Archive for british wildlife centre

Return to the BWC

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2008 by overread

I was so impressed with what I saw at the centre and also with the general atmosphere of the place that I decided to go back as soon as I could. This time though there was no meet up, so I had to get from train station to centre on my own power.
It was a great morning, misty, but not too cold and the sky promised a cloud free day! I could have snapped many shots along the way, but as I had little idea of where exactly the centre was I didn’t want to risk slowing down on the way there.

And after wandering round the area for an hour I found myself a back at the train station! There were no brown signs to the place – so I was lost! I looked on the map and made for the local library – not too far off – under the hope that even if the staff did not know the way there would be a local OS map there for me to use. Luckily the librarian knew the way and an hour later (one hour late ;)) I made it to the centre – a bit out of breath, but the walk did me good (though I hasten to add that the major rout there is along a long stretch of main road with no provision for pedestrians. There is a footpath locally though which will cut off a good chunk of this road and its advisable to take that rout.

Anyway back to the important things – firstly there was a difference – Milo was in residence!

f4, ISO 400, 1/40sec

A hand reared barn owl who sits in the entrance/dining area and greets the guests. He enjoys being stroked and even does a funny little dance (sort of shuffling from foot to foot – I need a 5DM2 to capture it!). Makes a difference to get a hands on feel at the zoo!


Well after being otter mad last time, it was the turn of the foxes. However they were pretending to be cats today

f5, ISO 200, 1/1000sec

f4, ISO 100, 1/640sec

f5.6, ISO 100, 1/320sec
Though like all sleeping animals – if you can get the right angle on them it can make a shot πŸ™‚

And speaking of pretending – this fox was trying to be a wolf!
f4, ISO 200, 1/400sec
That or he has an itch!
Not a natural low-key shot this one, but the background areas were dark, so I boosted the blacks to get a low-key effect.

With promise of food though (dead chicks in this case), the foxes awakened and began hunting the blue bucket of food!

f5.6, ISO 100, 1/200sec
A bit more space on the left – in the direction the fox is facing – would have been nice in this shot

f5, ISO 100, 1/200sec

f8, ISO 100, 1/50sec
Risky shot since any movement from the fox would have blurred at that speed; and without lens IS in use handshake would also have blurred the shot. However going for f8 was worth it to get so much depth to the face – their long faces need that smaller aperture and greater depth of field.

IMG_1851contrast mask
f4, ISO 100, 1/640sec
A shame that I got the focus slightly wrong – its just missed the eyes in this shot, however I still very much like this one. I have also used a contrast mask on this shot to selectively soften the whites of the shot. One can make a contrast mask using one of the following guides and I consider it well worth experimenting with. Its effect is similar to that of shadows and highlights, but I prefer the contrast mask overall.
Contrast mask

f4, ISO 100, 1/320sec
One of my most favourite shots – close distance and a wide aperture combined to give a great blurred background and tack sharp results in the fox – that they eye is just facing the camera is the winning part!
I also used a contrast mask on this shot as well as adjusting the hues. In the hue editing I set the colour to Cyan and selectively desaturating the cyan all the way and it removed a slight cyan (blueish) colouring from the whites – making them much more white.

IMG_1406b2 copy
f5, ISO 100, 1/320sec
One of my problem shots – this is a crop from a larger version and I think the biggest distraction, for me, is the that the left eye is so much darker than the right. With the lighting all coming from the right one could only have used fillflash to boost the lighting in the shadowed areas – exposing for the darker side would be risking blown highlights on the right side. If given the choice I find it much easier to work a darker area into a shot than a blown out area.

f6.3, ISO 100, 1/100sec
Proof that good exposure is not all that there is to photography. The back end being hacked off as it is a big distraction and breaks the composition of the shot – one could crop this shot to try and restore the balance to it. Ideally one would get it right in the field – its always best to avoid cropping at much as possible – but of course not to avoid using it if the occasion demands it.


And first up is a bleached grey squirrel!

f5.6, ISO 100, 1/160sec
Ok it’s not really bleached – it’s an albino grey squirrel. This was a very tricky shot, not only because of the fact that the pen was rather dark, but more because squirrel enclosures tend to have very fine gauge wire over them which means your lens has to be right up to the cage to get a shot without bars in it. I was lucky that he was sleeping and let me take the shot

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/60sec
As you can see, even on a bright day, I have had to use a high ISO in the squirrel enclosure because of all the shade – it makes for tricky shooting since they are such active creatures (remember there is also the fine gauge wire to deal with as well).

f5, ISO 400, 1/80sec

f4, ISO 400, 1/160sec

Sometimes we are handed fantastic sights to shoot – either in the zoos, the wild, the garden etc… Often we only get one shot at these sights and its always a pleasure to just be able to see and record the slight – getting it recorded really well is a fantastic thing. Sadly sometimes we fail;

f4, ISO 400, 1/400sec
At these ISOs one needs to get the focus right – otherwise details get hit hard by noise. I was operating at a wide aperture since he was running all over the place, so I was trying to capture the motion – then he paused for a split moment in this pose – and my focus hit his chest and missed his eyes and face. A great shame, but still a shot that I am proud to have taken.


