About the Art: Victoria Hillman
13 December 2017 | 12:00 am

Wed, 13th Dec 2017

In our latest blog post, Victoria Hillman - whose work features in this year's exhibition the British Wildlife Photography Awards - talks to us about photographing the smaller creatures that can sometimes go overlooked. Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition? Overnight, many dragonflies hide deep among the long grasses of the Somerset Levels and if the conditions are right and you know where to look, the early mornings of May you can find them covered in dew in amongst these long grasses. To illustrate just how well these dragonflies are hidden I focused manually on the edges of the wings and used an aperture that would reveal the shape of the body but simultaneously keep it almost concealed.How did you go about getting that shot? I knew roughly the areas the dragonflies roost in overnight, although it is not exactly the same each day so to start with I searched the long grass for any dragonflies and found this individual low down and covered in dew. I found a location to set up my tripod being careful not to crush any vegetation or disturb the dragonfly, once set up I experimented with different apertures and focal points. I manually focused to get just the very edges of the wings in focus using an aperture that would bring just enough detail to bring the rest of the dragonfly into the shot and show the habitat and how well they disappear into the long grass. How long did you have to wait for this shot? I arrived on the reserve around 5am as it was getting light but before sunrise, this gives me enough time to look around and see what is about and find a suitable dragonfly in an accessible place. This image was actually taken around 7:30am and I stayed with this dragonfly for a further 90 minutes, photographing it as it made its way up the stick until it was dried out and warmed up to take to the wing.Did you use any particular equipment or software? The equipment used for this shot is my normal macro set-up, Canon 5DMKiii with Sigma 180mm macro lens set up on a tripod, it was shot using only natural light and lots of patience. I have carried out only minimal post-processing within the guidelines of what is allowed for the competition.What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs? I find the smaller species (plants, invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles) incredibly fascinating, both from a photographic and scientific perspective, I do have a particular love of frogs and toads. For me, these species have such wonderful characters that are often overlooked or missed being so much smaller and generally harder to find to photograph. What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face? There are a couple, the weather and the subject are the main difficulties, the weather you can't do anything about other than be prepared and keep an eye on several different forecasts. Certainly, with my subjects, numbers, timing, and locations can vary day to day and year to year so it's really important to do your research, know your subject and its habitat well and that will help with any difficulties that might arise. Wildlife and nature photography are rapidly growing areas of photography and it can be tricky with more popular species to find a new angle or way of capturing them, for me taking my time and focusing on just a handful of species has allowed me to try out new ideas and perspectives.What would you like people to think about when they see your work? I would like my work to encourage people to think a little more about the smaller species we have around us and take a closer look at just how beautiful they are. How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started? I have always loved nature and being outdoors from a very young age and really have never wanted to do anything else other than work with wildlife and nature in some form. I am actually a scientist by training with a BSc in Zoology with Marine Zoology and an MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation but have been taking photos as long as I can remember as soon as my parents bought me my first camera and over the years have found a way to combine the two together, using them for both research purposes and also to highlight the wonderful smaller creatures we have around us.What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment? Start with researching your subject(s) and their habitat and how they interact with it, by understanding these it really helps with finding what you are looking for and being able to photograph it without disturbing it. The more you know your subject and more time you spend with it the more photographic possibilities will emerge and the more ideas you will have, just take your time, if it doesn't work one day, just go back again and again.What projects are you working on now or have coming up? I have just finished the first part of my Forgotten Little Creatures project with brings together photography, interesting science facts and the stories behind the images, this first part has concentrated on what is within 40 miles of my home and is now published as a book and will be an exhibition in early 2018. I'm now planning for part two of this project.

