Basin Notes - August 2007

Wildlife Photography - start with flowers

I am sure that everyone has seen some of the stunning images produced by professional wildlife photographers like Niall Benvie and Laurie Campbell. Both have contributed images to the displays in the Basin Visitor Centre. Equally, I am sure that everyone has snapped away in the hope of getting that bird in the garden or grand view of the mountains while walking and have been disappointed with the results.

Do not despair. First you have to admit to yourself that unless you pay a lot of money for camera equipment and spend a lot of time searching out wildlife, you are not going to compete with the professional. Next you have to decide what you are interested in and what you can capture with the camera equipment you can afford. Finally, you have to be prepared to throw away 90% of your photos.

With the advent of digital cameras, throwing away images is a "no cost" option and gives you the chance to get that perfect image. The problem is that wildlife is not very co-operative and rarely poses for long enough to approach, focus and shoot.

However, it is easier to start with wildlife that doesn't try to get away - flowers. Many a cultivated and wild flower can be the subject of a beautiful photo. Take care to get the angle right and also consider shots of a single bloom and even very close up views of the interior structures - macro photography. Many digital cameras have a macro setting which allows you to get within a few inches of your subject and investigate that world normally overlooked by casual observers.

The next step is quite natural because as you investigate flowers from very close range you will start to notice the small insects that also visit your prized blooms. Obviously, things like greenfly and whitefly are not welcome residents, but look closely and you will see those well-loved summer visitors, ladybirds, munching their way through the greenfly hoards. This gardening assistance is often accompanied by some aggressive action from ants trying to shoo away the ladybirds, because the greenfly are "farmed" by the ant for the honeydew they produce and, like any human dairy farmer, they don't want their livelihood devoured by hungry predators.

More noticeable wildlife is also in attendance to those plants with a good nectar supply - bees, butterflies, moths and hover flies. The plants are, of course, not offering this sugary delight for nothing and in return the insects carry pollen to other plants and perform that essential operation of ensuring the next generation of fruits and seeds are produced.

All of these provide a challenging target for the photographer but looking closely provides an education into the working of nature and its primary operators - who happen to be very numerous and beautiful as well.

Next you can progress those more difficult subjects - birds. More difficult to get close to and requiring a good zoom lens, but very satisfying to photograph, they generally require some preparation and patience. First is to feed them - probably something you do already. Second you need to get them used to you being in close proximity to the feeders. A steady approach using a seat which you put a little closer each day will usually win over their confidence and finally enable some good frame-filling shots that will amaze your friends and family.

Now you are ready to venture out to those wilder places with a wider range of wildlife. A walk down to the new bridge will get you close to eider ducks before a high tide. The shore from Ferryden to Scurdiness will also provide the chance of wildfowl and seals.

The richest local source of wildlife is the Basin. Visit any of the hides around the Basin and many good opportunities will present themselves. Also there are many points round the Basin that will give good views of the abundant bird life that is always present. Again patience is the key to getting the best shots as a rising tide pushes birds to the edge of the Basin and within camera range.

To see what you can achieve with modest equipment there is a photographic exhibition at the Basin Visitor Centre through August and September called "The Nature of Montrose". The garden as wildlife reserve features during August and then the Basin stars as wildlife habitat in September.