Q & A with Wildlife Photographer Rich Steel

We like to recognize great photographers and give credit where credit is deserved. We've really enjoyed Richard's photography and wanted to get to know him better so we picked his brain a little bit. We think you'll really like what he has to say!

What type of photography do you like best and why?

I concentrate my photography mainly on birds but also spend a fair amount of time photographing mammals and have a particular passion for brown hares, water voles and stoats. 

My passion for bird photography has mainly arisen from only having limited time availability due to a full time job as an environmental consultant and as birds can be found everywhere they are ideally suited to short photography sessions. Frequently I will have brief sessions with the camera before and after work and even during my lunch break!

Most of my wildlife photography, where possible, is undertaken at very close range as I love that intimate contact with wildlife and sharing time with birds and mammals as they go about their daily routine.  I also like to see the beauty in the common species, which are often overlooked, and is often only revealed through this close contact. I like to share these experiences with people through my long running blog the ‘Wildlife Photographic Journals’ which can be seen at http://wildlifephotographic.blogspot.com

What is one tip you would give to a beginner photographer?

 

One tip is difficult, so I will cheat a little here and try and wrap up several in a single sentence :). My suggestions would be to get to know your camera kit very well so you can react quickly to changing situations, try and get level with your subject, think about your background, get to know where wildlife can be found in your local area, concentrate on particular species and practice field craft to enable you to get close to your subject. Did I mention practice, practice and practice and that the quality of light is key?

Many wildlife photography opportunities during the course of a year have a very limited time window which is often only around a couple of weeks. With time you can learn when these periods are and direct your efforts accordingly. I keep a timetable in my head on where my limited time can be most effectively spent throughout the year to maximise results.

 

Where is your favorite place to travel and to photograph?

Eastern Europe is very high on my list at the moment having been to Hungary last year and just returned from a trip to Romania and the Danube Delta. The diversity and abundance of birds in these countries is nothing short of amazing. Many species that rarely appear in the UK, if ever, are common in these countries and it is always great feeling to have a new species in front of the lens.

The UK offers many great sites for wildlife photography, particularly for colonies of sea birds. One of my favourite venues is Bempton Cliffs in east Yorkshire which is the UK’s only mainland gannet colony. This site has the advantage that you are not reliant on the right sea conditions to reach an offshore island colony. An afternoon spent at Bempton in the right conditions in terms of wind direction is always enjoyable and productive for flight photographs of gannets and other sea birds.

When travelling overseas the biggest headache for the wildlife photographers transporting long-lens is negotiating airport check-in and security. I always try and chose airlines which tend to have size limits on hand baggage rather than weight. I am then confident with my Canon kit safely packed away in a Gura Gear bag that I will sail through the check-in process with no issues, as I did last week. This is what first brought me to Gura Gear bags in the first place, originally the Kiboko, and now the slightly bigger Bataflae since I upgraded to a 600mm lens.

I know you have not asked me about your products but I am going to tell you why I consider your bags essential to me for overseas travel. The bag is light, robustly constructed and designed, offers good protection to the camera kit, has straps that can be tucked away during the airport check-in process and more importantly seem to accommodate inexplicably large amounts of equipment despite their external size. I sometimes wonder if the bags include a portal into the 4th dimension! For my latest trip, the Bataflae comfortably held two Canon 1D bodies, a 300mm F2.8 lens, a 600mm F4 lens and various accessories.

Who is a photographer you have looked to for inspiration?

I try and draw inspiration from many different types of photographers but those whose work on bird photography I particularly admire in terms of technique and approach would be Bence Mate from Hungary and Markus Varesvuo from Finland.

I am also fortunate to be very good friends with Andy Rouse and we have spent many enjoyable sessions photographing wildlife in the UK together.

Why did you decide to get into photography?

I came to where I am in photography through a rather strange route. I am trained as a fish scientist and after acquiring a large tank of African cichlids for my home decided it would be fun to photograph them and capture some of their unusual behaviour. I worked hard at this and ended up using all types of multi-flash techniques to get the lightning correct. I guess like many photographers I am always seeking perfection. Obviously there are only so many photographs you can take of the same fish, so I started visiting public aquariums and then moved on to zoos. I spent about a year going around as many zoos as I could find photographing animals, birds and reptiles.

Looking back now, this zoo time provided me with a really good training ground as you have to think hard to get around the constraints of the enclosure to produce a natural looking photograph. Many of the lessons I learnt from the zoo stay with me to this day when I am out in the field. I then decided it was time to let myself loose of some wild birds and mammals and have not looked back since. Incidentally I still enjoy the occasional trip to the zoo.

The Internet is a great resource for the wildlife photographer particularly for identifying opportunities or researching places before you visit. I often feel that there are some photographers though who would benefit more from talking less about focal length, manufacturers and megapixels and spending some time in the field actually taking photographs.

 

Here are some examples of Rich's excellent work. For more photos and stories head to Rich's blog: http://wildlifephotographic.blogspot.com