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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

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

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week