an insight into wildlife photography

1 An Insight into Wildlife Photography with Will Nichol ls

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An Insight intoWildlife Photographywith Will Nicholls

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Thank you for downloading this free


My name is Will Nicholls, and I am a young

professional wildlife photographer from

the UK. I live in Northumberland, where I

am surrounded by wildlife. It is a wildlife

photographer’s dream!

This eBook will look through some of my

favourite images I have taken, and tell

you how I got each shot. I’ve also included

all the technical details of each image, tohelp you work out what kind of camera

settings are good for different scenarios.

Any techniques described here have been,

or will be, covered by Nature TTL in more

detail. Stay subscribed to our newsletter,

and we will send you the latest and best

tutorials from our team of experts. Our

contributors are some of the best naturephotographers in the world, so you are in

good hands!

I first started taking photographs in 2007,

and have loved it ever since. The first

photos I took were of some sheep in the

fields around my house, and I thought they

were great images! Looking back, they

were not very good at all!

However, with a lot of practise and

persistence, I have managed to improve

my technique and capture better images.

Nobody’s photos are perfect, and every

photographer will be able to tell you

imperfections with their own work.

We are all still learning, including myself

and all the contributors at Nature TTL!

If you are reading this and you are newto photography, then I hope this eBook

provides you with some inspiration for

your next shots.

Once again, thank you for downloading

this eBook and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Please note, images in this eBook are

under copyright protection and cannot

be reproduced, redistributed, or altered

in anyway without written permission

from Will Nicholls.

Prints and other products can be

purchased at

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How Do You Do?Northumberland, UK




Shutter Speed


ISO Speed


Nikon D700


1/125 second



Nikon ML-3


Red squirrels make up a large portion

of my portfolio. They are extremely

charasmatic and a joy to photograph.After taking thousands of images of

them with my telephoto lens, I decided

it was time for a change. So, I picked

up a wide-angle lens instead, and tried

some remote-triggered photography.

I put the camera in position in the

woodland, ensuring that the backdrop

had some interest within it. The nature

of the wide-angle lens includes detailof the surroundings in the image. I

attached a remote-controlled trigger

to the camera, allowing me to fire

the shutter from the hide. Focus and

other settings were chosen manually

beforehand, and I would pray that

conditions did not change drastically

while I was waiting.

After some time, the first squirrel

investigated. The click of the shutter

sent him running into the trees,

“chucking” angrily at me. Even so, the

lure of the hazelnuts was too much

for him, and he quickly returned for a


Soon enough, the squirrels were happily

posing in front of the camera whilst Ifired off a burst of images.

This technique is extremely good fun to

do, and it feels like Christmas has come

around once more when you get to look

through your photos at the end.

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Immature Little OwlNorthumberland, UK




Shutter Speed


ISO Speed


Nikon D700


1/200 second



Manfrotto Tripod

Little owls are not native to the UK,

but they seem to fit in very well to

the British countryside. Luckily for me,there was a pair of little owls nesting

nearby to my home. I acquired access

to the land, and set up a hide facing the

nesting area.

I left the hide in position for a couple of

weeks, allowing the owls to get used to

it and so minimise disturbance. These

owls come out in daylight, which is a

photographer’s dream.

The first time I visited the hide, I was

planning to see if they would accept my

presence or not. The last thing I want to

do is disturb an animal at its nest, so I

was just testing the water.

A couple of hours passed, and there was

no sign of any owls. I was disappointed,

as it seemed to me that they werefrightened of me being in the hide. I was

considering abandoning the project,

when I heard a soft screech nearby.

I looked out of the left window, trying

to see the animal which was making

the sound, and to my surprise spotted

an owl staring straight through the

camouflage netting at me. Their

eyesight is very good it seems!

The entire family of owls had suddenly

descended on the area. Luck was on my

side that day, as a juvenile owl chose

this very gnarled branch to perch on,

allowing for this shot.

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Great Grey OwlFinland




Shutter Speed


ISO Speed


Nikon D4


1/1250 second



Manfrotto Tripod

Wimberley Head

My favourite animal is the great

grey owl. They are very hardy birds,

surviving at very low temperaturesthanks to their thick downy feathers.

When I was younger, I took part in a

falconry day and was given the chance

to fly one of these owls. Ever since I’ve

wanted to photograph them in the wild!

In January 2014, I booked a very

last-minute flight to Finland to try and

see these owls. I had only two days toget a photo, as I needed to be back

in the UK later in the week. So, the

pressure was on!

