Take a walk on the wild side- more photography tips!

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DSC_0426Even though birds and animals have no bank account and can’t pay I’ve had a passion for native wildlife and flora since I was a kid and over the years have taken literally thousands of photographs of non native  so cute  grey squirrels in parks and woodlands and they never fail to delight me even though some dismiss them as villains, invaders from the USA back from Victorian times whne rich landowners introduced them and yet a solid and adapttive species which is the most likely mammal you are ever going to see here in the UK. This is simply the best shot I have ever got of one and  it was in my own garden and it also tells budding photographers that, in order to get fantastic shots of native mamals  and wild birds you have to gain their trust and actually create a situation where they trust you enough,  come to you and even with a mighty lens to get close, you actually need to be just short of arms length to get really great fill the frame portaits of them like this one.

On days when I’m not on assignment, and there are many in this imploding industry,  I am driven to take photographs, even today, on my 64 birthday making it 43 years experience in my trade and on the basis that to give people your best, no matter how good you are, skills should be meticulously practiced very often and you should try to get better and  better so that you stay at the top of the game. The backbone  of my johncoxon.com /johncoxonphotography.com business is excellence in shooting people in a wide range of contexts and activities and that requires a rapport, a dialogue, understanding and or at the very least empathy with the subject. I am told, though not really aware of it myself that my work has a warmth, and if that is so, it is because I engage with people- I do not just fire away at them!

In human photography you need the same excellent interpersonal skills as much as technique and experience of photography, and, as with shooting both  wild or tame animals, like people, inspiring trust is vital  as is finding the best, the natural beauty, even in the common place or so called ordinary. With people photography I aim to produce “keepers”, outstanding , warm , usually informal photographs that people will want to keep and share with friends and family. As with people, as with wild birds and mammals like squirrels you can’t be intrusive, impatient or crowd their personal space and you need to create the conditions to make people and wildlife feel at ease near you. Of course, with people, a smile, a friendly or humorous comment breaks the ice but with wildlife it is about knowledge of their habits , being sensitive to their needs and knowing how close is comfortable for them.

As with social event and other photography where the subject is people, I make much  use a long lens which I also use for sport, a fast 70-200mm lens. With sport I have to get closer or strike up a dialogue with the subject whereas other photographers use much longer lenses to achieve a similar result that I can manage with the 200mm and yet their stuff hasn’t the engagement always or the warmth. The long lens is great for informal or candid portraiture and great too for shooting the camera shy for whom, close in with a short lens would make them feel ill at ease.  The poets describe the eye as “the window into the soul” but it is also crucial to any photographic portrait of any person or living thing which has eyes and that has to be the focus or rather the tiny white part of the eye’s surface which gives it a sparkle. With animal photography , where the eye is often so much smaller, it is even more important to get that flare in the eye and , if , as I do , you regularly practice by shooting wildlife of different sorts, the larger human eye is a bigger target and you nail that instinctively.

Animals and birds are unique, and , although they may blink, never as a sort of self conscious reaction to the camera.  The digital professional camera has the facility to allow you instantly to review each shot in the preview window, back of camera if you didn’t notice the subject was a ‘blinker’ , enabling you to retake. I have a very simple trick for overcoming the problem which I will share another time!   The female grey squirrel here is a new visitor to my garden and has already developed trust in me. The shots I took last week were OK but I wasn’t satisfied and was happy to see her again today for a reshoot. I had created two new feeding stations where I had a clearer line of site and designed them in such a way that I could guarantee great sharp portraits and today that happened leaving me very satisfied.

Even now at 64 , I have , essentially the enthusiasm for life (and the eyes) of child , am keenly observant and a huge amount of stamina because I love to notice and record things, trust my own eye and find beauty and the extra-ordinary even in what for most is the ordinary. I have never been slave to any conventions or schools of thought , attended  a camera club or photography course, been influenced by or tried to copy the style of eminent classical or other photographers . to copy or be influenced implies , for me, a lack of confidence in yourself and if I’m unsure of myself how can my clients be! ?  I learned my craft doing and practice, practice, practice, and I never tire of it – my work yes but my life too.

Photography for me is like a language, another way of  expressing yourself and communicating with others and the image is even more direct than precise writing or speaking and that’s the beauty of the photographic image. I am also a  prolific writer and journalist and in that role the image is so important to help aid understanding to gain and help keep the reader’s attention.

A photograph is taken in the fraction of a moment and yet it has this amazing power to trigger associations, memories and ideas without saying a word! That feature of the image is used to great effect by PR, marketing and advertising end users and I have now an enormous archive of high end images covering a very wide range of subjects but also am creative enough to be able to assist those industries with specific tailored images to help them tell their stories, inform perceptions and promote ideas and products.

I often photograph grassroots  activities but also champions in a variety sports, elite athletes who put in so much unseen daily work, and when you see me on a commission, it is not only the technical ,artistic and social skills I bring to the role but something I am in constant training for /practicing at to stay at my peak and move the boundaries still further. For an athlete, it is a full time job to be the best , a life style and the same for a dedicated professional photographer like myself in the service of others in what is an incredibly competitive industry-many have left as returns diminished and the nature of the business and markets so radically changed. Myself, well I just work harder and harder to keep my edge and quickly adapt to embrace new ways of marketing my services and photographs.

I am really proud of this portrait and thank the lady squirrel for her faith in me. Photographers . knpw your craft , master the technical side so it becomes instinctive but above all  respect your subject and share the love- that is all!

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