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Ian Andrews Backyard Safari Part 1

Ian Andrews Backyard Safari Part 1 - a guide to wildlife photography on your doorstep

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Animals / Wildlife

Do you fancy yourself as a wildlife photographer, but don't know where to get started? Do you think it will be expensive to get the equipment together? Don't have the time to go to all those exotic locations? Well specialist equipment and time away in far flung places just aren't necessary as Ian Andrews explains.

Do you know that there is a wealth of wildlife a few metres from your back door? No matter where you live, be it city, town or country, there are animals, birds and insects living in your vicinity and flora abound. If you like to get out and about, there are even greater opportunities within a short journey.

The equipment you will need starts with a camera. Any camera. The one you have will be fine to start with, whatever it is. You may want to get more suitable gear once you progress a bit, but in the meantime why not have a try with what you've got. You may also like to take along a black bin liner to kneel on or use as an out of focus background to isolate wild flowers.

How you find your subjects, and more importantly, how you photograph them, is down to your own circumstances and ingenuity.
There are a few things you can do, however, in order to increase your chances.
The first, and most important of these, is to open your eyes and look! That may seem obvious, but it is the best advice you will get. Start by looking for subjects that you may not normally notice. Try looking at your immediate locality with a outlook. The things that you take for granted because you are so used to them are the first source, if only you can stop and look at them with a different point of view!

90% of all my photographs are taken within 5 miles of home, and some are literally taken in the back yard! The first place to look is just outside the door. The webs of spiders make wonderful subjects early in the morning with the dew still on them. Birds are everywhere and can even be shot through the window if you are a little careful about reflections. Turn over stones in the garden for all sorts of bugs and crawling insects. Watch flower beds and blossom carrying trees for flying ones which may only stop for a moment, but if you are there ready when they do, you have a better chance of getting your shot.
Local public parks and gardens are another source of targets, so there is no excuse if you live in an apartment. Every town and village has an old cemetery that is quiet and normally has a number of mature trees that support all sorts of wildlife, but please respect the surroundings that you are in and leave them as you find them.
There are also literally hundreds of small local nature reserves around the country, most with a small car park and planned short walks signposted. Many of them are free to enter, so that's no excuse either.
Local rivers and streams have an abundance of photographic opportunities along their banks and if you go and sit quietly in these places for a few minutes, you will be surprised what you see.
Try getting to them during quiet periods rather than on a sunny Sunday afternoon when everyone else is out and about doing their own thing. Very early morning light has a quality that cannot be described or matched and anything you see will be slower to react before the temperature rises. Evenings also are a good time, as many, more nocturnal mammals will be starting out on their day and others will be looking for somewhere to spend the night.
If all else fails, the are many wildlife parks and Zoos dotted around the country that can produce great shots if you are careful how you frame them. Try to avoid enclosures with small mesh or galvanised netting with the sun on it, as it is almost impossible to hide. Try to have a lens hood that can be put against the glass of enclosures to avoid reflections and use a wide aperture to throw backgrounds out of focus. Look for angles that have more natural backdrops. Some, but not all of this type of establishment have thought about photographers, and will have an area or corner of the pen/cage that will look acceptable if it is out of focus.

Once you have given it a try, you may well find that you have a liking or a knack for being a bit more specialised. You won't know this until you have had a go, but when you do you might find you enjoy photographing butterflies more than birds, or plants more than mammals. Most modern cameras have the capability to cover all of these in their simple form. Close up facilities and zoom lenses are the norm on all but the most basic cameras in this day and age and although they may not be super zooms or true macro lenses, they give you enough of a spectrum to allow you to find out what you enjoy.

You don't have to fill the frame with the subject to produce a pleasing picture. Although you don't want an unrecognisable speck in the middle of the frame, the inclusion of habitat is a very acceptable way of producing fine wildlife shots. Look for ways of composing your shot to frame or separate the subject within the picture in order to overcome any shortfalls in the equipment you may have. Learn a little about depth of field in order to help separate your subject from the background or to include other elements into the frame.
Now what's stopping you going out and have a try at it, keep your eyes open and always have the camera handy! And good luck.

A butterfly taken with the equivalent of a standard lens (55mm on 35mm film.)

Canada Geese taking off with habitat in the background. Minolta Z1 at mid zoom

This photograph could have been taken with any camera.

A picture showing more habitat than subject. Medium zoom, early morning.

A plant picture using natural light. Taken with a medium zoom.

Man Orchid taken with a 1:2 macro facility

Hazel Dormouse taken through glass in a wildlife park.

Water Shrew, again through glass in a wildlife park.

View other articles from this series here
Backyard Safari Part 2 - using standard lenses
Backyard Safari Part 3 - using telephoto lenses
Backyard Safari Part 4 - using specialist lenses

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