September, 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...
  • Nature's Home is coming...

    It's a big week for me. On Saturday I will marry my lovely girlfriend Laura, who also works at the RSPB, and on Friday the first issue of the new RSPB magazine, Nature's Home start mailing to members. With so many readers (1.25 million!), it can take almost two weeks for all copies to be sent out, and you should have received your copy by 15 October at the latest.

    It's been a busy few weeks (to say the least...) getting the new magazine ready and it's a big thanks to volunteer James Shooter for sharing his photography masterclass on the blog.

    So what's different?

    Well, the name obviously, but there's much to the change than that. There's a great new look for the whole magazine, plus we've also taken the opportunity to bring in many of the things you've told us you would like to see, or see more of, in the magazine. I'm excited about hearing reaction to the new reserves section, plus readers' wildlife Q and A which I predict to be a hit.

    Don’t worry though, all your favourites are still there, and in many cases have been expanded. Readers’ photos now comes with a great prize for the shot of the issue and regular contributors such as Simon Barnes and David Lindo have been teamed with some new “signings”. There is even more advice on what to see and where to go and more news on what the RSPB is able to achieve thanks to your support and we're tackling some BIG conservation issues in the first magazine.

    Whooper and Bewick's swans by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    I’ve taken the chance to write about my very favourite winter spectacle, the flocks of whooper and Bewick’s swans that come here for winter, and famous names from the world of wildlife also share theirs.

    I was going to post a few teasers on the blog, but I don't want to spoil the surprise for you. Hope you understand!

    Do let me know what you think of the new magazine. Start looking out for your copy arriving from Friday.

  • The Glider

    Last week on the blog I took you through the merits of 'poor' weather in wildlife photography.  Hopefully I convinced you to don the waterproofs and get out there in the rain, sleet and snow!  This week I'll be looking at how to use motion blur effectively in your images.  The rules of wildlife photography, particularly birds in flight, would tell the photographer to use as high a shutter speed as possible in order to freeze movement and avoid blur.  High shutter speeds (around 1/1000 of a second and above) can help to ensure a sharp image is achieved when photographing fast moving subjects.  Slow shutter speeds however can give a much more creative feel to your image, although they are a lot harder to achieve with a much lower success rate, when you get one right they can stand out above the rest.

    There are a few ways in which slow shutter speeds can be used.  When taken whilst keeping the camera static (on a tripod), the camera will pick up any movement caused by a moving subject, whilst keeping the static parts of the frame in tact.  This is used very effectively when photographing wildlife whilst asleep or resting with a moving backdrop.  I have seen some great images where a gannet colony is photographed with a slow shutter speed and the camera left static on a tripod.  The gannets remain sharp and in tact as they are not moving whilst the crashing waves and rolling seas behind are blurred and give a real sense of movement.  The other technique is slow shutter panning - this is where you pick a moving subject, such as an animal running or flying, and pan at the same rate as that subject with a slow shutter speed.  In theory, this will keep your subject relatively sharp whilst blurring the background and any other movements.  This technique is extremely hard to achieve but is fantastic when you get it right:

    "The Glider"


    The above image was taken off the coast of Mainland Orkney at the RSPB reserve Marwick Head.  This is a fantastic place to witness the grandeur of rugged coastal cliffs with a 25,000 strong mix of atlantic puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes and northern fulmars to name but a few.  This photograph is of a northern fulmar (Fulmaris glacialis) gliding over the rough seas below whilst slow shutter panning.  I never tire of seeing these fantastic seabirds, they look graceful as they effortlessly glide in the strong winds as I fight to keep my balance on the edge of the cliffs!  These fantastic seabirds are closely related to the albatrosses, clumsy on land but masters of the air.  It is this trait that makes them such a strong candidate for slow shutter speed panning. 

    As I already mentioned, for normal in flight bird photography you would want shutter speeds in excess of around 1/1000 of a second, certainly 1/500 at the very least.  The image above was taken using a 1/40 of a second shutter speed.  First things first, to achieve the desired shutter speed you need to adjust your other camera settings to allow less light onto the sensor.  This means decreasing the ISO (sensitivity to light of the camera sensor) to 100 and also changing from a wide open aperture you would usually use such as f/4 or f/5.6 to somewhere around f/22.   These settings are now letting such little light in, that to correctly expose the scene, the camera needs to choose a slower shutter speed to make it balance.  

    To get the desired effect, you need to pan at the same speed as your subject as the camera shutter will be open for longer it will pick up more movement.  Fulmars are the perfect wildlife subject as due to their gliding, they stay in relatively the same body position.  If you were to choose a bird such as the atlantic puffin to try this with, it's high wing beat frequency would render the wings blurred as the movement is no longer frozen.  During this 1/40 of a second exposure, I panned my camera at the same speed as the gliding fulmar, keeping it in the same position in my viewfinder.  This kept the subject sharp, but picked up the movement of panning against the background giving the sea behind that lovely streaked perspective.  

