ADVENTURES OF A WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER NEW BEGINNINGS
Proving wildlife can be attracted to almost any garden.
TOWARDS THE END OF LAST SUMMER, I moved from my old house, at the edge of a small village, to a new-build in a more urban setting. The garden I left behind was large and wild, with mature trees and dense hedges where it bordered arable farmland. Over the years I had managed the habitat to encourage wildlife and it had repaid me with wonderful encounters and some of my most successful images.
In complete contrast the new garden was relatively small and totally barren – three fences and a heap of poor-quality earth. Once I had settled in, I levelled the soil, removing weeds and sifting out debris ready for seeding the following spring. The house is an end plot near to a busy road but fortunately, between the two, stands a good-sized sycamore tree whose outer branches creep over a fence and into my garden.
One of the things I find most satisfying is observing and photographing wildlife from my home and I was determined to continue this despite the challenges presented by the new location. I’d advocated to others that good images could be made in almost any garden, no matter its size, and now I had to practice what I had preached.
Over the following weeks I heard lots of birds in the deciduous sycamore as its leaves gradually turned from green to gold. Handsome finches fed on the last of the helicopter seeds and flocks of long-tailed tits passed busily through. There is another, near-identical tree, about 30 yards away and the birds use these trees en route to a small copse.
I decided to set up a few feeders near to the overhanging branches against a piece of wood where I had optimistically
I’D ADVOCATED THAT GOOD IMAGES COULD BE MADE IN ALMOST ANY GARDEN...
attached a clothes line. After several days I started hearing a pair of coal tits calling to one another as they came in for their breakfast, stopping off in the tree first to make sure the coast was clear. One of the birds would often land on the clothes line before dropping down to feed. Inspired by this behaviour I began my first project at the new house hoping to capture the coal tit next to an item of clothing to illustrate the bird’s tiny size. I dug out an old pair of jeans and hung these on the line at a point where they could be photographed from a window. The weather was fine so I left the jeans out for a few days to allow the birds to get used to them.
When working in limited space, depth-of-field, composition and subject position become even more important. I needed to use a wide aperture to blur out the background but wanted all the main elements to be in focus so I sewed the jeans together to stop the button sagging forward, pulling it into the focal plane. I attached a small pot of food to the back-left pocket of the jeans and this was filled with some extra tasty treats.
By now, great tits and blue tits were also visiting and typically they would all come in at the same time. Coal tits are agile and tenacious little birds and they soon discovered the food pot behind the jeans. On this occasion the tit landed in the perfect spot and glanced back at me which really makes the shot.
Simon Roy is an award-winning wildlife photographer based in Yorkshire. His images have been highly commended in both the British Wildlife Photography Awards and International Garden Photographer of the Year competitions. simonroyphotography.co.uk