f8, ISO 100, 1/40sec
Again going for more facial depth at a close up angle with a bird – this kestrel is great he/she will fly and perch right up close – downside is that its in a corner and its very easy to get the bars showing through behind – one could remove them from the shot though with some time in editing.

f7.1, ISO 100, 1/30sec
Not quite sure, but I think that the background is the result of the mesh between me and the bird.

f4, ISO 100, 1/400sec


f5.6, ISO 100, 1/400sec


f5, ISO 100, 1/500sec

f5.6, ISO 100, 1/160sec

f5, ISO 100, 1/320sec

Playful little creatures – I think I might have boosted the reds a bit strong on these three shots – but still they came out really well I think.


f5, ISO 200, 1/1600sec
This is a rare shot (for me at least) getting the depth of field to cover the whole animal as it has without having a fully clear background. I really like this shot and its one of the few of the deer that I have taken which I am happy with.

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/800sec

f8, ISO 200, 1/320sec

f8, ISO 200, 1/400sec

Well in the last 3 shots you can see a repeating pattern where my shooting has failed in framing the scene. I was trying to get as close to the head and antlers as I could, but I just did not have the reach. I should have cut back and got the legs and backend of the deer in the shots – that would have been better.
One thing I did get right (and it took me all day to) was to remember to use ISO 200 rather than 100 – the noise difference between the two on my camera is not that much and in a good exposure ISO 200 is perfectly usable. Using it over ISO 100 gives me more shutter speed to work with – an important component in wildlife photography – since whilst one can work with a noisy and/or underexposed shot, one cannot do anything with unintentional motion blur.

And that was the trip – a good second trip and I got some great keepers from it. A few things I need to brush up on, but overall a great success.
Link to flickr set for this day


The British Wildlife Centre

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2008 by overread

Well its been a long while since the last update – a long while. Remembering back this first visit to the Centre was with a great group of fellow photographers from Amateur Photographer (AP) forums (link to the right) as well as this random chap that tagged along for the trip
— wait come back my adoring fans!!…..

Things started early on the day and it was a fantastic day for shooting; clear skies and bright sun. The only thing to block the light was the odd plane flying over – of course this introduced its own problems with controlling the highlights on the shots – very tricky.

As for the centre itself I have to say that I was more than impressed with what I saw; the pens were made for the animals and not for people viewing. This was the biggest difference between this and many other wildlife centres and zoos – one could visit here and (for example) not see a single otter in the pen if they are hid up in their homes. There is a feeding time for many of the animals (though for many its just treats – chicks) which will bring them out of hiding and ensure attracting a host of photographers to surround the pens at the same time!

There was also the atmosphere at the centre – not one of decadence that can be felt at many places that have passed their prime, but rather of a place buzzing with energy. Another difference is the hands-on approach they had with their dealings with the animals – on can even visit, see and stroke the resident barn owl in the main reception/eating area – and he does not bite (least he did not bite me ;)) – though upon this visit he was in his pen due to the season.

As for photography I encourage anyone with an interest in wildlife and photography to visit the centre – it accommodates photographers wonderfully and with the pens one can get very natural looking photos – plus one can get right up to the bars – which can effectively remove them from obscuring the vision of the lens. I would also recommend their photography days and hope myself to attend some.

But now for the photos;

Mostly all taken with:
Canon 400D
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L
Canon 1.4 teleconverter


Ok I could watch foxes all day and still not be bored – beautiful creatures that they are:

f4, ISO 100, 1/1000sec
One of the first shots of the day and thus is a young vixen lazing in the sun. This shot has proved to be one of those where I have never been able to get a version of it that I am fully happy with. At the time of shooting I should have got more fox and less background into the shot – and not cut off her paws or backend.
Some alternative versions:

IMG_0011altered reds
For this edit I firstly used a saturation and hues layer and selectively desaturated the reds in the background areas (look at the tree trunk for a good idea of the reduction in background reds) – clearly the fox was excluded from this change as – well foxes are reddy. Though I did very slightly lower the global reds as well (-6) so that the overall boost to master saturation did not over represent the reds in the shot.
The fox though I also altered but right now I can’t remember what I did to him to change his colours (might very well have been a contrast mask used but I can’t be sure)

These next two are crops of the main shot which try to focus more on the fox, removing the large background areas and also trying to lessen the effect of chopped off paws!
IMG_0011 closer crop 1

IMG_0011closer crop 2
note there might be differences in sharpness between the shots – this is not due to flickr, but more because of different sharpening amounts used (since these edits were made at different times) and also because the latter crop only had one stage or resizing and sharpening whilst the others had two (since a lot of shot was cropped for the last version).

