Tag Archives: red squirrels

COGC: Scottish Wildlife—Evaluation

My thoughts of my graded unit project is that I was pretty successful for what I captured despite limited time. Wildlife photography is something unpredictable, like the weather it can change quickly, there is no guarantee of capturing what you would like. I set out the task of trying to capture a variety of wildlife to see in Scotland as part of wildlife tourism. I feel strongly for the protection of our wildlife and there has always been that small part of me that looks back thousands of years when Scotland t003hrived with wolves, wild black boar, bears and many other species that were hunted into extinction. Part of me feels wildlife has been severely limited in many ways and therefore with the interest in wildlife tourism it helps capture people’s love and imagination so they themselves become aware of what they have here to see, not just Scotland’s beautiful landscape to help protect what Scotland has.

I was inspired by photographs I saw for sale asprints in places like Edinburgh Zoo’s souvenir shop or from images captured of the wildlife on Visit Scotland’s wildlife tourism pages. You get a sense of the animals in their natural habitat rather than pictures just taken of them held captive in a zoo, the researched images were appealing and that’s what I aimed to achieve through the images I captured that not only gives an image for what Scotland has to offer but tells a story. Many of the animals aren’t native to Scotland so that was also challenging as much of their natural habitat can be somewhat different. The images _20A7511I captured I feel were very successful in this regard, a great example of the wolves I captured with the woodland surrounding them.

There were a few shoots I felt disappointed with, visiting Benmore Botanic Garden I was unsuccessful capturing any insects using macro technique and became increasingly difficult to find, with the restricted time and the one image I had for a red squirrel habitat I felt wasn’t sufficient enough, the perfectly lined trees felt slightly out of place rather than a natural wild forest. I was also disappointed with the shoot at Edinburgh Zoo as shooting at a downward angle wasn’t appealing, some of the animals I would have imagined and liked to have captured weren’t in the right place to capture such as the meerkats closer to the back fencing, or the inactivity of the monkeys I would have liked to have captured. This shows the nature of wildlife photography, there is no guarantee of capturing something appealing.

Benmore Botanic Garden Trees

Row of trees in Benmore Botanic Garden with sun breaking through.

Some places I had originally planned to visit such as Glencoe, I changed plan. Having visited the Cairngorms National Park it changed my perspective. I visited the Cairngorms early April for a one to one photographic day tour with a professional wildlife photographer, Neil McIntyre and having later visited the Cairngorms over the duration of a weekend later that month there were many things I discovered available in the surrounding area which opened up opportunity for capturing great images, therefore decided to stick around that surrounding area. The day tour with Neil McIntyre proved to be my most successful shoot, not only did I learn a good few things from Neil, the experience was worthwhile and thanks to his excellent work I was able to get close to the red squirrels and wild hare in their natural habitat. You learn from Neil that it’s not as straightforward as taking a camera out into the wild and hoping for the best, you get an appreciation that it takes time and hard work for wildlife such as red squirrels to grow accustomed to you. Also _20A6001why spending a dedicated amount of time in the one area can make the difference requiring a great deal of patience.

From previous coursework I have done throughout the year in telling a story, Neil’s work is certainly inspiring in that regard and when it came to showing me how to properly photograph landscape for habitat shots, it became apparent to me the finest smallest details, such as the patterns on a rock face. You can definitely see this in his work from images he has captured himself of empty trees that although no sign of the red squirrels, it tells a story of where to find them, where they live. It also helped greatly as I gained an important understanding of using the sun behind me to wait for it to break out from the clouds to light the foreground, using leading lines to capture stunning landscape images with detail in the sky using the correct exposure.

I felt it greatly benefited me having done the one to one tour with Neil McIntyre, he has a wealth of experience and knowledge in wildlife and landscape photography, he was able to offer me guidance if that’s the field I wish to go towards in my career as well as helped me improve my insight with techniques. A few examples of this was switching from manual mode which I usually use on my camera to aperture priori_20A5972ty with high speed drive mode when photographing the red squirrels. The camera does fantastic work for correcting exposure as the light behind me kept changing from the sun breaking from
clouds. The second example was learning the camouflage technique using the extended depth of field, something I would not have thought of or spotted myself. These small things greatly helped improve my skillset for capturing some fantastic images.

