I FIRST TURNED MY camera on wildlife over 15 years ago now, but it wasn’t until 2011 that I decided to go for broke and to turn my hobby into a profession, eventually adding pet photography to the mix for good measure. Based on the Black Isle, just north of Inverness in Scotland, there’s a wonderful range of wildlife on my doorstep that includes red squirrels, mountain hares, deer, grouse, pine marten, osprey, crested tit, crossbill, red kites, bottlenose dolphins and many other species that live in the region and visit our shores. In short, it’s a wildlife photographer’s paradise and I’m never short of subjects to photograph.
Starting the Day
Even given the great location I’m based in, not all the species I want to photograph can be found on my doorstep, so I’ll often find myself travelling quite lengthy distances in the early hours of the morning or in late afternoon in order to increase the chances of seeing a certain species and to be working in the best light for my subject. Usually I’ll find this will be
somewhere around sunrise or sunset.
I find the summer light to be less attractive for the images I want to create and so tend to work mainly in the winter months. Obviously, in this part of the world weather can be a challenge at that time of year, as can accessing the locations that subjects, such as the mountain hare, tend to inhabit, and it calls for physical fitness and perseverance.
In order to get the ground shot of the hares I’m after I might have to crawl along the frozen ground to take up the position I want, so having appropriate clothing and equipment is vital. However, the feeling you get when you capture that perfect shot, the one you had in your mind as you trudged up the mountain in the freezing cold, is something special.
Knowing Your Subject
As a wildlife photographer you need to get to know your subject really, really well, and this means spending a lot of dedicated time in the field with a particular species. While watching you need to be paying close attention to their behaviour, because it’s sometimes possible to know just when a creature is going to shake itself, stretch or yawn. These are the kind of mannerisms that can make the difference between a good shot and a great shot.
Not all wildlife presents such a challenge as the mountain hare in its winter coat. I’ve managed to achieve some great shots from my garden of the likes of red kites, peregrine falcon and osprey, and I’ve even photographed juvenile tawny owls that were nesting in tall trees next to my house. One of my ploys is to set up a feeding station to encourage wildlife to come close enough for good shots and, ultimately, a strong image of a garden bird will often trump a poor shot of a rarer species.
While my primary business is wildlife photography, commercially I offer pet shoots alongside, and over the past five years I’ve put together a range of packages designed to suit a wide range of potential clients. If I have a pet shoot coming up I’ll take time to chat with my customer beforehand to find out more about the picture they’re looking for. This kind of preparation is important, and I’m looking to shoot something they will love, which won’t necessarily be what I would produce for myself.
I’ve got a couple of favourite fool-proof locations that always seem to work for me, whether it’s a portrait or an active shot. Customers who pay for this type of service are generally very dedicated owners and it’s a great feeling to be able to give them a lasting image of their much-loved pet.
After a day photographing wildlife or a pet photo shoot, I download the images and then carefully go through them, discarding the also-rans until I’m left with maybe just a handful of workable shots. It’s not unusual for me to take 300-600 images in a session and to then bin most of them. I’m looking for one or two special shots that have everything I’m trying to achieve. These are then loaded into Lightroom and Photoshop for further sorting and editing.
The results I achieve are very much dependent on the quality of the gear I’m working with. At the centre of everything is my trusty Nikon D800 fullframe DSLR, which has never failed me. Partnering this is a range of lenses including macro, wide angle and zooms up to 400mm.
A sturdy tripod and a beanbag are always part of my kit as well, and I carry everything on my expeditions using a spacious and comfortable Lowepro backpack that holds my complete outfit and makes it straightforward for me to get to even the most remote of locations.
MPB Used Kit List
If wildlife photography is what floats your boat then you need to invest in gear that can live outside in all weathers, and MPB’s used kit expert Marc Reid has three line-ups to suggest.
Canon EOS 7D II (£674, Good)
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L
IS USM (£694, Good)
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM
Macro (£279, Excellent)
Priced at just over £1600, this budget friendly second-hand Canon set-up will give you everything you need to tame the wild. The Canon EOS 7D Mark II provides the perfect platform into the pro market. Varied and reliable, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM telephoto lens provides outstanding results for subjects at a distance, and you’ll be able to bring near-field subjects into focus with the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM Macro.
Nikon D500 (£1009, Excellent)
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED
VR (£1029, Excellent)
Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED
VR Micro (£439, Good)
Stepping up in price but still an excellent value setup at just under £2500, this versatile used Nikon set-up centres around the D500. We recommend pairing it with the Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR. A powerful zoom with extended reach, this FX-format supertelephoto lens delivers incredible flexibility. Complete the set-up with the Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR Micro, the perfect lens for capturing macro subjects.
Sony Alpha 9 (£2179, Excellent)
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS
(£1809, Like New)
Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS
(£744, Like New)
Our most premium recommended set-up won’t leave much change from £5000, but
offers exceptional quality. The Sony Alpha 9 ups the processing capabilities for ultra-fast continuous shooting. Alongside the A9, the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS takes its place as the de facto Sony telephoto zoom for pro wildlife photographers. Lastly, get up close and personal with the 1:1 magnification ratio of the FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS .
RUNNING YOUR photography business takes a lot of coordination and expertise and, in a small one-person operation, it’s very much the individual’s responsibility to manage all the many and varied aspects.
Take marketing, for example. A big business will invariably have a separate department set up just to handle this, but if you’re on your own you need be up to speed with the latest trends, and the emphasis is very much on the digital approach these days. With this in mind, what are this year’s top three most successful routes to better engagement?
1. Email Marketing
With the ever-increasing shift to digital communication, email is as relevant as it’s ever been. Using email marketing is a smart business marketing strategy for many reasons. First of all, it’s costeffective. You can usually set up and maintain an effective email marketing strategy without needing to spend any serious money upfront. Even though it’s inexpensive, it also has a great return on investment. Any money, or time, that you invest in the strategy will offer more results than other forms of marketing because it allows you to connect directly to your potential customers. It’s also a way for you to engage with your customers on your terms instead of relying on a third-party platform to be the middleman. You can use automation to work more effectively, and getting a message directly into your customer’s inbox is a valuable way to create a sales funnel.
2. Audio Marketing
Using audio content is another marketing strategy that we’re going to see increase in the coming year. Audio can reach your audience in a way that other strategies can’t, for a number of reasons. Music, for example, can affect our mood, while a person talking can often help us understand a concept better than just reading text. According to The Drum website there are currently more than 850,000 active podcasts available to listen to, and 6.5 million or 12% of adults in the UK listen to podcasts every week (Podnews). New social apps like clubhouse and podcasts are a great way to establish your brand and reach your audience in a more meaningful and personal way.
Not only is SEO something you can do for free, it will also generate more clicks than paid ads will. When you take the time to ramp up your SEO game you’ll be noticed by more people who are already searching for a business such as yours. Sometimes erroneously viewed as a complex and unrewarding task, SEO involves the creation of content and blogs for your website that answer questions for your customers around carefully chosen keywords and phrases. Creating SEO-rich
content provides useful information to the client and, in turn, Google notices what you’re doing and promotes your content as part of the search results.
The key thing is to think about putting yourself in the eyes and mind of the potential customer. Consider what they might be searching for when looking for services such as yours and make sure the material you’re putting out there falls into a relevant category. Above all don’t over-complicate things and provide information that answers the question or
phrase the customer is looking for.
These three trends are here to stay so you won’t go far wrong if you work on including these as part of your marketing strategy this year.
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