How to … camera advice

We can’t easily get out into the countryside at the moment – so why not spend more time admiring what is around your home. We are inviting you to submit photos of your garden to our Facebook site so we can share the delights with everyone. 

Sarah Lambert

Here expert wildlife photographer and Langdyke member
Sarah Lambert gives us some handy tips on how to take better pictures without having to move out of our gardens …

 

The current restrictions on movement mean that many of us are spending a great deal more time at home or in our gardens than usual.

For photographers, this can feel very frustrating, particularly as the world is now bursting into life after a long and dreary winter.

However, most gardens provide a wealth of subject matter for the wildlife photographer and being restricted to a small area allows us to develop a more in depth understanding of the wild animals and plants that share our space – which can be the key to getting that special photograph. 

There are several advantages to garden wildlife photography – firstly it’s literally on the doorstep, and, as long as you have a camera ready, you can pop out whenever lighting or weather conditions are particularly good, though getting up at dawn may still be a struggle!

Additionally, most birds and animals that visit gardens are used to human activity, enabling you to achieve intimate shots more easily than you would on a nature reserve or in the countryside.  We can also actively attract wildlife to our gardens by providing food, potential homes or even going as far as purchasing pheromone lures for clearwing moths. 

Garden fox

 

Figure 1 Garden foxes are generally much bolder than those in the countryside

If you are one of the people who are self-isolating, spending time with your camera near an open window can yield some excellent shots.

Observing wildlife and looking out at natural spaces is known to stimulate feelings of well-being, and during extended periods of observation you’re more likely to capture an image that illustrates interesting behaviour or some beautiful light. And sitting at home is generally a lot more comfortable than sitting in a bird hide!

Or, if you’re able to go outside, and are very keen on bird or mammal photography, now might be the time to construct a hide in the garden or purchase one of the many pop-up hides that are available on the internet.

 

Figure 2 Providing food attracts a range of garden wildlife. This Nuthatch was photographed through an open window from the comfort of our sitting room.

During periods of fine weather, garden flowers attract many insect visitors, and these can provide an endless source of subject matter, particularly if your camera has a macro facility.

Before you even get the camera out it’s a good idea to just spend time quietly walking round your garden, stopping frequently to watch what’s about. Many insects seem to be constantly on the move, but if you take your time, you’ll see that there are certain areas that they return to.

Many bees have favoured pollinator plants – the best way to spot Hairy-footed Flower Bees, which are currently on the wing, is to stand by a clump of Lungwort, which is irresistible to them. Later in the year Purple Toadflax is a magnet for Wool Carder-bees.

Butterflies often have favoured sheltered basking spots, while dragonflies usually return to a selected perch between hunting trips. Time spent watching is never wasted, and will potentially reward you with some excellent macro shots.

 

Figure 3 A Wool Carder-bee stopping to sip nectar from Purple Toadflax, one of its favourite flowers

The wildflowers, mosses and fungi that inhabit your garden shouldn’t be overlooked as a photographic resource and may be easier to capture than fast-moving insects.

Take time to look for interesting angles, stunning colour contrasts or intricate patterns. Many wildflowers look best if you take them from ground level.

Now that many cameras have flip-up screens, this no longer means you have to lie on the ground, though this can be a pleasant way to spend some time in warm, dry weather.

Good lighting is particularly important for wildflower photography – I enjoy shooting against the light in early morning or late evening, to highlight the translucence of delicate flowers or the presence of interesting spines and hairs.

Detailed shots of flowers are best taken on calm days with high cloud cover, when the sky acts as a giant soft-box, eliminating any harsh shadows. 

 

Figure 4 The delicate beauty of Wall Screw-moss, a species present in nearly every garden

As well as more traditional wildlife and nature photography, why not try out some more creative approaches such as in-camera movement, multiple exposures and long exposures? Or techniques that you might not have attempted before such as stacking or photographing flowers on a lightpad?

There’s plenty of information on the internet to help you with these techniques. 

 

Figure 5 Corncockle photographed on a lightpad.

While their reserves are closed because of the current pandemic, the Langdyke Trust are running a  garden photography competition.

It’ll be very interesting to see the range of wildlife that you find, and the act of taking photographs will provide welcome diversion from the current situation. 

f you’d like to see more of my photographs have a look at https://www.blipfoto.com/mollyblobs