Martin Middlebrook: How to shoot wildlife in the UK
Biography: Martin Middlebrook
Born in Lincoln in 1967, Martin Middlebrook has lived all over the world. The son of military parents, he was educated at the Royal Grammar School Worcester, and Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design. Prior to working as a photographer, he ran his own design business. His images have been used to illustrate a number of international causes including famine in Ethiopia, the reconstruction of post-conflict Afghanistan and the threats faced by Tigers in India’s national parks. He has worked for a number of clients including the BBC, GCHQ and the United Nations.
“I had a blank canvas to produce something very different with this project. I actually trained as a wildlife artist of all things, and in many ways these images are simply photographic representations of how I would paint the subject. The initial idea for this project came off the back of a trip I took to Uganda in 2008 to photograph lions. I had already started to look at some of my wildlife shots as abstract mono images, and it intrigued me how far I could take this. On a project like this, I have a very clear idea of what I want. I chose mono because it gave me a different palette to work with, which opened up new possibilities. I then applied an array of skills and techniques to guarantee the results I wanted.
Know your subject
Knowing your subject creatively is critical. You want the best aesthetic value from the animal – not just behaviourally, but creatively. I was fortunate enough to have complete and unrestricted access to these animals, which enabled me to anticipate and plan my shots. The lion is not growling or yawning, but actually tasting the air – sniffing the scent of the other pride members. I spent eight hours with the tigers on three separate occasions, and a clear pattern of behaviour emerged. The form of aggression observed in the shot is based on a proprietorial desire to keep hold of food. Knowing this, I could activate this instinct and create the shot.
Find your focus
The eye in focus is the essence of all wildlife photography. My camera will simply not focus on here, aiming for the centre of the face instead (I toggle between focus points endlessly, but for composition reasons, they often don’t sit where I want them) so for different animals, I set different depth of fields. To guarantee focus on the elephant I shot at F10. I was shooting at 100mm, so this translates to a sufficient depth of field to cover any incorrect focusing. I varied depth of field depending on all the usual parameters. My bottom line was focus and shutter speed. To maintain F10, I shot at 400 ISO. An elephant moves slowly, so I had bags of speed (1/160 sec).
Shoot wide or close, change your angle in relation to the subject, under-expose or over-expose. The majority of these shots were taken with a 100-400mm lens, cropped right into the subject. It was appropriate, I wanted tight portraits, shallow depth of field and control over backgrounds. I wanted to take dramatic shots that suited the subject, and this worked best. So you should always be flexible in lens choice and depth of field. Also, you should consider your angles.
Martin’s kit bag
- I use two cameras: a Canon 5D and a 5D MkII with a17-40mm Canon IS L series lens and the 24-105mm IS L series lens. This combination covers many bases. I also have a 50mm 1.4, which I use for portraits and advertising work where I want real control over background blur. I don’t completely buy into the idea that all those extra stops of light give you speed in low light. Shooting at F1.4, your depth of field is so shallow that your hit rate on a moving subject is terrible. If the subject isn’t moving, chuck the camera on a tripod in low light and you have all the speed you want. So I use large apertures for creative control, not speed. For this reason I also use a Tamron 90mm F2.8 macro. It’s my favourite lens, and it’s an example of buying a lens that gives me real return.
- Finally I have a 100-400mm IS L series lens. I have this instead of the 500mm F4 because of the options it allows me. I can use it for almost any outdoor photography, from portraits to events, advertising to wildlife. In total, I can go from 17mm to 400mm, with a macro and portrait lens thrown in. This is my philosophy.
- In addition I have two Speedlite 580X flashes, one for each body, a Manfrotto tripod and Monopod, a shutter release (essential – everyone should have one), spare cards and batteries. I back everything up as I go along with an Epson Multimedia Storage Viewer. Everything fits neatly in a Lowepro backpack.
- I don’t take anything else apart from appropriate clothing. Comfort is everything. Your clothing should also suit the environment, it should allow you to disappear.
This feature is from the January 2010 issue
Back issues can be ordered by calling 01858 438840 or by sending an email to email@example.com
Back to Categories
- Average Article Rating 0 Stars
- You must be a registered user & logged in to rate this.
Login | Register