About the Art: Douglas Shapley
12 December 2017 | 12:00 am

Tue, 12th Dec 2017

As part of our ongoing series of blog posts highlighting the work of photographers featured in our exhibition of the British Wildlife Photography Awards, we spoke to Douglas Shapley whose work was highly commended in the 'Botanical Britain' category. Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition? I took this photo a few years ago before I lived in Scotland. I was on a walking trip with a friend and we were staying in Kintyre for a week or so. On our first night there was a really great sunset,  I was busy snapping away getting shots of the coastline when I noticed the thrift lit up by the setting sun. The shot means a lot to me as a year or so after taking the photo I started in my first professional job in conservation and the spot where the photo was taken became 'my patch'. I was chuffed when I heard it would feature in the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2017.How did you go about getting that shot? The conditions were perfect for photographing the sunset. I took plenty of images of the clichéd shoreline with a long exposure to blur the water but it was these delicate flowers that really caught my eye. I composed it to have the mountains of Jura in the background and took the shot. How long did you have to wait for this shot? It was quite an opportunistic shot really. I was trying different compositions of the shoreline and the setting sun for a good half hour or so and then as I was setting up from a different position I noticed the 'lanterns'. Of course with plants, you get the benefit of being able to take your time to set up your shot. Did you use any particular equipment or software? No fancy kit just my Nikon DSLR with an 18-105mm lens and Manfrotto tripodWhat are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs? I can't say that I have favourite taxa or scene to photograph. I am a keen birdwatcher but tend not to focus on just photographing birds. I am quite opportunistic and tend to photograph whatever subject presents itself. My starting point is usually to pick wildlife-rich places and go from there. I love visiting the Cairngorms and the majestic Caledonian pine forests. If I had to pick a place the West Coast of Scotland and the Argyll Islands are my favourite places to be with a camera in the UK. They have a great biodiversity on land and at sea and breathtaking scenery too. What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face? As with most photographic subjects, these days wildlife photography is highly competitive. Good equipment is accessible to everyone and the interest in the field has grown and grown. In addition, the pure volume of photographic content has increased with the rise of social media and advertising. People are subjected to photographic imagery in all aspects of life. This makes it very difficult to stand out from the crowd and of course, make a living. For that reason, I admire anyone working as a full-time professional wildlife photographer. That said, photography, and video increasingly so has a crucial role to play in engaging audiences in conservation issues and getting others to safeguard the natural world. So, could the rise in wildlife photography indicate that more people are engaged and care about the environment than ever before? I couldn't possibly conclude but I do think in general it should be seen in a positive light. With that in mind I shall continue to use my skills to share the beauty of the natural world and encourage others to connect with it too. What would you like people to think about when they see your work? I would hope that people see that the natural world is outstandingly beautiful and are encouraged to connect to it. I would also like to hope that I am introducing new audiences to species, habitats, or landscapes, which they would not otherwise have known existed and that in doing so they are inspired to care for the environment.How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started? I grew up with a strong interest in wildlife, particularly bird watching, regularly visiting my local WWT reserve. My Dad is a keen photographer and his interest rubbed off on me. In my teens he gave me one of his Canon film cameras to get started. Later I progressed into using a bridge camera, which was ideal for photographing distant birds. I then got my first DSLR for my 21st birthday and immediately bought a telephoto lens to begin documenting the species I could see near my home and on my travels. Now, well over 10 years since, I am still out and about most weekends with my camera. What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment? Get outdoors and always carry your camera. I know it’s a cliché but you never know what you'll see when you go out in the field. I would also recommend getting to grips with your equipment by photographing subjects you know well or have easy access to. That way when you encounter something extraordinary you are well prepared to get a shot of it. Most important though, don't let the pressure of trying to get a perfect shot detract from the experience of seeing the wildlife in front of you. Sometimes the conditions just wont be right and you'll come away with nothing but remember why you are taking the photograph in the first place - because you love wildlife. Appreciate every precious moment you get to share an experience with another species.What projects are you working on now or have coming up? In my day job as a conservationist I am currently working on a number of landscape-scale conservation projects. I hope to use my photography to promote the habitats and species the projects are aiming to protect. I shall also continue using my photography to capture wildlife and landscapes at home and on my travels and use them to enthuse others about wildlife and conservation via my social media channels

