Stepping into another’s shoes: my guest blog for Alexandra Prescott

Guest Blog: Wildlife for Alexandra Prescott

From wildlife to debris that is running wild across the planet one would think the work of Alexandra Prescott and myself were poles apart. However that would be an erroneous assumption. We both seek, look and examine in detail. It is a form of ‘hunting’ but in neither case harm is intended. In fact quite the opposite. We are both intending to raise awareness of man’s impact on the world in which we live.

Our methodologies are somewhat different. Although we both venture out with ideas of ‘capturing’ images of particular animals or debris, Alexandra has a more clearly defined schedule and plan for her work. Her detailed knowledge of the best times and locations to ‘shoot’ specific creatures in Scotland are an example. In contrast I never know what to expect although with experience I have an inkling of what is likely to be found.

Whereas Alexandra may set up a base and wait for her subject matter with tripod and cameras with telephoto lenses, I walk and try to spot inanimate materials, carrying a camera, usually with one lens and a camera phone.
More recently there has been a convergence with our work. For some time I have been able to show some of my finds in context, for example with the beach and sea in the background rather than having the subject matter fill the majority of the image. In this way a connection has already been made between the the location and the issue of marine debris for the viewer. Alexandra has been photographing both wild and domesticated animals with human activity in particular locations.

This spring I had an opportunity to photograph Tawny owls growing up in my garden. I have always had an interest in and a desire to improve my wildlife photography. I admire the work of Gordon Buchanan, wildlife photographer and presenter (e.g. Brunt, 2011). Knowing something of Alexandra’s work in focussing on a limited number of species at specific times of year, I wondered if I might be able to study the owls over time and how I could do this without disturbing them.

My first encounter was by chance, so no preparation for what I found in terms of careful setting up of a ‘hide’ which in my case would be a discreet observation point as I do not have a portable setup. I was taking a landscape view from my garden across fields to the sea. Something made me turn left towards a tree where the is an owl box and I was being watched by what I later found out was the parent of three owlets. I am sure Alexandra will have had moments as I did freezing to the spot not daring to move and hardly daring to breathe. My attention focussed on changing camera settings with no jerky movements, standing as still as I could and focussing on taking close ups of the owl. This meant that I was not in the best position as the owl box and branches detracted from the shots. The owl was not going anywhere, it was enjoying being based in warmth as the sun came up on a beautiful still day. It was I who walked away.

Sarah Newton Being watched taking landscape images, 2018
Sarah Newton, Tawny Owl keeping an eye on me, 2018

The second encounter was similar, also unplanned, when I was near to the location for the first ready to take photographs of the landscape. Again a feeling (that something was different or perhaps of being watched) made me turn and really look at a fallen tree. Blending in with the colours of the branches and shaded by the foliage were three small owlets looking at me! Another heart stopping moment and my attention was once again diverted.

Sarah Newton Three Tawny Owlets 1, 2018

Subsequently I visited these and other locations in my garden and fields and had many such encounters. I knew that dawn and dusk would be the times to see the owls from past experience with barn owls. It was easy to monitor their behaviours and know when they were active as their calls gave them away. Interestingly the three owlets remained together following and calling each other while waiting to be fed then hunting for themselves and finally, one by one, flying off the establish their own territories.

Sarah Newton Three Tawny Owlets 2, 2018
Sarah Newton Three Tawny Owlets 3, 2018

What have I found out about myself and my photography? Patience is key. I seem to have used my walking and chance encounter approach to my debris with the owls by walking to the vicinity where I could hear their calls. However being able to move may mean that I catch some images that would no be possible if in a hide with a tripod set up. Not to be intrusive and disturb them is essential. I did feel protective on one occasion but unable to interfere (I could not get to the location and should ‘let nature take it’s course’) as a large crow attacked an owlet. It survived as the parent saw the attacker off. Being more prepared, perhaps taking a chair and tripod to the area they were in and spending more time with them would have given me more and clearer images. Having a camera that can take photographs in low light without necessitating very high ISOs and having a longer lens would be helpful. My images were taken with 24-120 and 55-300 zoom lenses.

There is so much more to learn and I feel I am only just beginning an exciting and never ending journey.

Prescott, Alexandra. 2018. Alexandra 421 – A Journey – Critical Research Journal. Available at: https://alexandra421.wordpress.com/. accessed 20-07-2018

Brunt, Lara. 07 January 2011. Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan: Part 1. Wanderlust Travel Magazine. Available at:https://www.wanderlust.co.uk/content/wildlife-cameraman- gordon-buchanan/. accessed 20-07-2018

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