Fallow Deer, Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen

in Shooting reports, Wildlife Trip Reports by on October 26th, 2010

Due to a rather busy diary, I haven’t found much time to go out wildlife shooting this year. I managed a short trip to the Hoge Veluwe in September to catch the rut, but that was about it. So I was happy to have some free time to pop off to the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen this past weekend.

Around this time of the year the fallow deer at AWD are ready to start their rutting activities (Bronsttijd in dutch), and when you walk through the park you will hear the distinctive sound of their burling. Unfortunately it is often only the noise that you hear, and a lot of the deer remain out of sight in the dense woodland.

So I set out on Sunday, a little later than I had hoped, to try and find some deer willing to be photographed. The weather was clear and not cold, completely opposite to the weather forecast that had suggested the day would be a wash out, and I took a picnic along with me which I was able to eat under the trees.

Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen, October 24th 2010

As usual, walking along the concrete roads in the AWD gives very few results, save for the occasional deer running in front of you, but if you take some of the pathways through the wood, your chances of meeting a herd of deer greatly improve. The deer I ‘met’ seemed to be making a lot of noise, but didn’t seem quite ready to rut just yet. Maybe if I plan another trip over there this weekend I will be luckier. I did come away with the picture in this blog post, of a young fallow deer, which I was happy with.

When I make these trips, I prefer to be mobile on foot, so the really big lenses stay at home. This time I took my D3, the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G VR, and mounted a tc-14e teleconverter to give me 420mm of focal length. Normally I will shoot from hand, but this time I used a monopod as the light was a bit lower. The shot posted here was shot at 1/320s @ f/4, iso1400. Just as a side note, although the deer in nature reserves are often more used to people, they are still easily startled. I always try to dress in a subdued manner (normally wearing camouflage) and stay down wind of the animals. That way I am able to sit and observe them for quite some time.

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Safari Photography: Supporting a big lens

in Shooting reports, Technique, Travel, Wildlife Trip Reports by on May 30th, 2010

I’ve been lucky enough to visit South Africa a couple of times now, and knowing what gear to take is always the big question before I leave. In discussing this with other photographers, through my blog, and on forums, one question that people often ask me is what sort of camera support system they should be using whilst on the safari vehicles.

Often the initial thought is something along the lines of, ‘I’m taking a big camera lens, therefore I need to take the heaviest tripod that I own in order to support that lens.’ A logical way of thinking if you are intending to sit in the bushes for a day to wait for your prey to approach. Problem with that in Africa is if you sit in the bushes for any length of time, you’re likely to get eaten by a lion 🙂

You might also think that the safari vehicles will have enough space to mount a tripod. However, even if you are lucky enough to have a whole row to yourself, mounting a tripod is not going to be practical. Asides from the fact that there isn’t enough space in the footwells to put the tripod up, the rough ground you may be traveling across will quite likely throw the tripod outside of the vehicle, lens and body along with it.

So what is the solution? Well, you will probably be either shooting from the window of a 4×4, or traveling along in a typical safari vehicle such as the one in the following image (passenger normally not included….)

As you can see from the construction, it is a very open setup, designed to give the most flexible vision in any direction. You may be sharing your row with one or two other people, or you may have it to yourself. The way I work, when shooting with one of my big guns, such as the 200-400mm or the 600mm, is to take along a couple of bean bags with me. The most useful one I have is around 20cm (8″) square, and has a velcro fastening on it. The first day I arrive in Africa I go to the local supermarket, and buy around 2.5kg of maize or dried beans, and fill the bean bag up with this. They only cost around 2€/3$, so it’s not worth taking up 2kg of my luggage allowance to bring them with me from home. I then have a very flexible solution that I can use to support the lens, either on one of the chair supports, or on top of a fellow passenger body part. It is very easy to quickly change from one side of the vehicle to the other, without having the hassle of moving a tripod, monopod, or other support system, and easily gives enough support to get sharp images.

The bean bag solution also works well if you are shooting out of a car/4×4 as it will rest on the opened window, or, if you do have the chance to shoot from outside the vehicle, on top of the car roof. (Edit: the following image was not taken standing outside of a vehicle, as I value my limbs too much….)

All animal shots in this article taken with the D3/600mm, using a bean bag support, at the Krugersdorp game reserve, Johannesburg, South Africa.


Trip Report: Feldberger Seenlandschaft, East Germany

in Wildlife Trip Reports by on August 10th, 2009

This blog is long overdue, but back in May I made a trip to Feldberger Seenlandschaft in East Germany with Patrick and Tom. We had found out about a Ranger living in former East Germany near the Polish border who has built a network of hides in various fields around Feldberger, and offers these out to photographers in the hope that they might go away with some satisfying images.

The plan was fairly simple, we would make the 8+ hour drive on the Wednesday, spend Thursday to Sunday in hides, and then drive back again on the Monday. Fred Bollmann would look after us during our stay, and be at our call to take us to and from various hides. We would stay at the Mecklenburger Hof, a small and basic hotel with friendly service and good prices, and they would feed us three meals a day, including packed lunch and breakfast.

On the evening of arrival Fred was very keen to explain all the possibilities he could offer. He told us that various hides would not be worth visiting at that time of the year, but in addition to the hides he could also offer us the possibility to go out on his boat and attempt to photograph a local Sea Eagle.

Of course, as with all nature photography, it is always the luck of the draw as to what you will see when you sit in a hide for any length of time, and I can attest to that, after spending 12 hours in a hide on two occassions, from 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening, without seeing a single bird!

The hides themselves are well constructed, and have all the facilities you need in a modern hide (basically a window, a chair, and a bucket to relieve yourself in). Some of the hides are large enough for three people (which is an advantage when you have to sit there for 12 hours) whereas others are made for two people or even just one.


So in fact, out of three hide sessions we only had luck on one occassion, in a small hide where we witnessed a pair of buzzards eating a dead deer (Fred is well known in the community and receives all the local roadkill for his freezer). The buzzards landed fairly close to eat from the strategically placed deer, and in spite of our presence wearily pecked away at the corpse. The photos here were taken with the 600mm f/4G VR Nikkor on the Nikon D3


The highlight of the trip though was witnessing the Sea Eagle swooping in and picking up various fish from the lake near our boat. In the interests of full disclosure, the fish that were caught were thrown into the water by Fred, so we knew approximately where the eagle would be coming to, but nevertheless it was an impressive spectacle to see. The birds really do have ‘eagle eyes’, as he was able to see the fish landing in the water from a good 500 meters away, and slowly swooped and circled before catching his prey.

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

I took the above shots using the D3, with the 300mm f/2.8G VR lens attached. I used aperture priority to fix the aperture to f/5.6, and used the auto-iso feature to ensure the shutter speed stayed above 1/500s so to freeze the motion. Of course the lens was in the continuous AF mode. The high shutter rate of the D3 paid for itself here, capturing all of the above images in less than a second.

So although we didn’t see all the birds that we had intended, it was still a successful trip – it’s not every day you get to see a sea eagle capturing fish from the water. However in hindsight we were there at the wrong time of the year – in the spring there is plenty of prey for birds of prey to capture, and Fred’s hides are much more densely visited when food is in short supply, for example in the winter months when there is snow on the ground.

Definitely a location I would recommend to other photographers looking for birds of prey images!


Trip Report: Texel, April 2009

in Wildlife Trip Reports by on May 1st, 2009

Last weekend I joined a group of photographers for a bird photography workshop on the Dutch island of Texel, hosted by Jeroen Stel. The trip was scheduled for three days, starting on the Friday morning, and we were blessed with good weather for the whole weekend. It was a good opportunity to do nothing but take photos for three days!

