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Working as a wildlife photographer

Working as a wildlife photographer - Paul Hobson is a wildlife photographer and lecturer of environmental science at Sheffield college and here he gives ePHOTOzine a few pointers about how we can make our wildlife photography the best.

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Animals / Wildlife

Female Merlin by Paul Hobson"When you look at the natural world you will see great beauty. Fleeting moments can take on great significance and brief encounters can leave the watcher breathless. It is the attempt to capture those moments and to try to produce evocative images that drives me on."

This simple statement can be found on Paul Hobson's website. He's a wildlife photographer whose love for wildlife was created well before his passion for photography began.

"I was a wildlife person first then I got into photography. I used to breed snakes and then I got into bird watching where I met a photographer who let me have a go with his equipment and I was hooked," explained Paul.

Wildlife photography can be very rewarding but the rewards don't come easily. You have to be prepared to work extremely hard and practise every chance you get.

"Practise is the key. Go out to a site over and over again until you get a great shot."

Not only do you need the drive and passion to want to practise you also need to be patient. Perseverance, persistence and patience are three words which would be good to remember when you're taking your wildlife pictures. Paul has spent days, even months on one project and you could spend all that time out there and only return home with one good shot.

"I have waited for three days to get a picture before. It can take weeks, even years to get a picture. I did a project on hares and it took 3 months to get one good shot," said Paul. "I focus on one species at one time. You can spend 20 days on one particular animal and not get a good shot until the 20th day. I think it's something to do with learning to predict what the animals will do and your eyes also adjust after staying there so long."Osprey in Finland by Paul Hobson

Back in the summer of 2007 Paul spent five days sat waiting in a hide in Finland to capture the perfect shot of an Osprey. It may have taken a lot of waiting but the picture proves that a little bit of patience can go a long way in the world of wildlife photography-After all they do say good things come to those who wait.

Planning and research are two more factors a wildlife photographer should take into consideration.

"You have to know the animals really well to get the best shots."

Rabbit by Paul HobsonThe internet, libraries, other photographers and researchers who specialise in the animal or area you want to photograph are all perfect contacts for information. You can even use the work of other photographers as a pointer for how high standards are in the industry.

"See what standard others work to and put the same if not more effort in."

You can talk and read as much as you want but nothing can actually beat getting out there into the countryside and judging the situation for yourself.

Visit a site once or twice a day at different times to see what it's like and to judge the animals behaviour. You may find they're nervous in the evening but relaxed in a morning and you can only find this out by going there in person.

"You know that in June the sunlight will be shining down a hedge just the right way and if you sit there long enough a hare will come a long and you will get a perfect shot. You only know that because you were there and you researched it."

By spending time in your chosen location also means the animals can get used to your presence which will give you more chances to get good shots.

Knowing what will be around when will also help you plan and get the best images possible:

Red Deer by Paul Hobson"This time of year is good for red deer, wading birds coming to roost and seals throughout November to January. Everything also looks cracking in the snow."

You have to be willing to adapt too. It's ok to have a plan but you must be prepared to find another aspect to photograph at the drop of a hat.

"If the weather is good I may head out to photograph deer and I just hope that everything will fall into place. If it doesn't I have to be prepared to find another aspect."

Taking time to find a location not many other photographers use would also benefit you and the environment. Honey pots are areas many other photographers go to and there's nothing stopping you going but if you find a place that's unique your images will be unique too and have a greater chance of selling.

Red Deer in the snow by Paul Hobson"Areas of the Peak district are suffering because of the amount of people that go there. Ten years ago areas would have seen a few photographers visit in a month. Now the same area will get a couple each day of the week."

If you work locally you have less travelling, a better understanding of the area and you can get to know the animals really well which, in the end, will mean your images will be better.

"If you work somewhere you know well you stand a better chance of taking good pictures. I prefer taking pictures in the UK rather than trailing out to Africa."

You can't get close to some animals such as hares and you need a quick lens that can focus and lock on fast. If the hare is running you can either try some panning or like Paul you can invest in a bean bag, lay on the ground and let them run towards you.

"If the animal is running towards me I just put them in the centre and shoot. I do a lot of action work as they're popular now. At one time not many people were photographing birds in flight now everyone's doing them."

Paul does all his work on a Canon 1D mark III and uses a variety of Canon lenses, though the 500 or 300 are his favourites. He likes to use the camera to create images with a blurred perspective. "If you lay on the ground you can blur the top and bottom of the picture while the animal will still be in focus-I love that style."

He shoots on aperture priority as speed is a crucial point of his work, particularly for birds in flight and by using this setting he only has to worry about changing the F-stop. Long lenses also need good speeds to make sure the shot isn't blurred.

"You don't have time to think. You have to be ready before you take the shot otherwise you will miss it. By using this setting I can choose the speeds I want and alter it to suit the depth-of -field etc."

Dragonfly by Paul HobsonNever sit the camera down either as the second you do the perfect shot will come along and you would have missed it.

Paul uses an ISO of 400 as a base but he prefers an ISO of 800 as it looks similar to the old 100 style film. HD and focus stacking is something he would also like to experiment with as it's a good way to create razor sharp images without the high F stops so you don't lose your depth-of-filed.

Paul prefers to use daylight rather than flash as he feels flash can look a little hard. It can also startle some animals and this isn't something you want to be doing as a wildlife photographer. On occasion Paul has used flash to add a little bit of spark to a picture but this isn't common practise. Post-production work can also add punch to a dull image and by sharpening the image and playing with levels and contrast you can make the picture look as natural as possible, sometimes more than it does in the lens.

To make money from your wildlife work you can put it on your own website or sell it to agencies, as Paul does.

"I sell mostly to agencies but do some direct sales through the website. You just have to work each project really well and aim to get brilliant images from them all."

Composition is important for wildlife photography and the way you compose an image depends on what the end purpose for it is. You will be shooting to sell, photographing for a competition or like so many people you may just be doing it for fun.

Badger by Paul Hobson"If it's for a magazine you need to shoot the picture and leave room for strap-lines etc where as shooting for a competition you need to think what will do well (birds of prey always do well in contests). Some species always sell better than others too. Badgers always sell well but sometimes you can just take a picture because you love a particular species."

Paul's final tips for great wildlife work are:

  • Try to use a tripod, get close to the ground and never forget about composition.
  • Don't expect to go to a site just once and avoid honey pot sites.
  • Keep your focus local and you will get better pictures.
  • Look at as many pictures as you can, see what you like in them and then try to combine all those likes into one picture that you take.
  • Learn about wildlife and their environment.
  • Be different, original and enjoy it.

You can see more of Paul's work at Paul Hobson.

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paulbof 9 5 United Kingdom
26 Jan 2011 11:56AM
Very interesting and useful article. Thank you.

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