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close-ups to shots showing the animal in its environment. Even from the cover of a hide, the photographer needs to be as silent as possible, while also taking every measure to ensure sharply focused images.
Lenses with built-in vibrationreduction systems to counteract camera shake, apochromatic lens elements for reducing optical aberrations, and ultrasonic lens motors to ensure silent auto-focus operation are some of the preferred technologies for wildlife photography.
CATCHING A KINGFISHER Probably the most prized river bird for photographers is the kingfisher. Although they are found all over the UK and can be spotted all year round, for many people, their only sighting of these brilliant blue-and-orange birds is a fast flash of blue over the water as they strike below the surface and escape just as quickly with their prize.
Kingfishers are most abundant in central and southern England, but their range is extending further north and into Scotland. They are small birds and their diet consists of small fish such as minnows and aquatic insects. They prefer still or slowmoving water in lakes and canals, as well as low-lying rivers, and are territorial, which means that they
RECOMMENDED READING THE NEW RIVERS AND WILDLIFE HANDBOOK
by Nigel Holmes et al., RSPB, pb, £19.95 KINGFISHER: TALES FROM THE HALCYON RIVER
by Charlie Hamilton James, Evans Mitchell
Books, hb, £25
THE RIVER by Philippa Forrester, Arrow, pb, £7.99
will patrol the same stretch of watercourse and use the same perches when hunting for fish.
Finding a kingfisher can be tricky but rewarding. They nest in holes in riverbanks and use overhanging branches as perches. Look for signs of white bird droppings on these branches – if not left by a kingfisher, then certainly the river is frequented by other birdlife.
Remember, too, that kingfishers are protected by law. As with many British birds, a licence is needed to photograph them at or near the nest, so don’t venture too close if you’ve found signs of a nesting hole in the riverbank you’re exploring.
Success will be improved by working from a hide and using a tripod with a head that allows for smooth panning and tilting movements of the camera and lens. Set up your hide in a position that gives an unobstructed view of the perch, isolating it against an even background. Depending on your shooting angle and lens focal length, this could be the riverbank opposite, an evergreen tree, or even the surface of the river.
At this time of year, it’s best not to be aiming your lens in a southerly direction as you will be most at risk of shooting into the sun and risking flare. Best to find a position that allows you to look north during the day, west at day’s start and east towards the end of the day.
direction as you will be most at risk of shooting into the sun and risking allows you to look north during the range and a smooth panning head
Clear visibility, a good zooming range and a smooth panning head will mean plenty of shooting options from the same position. Above all else, however, be patient, and be prepared to return to your hide the next day. And the next.
Dos & don’ts of photographing river life
Get to know your river first. Walk along its bank. Choose diﬀerent times of day, noting the changing position of the sun and any creatures that you see Focus on the eyes of your subject, and use your widest aperture setting to ensure a fast shutter speed Secure your camera and lens to a tripod. Use a pan-and-tilt head for smooth movements and lock your position to ensure the lens is perfectly still before releasing the shutter
Rely on image-stabilisation technologies as your sole means of reducing lens vibration. It’s best not to handhold the camera at all when using a long lens; use a tripod or beanbag instead Make any noise when working from a hide. If you aren’t in a hide, keep as quiet as possible and make no sudden movements when taking pictures Only take telephoto and zoom lenses. Pack a macro lens, too, for photographing aquatic insects
NEXT MONTH: P H OTO G R A P H Y AT T W I L I G H T
S E L E C T I O N S
Clothing option WATERPROOF WINTER BOOT Riverbanks are damp and muddy places at the best of times, and during winter, there’s the added prospect of frost and snow, so you need footwear that will give a sure grip and keep out the cold and damp. The North Face has brought out a new man’s boot, intriguingly called Back to Berkeley (£99), that uses a HydroSeal waterproof membrane and recycled insulation material to keep feet warm and dry. The PU-coated ballistic upper and rubber outsole combine to ensure this is a boot suited to most winter trails and paths.
Berkeley (£99), that uses a HydroSeal waterproof membrane and recycled insulation dry. The PU-coated ballistic upper
Accessory option BIRDWATCHER’S TRIPOD HEAD Gitzo is renowned for the quality of its tripods and monopods, which are the choice of many professional photographers and birdwatchers. Wildlife photographers and twitchers now have a tripod head that is specifically made for their purposes. The Gitzo Birdwatcher’s Tripod Head (£190–£225) is a two-way fluid head made of ultra-light magnesium. The panning movement is silky smooth and the head remains remarkably stable when tilt is locked in place. A
stable when tilt is locked in place. A
single lock mechanism controls both tilting and panning, and the head single lock mechanism controls both tilting and panning, and the head adds very little to adds very little to the tripod’s overall weight.
the tripod’s overall weight.
Camera option BUDGET SLR WITH HD MOVIE MODE HD movie mode is the latest must-have feature on new digital cameras, although it remains to be seen how many photographers actually use it. It’s found on the Pentax K-r (£600; body only), a new entry-level SLR with an impressive array of technology, including a 12.4-megapixel CMOS sensor, three-inch LCD monitor and ISO up to 25,600 – super sensitivity for low-light shooting. The K-r is compact, lightweight and has a fastest shutter speed of 1/6,000sec – more than enough to freeze the darting flight of a kingfisher without blur. And with the HD movie mode, you may even be able to make your own video clip as well as wildlife stills.
shutter speed of 1/6,000sec – more than enough to freeze the darting flight of a kingfisher without blur. And with the HD movie mode, you may even be able to make your own video clip i
Clothing option: www.thenorthface.com www.thenorthface.com
Accessory option: www.gitzo.com Camera option: www.pentax.co.uk
76 www.geographical.co.uk DECEMBER 2010