Having revisited the Cairngorms National Park I did a photographic tour of the Highland Wildlife Park which was a slight disappointment photographing through the wired fencing and the tour guide had no knowledge in photography. I wouldn’t say it was worth £150 however did manage to capture a few fantastic images. If comparing that to the photographic tour I did with Neil McIntyre, there is a big difference. Neil as mentioned has a wealth of experience who can tell you where to stand and suggest what is best, this you can benefit from. Some sections of the park you could walk around yourself and _20A7592capture, the only difference with the photographic tour is that they feed the animals giving you the chance to see them closer.

Some images I captured were a slight disappointment such as the noticeable wired fencing in the backdrop when photographing the wolves or even the Scottish wildcat. Another disappointment was shooting down at some of the animals such as the monkey’s which is less desirable. I knew that from what I captured on the tour with Neil, the pictures I captured of the red squirrels and wild hare stood out as my best images. It was then challenging for me to try and capture images that could match that standard, especially in places such as Blair Drummond Safari Park or the Highland Wildlife Park.

Another slight disappointment was a shoot I planned for the Osprey Centre in Boat of Garten, I was limited to what I could capture due to the distance between the Osprey nest and the hide we watched from in the Osprey Centre. Saying that it was a wonderful experience getting to see the nest and the birds in flight and for the limited images I captured they tell a story with the male having flew back to the nest with food and the female taking off with it to eat. It wasn’t until later that I discovered therewas a Rothiemurchus hide for capturing the Osprey diving for fish which gets you close to thestunning birds, however from research on the BBC documentary, ‘Highlands:
Scotland’s Wild Heart, the BBC mentions it took them 5 days just to capture the action Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 20.59.05they wanted, so there is no guarantee. When you look at some of the images other photographers have captured of the Osprey closeup diving for fish it is spectacular and therefore I couldn’t help but feel I could have captured something spectacular, but with costs and time I’m pleased with what I captured given the limited time I have.

I feel that overall from the 11 shoots I done and some of which weren’t as successful as I would have liked, I managed to pull off many fantastic images that illustrates the variety of techniques which fits perfectly with the project requirements. It was a difficult task narrowing down my final best 20 images which was no easy task, especially knowing that I had to swap out many stunning shots in exchange for other shots to show for the variety of technique. Some techniques I struggled with such as the pan shot technique _20A8377using the slower shutter speed. I captured some pin sharp images using this technique, however didn’t feel the images were good enough to be placed among my final 20 images. Another technique that was tricky as I depended upon the sun was the silhouette
technique, I did use Camera Raw to help me achieve my desired result.

The techniques I used to show for variety throughout my final 20 images were:

  • fast shutter speed (red squirrel leaping in mid air).
  • shallow depth of field (wild hare, red squirrel and variety of other images).
  • silhouette (Osprey nest at Loch Insh).
  • extended depth of field (landscape habitat shots).
  • camouflage (wild hare).
  • Shapes (wild hare looking up hill).
  • Composition (framing the wolf).

The weather was sometimes unpredictable and challenging and managed to work around that. I tried to capture as much as I could using the sun for good lighting, I also managed to capture some dramatic skies such as one dramatic landscape shot I captured with the dark clouds, however never included it into the final 20 images. I did mention it would be nice to include a variety and this was perhaps the only thing missed out. Bearing in mind, wildlife photographers capture photographs of the wildlife throughout the different seasons of the year and I was somewhat fortunate enough to have a lot of good weather making the best of the lighting I had. Taking into consideration the time spent and travelling I made best for what was made available to me.

The research work I did towards each individual shoot was pretty straightforward, some of the shoots turned out different than expected and I do feel that for some of the research perhaps deeper research could have led me to something better.

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Illustrated from my workbook, some of the post processing work I did were of images I had not yet completely decided whether or not I was submitting towards the final 20. The editing I feel shows a consistency which I wanted and aimed to keep the images looking as natural as possible with bear minimal editing. Upon attending a one to one with my lecturer I discovered there were several other techniques in post process I could have used that may have helped further enhance my images such as using Camera Raw to lens correct, fixing individual colour luminance and even the use of high pass filter for enhanced sharpening. Some of these were techniques I had forgotten about but I feel with more use and experience it will help me improve in that area. Unfortunately I had already ordered my final 20 prints IMG_1226prior to the one to one meeting as I knew I needed to give the printing business Deadly Digital time to print as they have a heavy workload of other orders to deal with.

