Photographing Wildlife in Wales with Ben Porter

In this guest article, young wildlife photographer Ben Porter tells us about his experiences of photographing wildlife on the isolated shores of North Wales.

Puffins are on the top list of things to see for anyone visiting the coast, and we’re lucky to have 700 pairs breeding on a couple of offshore islands near Bardsey. I spent one afternoon taking hundreds of images with a Canon 7D and Canon 300mm f4 lens before finally nailing the shot I was after, of a bird coming in to land beside its burrow. I used a shutter speed of 1/1250th sec to capture the bird in flight, maintaining a little wing blur to convey the action.

My name is Ben Porter: I am a passionate young wildlife photographer from a small wind-battered island off the coast of North Wales. Since the age of 11 I have lived on this isolated corner of Wales, and have gradually developed a deep interest in the natural world, which I strive to capture in my imagery. I am incredibly lucky to have been brought up in such a superb location, which boasts a fantastic diversity of wildlife.

Bardsey Island is located a couple of miles off the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula. Situated in the tumultuous Irish Sea, the island receives its fair share of extreme weather conditions, and the winter months present an ever-changing canvas of blues, whites and greys as ferocious waves and sea spray dominates the horizon.

From a photographer's point of view, living on Bardsey presents a unique opportunity to capture the wildlife that inhabits it's shores. During spring and autumn, the island provides a perfect stop-off point for migratory birds as they pass through en route to their summer breeding grounds or southern winter haunts. Avian migration can be quite a sight, with thousands of birds arriving in off the sea in spring - exhausted from their long journeys from southern climes.

A Snakelocks Anemone’s tentacles gently waft to and fro in the ocean swell – a typical scene beneath the surface around Bardsey’s coast. I used a GoPro Hero3 to capture this image whilst attempting to shoot some footage of the marine wildlife o a calm summer’s day.

In addition to migratory passers-by, Bardsey is also an important breeding site for some unique species. Manx Shearwaters descend on the island in spring after spending the winter off the coast of South America. Over 20,000 breeding pairs of these remarkable seabirds call Bardsey home, filling many a night with their curious wailing calls as they visit their burrows. Whilst on the theme of seabirds, it's worth saying that the jagged sea cliffs swell with the arrival of thousands of Guillemots and Razorbills, hundreds of Kittiwakes, Shags, Cormorants, Puffins and Fulmars.

As part of an on-going project on Bardsey’s Manx Shearwaters, I used a Canon 6D in combination with a 15mm fisheye lens and a 30 second exposure to capture this image. This is one of my favourite so far, but took a lot of effort to get right! I used a dim head torch to illuminate the subject, and re-focussing within the exposure to turn the focus from the bird to the stars, maintaining detail in the night sky.

Another key bird species occupying the island is the Red-billed Chough - a scarce species of crow with striking red beak and feet. In addition to a breeding population of around nine pairs, the winter months see a flock as large as 50 descending onto one of the island's beaches, which provides a superb opportunity to photograph these charismatic birds. There is a multitude more birdlife that goes unmentioned: elusive Little Owls hiding in gorse bushes, Peregrines sweeping across the sky, Linnets, Meadow Pipits and a host of common breeding birds, Oystercatchers piercing the seaside silence throughout the summer, and myriad other visitors and residents that provide endless subjects for an avid photographer.

As part of an on-going project on Bardsey’s Manx Shearwaters, I used a Canon 6D in combination with a 15mm fisheye lens and a 30 second exposure to capture this image. This is one of my favourite so far, but took a lot of effort to get right! I used a dim head torch to illuminate the subject, and re-focussing within the exposure to turn the focus from the bird to the stars, maintaining detail in the night sky.

Moving on to some of the island's larger residents, Atlantic Grey Seals lounge around in the bays throughout summer and winter, producing their cute, fluffy offspring from September to Christmas time. Cetaceans like Risso's Dolphins are a common sight off the shores, where they calf and make use of the rich marine ecosystem surrounding the isle. Plunging beneath the waves opens up a whole new world to explore with the camera, although I have only recently attempted some underwater photography with the robust little Lumix FT5. A lush forest of seaweeds such as kelp provide homes for Cuckoo Wrasse, Snakelocks Anemones, Spider Crabs, Common Blennies and Blue-rayed Limpets to name but a few. Snorkelling also allows for some amazing interactions with a few of the inquisitive Grey Seals.

Grey Seal pups are always a delight to photograph, but this particular individual late in the season provided some great opportunities. Late one afternoon, the fading light was a fantastic golden colour – true to the name of the ‘golden hours’ – and made for some lovely backlit images as the pup stretched and fidgeted about. This was taken with a Canon 7D and Canon 300mm f4.

Whilst mammals, birds and sealife are all fantastic, one of the key areas that I enjoy spending time exploring and photographing is the invertebrate life. Moths, butterflies, spiders, dragonflies and all manner of intriguing insects abound on the island during spring and summer, which provides a great time to experiment with different macro photography techniques. I enjoy taking a wider stance on macro subjects at times, using the Canon 16-35mm f4 to include more of the insect's habitat whenever applicable. Most of the time, however, I enjoy using the superb Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens to delve into the micro world.

I used a Canon 15mm fisheye lens in combination with my Canon 7Dmkii to photograph this pretty moth species so as to incorporate the wider environment into the image. The clover and spotted orchids in this damp meadow provided a pretty foreground to include, and so I used an f/stop of 8.0 to provide some detail in the background.

Although I am not inherently a landscape photographer, the clarity and darkness of the island's night skies make for some superb night-scapes. The island's 30 metre red-and-white striped Lighthouse casts out its red beam into the darkness at night, but besides this there is virtually no light pollution: this means that the celestial display is pretty superb, and some of my current photography projects are focussed on capturing some of the island's wildlife at night-time with the backdrop of the night sky. The image of the Manx Shearwater earlier in the post is one such image.

This image is a combination of six portrait shots stitched together to create a panoramic from the South End of Bardsey. I used a Canon 6D with its superb low-light performance capabilities and a Canon 15mm f2.8 lens to take the 15 second exposures neceasssary to capture the milky way overhead. The night sky on Bardsey is superb, although the light pollution from the mainland is clearly evident in this shot!

I took advantage of some clear, moonless nights in May to try capturing some night-time images of flowering foxgloves on the island. Here I used a Canon 6D and Canon 15mm fisheye lens to photography this little cluster with Bardsey Lighthouse glinting in the background. A dim head torch did the trick to illuminate the flowers during the 20 second exposure.

Although I am now studying at university, I will always 'belong' to this special little gem amongst the waves, which has really shaped my appreciation for the natural world and how to produce images that capture its splendour. I hope you enjoyed the blog, and if you like my photography you can find more of my work by checking out my website (www.benporterwildlife.co.uk)

This image was taken a few years ago now, when a large influx of Short-eared Owls occurred in the autumn. I was lucky to latch onto this bird with my Canon 7D and Canon 100-40mm lens as it sped past, shooting me a piercing sideways glance with its bright yellow eyes. An shutter speed of 1/1250th sec was just about enough to ‘freeze’ the bird in flight

Further Reading:

Park Cameras Calendar Competition Results

The Best A3 Photo Printers Under £500

The 14 Best Mirrorless Cameras in 2017

Focus On: Canon L-Series Lenses

Shooting Wildlife with Andy Rouse

Autumn Landscapes with David Clapp

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Review


Unknown said...

wonderful Ben

Cadence Gig Shots said...

Diolch Ben. Cadwch y ffydd a dw i'n gobeithio bydd eich amser at brifysgol yn llwyddianus

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