Life

How to photograph your local wildlife | Chris Packham

The Springwatch presenter tells us the best way to capture wildlife – with a camera

I take an extraordinary number of photographs in my garden. It is all very well going on safari to the Serengeti or the Antarctic but it is extraordinarily expensive, you won’t be spending a long time there, it is an unfamiliar environment and you won’t know the species as well as you know the squirrels and blackbirds. Plus, if you fail in your venture, you won’t be going back there in a hurry, whereas you can go back into your garden the very next day.

In my garden and my local woods, I know the environment. I know when the sun is going to be in the right place. I know when the trees look best. I have been photographing blue tits out of my kitchen window for years. Blue tits in winter go to 92 per cent of British gardens so they are incredibly accessible. If they were rare birds people would be chasing them around the world but we take them for granted. And I don’t like that at all.

I put the feeders in one place and a prop behind them, so the bird has to land on my prop to get to the food. I can manipulate that environment as much as I like. I painted a red backdrop because I fancied a colourful background, I hung up silver birch branches with gaffer tape. One picture looks like it is raining but it is the garden hose with the flash gun behind it to illuminate the spray and make it look sparkly. The bird feeder is always just out of shot. And I can take all my pictures from my kitchen while I am drinking hot chocolate and talking to my poodles.

Taking good pictures of wildlife focuses and improves our connection with wildlife. You look at your subject very intensely. I often ask birders to draw a blue tit and get the colours and shapes in the right place. They can never do it. They look at these birds without seeing them because they are everyday birds. But if I am photographing blue tits, I look at those colours and shapes in real detail.

If you don’t have a garden, there is plenty you can do in the local park. There are squirrels and wood pigeons, they will sit on the park bench near you. You don’t need a flash camera, the quality of phones these days is outstanding. The single most critical thing is that no camera ever took a photograph – the human does that. You make the decisions.

Gamble and take risks. Shoot into the sun, make life difficult for yourself, never go with convention. Think about
how you can break the rules creatively because that will make your pictures stand out.

Springwatch airs on BBC Two

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