After paying for and collecting my final 20 prints I am delighted with the quality of the metallic print and for many of the images you can see the quality most notably from the picture of the lions playing. I was told however that metallic does look similar to lustre however noticing the difference with certain prints. Having looked through the prints all have been printed correctly to the correct given A3 size which I’m delighted with. I was pleased that the pictures turned out bright and clear and none of the prints turned out dark. I feel the format I used having them printed was the right choice, a book format would have been nice but you do commonly find also separate individual prints sold in tourist souvenir shops in the highlands etc for the wildlife. It is also notable that several of the images I showed in post processing I decided not to use due to having to break down not only my best images but what I felt would tell a story as well as show the variety of techniques as mentioned.

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CoGC GU2: Scottish Wildlife — Shoot 3 Outcome

Cairngorms National Park Wildlife With Neil McIntyre

IMG_1101Due to the time of year I fully expected the overcast weather, the third shoot was booked in advance for Wednesday, 5th of April. I researched the weather in advance with some weather forecasts showing cloudy and others showing sun with clouds. Fortunately the weather was in my favour. The arrangement was to meet Neil McIntyre at the Cairngorms hotel at 9 O’ Clock in the morning. Neil is a professional award winning wildlife and landscape photographer, so I was looking forward to the shoot as I knew it was the perfect opportunity not only to capture great images but for the learning experience as wildlife and landscape photography is something I would love to do. Neil proved to be a brilliant instructor throughout the day who clearly has vast knowledge and experience of the wildlife around him. This gives a better understanding that photographing wildlife is not as straightforward as taking out a camera, getting out into the wild and hoping for the best, he understands their habitat and nature.

Neil drove myself to each location and the first location was to capture the Red Squirrels. Using just my 5D Mark iii with the Sigma 150-600mm Sport lens we walked down a path through the woodland area and caught eye of a Red Squirrel darting up one of the tall pine trees. As the Red Squirrel darted up the tree Neil cracked open nuts and placed them down in certain parts of the one location of the forest anIMG_1108d then instructed me to perch down next to a tree further back. Once the camera was set up I waited in position for about half an hour to three quarters of an hour, unfortunately the Squirrel was refusing to come down.

Neil decided to resort to a second tactic having instructed me to wait in position and he would walk away and come back in 20 minutes so the Red Squirrel would get the idea that he was gone. As he told me to listen carefully for a scattering scraping noise which will indicate where they are. Thankfully after 10 to 15 minutes one of the Red Squirrels scattered down one of the trees however it was very uncertain and began making its way back up the tree whilst making an alert sound. I quickly zoomed in to capture a shot using the faster shutter speed, wide aperture and higher ISO to capture the squirrel whilst it was perched on a branch. This was one of the few shots I captured from that area.

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The second location spot he drove myself towards more open on a small hill with trees off the country road, the Red Squirrels were a lot more tame as it was a location Neil spends considerable time at feeding them. Neil placed the nuts in several spots and the Red Squirrels came running across for them which gave me the perfect opportunity to capture some fantastic shots. Neil also gave his advice on the shutter speed with the higher ISO, as well as continuous drive shooting to capture various shots as the Squirrels came running in. I did also attempt the pan technique using slow shutter speed of 1/125 for a while however proved very IMG_1111difficult as even Neil himself explained wildlife like Squirrels are a lot more difficult to track because of how sporadic their movement is, they’re hard to predict. He was also very helpful in giving advice where to stand as he advised to stand slightly down from the peak of the hill so that I would be eye level shooting the Red Squirrels.

Capturing the Red Squirrels whilst they were running was quite difficult given how quick they move and often sporadic, not being able to predict their movement I managed to capture some of my best shots when the Squirrels stopped to pick up and eat the nuts. Neil was also very helpful with some fantastic compositional advice, one of which I managed to capture a Squirrel on a tree stump with the grass below.

I’m delighted with many of the pictures I had captured although can’t help but imagine what it would have been like if shooting during summer period with foliage on the trees that would add vibrance to the backdrops. However when thinking about it what I captured gives a nice seasonal feel of the Red Squirrels during a period of early Spring. Because my Sigma 150-_20A5899600mm Sport lens has an f/5 – f/6.3 aperture I was forced to use a mid to higher ISO range to compensate for the faster shutter speed, thankfully with the Canon 5D Mark iii even at the higher ISO range the picture quality is still impressive.