The guide and I drove around many

snow-covered fields, searching

desperately for the owls. I was told a

goshawk had been killing a few of the

local owls, further reducing our chances.

Eventually we spotted an owl sitting in

a tree at the back of a field. Creeping

up with my camera, I positioned myself

in the snow. The vole you see it landing

on is dead (sourced “ethically” by using

voles already killed for research or by

locals trapping in their houses).

To our joy, the owl swooped down onone occasion, and I managed to snap

this photo.

The snow reflected the light on the

underside of its wings, making it almost

look like a painting.

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White-tailed EaglesHungary




Shutter Speed


ISO Speed


Nikon D700


1/640 second



Manfrotto Tripod

Wimberley Head

I don’t go on many trips abroad for my

photography, but another trip I have

done is to Hungary. The aim of thiswas to see the impressive white-tailed

eagles that live there.

I waited for 9 hours every day, for

5 days, in a small hide dug into the

ground. Fish were laid out as bait, which

helps the eagles through the winter

time. This is necessary as the fisheries

they usually take their catches from

have been emptied of fish.

The first day was extremely misty,

and the weather was not looking like it

would improve. Still, the first time I saw

an eagle appear from the thick mist

was magical.

The 7-foot wingspan of these birds is

truly a sight to behold. This photo shows

an adult (left) and a juvenile (right)having a bit of a disagreement over

who should be getting the fish.

The hooded crow you can see on the

edge of the scene is just one of many

crows that surrounded the area. In fact,

it became quite difficult to get a picture

that didn’t have an out of focus crow

obscuring part of the picture. Every

situation has its own unique challenges.

Each day the weather improved

on the last, and by the end I was

photographing in relatively clear

conditions, much to my relief. A fantastic

trip with some fantastic birds!

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Black Grouse LekkingNorthumberland, UK




Shutter Speed


ISO Speed


Nikon D700


1/160 second



Manfrotto Tripod

Wimberley Head

Black grouse have a tough time in the

UK. As a result, they are the elusive

bird of moorland habitats. I was luckyenough to stumble upon a location for

black grouse one winter.

I was driving through some moorlands,

and spotted what looked like a black

cat on a wall (it was pretty far away).

As I got closer, I realised it was in fact a

black grouse. It wasn’t in its impressive

breeding plumage, but it still demanded

a photo to be taken.

I carefully moved forward in the car,

taking as many images as I could. I then

drove off, having taken as many shots

as I could get, to find 10 more grouse fly

off from behind the wall.

I remembered the location, and

returned in the spring. Arriving at the

area at 3am, I set up my hide in thepitch black. As soon as I zipped up

the hide door and got settled, the first

glimmer of light appeared.

I still couldn’t see anything, but I heard

the downbeat of grouse wings as they

landed in the fields. Soon the air filled

with rumbling calls of challenging


Battling with extremely low light was

difficult, but eventually there was just

enough light to capture some lekking

photographs. They are extremely

violent in their displays for female

attention, making for great images.

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Don’t Talk With Your Mouth FullFarne Islands, UK




Shutter Speed


ISO Speed


Nikon D700


1/250 second



Manfrotto Tripod

Wimberley Head

The Farne Islands are famous for its

vast population of seabirds - puffins

in particular. Nicknamed the “seaparrot” due to its brightly coloured

beak, puffins are very popular subjects

amongst wildlife photographers.

Every year they come to the Farne

Islands, which is a short drive from

where I live, and nest underground in

burrows there.

This image shows just how many fish apuffin can carry after one fishing trip.

Their beak structure ensures that the

two parts are held parallel, instead of at

angles, to ensure that they don’t drop

all the fish when they try to scoop up


They use their rough tongues to push

the fish up onto spines on the roof of

their mouth, holding them in position.

These short, stocky birds look comical

when they fly as they flap extremely

fast. This is because they are built more

for swimming, rather than flight.

Wandering around the Farne Islands

is highly recommended for a wildlife

photographer, and with patience you

will come away with photos you areproud of.

This is just a simple portrait, but I like

it because of the detail in the sandeels,

and the sheer amount of them is quite


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Red DeerHighlands of Scotland




Shutter Speed


ISO Speed


Nikon D700


1/800 second



None (handheld)

Red deer are the biggest species of

deer we have in the UK, and the males

also sport an impressive set of antlers.

