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Badgers, birds and the BBC

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Category: Professional Interviewed

Wildlife photography with Brian Matthews - Brian Matthews loves wildlife and when the chance came to combine that with photography, he jumped at it.

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 Photo of a Snow Monkey jumping by Brian Matthews.
Did you always want to be a photographer?
"Photography is always something I have enjoyed, following 4 years at Lancaster University; I travelled for a year and bought my first SLR, a Canon EOS 300 with a Sigma 70-300mm. This ignited my interest in wildlife photography and I've done it ever since.

I have been doing photography seriously for about 5 years. Moving from my EOS 300 to an EOS 3 and EOS 1v, then moving digital about 3 years ago with the EOS 1Ds Mk2. I am self taught and had my first images published 4 years ago and have pushed my photography hard ever since, travelling extensively and working in the UK. I now work with several European magazines and continue to travel."

Why wildlife photography?
"From an early age I have had an interest in wildlife, it started with bird watching, then as I travelled more, became broader for anything in the natural world. Being in the middle of nowhere and finding something only you have seen is a great buzz and something I will never tire of, I just need to remind myself to stop looking and take photographs sometimes."

Are there any particular animals you like to photograph?
"When I'm shooting in the UK, Badgers are my favourite subjects. On my travels I love photographing Indian Elephants. In 2008 I had some great experiences with Tigers in India and Orangutans in Indonesia."
 
 Gannets fighting by Brian Matthews.
Where has your work taken you?
"I have traveled to over 35 countries including Japan, India, Brazil, Ecuador, Madagascar, New Zealand, Indonesia, Norway and Finland. I have worked all over the UK and still spend a fair bit of time photographing here. This year I'll be back in Indonesia, Finland and Norway. I'll also be adding Iceland to the list. I hope to spend some time in the UK this summer for seabirds.

Corbett national park in India is probably my favourite location, I've been working on a book there for the last 6 years, visiting every year for several weeks at a time. Knowing the area well and the people that live and work there makes it a enjoyable experience but when you are out the park India can be a tough place to travel."
 
When you’re out taking photographs do you take them as single images or do you see them as narratives, a way to tell a story about an animal?
"My photography is often taken in locations when I tell the story of the area. Every shot by its nature is a one off moment in time which supports the bigger story. Very rarely is my work sold as a single image. It's usually several shots for a species or a number of species linking to an area or type of habitat."
 
 Orangutan and baby by Brian Matthews.
Do you do any conservation work regarding animals?
"I do work with charities, I'm currently working with a charity relating to Orangutan conservation in Indonesian Borneo. I hope that any of my images could act as an opportunity to inspire someone to think about conservation, stop and think about how they could help or make them want to spend the money to go and see them."
 
What made you enter the BBC's wildlife contest?
"BBC wildlife photographer is the largest wildlife photography competition in the world going up against over 32000 images from the world’s best photographers that challenge is why I entered. To come runner-up in the ‘Birds Behaviour’ section was a great privilege and reward for the hard work I put into the time in Brazil. The award ceremony was a brilliant night; eating fillet steak under a diplodocus fossil in the National History Museum is a rare event!"
 
What image did you enter and why?
"I entered several images that I considered to be good but also different, the image that came runner-up was taken from a low angle and a tight crop (in camera) to focus on the vulture with its head buried into the eye socket of the caiman. This is behaviour that is rarely seen and has a lot of impact, these elements are critical to making it into the book."
 
 Black Vulture eating a Caiman by Brian Matthews.
 
Do you have a favourite picture or one you think is your best?
"One of my favourite images is a slow shutter speed shots of a European Brown Bear running in the snow taken in Finland. I had spent several days in a hide not far from the Russian border in early April just as the bears were waking up from hibernation. This young bear was the first I spotted, after eating some of the salmon I had put out, another older bear came in and chased this younger bear off, the light was dropping which reduced my shutter speed, I grabbed a few frames as it ran in front of my hide. The image captures the motion and speed in a tight dynamic crop, resulting in a unique image."
 Panned shot of a bear running.

 Where do you get your inspiration from?
"The wildlife and landscapes will always be my first inspiration. I own many photographic books and continue to get inspiration from photographers from all over the world. I own all the Wildlife Photographer of the Year books, flicking through all 18 always inspires me to get back out and get more shots.

Scandinavian photographers, such as Staffan Wildstrand, Eero Kemila and Peter Lilja have influenced my style, not to just photograph the subject but to let the image tell a story of the subjects’ habitat and behaviour. Their use of slow shutter speeds to show movement is something I often do."
 
 Close-up of a Caiman by Brian Matthews.
What equipment can you not be without and why?
"I use Canon kit and currently I use EOS 1Ds MkII’s and EOS 1D MkII’s. Both are excellent camera although now looking a little old, they still deliver the quality I need. I use my 1Ds MkII more than the higher frame rate 1D MkII because of the image size and quality. I use Canon L series lenses from 20mm to 500mm. The lens I use most is the Canon 500mm f/4 IS USM L and Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS USM L, both these lenses are fast and provide me with the focal length to keep my distance from my subjects but still get the shots I need. Where possible I like to use my wide angle lens to get a different perspective.

Generally I shoot at low sensitivity (ISO100 or 200), but if the light is low I will max it out at ISO3200 to get the image. I shoot in Av mode 90% of the time and manual if the scene’s exposure is challenging. With moving subjects, especially birds, shutter speeds over 1/1000sec are needed but I like to do slow shutter, panned/blurred photographs moving my shutter speeds down to less than 1/30s.

With travelling a lot I need to have a computer and hard drives with me to do high-end editing and backup my work. I use a Sony Vaio Tx series laptop as its small but can handle my RAW files. I use 2.5in external hard drives to back up my work (western digital passport). I have always used Lowepro bags to carry my kit around the world (I have used a Photo Trekker for the last 5 years). I rarely use tripods instead I prefer use bean bags, or just lie on the floor."
 
 Baby Orangutan by Brian Matthews.
Do you do any post-production work?
"Shooting in RAW I need to do some post production but this is limited to about 1 minute of work in Photoshop CS3 (including RAW conversion). Generally any image that needs more than a few minutes work in Photoshop gets deleted. In Photoshop I use levels, saturation, contract, close the image with Noise Ninja noise/sharpening filter and save as TIFF files. I use IrfanView to convert TIFFs to JPEGs (this is the best piece of software I have found for quick and high quality jpeg conversion)."

Any final thoughts? Advice for others?
"Get the shot right, don’t rely on Photoshop, spend time in the field and learn about your subjects. Be self critical and as a rule of thumb 90% of your work will be deleted."

Visit Brian Matthews' website for more details.


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