The second part of the day Neil had taken me out to a stunning location in the hills to capture the Highland Hare’s, it was an experience crawling slowly to get close to the wild Hare’s and managed to capture some fantastic images of the hares close up and also of the backdrop and surroundings. Again, Neil was able to direct me to parts where he knew where the wild Hares were located, one wild hare of which I was lucky to capture with the sun backlighting him which turned out fantastic. For each of my shots between the Red Squirrels and the Highland Hare’s my main focal point was focusing on their eyes to catch sharpness, although sometimes difficult varying on distance or the direction the Squirrels and Hare’s looked. Another thing I aimed for was to capture a wide variety of different shots andIMG_1121 compositions as well as switching focal length between 150 to 600 for variety.

Getting down low was essential for photographing the wild Hare and for most of the time was lying down whilst shooting which gave me support as the Sigma 150-600mm Sport lens is pretty heavy.

The final stage of the day Neil helped me in the same location with a better understanding of landscape photography as I was looking to capture some habitat shots to show in relation to the Highland Hare’s themselves. The biggest thing I learned from that was understanding more to do with the light in the foreground as well as adding interest to the foreground by finding a particular subject that adds to the photograph. As it was cloudy with the sun I had to wait at points for the sun to light the foreground to capture the ideal shot I wanted. Part of the technique I learned was holding the camera up and pointing down to capture the perspective with the main subject in the foreground closest. I also captured some landscapes with leading lines which Neil was kind enough to point out. The shots I captured of the landscapes I was pleased with however feel I could improve upon composition but learned a lot from the experience.

Here is an example contact sheet of some images that didn’t go to plan as I wanted:

ContactSheet-001

The first image was a first attempt at capturing a pan shot of one of the Red Squirrels as it was running to collect one of the nuts, I then corrected the exposure by lowering the ISO and as shown from the second image captured better exposure however again, capturing a Red Squirrel with the pan shot technique proved difficult given how quick they move. In the third image I was rushed to capture and didn’t have the time to switch from the slower to faster shutter speed which caused motion blur. In the fourth image the lens wasn’t quick enough focusing and unfortunately focused on the tree rather than the Squirrel, because it was fast moving it was difficult to capture. The fifth image was perhaps one of my favourite images or would have been, unfortunately the focus was off which was disappointing as I loved the low perspective and light breaking through in this image. The last image was an example shot I captured of the Highland Hare habitat, however as the clouds covered the sun the foreground was a bit dull.

The following images were difficult to pick from as there were so many great images I managed to capture. Here is a contact sheet of some of my best shots:

ContactSheet-002

I was delighted to have captured the expression as a wonderful portrait of one of the red Squirrels face on, this definitely stands out as one of my best shots for shallow depth of field technique. Although some of the other images you can see shallow depth of field I also captured a few other techniques, one of which is the fourth image showing the Highland Hare camouflaged in it’s surroundings with an extended depth of field to show its environment. The second and fifth images I managed to capture both the Red Squirrel and Highland Hare eating and was pleased with the composition. The lighting I was delighted about when shooting the Hare as I was fortunate to have the sun backlighting the subject. The third image of the Red Squirrel perched on a log I loved for portrait and composition. The final image for landscape, my favoured image of the Highland Hare habitat as the sun broke out from behind the clouds it lit the foreground beautifully and managed to capture the sky and cloud detail using the river as a leading line point of view.

Here is an example of post processing work I did for several of the images including one of the best I had chosen:

Using Camera Raw I made slight adjustments depending on the image by making a slight adjustment increase in warm temperature to add warmth to the image and adjusted shadows and highlights accordingly to enhance the image. Finally increasing sharpness.raw

Once adjustments were made in Camera Raw depending on the photograph I implemented a slight warming filter to give a warm glow to the final image.photoshopfilter

Any final touches I made in photoshop depending on the image, I implemented a slight touch of sharpening using the sharpen tool to the eyes.sharpening

Again, a big thanks to Neil McIntyre for his fantastic one to one day tour that enabled me to capture some fantastic images and gained valuable learning experience. His website can be found at: http://www.neilmcintyre.com/ where you can find some of his fantastic work and many of his own tours he has to offer.