The Scottish Highlands are home to

many wild red deer, and you can often

see them from the road when driving

through the hills. On such an occasion,

I pulled over and crept through the

bracken to try and get closer to the


There were two males feeding aheadof me, and everytime they bowed their

heads I would move a little closer.

Eventually, I got a lot closer than I

expected: just 10 metres or so from the

male. If this was in the rutting season, I

would be too close and risk injury, but

you can see from the photo the antlers

are still covered in velvet. At this time of

the year, the males are not aggressive.

When the stag heard me, he popped

up his head in surprise. He looks quite

shocked to see me, with his lunch still

hanging from his mouth.

Photographing from eye-level allowed

me to use the bracken in the foreground

to obscure the deer’s body. The aim

of this was to show an almost comicalimage of the stag.

When stalking animals, you may find

that at first they always hear you

or smell you and run away. But keep

practising, and you’ll get closer.

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Jumping Red SquirrelNorthumberland, UK




Shutter Speed


ISO Speed


Nikon D4


1/2500 second



Manfrotto Tripod

Wimberley Head

Red squirrels spend most of their time in

the trees, leaping to and from branches.

They are capable of some impressiveacrobatics, and this was something I

wanted to capture on camera.

I have a red squirrel hide near my

house, allowing me to spend thousands

of hours photographing them alone.

This is ideal when trying to capture a

specific shot that I have in mind.

Capturing a photo of red squirrelsleaping through the air comes with

many challenges. First of all, you need

a lot of light, to ensure a quick shutter

speed. But the biggest challenge I found

was ensuring the image was actually in


To get the shot, I set up a post with

some hazelnuts on top of it. I then

positioned a vertical stump next tothe platform, hoping that the squirrels

would leap from one to the other.

Eventually they did (apart from one,

who instead climbed up the pole and

stole the nuts), but it still took many

attempts to get this image. I would

manually focus where I thought they

would leap, and hold the shutter down

as soon as they jumped.

They are just too quick to pan with, and

so I have a lot of out of focus images.

However, luckily I have a handful of

focussed ones! It is fun to do, although

quite frustrating at the same time.

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Puffin in FlightFarne Islands, UK




Shutter Speed


ISO Speed


Nikon D4


1/160 second



Manfrotto Tripod

Wimberley Head

Photographs using a panning technique,

like this one, are sometimes “marmite

shots”. Some people like them; somedon’t.

I don’t really ever use this technique,

however I wanted to achieve a new

type of puffin image. There are so many

flight shots around, but I have not seen

any panned puffin shots. They will be

out there I am sure - but I haven’t seen

them yet!

So, I slowed down the shutter speed

of my camera greatly and hoped for

the best. Panning the camera with

the puffin, trying to achieve the same

speed, allows you to get a sharp head

and body with blurred background

and wings. This gives a great sense of

speed and movement, which was what I

wanted to achieve in this photo.

On this particular day, my Nikon

D4 decided to develop a problem.

This meant that the focussing

wasn’t working properly, and it was

increasingly difficult to get a sharp

image. I was getting very frustrated,

and eventually gave up trying.

When I got home, I reviewed the imagesand was surprised to see that I had one

frame that had actually worked. This

is the result, and I am quite pleased

with it. When you are panning, shoot as

many frames as you can and cross all

your fingers (yes, at the same time).

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Sky ScannerBass Rock, UK




Shutter Speed


ISO Speed


Nikon D4


1/160 second



None (handheld)

Bass Rock is a famous location in the

UK, as it contains a colony of over

150,000 gannets.

I’ve tried twice to land on Bass Rock,

and only once did the boat actually sail.

Upon landing, you are greeted by the

inevitable stench of a rock inhabited by

so many birds.

You are also greeted by the welcoming

snapping beaks of gannets that can

reach onto the path. Once they’vesettled down, it is great fun as you are

surrounded by potential photographic


I switched to a wide-angle for this

image, as I wanted to show the entire

scene of Bass Rock. The gannets will

take turns on the nest, whilst the other

of the pair goes to catch fish. Thewaiting bird will continually scan the

sky, looking for the return of its mate.

This shows one gannet doing just that,

and you can see in the background

the sheer amount of gannets that are

nesting on the rock. It’s amazing just

how close their nests are to each other!

When the gannet thinks it has seenits mate, it’ll rush forward making

a “honking” noise, only to look

disappointed as the bird flies on.

Eventually, its mate does return and

they reaffirm their bond by batting their

beaks together.

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