My name is James Shooter and I have been volunteering at RSPB Birds Magazine as an editorial assistant for the past couple of months. If you've written into the magazine recently, chances are I've responded to you (along with fellow volunteer Roger Bardell).
I really enjoy reading through the varied emails you send in. I answer your questions, read about what you've been up to and definitely learn a few new things myself. I also love to see the fantastic photographs our readers have been taking and part of my work is the difficult task of helping to choose which of your great images to print.
I'm a very keen nature photographer myself and I have been lucky enough to get images published in the national newspapers (including the front page of The Daily Telegraph in January) and also won a couple of awards including 2nd place in the student category of the Scottish Nature Photography Awards this year.
I thought I'd use this blog as a way of sharing my experiences and images with you. Over the coming weeks I will be posting some of my favourite photographs and offering hints and tips to hopefully inspire you to get out with your cameras even more and to keep sending in your stunning photos. My first image looks at light:
Light is the most important factor in photography, it enables us to record what we see and the way we use it can produce very different images. With photography you need to think about the quality of light, the direction and angle it's coming from, it's intensity and the colour temperature. Here I've photographed a common species, in great light, and it makes all the difference.
I visited this loch in the Cairngorms at sunset, which gave a nice warm cast to the evening colours. The sun is positioned low in the sky and behind the subject which lights up the back of the bird instead of the front, creating a "rim-lit" effect around the edges of this mallard. With a dark background behind, this rim-lit effect makes the shape of the duck stand out really well and offers a different perspective than a daylight shot. Next time you're out with the camera, really think about light and the way you can use it. Perhaps go out at sunrise or sunset instead of the middle of the day and challenge yourself to think about where your subject will receive the best lighting.
For more of my work you can visit my website at: www.jamesshooter.com or if you're on facebook you can like my page: www.facebook.com/jamesshooterphotographyI'll be back on here next week with another photograph and more tips.
Thanks for reading,
Guest blogger: Sybil Kapoor
Who can resist climbing out of their sleeping bag to see the dawn? As the sun rises at just before 5.40am for the Big Wild Sleepout, you should set your alarm a little earlier so that you can watch the night fade with the first rays of the sun. At this magical hour you might see deer or even a hare, nibbling the dewy grass in the early morning mist. You’ll certainly spot many birds as they flutter in the undergrowth hunting out seeds and insects. If you’re very lucky you might see a beautiful barn owl silently hunting over meadows and river banks before retiring for the day.
Bacon soda bread
Such activity creates an appetite for breakfast, so treat yourself to an alfresco breakfast with some buttered bacon soda bread and any remaining cherry tomatoes. As the sun rises, look out for insects and lizards warming themselves in the sun. If you’re near a pond, you might see lots of young froglets basking in the day’s warmth as the dragonflies skim across the surface.
Like all soda breads, this is best eaten on the day of making, but for a breakfast picnic, you can make it ahead, freeze it and then allow to defrost overnight.
Makes 450g/1lb loaf
150g/5½ oz (6 slices) dry-cured back bacon (smoked or unsmoked)
2 tablespoons cold-pressed rapeseed oil
450g/1lb plain white flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
150ml/5 ½ fl oz soured cream
150ml/5 ½ fl oz water + extra as needed
1 Preheat the oven to fan 200°C/gas 7. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
2 Trim the bacon of any fat and cut into small dice. Set a non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the oil, and once hot, fry the diced bacon briskly for 4-5 minutes, until lightly coloured and just beginning to turn crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove from the pan and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper.
3 Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the fried bacon. Whisk together the cream and 150ml/5 ½ fl oz water. Stir the thinned cream into the flour. Mix together and, if necessary, add a little more water until you have a soft, but not a sticky dough. Different flours absorb different amounts of water, so you may need to add a further 50ml/scant 2fl oz.
4 Turn out on to a clean, lightly floured surface and quickly work into a smooth dough. Shape into a round loaf, place on the baking sheet and cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf.
5 Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden on top and cooked through. Keep an eye on it towards the last 5-10 minutes and cover with foil for the last 5 minutes if it is going too brown. It is cooked when it sounds hollow if tapped on its bottom. Slip on to a wire rack and leave to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.
6 For your picnic breakfast – leave until completely cold, then place in a freezer bag, push out any air, seal tightly and freeze. Only remove from the freezer when you’re packing your picnic.
Recipe from National Trust Simply Baking
Photography by Karen Thomas
Chocalate chip cookies
Every child will love these classic vanilla-flavoured cookies. I’ve used white chocolate here, but you could replace it with dark or milk chocolate. They will keep for a week in an airtight tin – if you can resist them that long. They’re also scrummy eaten with breakfast.
Makes about 25 cookies
100g/3½ oz white chocolate
115g/4oz butter, softened
85g/3oz caster sugar
55g/2oz light muscovado sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten
140g/5oz self-raising flour, sifted
1 Preheat the oven to fan 190°C/gas 6. Lightly grease 3 baking sheets and arrange your oven shelves so that you can easily slip in the 3 baking sheets at the same time.
2 Cut the white chocolate into 5mm/¼in chunks. In a food processor beat the butter, caster sugar and muscovado sugar together until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and gradually beat in the egg. Scrape the mixture into a mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour, followed by the chocolate.
3 Spoon dessertspoonfuls of the mixture on to the prepared baking trays, leaving plenty of space between each cookie - they spread out as they cook.
4 Bake for 8-10 minutes or until pale gold. You don’t want them to over-cook and darken otherwise they will be too hard when you eat them. Leave to cool slightly on their baking trays for about 5-10 minutes. Then use a palette knife to transfer them to a wire cooling rack. Eat warm or cold. They should be slightly chewy.