Upon being a Horniman Studio Collective Member
12 December 2017 | 12:00 am

Tue, 12th Dec 2017

Phil Baird tells us about his experiences so far as a member of the Studio Collective.My name is Phil Baird and I am this artist and a member of the exciting and innovative Horniman Studio Collective. A decade ago, while recovering from the most serious mental health condition, I considered taking a volunteering post at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, possibly doing some conservation dusting. Little did I know that I was destined to be a part of the multidisciplinary Studio Collective, whose current aim is to curate an exhibition and related events with artist Serena Korda. It is great to be a small part of what is a large group of about 19  artists, anthropologists, research specialists, publicists, service users and, like me, workshop facilitators for the many and various community groups that are the heart of the process. The project has an egalitarian, forum-style organisation that is new and innovative. It allows Studio Collective members to take part in various levels, and we can leave the areas that we are not specialists in to the other team members. It is great for me to see behind the scenes of the Horniman and to work with professionals with an incredible vastness of collective knowledge. The whole process for me is a weaving together of ideas, of people in the form of a community, of sounds and their means of production, of places – the whole museum, environment and Gardens, and of objects – Serena's art objects and those from the Horniman Collection both currently displayed and in the ‘secret’ reserve collection. I feel privileged to have access to hundreds of thousands of objects that we are all custodians of. Had I known anything about anthropology when I was younger I would have certainly considered a career in the profession.

About the Art: Peter Warne
11 December 2017 | 12:00 am

Mon, 11th Dec 2017

In our latest blog post, we talk to Peter Warne whose work is featured in our exhibition of photography from this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards. Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition? I monitor wildlife at Copped Hall – a restoration project just south of Epping in Essex. Each year the pond in our four-acre walled garden plays host to a mallard family and in their early days, the ducklings chase after flies on the pond surface.How did you go about getting that shot? The sides of the pond slope down allowing one to get to the surface of the water and take pictures at “duckling-eye” level. The challenge is to line up fly and duckling, and to use a sufficiently fast speed to freeze the motion. How long did you have to wait for this shot? I had imagined the image over 3 seasons and tried to get the picture many times – this year it came together.Did you use any particular equipment or software? I used a Canon full-frame DSLR with a 500mm telephoto lens enhanced with a 1.4x teleconverter to get me as close to the action as possible. What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs? I am particularly fond of birds of prey and the gardens and surrounding fields are blessed with barn and tawny owls, as well as kestrels, common buzzards, sparrowhawks, and most recently, red kites.  In summer we often see hobbies who come for our wealth of dragonflies.  The motivation, as with most wildlife photographers, is to capture the beauty of our subjects and relay them to the general public. What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face? I have been given complete freedom of the site which amounts to 25 acres of gardens and there is excellent access to the surrounding fields and Epping Forest. If it’s there, it’s my fault if I don’t find it.  The challenges are to take pictures that best illustrate the behaviour of creatures whose lives are otherwise hidden from us.What would you like people to think about when they see your work? The realisation that wild creatures are very beautiful when you get up close and see their textures and form, and maybe to ponder how they manage to survive in a world dominated by humans. How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started? Since the 1970s but seriously following the introduction of digital photography in the 21st century.What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment? Get to know your subject, especially its behaviour.  Take lots of pictures of the same species in all seasons possible and under all weather conditions.  Learn those field-craft skills which are so essential to finding wildlife and getting close to it without disturbing it. What projects are you working on now or have coming up? I will continue to work at Copped Hall, to monitor the wildlife in the face of its restoration and the improvements to the gardens.  I am expanding my observations to the surrounding countryside where the signs are that agricultural bird numbers such as yellowhammer, are increasing, brown hares flourish and red kite numbers continue to increase. I also run study days and evenings at the Hall upon close-up techniques and night photography.  The latter are especially popular and the 2017-18 winter season is already oversubscribed. My own night photography continues to develop. I give a variety of talks upon photography and wildlife to camera clubs, conservation groups and other interested parties.  These can number five to six in a month and are a real pleasure to me.


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