Wednesday 26 August 2009

Guest Photographer - Mike Lane FRPS

It is my pleasure to welcome our latest guest photographer to Wildlife Photography across the Water - Mike Lane FRPS

Mike is local to me here in the Midlands and has been quite an influence on a number of wildlife photographers as a result of his publication 'Where to photograph Wildlife in Britain', sadly not available from Amazon anymore but he still has some copies available here.

I am grateful for the book as I have added a number of images in my portfolio from locations that Mike has described, such as the Red Grouse here.

Well back earlier in the year while shooting the images of Long Eared Owls here, I bumped into Mike on a very cold Cotswolds. We discussed the blog briefly and I said I would contact him at some point in the future - which brings us up to date although there is another tenuous link with Mike for both Dave and I, as Dave took me to the site where Mike took these images on Goosanders on Lake Geneva back in February 2008.

Mike has set out a great article below.


I have many "rules of thumb" about wildlife photography.One of them is that you see more wildlife the less you move. Take a drive in the countryside and you will see lots of landscapes and some wildlife from your car window. Take a walk and you will see less of the land, but a lot more wildlife. Sit still in a quiet corner and you will not see much of the habitat, but the wildlife will start to come to you. take it one step further and sit in a small portable hide and you will start to see wildlife that you did not even know was there.

I am a great sitter. There can't be many people who spend more time in small bird hides waiting for something to happen than I do. It is my favourite method of photography. I liken it to a fisherman sitting quietly by the side of a river, very relaxing.

In my early days as a bird photographer we mostly worked at birds on the nest. My prime lenses were 135mm and 200mm, so getting close was vital. I did own a 300mm, but optically it was not that good and best avoided. Nobody owned a 500mm or a 600mm then. Using a hide was the only way of being close enough to the subject and I might have half a dozen in place at any one time as they had to be moved into place slowly over several days. This inevitably led to theft and I worked on the basis of having one hide stolen every year on average. old tatty ones were left in the most vulnerable spots and new ones built every year.

Today nest photography is rare and I have not had a hide stolen for many years. I do not tend to leave canvas ones out overnight nearly so often. If I have need of a permanent hide, at a winter feeding station for instance, I make them out of wood. Wooden hides offer far more comfort from wind and rain and do not get stolen as they are too heavy to walk off with. there have been a couple of occasions when they have been burnt to the ground by someone who thought that might be fun.

My early wooden hides were elaborate. I built them to bolt together quickly and to be foldable for easy transportation. That proved to be unnecessary and today I simply nail sheets of plywood together very crudely. All I need to do is hang a hinged door. Experience has taught me that once in place I do not move them much. If I need another elsewhere I simply knock one together. I have not paid for wood for many years either. It comes from factories who take deliveries in large crates and are then stuck with the wood.

Canvas hides I still use on a regular basis. I used to build them myself to suit my own needs on the basis that the more comfortable you are in a hide the longer you are likely to stay. I favoured the old fashioned British square bird hide rather than the quick erecting pop up hides. I use the simple four uprights and four cross pieces, covered in canvas.

We vary the height of our tripods to get the shot we want so it's obvious the hide also needs to be of variable height so each of the four upright poles is telescopic. Also it is rare that I put a hide up on level ground so the poles inevitable need to be different lengths.

The cross pieces simply push into plastic joints sold for the purpose so there is no time lost screwing things together. With the frame in position I throw the fabric over it and all is in place very quickly. I like to have a zipped entrance at the rear to help keep out the drafts. On the front of the hides and on the two sides are large apertures with a panel held in place by velcro. The panel can be completely or partially pulled away and replaced with scrim netting hanging down from above.

The lens is pushed out through the scrim and I arrange it so I can see out through the scrimming along the side of the lens. this makes it so much easier to find a bird through the lens if you can look along the outside of the lens first and line up roughly on the subject. birds can't see through the scrim into the dark interior.

Underneath the three removable panels are three pockets into which I can place spare camera gear. This is very helpful when the floor is too wet or muddy to be able to place a camera bag and also acts as ballast on windy hides to stop the wall blowing about.

Also for windy days are four tabs on the outside corners of the hide for tying guy ropes to, But it is rare these get used. if the ground is soft enough to be able to push the upright poles in deep then the hide is pretty steady.

I prefer to use heavy material for the canvas as the hide is more waterproof, stable and not prone to blowing about in the wind. There is nothing worse than sitting in a hide that is flapping about all around you. It means the hides are not lightweight, but I rarely walk far with them, usually getting the car close enough to where I am working. If I do need lighter hides I have them, but they do not get much use. I even have one that is very thin and feather light that I can take abroad with me when flying. The telescopic pole are also slightly shorter to fit into hold luggage.

The colour of the hide is not that important so long as it does not stand out too much in the countryside. I have some that are DPM. (disruptive pattern material) army camouflage and others that are just a drab green. To the wildlife it makes no difference; So long as they can't see the human shape that is what matters. Size does matter though. The smaller the hide the better, especially height wise. The lower you can keep the hide the closer birds will approach it. This is for the obvious reason that we are all less nervous of something small than something that towers above us.

I keep my hides as low as possible nd the width to about 33 inches, which is more than adequate.

The stool you sit on makes the difference to comfort. When I had a proper job I discovered that office furniture was sold to different standards. there was such a thing as 24 hour office chairs designed for places that worked shifts 24/7. Buy ordinary 8 hour office chairs and they did last so long. It is the same with small camping stools. Buy the small nylon covered chairs and after 3 months they collapse. Shakespear the fishing tackle company make robust stools which are well worth paying a little extra for. I have some with a backrest and some without.

It always amazes me how little birds are bothered from noise in a hide so it is rarely necessary to sit rigidly or still and quiet. I have a small radio with earphones and read books and newspapers while waiting during any quiet periods. However, I usually find there is enough going on around me to keep me entertained by just watching the wildlife that appears when I hide myself away.

Recently I decided I needed to replace some hides and since I no longer have access to a sewing machine have them built to my specifications. As always it is cheaper to get things made in bulk so I have had more done than I need. If anyone is interested I have some for sale.

Links to images can be seen here but here are few to see the general views and here for more details including how to buy.


Many thanks for the article Mike and we wish wish you well with sales.

If any of our readers orders this or Mike's book, don't forget to give us a mention.


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