Updated: Jul 26, 2022
I spent much of Spring photographing a single location, almost obsessively so. I was trying to develop a series of images looking at one location and the species that inhabited it, animals that most people overlook or take for granted.
The field lies at the far end of a shallow valley, just a short walk from my home, and it’s a beguiling little patch with views across to the fenland, along the Waveney Valley and down to the church on one side, and a meadow with two large ancient oaks on the other. One of these is home to a family of little owls, and the other to raucous jackdaws. Its charms are all the richer because it seems timeless, and is utterly at odds with the surrounding and uncompromisingly farmed countryside.
I mentioned that it’s just a short walk from home, but I confess I travelled there each evening by car, using it as a makeshift hide. In fact, the road is sunken somewhat below the level of the field, and at certain points I could stop the car and be exactly at eye level with my subject. It is testament to the quietness of this particular patch of Norfolk that I often stopped in the road, switched off my engine and photographed the wildlife undisturbed.
It is surprising what you notice when your focus is turned on one place for an extended time. I began to get to know the male pheasants and I had better and closer views of native grey partridges than I had ever had before. I also started learn the habits of the local hares, what time they were likely to appear and where, and there was the odd visit from the little owls too.
Can you spy the little owl glowering at me in this shot?
I began to look forward to the arrival of the debonaire male pheasants, especially when the late evening sun illuminated their feathers, making them appear as if they were wearing a fancy suit of golden lamellar armour. I became a little obsessed with trying to capture their exuberant flourishes, and their faintly ridiculous territorial performances with all its fluster and flapping.
I used a single lens on almost every shoot, my trusty Canon 500mm, often with a 1x4 extender attached, making it a 700mm lens. Perhaps a little excessive you might think, but it made me work within strict parameters, and I found it a challenge to think of how best to frame each moment or encounter. I was also using my new Canon EOS R5, and most of my shots were taken handheld. The camera’s stabilization worked so well that I often shot at very low shutter speeds, something which previously wouldn’t have been possible without a sturdy tripod.
More often than not the animals would keep their distance, but this made me think about the wider environment and how I might portray a little of the place they called home: the field margins and ditches, the thick hedgerows, cultivated fields, and the wooded copse down in the Waveney valley.
My preferred method was to sit and wait for the wildlife to come to me, but I confess impatience often got the better of me and I would slowly patrol the field margins, crawling along in first or second gear. This sometimes paid off, especially with the hares in the adjacent field that were just over the skyline. I knew their likely spots and that the sun would set beautifully behind them if they cooperated and sat up in the right place. I had some wonderfully close , but the silhouetted shot I had in mind eluded me. However, it’s there in my mind for next year.
I also began tentatively exploring video, knowing that the R5 is extremely capable, exploring the camera’s ability to record at 100fps for slow motion capture. I soon realized how essential a tripod is for steadying the camera when recording video, but nonetheless I had great fun attempting to capture the hares as they stretched and yawned, and the pheasant’s flustering displays.
On one occasion during our unpredictable spring, I had my camera trained on a contented hare, busily munching its way through the fresh green shoots. I hadn’t noticed the dark cloud looming behind me, intent as I was eyeing my subject through the viewfinder of my camera. The first flurry of snow was light, but the wind soon rose to a fair bluster and a blinding, blurring, snowstorm followed. The hare hunkered down with its back to the prevailing wind, and I kept trying to keep it in focus despite the snow billowing in through the window, covering the dashboard and passenger seat. It all but obscured the hare and in a few short minutes had carpeted the crop in white. It was a quite extraordinary May afternoon.
A brown hare enduring the British springtime weather.
Of course, the crops are high and the wildlife well-hidden now in late July, all their goings on obscured by the dense veil of the farmer’s crop, but there are still signs of their furtive activity, and it will soon be harvest. They won’t be able to hideaway for long.
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