At this time of year there are plenty of birds to see on Texel, since a number of bird sorts congregate there to breed. So there was a lot of activity to see, albeit it often a little bit too far away to photograph easily. Although I took a pretty large arsenal of lenses along with me, I used the 600mm on the D3 most of the time, occasionally attaching the tc-14e teleconverter when I needed a little extra reach.

I have been to Texel a couple of times in the past, and have always ended up shooting at the Wagejot. I had hoped to find some alternative locations this trip, and although we shot in a lot of different places, it seems like Wagejot is still my prefered location; in fact all of the shots in this post, apart from the last one, were taken there.

Wagejot is a good location to find Avocet (kluut), Little Ringed Plover (kleine plevier), Curlew (wulp), Black and Bar Tailed Godwit (grutto/rose grutto) and Common Tern (visdiefje). We were most successful early in the morning as the light was appearing, as this is one of the most active periods of the day for the above birds.

Whilst shooting early in the morning the D3 again paid his way by delivering outstanding performance at high isos, necessary in order to maintain the high shutter speeds needed to freeze the bird activity.

You can view a selection of around 30 shots from this trip on my website by clicking here – it may take a couple of minutes for all images to load…..

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Deer at the Amsterdamse Waterleiding Duinen

in Wildlife Trip Reports by on March 22nd, 2009

Fallow Deer Buck
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan

On Saturday I decided to ‘discover’ a new area and try and take some photos.

Amsterdamse Waterleiding Duinen (AWD) is one of the Netherland’s largest dune areas, at around 3500 hectares (including 530 hectares of forest). The national park is located in between Zandvoort, Bloemendaal, and Noordwijk, and is mostly used as a water catchment area for the Amsterdam region. The area hosts a large variety of landscape, from fairly open to dense forest, and rich flora and fauna.

Although I have been to AWD once or twice in the past, I have always been with other people, and never come away with any pleasing results. This time I decided to go on my own, and see what I could find. It was also an opportunity for me to try out my new 300mm f/2.8G VR lens, so I decided to see if I could find some deer, since this would be a good target for a 300mm lens.

I arrived at AWD around 0930, which was already a bit too late for the good light, but after a hectic week I didn’t feel like getting up too early. On arrival at the park I was disappointed to discover multiple groups of senior runners had descended on the park (I assume as part of some organised event, since they seemed to be split into groups of 20, all following their leader’s instructions), so it was a bit hectic and not particularly ‘quiet’ inside. I felt this wasn’t going to help my chances of finding deer, but nevertheless decided to persevere.

Roe Deer Doe
Originally uploaded by DigitalHeMan

I had entered the park at the Oase entrance, and knew from my previous visits that there was a lot of dense woodland to the left of the main path. I started walking, and after about 25 minutes saw my first doe, just off the path. I carefully moved into the woodland area, taking care not to disturb any of the animals, and patiently waited behind a tree. Luckily I remained unnoticed by the deer, and was able to get a number of shots of the does, including the one in this post.

I stood and watched a small group of female deer from my position behind the tree for around 30 minutes until they were scared by a group of runners. They also managed to scare the remainder of the herd (around 50-70 animals, including some bucks) who had been grazing further into the forest, who ran past me, pausing every now and then, and I was able to get the buck shot at the start of this post.

For the remainder of the morning I wandered around the park, but didn’t shoot too much, since the light by now was fairly harsh (and the runners were patrolling the park in packs) but I fully intend to go back and explore some more soon.

I was happy with my first experiences with the 300mm – it’s a nice size to work with, and a lot more portable than dragging the 600mm around. The first shot in this post was taken together with the tc-14e teleconverter (Nikon D3, 420mm, f/4, 1/500s, iso400) and the second shot was bare (Nikon D3, 300mm, f/4, 1/500s, iso800). Both shots were taken using a monopod for support. I’ll provide a full review of the 300VR once I have had some more experience using it…..

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