    This type of image differs from the standard as it gives the scene a sense of movement, it tells more of a story and places the bird in context.  The blurred background really gives an indication to the gliding behaviour of this fulmar and also leads to a more abstract and arty perspective than a high shutter speed would allow.  It's extremely difficult to achieve an appealing result and I certainly had a lot of throwaways before reaching a frame I was happy with, but it's an extremely fun technique to try out and you never really know what the photograph is going to look like until you check the back of your screen, you may be pleasantly surprised when you do!

    This will be my last post for the RSPB Nature's Home blog as I move to the North of Scotland at the end of the month to work in the wildlife photography industry.  I'm very excited about the move as I love the amazing wildlife and dramatic scenery in this part of the country.  If you'd like to keep up to date with my new adventures and see my future images, be sure to like my facebook page at www.facebook.com/jamesshooterphotography and keep checking my website at: www.jamesshooter.com.

    Thanks for now,


    James Shooter

  • The Monarch

    It's that time of the week again when I'm going to be writing down a few tips about wildlife photography.  So far we've looked at light, exposure, perspective and wide-angle imagery, this week I'll be taking you through the attributes of so called "poor" weather.  Many non-photographers will perhaps think that strong sunlight and blue skies are the perfect conditions for wildlife photography, well I'm here to tell you that if you wake up in the morning and the conditions look ideal like that, you can roll over and go back to sleep!  What you really want to look for are the vast variety of other weather conditions we get here in the UK.  Rain, sleet, hail, mist, fog and snow can all make for different perspectives and will give your photographs a different edge to the standard blue skies and strong sunlight.  As renowned wildlife photographer Laurie Campbell says: "There’s no such thing as bad weather for photography – you just need to find a way of holding a camera steady ".

    My favourite of all 'bad' weather conditions is snow.  Snow cleans up an image as any distracting elements are draped in pure white and effectively removed from the scene.  If there was a variety of colours that don't mix well in a particular scene, or that draw the attention away from the main subject, snow makes them disappear and allows the viewer to fully concentrate on the main subject.  Poor weather tells more of a story than blue skies and bright sun, one of survival, determination and strong character.  Along with the cleaning up of a scene, snow obviously has a strong seasonal element to it and will immediately remind us of deep winters and Christmas time.  With the right subject, snow can add to a photograph to make an almost magical scenario:

    "The Monarch"


    The image above was taken on the first day of heavy snowfalls this year in January.  I was keeping my eye on the weather forecast intently, waiting for the first big downpour.  As soon as it was announced for the following day, I knew the perfect subject to make for a magical scene: a red deer stag.  I have a population of these close to my home in the Peak District and through regular visits, knew roughly where they would be.  I set off just before dawn and soon enough was face to face with 8 adult males.  This mammal is arguably one of the most impressive species in the UK with males reaching up to 190kg in weight and displaying up to 16 points on their antlers, multiply that by eight and you have quite a daunting prospect, especially when you're lying on the floor!

    Soon enough I realised these stags were relaxed with my presence and the images I'd planned in my head were coming through on my camera screen - something that doesn't happen as often as I'd like!  For this photograph I used my long telephoto lens to compress the scene and keep the stag sharp and the background blurry.  It was important here for me to get as low as possible in order to make those falling snowflakes stand out well enough to see.  By getting to ground level, the background was a dark patch of trees which allowed the bright snowflakes to take precedence.  If I had remained stood up, I would have been looking down on the red deer and the background would then have been the snowy floor behind him, making the snowflakes blend in and almost disappear from view.  Getting extremely low also allowed for the foreground snow to blur which removed some of the distracting grass poking through (now only slightly visible in line with the stag).  

    Technically speaking, to maintain the correct exposure of your subject whilst in snow, you'll need to dial in some positive exposure compensation.  Essentially, with all those white patches in the scene, your camera sensor will think it is too bright and try and control this by darkening the image through faster shutter speeds etc.  This will lead to an underexposed subject and snow that's more grey than pristine white.  By using positive exposure compensation (in this case by +2 stops) you take control over the fighting in camera light meter and force it to expose correctly. 

    Hopefully this short blog post has fought the corner for "poor" weather and made you really think about getting out and about in all types.  It's all far too easy to stay sat in the warm and dry when the wind, rain and snow comes, but getting up and out there is what makes the difference and gives your photos an edge.  Also, you'll appreciate the warm indoors and a hot cup of coffee all the more on your return!

    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 at www.facebook.com/jamesshooterphotography

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


    Thanks for reading,

    James