By Andy Wakefield 447 | 03-01-2016
Christmas 2015 and the New Year celebrations have come and gone, and the frenzy has died down. All is calm but all is definitely not bright because it's still raining heavily outside. There's no flooding here thankfully, and all is reasonably quiet in the house with just the occasional distant sound of an Imperial fighter being blasted to bits by a resistance Jedi, resplendent in his tiger-patterned 'onesie', overheating the x-box in the lounge. It's a good time to log onto Fotobuzz to see what's going on. Ah, a great bit of new content about white balance from AJ, some healthy banter on the lounge, and it looks like a few blogs from members reviewing the development of their photography in 2015. Great idea, and one that really helps consolidate what has been learned and gives bags of encouragement to others. So this is my own summary of last years photo highlights. For me, it was the year that I really tried to improve my photography, by getting out there as much as I could and putting into practice all the things I have learned on Fotobuzz. So, I thought I'd join Howard, Tom and Richard in putting together a summary of my personal highlights from last year. Here goes.............
One bird that I knew was local to me but that I had never even seen let alone photographed was the bittern. My eventual encounter with it was pure fluke - One cold but bright March morning, I walked into the hide and a watcher in there immediately pointed to the bittern in the reeds. I simply sat down and began taking pictures, first a few record shots, then when I had regained my composure, I got down to thinking carefully about what I was doing, trying to recall settings, but also by carefully altering my position in the hide to get various angles. The sun was rising from the left and I saw the bird look up to the sky with a really menacing look, and that turned out to be my favourite capture of that session.
My first Fotobuzz event was Rob's Grey Seal meetup way back in January. I have already blogged earlier about that so I won't go into that one further here suffice to say that it was terriffic, and encouraged me to attend the same trip at the end of the year - but more of that later. The next meetup was in the summer for the International Canoe Slalom Championships at the Lee Valley white water centre which was conveniently close to where we live in on the NE London/SW Essex border. Here I met up with Phil, Jackie and Christine and practiced some white-water action. A top tip gleaned from Phil about exposure compensation my saved my day ! Cheers mate!
2015 was my first full year of Fotobuzz membership, and it was great to meet up in real life with some of the members I had come across in the lounge. I suppose we all build up a mental picture of buzzers from their avatar and (rightly or wrongly) develop a perceived idea of their personalities, so it was interesting to meet in the flesh so to speak. But it was all good! We are a very diverse lot indeed, and the Fotobuzz ecosystem is all the better for it! If you haven't been on a meet up yet - try one out, you will be pleasantly surprised!
A family holiday at Easter found me in the surf zone in the Red Sea, doing a mini-macro (is that even a thing?) study of Red Sea rockhopper blennies. All a bit bonkers, but terriffic fun chasing those fast movers around the rocks whist trying to dodge the saltwater spray, it's a wonder my camera is still working! My son James and I used his Go-Pro to get footage of what we saw under the waves too. James did a bit of editing with the best bits. Yes it's not brilliant, and the recording quality was not set to optimum, but it was probably not too bad as a first attempt. Mixing video with still photography like Andy Rouse demonstrated at the excellent Fotobuzz Wildlife Conference is something I'd like to work on next year.
Meanwhile, back at home in the merry month of May I was fortunate enough to have discovered a small local group of little owls in local parkland. I could not believe my good fortune, and this has begun a bit of an obsession with this delightful species of owl. I followed some of their antics during the summer and I have begun a little owl project locally which involves erecting nest boxes in suitable localities in order to give them a helping hand. And they need it too as numbers are dwindling.
In June, a photographer friend alerted me to two nest sites in nearby Epping Forest - a Greater Spotted Woodpecker, and a few weeks later in a neighbouring tree - a kestrel family, both raising single chicks. As luck would have it there was a small oak which had branches down to the ground which provided a natural hide and perfect cover for observation of the nests and the coming and goings of the parent birds. This project required all the knowledge I had acquired from reading Fotobuzz articles in order to get the optimal combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings.
On to July now, and I had a place on one of Andys small group photo workshops at the British Wildlife Centre. It was a real treat to be able to get in the otter enclosure and up close and personal with these wonderful animals, with an expert on hand to give help and advice right when it was needed.
I have spent a little time with wild otters in Scotland previously, so observing the difference in the appearance of the well fed animals at the BWC compared to wild otters living 'on the edge' was quite illuminating.
The last two photographic events of the year were the Red Deer Rut and the Horsey Seals again. Unfortunately the days I could go didn't coincide with the buzzers meetup at Richmond but I was with them in spirit, and did manage to squeeze in a couple of sessions there at other times. In between the bouts of action, I got talking to a few photographers (there are a lot about!) about Fotobuzz and they promised to take a look. The seal trip was another cracker, despite the light being a bit flat. Oh, I appear to have run into the maximum permitted shots so no room for the seals - never mind I think Rob is going to blog them so perhaps its for the best.
So what to aim for in 2016. I'd like to try and get a family of little owls in one of my boxes, and record their development. A local population of hares are also on my to do list. In February half term we are off to Finland for some skiing but also to try to capture the Aurora - that would be magical, and there are mutterrings of a safari in the summer. Blimey! And for something a bit alternative - how about photographing the Dartford Warbler.............in Dartford! Yes, really!
None of this would be occurring without the influence of Fotobuzz, the professionals and members. Its a wonderful and inspiring resource and without it my photography would still be in the dark ages. I have made some good friends, and have learned so much in a relatively short space of time. I've done a handful of blogs and found natural history storytelling in combination with photography to be tremendously creative and rewarding. I have experienced the buzz, frustations and anticipation of entering the Fotomissions (recognize that?). But I know I still have a lot to learn, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be signing up again when the time comes to renew. Thanks for following this far, and not falling asleep! I wish everyone a happy and photographically rewarding 2016.