Right its time to leave the problem shot and move on to others.

f7.1, ISO 100, 1/30sec
Pure luck and nothing else – well that an IS! One downside of working in modes like aperture priority is that you still have to keep your eye on the shutter speed, in the shady area that this shot was taken the shutter speed has dropped very low indeed – without IS there would be considerable handshake blur and without the fox being dead still there would be blur from him as well. I was very lucky to get this shot at all!

f8, ISO 100, 1/30sec
A second shot from the burst that was taken – again very lucky that this came out at all!
Now this shot also serves to show as an example of how bars/wire can affect a shot and also how one can edit the problem away (in some – not all cases). If you look to the top left of the shot there is a hazy area which is lighter than the rest of the shot. This also continued on in a line to hit the side of the fox as well (though that has already been corrected). The method I use to correct this is to use start a contrast layer – and then selectively boost contrast in that lighter, hazy area. Contrast increases are typically very high to totally lose the haze and this can be risky as it can cause you to get a lot of noise generated by the big contrast increase. If all things go well though you end up with something similar to the shot below


Here you can see the corner no longer stands out against the rest of the shot – the wire effect has been lost. This does not work all the time, and one needs the bars to already be very blurred out of the shot in order to rescue it.

Another rescue method is to crop the shot:

F5.6, ISO 400, 1/1600sec
A rather sleepy fox on the hot day! High ISO is from where I was shooting a subject in a darker cage and forgot to switch back to a lower one for the sunny shot.


Well despite liking foxes a lot I ended up spending far more time round the otters on this trip (TPF members will probably attribute this to me being with the Otter King ;)).
One otter was quite determined to put on a show for us before feeding time:

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/500sec

f4, ISO 200, 1/1250sec

f4, ISO 200, 1/1250sec

Sometimes this is all you would get of an otter (if you were lucky)
f6.4, ISO 200, 1/500sec

f5, ISO 200, 1/1000sec

f5, ISO 200, 1/1000sec
Watching the keeper and bucket of food!

f5, ISO 400, 1/400sec
Keeping the ISO up to keep the shutter speed up (otters are speedy things!). This was a later day shot when the light was fading

Far into the end of the day (well around closing time for the centre) a group of photographers hung out round the otter pens waiting – for today evening meal was fish – and not fish fingers, but whole fish! For these shots I decided to try out the 2*teleconverter instead of the 1.4 I had been using all day – this was party out of interest, but also as the otters had retreated further back into the pens.

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/250sec

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/250sec

You can see how much darker things have become with the TC; though this is partly due to dimmer lighting at this time of day as well in these shots. Not the best for an example, but it does enough to show that whilst results can be decent with the 2*TC one needs brighter lighting ideally (especially if shutter speed is to be kept up). For a rough idea the next shot was taken just after these two and in better lighting.
Also note that I had to focus these shots manually since the reeds were confusing the AF (even on centre point only)

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/160sec
Risky shutter speed there! Also playing with re-dynamizer again

Now this next shot is special – this shot was taken not with the 70-200mm, but with the Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L lens along with a 1.4TC. I got a chance to shoot with this lens (loaned from the Otter King) for a bit and must say that it impressed me greatly, even with the 1.4TC the results were amazingly sharp, and the viewfinder image was far clearer and brighter to see. It is much heavier though!

f4, ISO 200, 1/1000sec
There were a more shots taken, though at the time the otters were eating treats (well dead chicks) and a little bit hidden away.
Overall an impressive lens – just wish it cost less πŸ˜‰


Yep Toads!

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/800sec

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/200sec

Sometimes its best to not be seen or heard πŸ˜‰
f8, ISO 100, 1/200sec
I was actually just trying to be a bit more creative with the background and toad in this shot – the frog I never saw till I got back and put the shot on the computer

a crop of the above


A very lucky shot of this elusive creature – a water vole – having a feed on his feeding station – only got one shot before he was off and gone!

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/320sec

Snowy Owl

f4, ISO 100, 1/160sec

Red Squirrel

f4, ISO 400, 1/400sec
A tricky shot as he was running back and forth along the edge of the cage (you can just see it affecting the background areas) and his enclosure was darker than many, even on this bright day. Still managed one shot when he stood still for a second. Looks very different in his summer coat to their winter coat with ear tufts.


well its either a stoat or a weasel
f4, ISO200, 1/250sec
fingers were risked for this pose! *luckily not mine!*


Yep not even a listed species for the centre – a dragon(fly)

f13, ISO 200, 1/50sec

IS helps again – and this was not even taken with the macro lens (he was on a bush in a pen so I could not get closer)

And there we have it – the visit over – it was my first to the centre and it certainly won’t be my last!
You can also get a look at the shots taken by others on the day as well over at the AP forums here;
AP forums BWC trip
And the shots by the Otter King and a 7ft squirrel over here:
Attack of the 7ft Squirrel
ps I am the one on the right
Link to the centre website:
British Wildlife Centre

Link to the flickr set for this trip