Be an amateur photographer with me by Keeping it Wild Trainee Charlie

Hanging common blue butterfly credit Charlotte Nwanodi 

I’ve always been interested in capturing wildlife moments through photography and one of my personal goals for this Traineeship was to identify five new animal or plant species a week. I’m a very visual and practical learner so incorporating photography made the process more enjoyable and gave me an excuse to spend more time outdoors strengthening my connection and understanding of the environment. Armed with my phone and unsteady arms (I’m not a professional photographer) I hope to show you how accessible nature photography can be without breaking the bank.

1. Be prepared

There are three essential things I always grab before going out nowadays; a camera, suitable clothing and a battery pack/charger. Comfort, convenience and cost-effectiveness are crucial for my enjoyment of photography and also reinforces the fact that you don’t need fancy equipment to take beautiful photos!

Camera- I use my phone because it’s small, fits nicely in my hands and I can whip it out without it being too cumbersome. Choose the equipment you’re familiar with if you want to hit the ground running, otherwise be prepared to spend some time playing around with your chosen equipment beforehand.

Battery pack- Essential whether you use your phone or a digital camera, running out of battery is avoidable, just remember to charge the battery pack and don’t forget the cable either!

Clothing- Choose something comfortable and weather appropriate. I lean towards non-crinkly clothing, more so I don’t alarm myself rather than my subjects.

2. Plan (kind of) and choose your subject wisely

Wildlife is wild, so whilst it’s good to have a general idea of where you’re going and what you might see, having a detailed plan of exactly what shots you’re going to get is unrealistic.

Having a steely resolve is important but be resilient and don’t feel disappointed if you don’t get your shot. Having hundreds of duds and one gem is perfectly normal!

Familiarise yourself with what your camera is capable of in terms of focal distance and minimum lighting requirements. You’ll be fighting an uphill battle if you’re trying to do a night photography shoot without a tripod or a bird shoot without a decent zoom lens (although more on this later).

3. Keep an eye out

In London, we’re surrounded by urban nature so if you’re ever struggling to find something interesting to take a photo of then just take the moment to stroll over to that weed growing out a crack in the pavement and take a closer look. Not only are tiny invertebrates often hiding under a leaf, but sometimes even the plants themselves can have interesting textures or features that might be worth experimenting with.

Spotted firebug

Spotted firebug found beside underpass near Kidbrooke Village credit Charlie Nwanodi 

4. Shoot at eye level

We have a habit looking down on everything which can cause a distorted effect but positioning the camera within the eye-line of the animal/insect helps build a connection between the viewer and the subject.

5.  Study behaviour

Getting to know your subject beforehand can be a nice way to increasing your likelihood of capturing a particular behaviour or following their movements. This can come through practice, reading, watching videos or asking an expert.

common carpet moth

A common carpet moth resting on hedge bedstraw in Salt Box Hill. Adults can be flushed from low vegetation during the day. Wait patiently and watch carefully where it settles and then slowly approach for a photo. Credit credit Charlie Nwanodi 

6. Burst mode is your friend

For fast-moving subjects like bees and butterflies, don’t be afraid to use burst mode to cover your bases and maybe give you a great surprise shot!

Bee on scabious

Bee taking full of advantage of summer on some scabious at Hutchinson’s Bank- spoilt for choice! Credit Charlie Nwanodi 

Bee on scabious

Bee on scabious credit Charlie Nwanodi 

7. Play with perspective

Trying different camera angles and subject framings are easy ways to experiment with lighting and storytelling. A handy tip for making your photos more interesting is to consider framing the subject as if you’re a part of its environment. Look at where shadows fall and try to place them in

Cross orb weaver

A cross orb weaver. Shooting the spider from a sharp angle below plays into spiders predatoriness. Credit Charlie Nwanodi 

8. Use the foreground/background to your advantage

A great way to isolate your subject and soften a photo is putting enough distance between your subject and the foreground/background to blur it. Incorporating foreground and background elements can also bring depth and context to a photo. Playing with colour here is an opportunity to make your subject stand out or show off its camouflage capabilities.

7-spotted ladybird

7-spotted ladybird travelling along a fallen reed in Woodberry Wetlands. The blurred foreground helps give a sense of peering into its mini world. credit Charlie Nwanodi 

Common grass veneer

A common grass veneer which caught my eye whilst learning about surveying at Gutteridge Wood despite its amazing job at blending in with the grass. credit Charlie Nwanodi 

9.  Macgyver it!

There are lots of simple and creative ways to get around not having fancy equipment. Binoculars, magnifying glasses and hand lenses can all be used with your phone’s camera to help capture far away subjects or to get an extra close-up shot. There are loads of cheap apps out there that can unlock the hidden potential of your phone, especially for allowing manual focus for ‘macro’ shots.

Heron

Grey heron spotted on a tree at Walthamstow Wetlands taken through a pair of binoculars which creates an interesting effect. credit Charlie Nwanodi 

10. Get creative and embrace the weather

 I know, I know. It’s easier said than done but playing around with lighting, shadows and even yourself is a great way for weaving a story or injecting some fun into your photos. Work with your environment; natural sunlight is y

11. Be ethical

The only mandatory tip on this list is to not jeopardise your safety or the welfare of your subject just to get a photo. This means no chasing or doing anything to drastically change their behaviour or cause stress. Use a hide, approach carefully and calmly (if safe!) and if there’s a chance of putting their welfare at risk, walk away.

I hope these tips are a great starting point for getting the most out of your photos, photography can be such a powerful tool for creativity, strengthening our connection to nature and raising awareness of conservation issues that are close to your heart. If you’re comfortable doing so, share your photos! The London Wildlife Trust team and I are always excited to see what wonderful wildlife moments you guys catch on camera. #wildlondon