird nicely lit up from the front.  Directly behind the crested tit was a dark area of shadow created by tall pine trees.  I knew that my camera would be screaming out at me that the whole scene was too dark because of this large area of shadow, and it would naturally want to brighten it up to achieve what it could determine would be a correctly exposed image.  However, if the camera was allowed to brighten this shadow to get some detail out of it, the crested tit would be overexposed as a result.  Knowing this, I was able to set my camera to underexpose the scene (by 1 and 2/3 stops to those interested), therefore keeping the dark area dark and the important parts correctly exposed.

    By doing this I achieved a uniform black background which makes this fantastic bird stand out even more, there are no distractions to lead away from the subject and all focus is placed on the bird.  If you want to improve your nature photography, really get to grips with your camera and understand when you can and can't trust it's readings.  Think about your backgrounds and if there's an area of shadow to shoot into, remember to control your exposure to achieve a beautiful new perspective.

    For more of my work you can visit my website at: or if you're on facebook you can like my page:

    I'll be back on here next week with another photograph and more tips. 

    Thanks for reading,