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 (

    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.

  • A Mountain View

    Over the past few weeks I have been advising you on different ways to improve your wildlife photography portraits.  I looked at getting creative with light, controlling exposure and keeping in mind your perspective.  In this post, I'm hopefully going to convince you to put down the long telephoto lens and try some wide-angle wildlife photography to create an environmental image.  Portraits are great, they show off the subject with little distraction and hopefully enable the viewer to appreciate the beauty of the animal alone.  Environmental images however, offer a whole new scene, something different, something more.

    Environmental wildlife photographs do what they say on the tin, they include the surrounding environment.  A shorter focal length is used in order to encapsulate more of the landscape.  Whereas my previous images were taken on a long telephoto lens (400mm) in order to enlarge distant subjects, the image below was taken on a much smaller zoom lens (15-85mm @ 28mm).  These types of photographs are much harder to do as you need to get physically closer to your subjects rather than rely on large optics.  Because of their difficult nature, they are much less common and provide a photographer with a very different perspective:

    "A Mountain View"

    The image above is of a mountain hare (Lepus timidus) bunkering down on a grassy slope, trying to shield itself from the blustering gales that were occurring.  I took this in February this year, as such this hare is seen in it's white winter coat.  Only found in the Highlands of Scotland and a small area of the Peak District, it's camouflage protects it throughout the snowy months, after which it slowly turns brown for the warmer seasons.   

    Sitting on the side of a slope, this individual was spotted from the bottom of the valley and it took time and patience to creep up on it.  We would stop every few metres as rushing would only make it bolt for the mountain top.  As I slowly edged closer I got in range to start taking photos with my telephoto.  Another 20 - 30 minutes and I realised we'd hit the jackpot, a completely relaxed mountain hare.  Eventually I was close enough to swap lenses and try for some environmental perspectives. 

    Environmental wildlife photography is great.  It puts your subject in context and tells much more of a story than a standard portrait.  For example, this image shows exactly why this species is called mountain hare, a portrait simply wouldn't do that.  This perspective gives a sense of scale to your subject and can be used to discuss wider issues.  I have a passion for conservation and this style of imagery offers a perfect representation for discussing certain issues, after all, many of the problems our wildlife encounters are habitat based.  For instance this photograph could be used to discuss the issues regarding wildlife and climate change.  What good is an all white camouflage to protect you from predators if there is no snow in the middle of winter?  If global temperatures are expected to keep rising, species at the very edge of their range in the UK are going to suffer the consequences.  This mountain hare no longer blends into a winter scene, but sticks out like a sore thumb against a grassy backdrop of snowless greens.  

    Things to really think about when trying for environmental images are fieldcraft, background and composition.  In order to get close enough to try for a wide-angle shot, your fieldcraft has to be top notch.  Research your subjects and take your time to understand their behaviour.  As the background for these images are no longer out of focus, you need to think about it even more, look for complimentary and simple backdrops that help to tell a story.  Usually your subject will be smaller in the frame than a standard portrait, so composition is key to making it work, ensure it's facing into the space and that the scenery leads your viewers eyes into the main subject.  Photographers can often get stuck in a single mind frame once they've seen how good their telephoto lenses are at creating beautiful portraits, but as the age old saying goes, size isn't everything!

    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,


  • 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: 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,