NATURE BOY

A Kingfisher

A Kingfisher

Nature boy Jonathan Lewis finds his kicks lingering in bird hides. And while some of us boast just enough patience to boil a kettle and remove a lens cap, the ecologist spends hours loitering and anticipating Britain unsuspecting wildlife. It was only last month when the photographer's WOW! picture encapsulating a vivid kingfisher perched happily on a mossy branch bowled us over with its sharpness at close range and compositional genius with such a flighty subject. After discovering Jonathan shots are taken along a stretch of private river in Norfolk, he revealed to us how he captured such a natural portrayal of a bird which is about as cagey as a national newspaper editor under interrogation. DETECTIVE WORK "Kingfishers are very secretive and also easily disturbed, so good field craft is the key to photographing them. First you must find a kingfisher then observe it for some time to see where it fishes from and finally you need to get near that area without spooking it. As with all wildlife photography this can be a very time consuming process, and one that certainly can be rushed," Jonathan says. He also explains that the best way to photograph them is in a hide, the reasoning being that it breaks up a human silhouette. However, intrusion is a no-go and photographers even need a licence to be within such close proximity. "If you rush the process there a high chance you will disturb the individual, which is unacceptable as the photo should always come second to the welfare of your subject. And it worth mentioning that to photograph kingfishers near their nest you need a licence so you have to be certain you are not disturbing them near to a nesting site. "In my case it took several months of observation and experimenting with various sites before viewing the kingfisher on a regular basis. They now on their second brood of fledglings this year; I love observing their life over the months. I see them nearly every time I visit and they are totally unaware of my presence so the patience is well worth it!" THE TECHNIQUE "The WOW! photograph was taken in March this year," Jonathan says, adding that it was the "dead vegetation along the back which gave a really nice clean brown background and made the mossy branch really stand out." It was also Jonathan stalker-like hide tendencies which enabled him to become accustomed to the kingfisher favourite perch. "It landed and caught a fish which I photographed using a higher ISO to capture the movement," he relays. "Many hours of watching experience told me that after eating, it would most likely stay for some time digesting and watching the world go by. I took this opportunity to lower the ISO and photograph it sitting still on the perch. As my tripod gives great support I wasn’t worried too much about the slower shutter speed; the result was a nice clean, sharp shot free of any noise." The only noise a photographer needs in this environment is a delicate chirp from the trees above or the rush of a babbling stream, so if a low ISO can be afforded it is worth the risk. In terms of lenses, which does Jonathan use for such a great depth-of-field? A 500mm prime it transpires. "The 500mm is one of my favourite lenses; it incredibly sharp and such a fantastic lens for photographing birds and mammals. Its maximum aperture is f/4 but I selected f/5.6 to give a greater depth-of-field which would render all the way from the end of the mossy branch to the tip of the kingfisher sharp beak." For most bird and mammal work, the photographer sticks to his 500mm in the hide because of the ability to open to f/4 in low light, but for a more mobile option he turns to a 100-400mm lens. "The Canon 100-400mm is a great lens and much lighter. If I photographing on foot or need to be more mobile then I use it, but for hide work it nearly always the 500mm. For macro I love to use the Canon MP-E65mm with ring flash, because that too is an incredibly sharp lens and the up to 1:5 ratio makes for incredible photographs of invertebrates." Jonathan careful use of spot metering for selecting exposure from a specific point of a scene worked particularly well with his off-centre composition. "In the case of the kingfisher I wanted to expose from the beautiful plumage to make sure the exposure was spot on for my subject. I use the combination of spot metering and exposure frequently, and in this picture I locked the exposure on the plumage and then recomposed the image so that the kingfisher was to the far right and the branch lead off to the left. I think this composition is much more pleasing to the eye than if the kingfisher was in the centre."
Another Kingfisher

Another Kingfisher

THE NATURAL WORLD AND JONATHAN After picking up his father SLR at the age of ten and rising at the crack of dawn to photograph rabbits on a local heath, self-taught Jonathan sought an outdoor life. His degree in ecology formed a huge stepping stone in his observational style of photography, equipping him with a thorough understanding of his subjects. Now located in Ketteringham, Norfolk, the 30-year-old has set up numerous hides near Norwich and permanent timber-built badger and woodland bird hides in private woodland close to where he is based, which have become part of the natural environment. A whopping 38 species of birds flock to his hide at close range. The avid traveller, who regularly jet sets to the Amazon for exotic photo expeditions, also runs photography workshops and planted an acre of wild flower meadow near to his hides earlier in 2012, which in two years will be a haven for wildlife photographers. "We already have some flowers appearing and have picked species attractive to birds and invertebrate life, especially bees, which are perfect for macro photography," Jonathan says. "When the meadow is up and running, it will be a fantastic place for wildlife and I plan to include this area on my future macro courses." It was at the end of last year that Jonathan formed his company, Norfolk Wildlife Photography, which runs workshops with Ketteringham landowner Simon Moore, a farmer who stopped farming some of his land and left it for conservation instead. "It seemed like a perfect match that we could document wildlife on Simon conservation areas. He very happy for people who love nature to be using his land in a respectful way and enjoys seeing the photographs of species which live there." The workshops have seen more than 500 customers in the first half of 2012 and Jonathan is now working on more courses for 2013. If this success wasn’t enough, Jonathan future plans include continuing to lead tours in the Amazon rainforest on a yearly basis as well as visiting wilder locations such as Tanzania. But although he flees further afield during some months, he admits that certain British subjects can be more challenging to photograph. "I have found through experience that photographing a wary rural fox is far harder than photographing a habituated lion on the Savannah!" he says. "Photographing in the Amazon is perhaps the most different to the UK, because the rainforest is a tough place to photograph as the light is very low below the canopy, and humidity is very high. We work alongside researchers and go out to mist net birds with an ornithologist, catch reptiles with a herpetologist and visit some giant river otters with a mammal expert. The macro photography in particular there is out of this world as there are so many weird and wonderful invertebrate species out there."

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