It's at this time of year I look back at my photography year and see what I have done, where I went, what worked and what I have learnt. At the start of each year I set myself aims/goals I would like to achieve, I feel it helps my photography grow and move forward. My aims last year were to improve my photography, learn more about the technical side of exposure and focus, learn more about lighting and the creativity it brings and concentrate on a few projects rather than try to capture everything possible. It is hard to define if I have met these aims. I have started to feel more in control of the camera and actually know why I'm trying different setting rather than hoping for the best! The problem with these aims is it is difficult to quantify these aims so in this review I'm going to look at my highlights of 2014 and set aims I'm hoping to be able to compare better next year.
My 2014 Highlights
Last year I set out to see more of our iconic British Wildlife but concentrate on only a few so I could visit more than once. I have found this helps me try to improve the images I capture on each visit. My highlights in 2014 were:
One bird of prey I have wanted to see in the wild for a while was Barn Owls. I have previously looked for them closer to home but Norfolk is known to be the birding capital of Britain and for good reason.
I made two trips in the space of two weeks as the weather was ideal on both occasions. Watching a wild Barn Owl hunt at sunrise was a fantastic experience, capturing some nice back lit sunrise images of the Barn Owl was just a bonus. The last image of the day was a great experience, with the light fading fast we moved to a new location and within minutes were treated to a Barn Owl perch hunt along the fence posts towards us. We sat in the car and dare not move with the Barn Owl only metres away. It was a great end to the second trip. I'm hoping for a return visit to see the Barn Owls again this year if the weather forecast is right.
March was the start of much anticipated project, Water Voles in the Peak District. The previous year I made two trips to the Peak District to see them and it started what can only be described as an obsession that ended with a full day photographing them at Terry Whittaker's site in Kent. This year I planned as many trips as possible to visit them as much as possible, in the end I made four trips. One thing I have learnt from Water Voles is patience is key and nothing is guaranteed with wildlife. On the first trip of the year we had very few sighting and limited photographic opportunities. The next two trips gave us opportunities that I never thought would be possible with wild Water Voles. We found if we were quiet and crawled very slowly we were able to get within 1-2 metres of them. At times I had to back away as they happy made their way along the bank munching as they went, my lens wouldn't focus as they were within the minimum focus distance (2 metres) of the lens! One of my favourite aspects of photographing Water Voles in the Peak District are passersby are interested in them and always ask what we are photographing. Its great to see how happy people are when I'm able to point out a Water Vole, especially if they haven't seen one for years. You could say I've become a PR rep for Water Voles. My Water Vole image portfolio is starting to become something I'm proud of, it is definitely my most extensive study of a wild British animal.
One iconic British animal I had never seen in the wild was Red Squirrels. I had seen them several times at The British Wildlife Centre and it was always great to watch them but seeing them in the wild was an ambition of mine. Sadly I live in the south of England and we have no wild Red Squirrels. Through a friend I found out about Forest How, guest house in the small Cumbrian Lake District village of Eskdale. The guest house is visit daily by Red Squirrels that live in the woods surrounding the guest house. By chance I had booked 4 nights when one of my flickr contacts and Red Squirrel enthusiast Peter Trimmings was staying. Peter was very helpful and I spent four early morning photographing the Red squirrels with him. I wouldn't have got as many good images if it wasn't for Peter's help.
Staying at Forest How is a perfect holiday for my wife and I, it allows me to get my photography fix by getting up for sunrise and then have a normal holiday during the day. It does mean getting up early, it was a 5am start each morning so I was knacker by the forth morning.
Being able to spend time watching and photographing wild Red Squirrels is a great experience and one of the British Wildlife experiences everyone should have once in their life. A couple of weeks after I left Peter informed me there was a squirrel pox outbreak at Forest How. Many of the local Red Squirrel population did not survive the out break and it was a sad reminder of the risks Red Squirrels face. Thankfully after the squirrel pox outbreak declined a small population survived and are starting to do well again.
Looking Forward into 2015:
So my aims for this year are:
Again this year I want to continue where I left off last year. There are so much iconic British Wildlife that I would like to see and photograph but for me its not about trying to see everything but give enough time to what I do see to do them justice. I want to continue with some of the projects I have started this year, my highlights this year have been Red Squirrels and Water Voles. I'm planning to continue visiting Water Voles in the Peak District. I may look at visiting a few new locations so I can increase the variety of my Water Vole images. I have a few ideas that if they come off they will hopefully mean I can get some original images of wild Water Voles. Red Squirrels are something I would like to continue again this year, its likely to be only one or two trips due to the logistics of getting to them.
Looking back on images I have taken this year the images I like the most have been the ones where I have put in effort to find the locations and taken the time to properly understand the location to get the best images I could. I have spent some time this year on what I call 'Pay and Display' photography but I haven't really enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong I understand why people like it but its just not for me. I like to get some images that I feel I have worked to get rather than be told to sit in this hide/position, point here and click. This year I'm going to try to stay away from these hides/days as I want to get something more original rather than go trying to tick off the possible images for that location.
Last year my aim was to improve and pin down what my photography style is. So far I feel it is low, small depth of field portrait photography. Its not a ground breaking or creative style as many photographers have the same style. Knowing what style produces my best images means I can direct my limited resources towards that style.
Currently I'm very much a long telephoto wildlife photographer, there is nothing wrong with this as for many species is very difficult to get close. One of the main things I have learnt this year is getting close is very important to improve the detail and sharpness of an image. Through improving my fieldcraft (which I still have much to learn about) I've found it is possible to get close so this has made me think of trying wide angle and shorter telephoto photography. I have a few ideas for wide angle images but its going to be limited to only a few locations I think it may work at.
One thing I haven't done well at in 2014 was trying to stay local. Where I live in the UK means I don't have many iconic British wildlife species and its meant I've looked further a field. This year I hope to stay local more, one location I need to give more time is Woburn Deer Park as its a great location that I currently don't use to its full potential.
January ended with some great news for me, one of shortlisted of my three shortlisted images in The British Wildlife Centres Photography Competition 2013 came as the runner up in the Animal Portrait category. It was great to be placed as a runner up in the first photography competition I had entered. I learnt a lot from entering and from speaking to Danny Green (one of the judges) at a photography show two month later about why he chose the images he did. I'm planning to enter more low level competitions, I don't think I yet have anything good enough for the likes of the British Wildlife Photography Awards or the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards.
One aim this year is get out on social media more and connect with more photographers. Flickr is my main social interaction, I have been a member for several years but I plan to branch out into other social media and update this website more often than I did in 2014.
When I first started photography it was landscapes that interested me, as time went this fell to the wayside as my wildlife photography grew. This year I plan to set more time aside for landscape photography, something I didn't do much of last year and an area I would like to learnt more about.