In photography everyone’s always chasing the unique shot. Whether that’s fantastic landscapes, rare wildlife, or just a different perspective that makes the shot stand out from the crowd. But chasing those unique shots often blinds you to the beauty of the everyday things around you.
Take one of my recent walks. I love the walk along the Nevern Estuary that leads past Newport in Pembrokeshire. It’s only a short stretch, but it snakes through woodland at the side of the estuary to give glimpses of the estuary, dunes, boats, and Dinas Island in the distance. Seabirds line the sandbanks at low tide and waders tend to stroll along the shoreline in search of food. Finding something to photograph is always easy. I’ve got some unique shots there, a buzzard staring at its reflection in the water, a cattle egret fishing at low tide, I even caught a kingfisher in action. It was only a blur, but the excitement was fantastic. A kingfisher!
But on my last walk I concentrated on the common birds hopping around in the undergrowth at the side of the path.
In the UK, blue tits can be found pretty much everywhere, but that doesn’t make them any less wonderful. They’re stunning little birds. I managed to catch one busy nest building and it sums up the sense of activity all around during my walk.
Now there’s one bird the seems to follow me around wherever I go: chiffchaffs. They never seem to show themselves, though, so I was pretty excited when I could see one hopping around in the undergrowth. Difficult to grab a shot in those conditions, but with a little patience, I managed to follow the chiffchaff along until it fluttered into an opening. Using single point autofocus is a great way to get a pin-sharp focus on your subject when taking photos through vegetation.
One thing you can guarantee when you’re near the beach is seagulls. They congregate on the estuary at low tide, dozing on the sandbanks where they’re safe from predators. They may be common, but there’s still something so graceful about them when you see one drifting by on the wind.
To grab a decent image of one in flight, you need a high shutter speed. I use aperture priority mode on my Nikon D500. It allows me to select the aperture so that I get the background blur or depth of field that I want, but then the camera always selects the highest shutter speed available. By tweaking the ISO setting, you can boost the shutter speed when conditions require it so that you get an extra few stops of speed when it’s needed.
Another thing about taking photos where there’s lots of undergrowth is the surprises it throws up. It might not be anything unique, but just catching a glimpse of a bird or animal through the twigs or ferns is a real treat. A bit of careful camera work can grab a shot and it’s treats like these that make a trip memorable. The following house sparrow was perched in the brambles next to the iron bridge leading across the estuary.
House sparrows are in decline, which is tragic. They’re such a great little bird, raucous, always active, and usually hang around in mobs to make as much noise as possible.
Walking through the wild places in the world is wonderful, but photography allows you to capture the memories along the way so that you can share them with people who weren’t there. It makes it extra special. It makes it memorable.
It’s why I love photography.