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.

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
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: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea