Travel: How to take great holiday snaps in the dark

Wildlife photography takes more than an idiot-proof camera and some luck. Danuta Brooke took some some much-needed lessons

"TWIST THE lens slowly," advised the guide, "And you'll be able to see into the water." All I'd seen so far was the blinding dazzle of sunlight reflecting off a wind-rippled lake. Now, just by screwing a circle of glass onto my camera lens I could see clearly to the lake bottom. Moreover, when I turned the camera upwards, the sky, which had been a harsh bright white, became softer and bluer. "That's great!" I enthused. "What's it called again?"

"A polarising filter," replied Adrian, who was not just our guide, but our course leader and nature expert for the week. ("For most of the year, he's a professional wildlife photographer.) "Ah!' piped up a fellow student. "I've got one of those somewhere ... but I never knew how to use it."

That's the problem for anyone aspiring to progress beyond a point-and- shoot automatic. You know there's a lot more you can do and that getting the right equipment can help you do it. But how and when do you use it?

The Natural History Photography course at Slapton Ley Field Studies Centre is a week-long activity holiday. Taking pictures of South Devon's flora, fauna and countryside seemed a pleasant way of working on my camera skills.

Most of the group was still gazing into the waters of Slapton Ley when someone spotted a large blue dragonfly amongst the bankside foliage. Attention and, more importantly, Adrian's expert instruction, then turned from "how to use a polarising filter" to "how to photograph small things in close-up".

Not only had I no idea how to use the built-in close-up on my camera - I didn't even know I'd got one until Adrian showed me. But before my sheepish "Oh!" was even half formed, the man next to me pointed to his lens casing and exclaimed delightedly, "So that's what MACRO means!" Any lingering worries about being out of my depth amongst loads of expert (male) snappers disappeared.

The dragonfly posed on unconcernedly, resplendent in the bright blueness of an adulthood that would last only a few weeks. Whether through vanity or indifference, it proved an obliging model, holding its position whilst 12 camera-wielding learners snapped away.

Adrian warned that we shouldn't expect many creatures to be so co-operative. And he was right. The next day we visited a marshy area of Dartmoor, near New Bridge, popular with butterflies. I found a large red and black one sitting still on a small bush. I never ascertained its species, because by the time my fully manual camera was ready to click, the little bug was fluttering off.

Patience, I discovered, is an indispensable virtue for wildlife photography. Patience - and a tripod. A tripod, according to Adrian, will improve your photography 100 per cent.

Over the next few days, I did a lot of "waiting for the right moment". A Funnelweb spider which I planned to photograph emerging from its deep and narrow lair, staged a long sit-in, despite having popped up several times whilst I'd been setting up. Restless Soldier beetles revealed the source of their nomenclature by constantly marching around. Even flora proved camera-shy. Okay, so plants can't run off but the slightest of breezes at the critical moment ensured that the rare health lobelia I'd spent ages getting into focus, became a faint pink blur.

Patience had its greatest reward on the two evening visits we paid to a badger sett. As it grew dark we stood as still as we could manage, listening out for any rustling which might herald the badger's arrival. When at last they appeared, the stiffness that was setting in disappeared with the excitement of seeing two adults and two babies emerge.

At this point, restraint as well as patience was needed. Adrian had installed two large flashlights, primed to trigger when a camera flash went off. In order to prevent constant illumination, we had to take photos one at a time, in strict rotation. Of course when Baby brock was at my feet, I was itching to press the shutter. But it wasn't my turn. And when at last it was - he'd moved away.

We took completed films into Kingsbridge for processing and discussed the results. On non-badger evenings, Adrian gave talks on techniques and equipment.

Did I fulfil my objectives? Yes, I can modestly say that my photography has improved. The course and the people on it were good fun and the cream tea, which everyone indulged in at a small hotel overlooking Start Bay, was delicious.

wildlife fact file

Basics

Natural History Photography course takes place this year for 14th to 21st August at the Slapton Ley Field Centre, Slapton, Kingsbridge, Devon. TQ7 2QP. Tel: 01548 580466

Cost

pounds 260 including full board and accommodation. Non-residents, pounds 195. Supplement for single room, pounds 30.

Accommodation and food

Most rooms are not en suite. Food is good and plentiful with a choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian dinner. Vistors can make their own picnic lunch from the supplied ingredients.

Brochure

Containing details of FSC courses at all 12 of its centres in England and Wales available from Field Studies Council, Preston Montford, Shrewsbury. SY4 1HW. Tel: 01743 850674.

Alternative courses

Non-photographer partners can attend one of four other courses running at the same time: Creative Writing; Landscape Painting and Drawing; Summer Flowers of South Devon; Dramatic Interpretation in Words and Music.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower