Written By Bethany, PA to Luke Granger Photography
Just like many self employed business owners, we can often feel as though life is 'all work and no play', but it's really important for both ourselves and the business that this feeling doesn't last for long.
For Luke, his love of photography started as a hobby which has been integrated within his work over the years. Initially as a property photographer in Kent and now as a professional photographer across the country, he regularly has a camera in hand for work, but very rarely for himself.
One of Luke's favourite ways to restore the balance and reignite his love for photography is to photograph nature and landscapes and although I don't usually join in, this time was a little different.
Anyone who knows me will know that I am not the most outdoorsy person, however, I really do enjoy new experiences and adventures. One of the perks of my job as Luke's PA, is that I am able to visit some beautiful locations across the country so I don't mind chucking on my walking boots every so often. Together, Luke and I have traveled across the Yorkshire Dales, Wales and a couple of years ago he even persuaded me to climb Arthurs Seat for a romantic sunrise. Considering it was November, pouring down with rain and Arthurs Seat is a ridiculously steep mountain (extinct volcano), it wasn't quite the peaceful trip we expected but at least we gave it a go.
Our latest nature adventure was something that both Luke & I had been looking forward to for some time and I am excited to be able to share some of the fantastic photographs we took whilst we where there.
Visiting a Wildlife Photography Hide
Organised by Chris Chambers (who as well as being a good friend of Luke's and an award winning photographer; also runs a series of training workshops for photographers to learn and practice new skills), we travelled to a custom build nature hide near Stamford in Lincolnshire run by local company, Wildlife Photography Hides. 24 hours of photography fun was on the cards and it certainly didn't disappoint.
Wildlife Photography Hides is run by 'European Wildlife Photographer Of The Year' winner Tom, who in recent years has created a handful of wildlife hides for likeminded individuals to use. The fact the hides have been designed for photographers, by photographers means that an awful lot of thought and consideration has gone into creating the perfect environment for both the photographers and animal guests that visit.
Having never experienced a photography hide before I was unsure what to expect, but I was really impressed with the facilities within The Pond Hide itself; there was certainly no slumming it here. With a range of spaces to use, each with comfy seating and carpeted flooring plus the benefits of a kitchenette and a traditional log burner made the place nice and cosy. The addition of a compostable toilet was welcome and the recently refurbished hide meant there was plenty of storage space too. What more could you ask for?
The area surrounding the hide has been adapted with the wildlife in mind so it felt really peaceful and instantly as though we were at one with nature. Once we had arrived and settled it was around 6:30pm and with a range of lighting already in place, it was just a case of waiting patiently for the wildlife to venture out.
Photographing A Grey Heron
With two Canon R6's (one with a 70-200 lens and another sporting a Sigma 150-600 lens) Luke set up one camera overlooking the pond and another overlooking the hedgerows where the owls perch.
We expected to be waiting for sometime before any wildlife made a grand arrival but before long a beautiful Grey Heron arrived and it was a really peaceful sight to see. He stood proudly in the water, clearly taking in the surroundings and listening out for other visitors. Occasionally, he would fly off for a little while and then return again for some more fish and kept repeating this cycle until around 11:30pm.
Patience isn't Luke's strongest life skill so it was great that when the Heron wasn't visiting we were able to look out for the Owls instead. Having a variety of wildlife all in one place certainly had its benefits, proof that with fantastic planning from both Tom & Chris The Pond Hide was a great place to visit.
Photographing An Otter in the Wild
In real life, Otters are not quite the cute and cuddly species that initially spring to mind when you first think of them. They stalk their prey through the water and are fairly vicious eaters, I never really considered them as being a predator but seeing them in the wild, really changed my opinion. Sorry Otters but you were not my favourite visitor.
It wasn't until we actually looked back at some of the photos of the Heron that we saw the Otter had been lurking in the water for some time; perhaps the fear of getting his legs bitten is why our Heron friend decided to fly off and not return.
Photographing Wild Tawny Owls
With an abundance of hedgerows and trees to nest in, the nocturnal birds come out each night and are regular visitors to The Pond Hide. With a series of tree stumps and posts positioned in front of the hide, there was plenty of variety from a photographers perspective about gaining a range of shots. Clearly the owls are comfortable with the surroundings, because otherwise they would naturally set up home elsewhere.
The owls were the least cooperative visitors during our visit but as Chris had kindly laid out a selection of mice they did stop for a quick midnight feast but chose not to stay around for too many photos, perhaps they were feeling a little shy today.
Although owls are often portrayed as peaceful and gentle creatures, it's important to remember that they are natural predators who need to hunt to stay alive. I imagine that some readers may feel that an owl eating is a little too graphic to photograph, but we feel it's important to embrace all aspects of nature. After all, animals have to eat.
Throughout the night the animals came and went as they pleased whilst Luke used his wildlife photography skills to capture them in all their glory. Moving from room to room as needed, using flash triggers with lighting equipment set up outside, it was a great experience that kept him on his toes watching for their return.
The train style seating was a perfect place for me to snuggle up in my sleeping bag and although Luke had a short nap during the night he waited until the morning to properly rest. We had taken a selection of food and drink with us to snack on which kept me happy and my job was to give Luke a nudge when the Kingfishers arrived.
Photographing Wild Kingfishers
The Kingfishers were my favourite part of our 24 hour visit to The Pond Hide so I was delighted that they were so active. First arriving at around 7am, both the male and female took time away from their nest to enjoy hunting in the sunshine.
It was fascinating to see how fast the Kingfishers dived but also learn more about them as a species. Did you know that a Kingfisher needs to eat its body weight of fish each day? They take around 45 minute to digest each meal and once they teach their young to dive, they send them off after just 4 days! It was interesting to see a well fed Kingfisher fly off and then around an hour later it would come back looking so much slimmer. They really were fascinating birds.
The male (black beak) appeared to be a more accurate fisherman, returning from each dive with a fish almost every time, whilst the female (Coloured lower beak) occasionally missed but had determination to try again almost straight after. Both would thrash their fish against the branch to stun it before eating it head first, apparently to ensure a streamline swallow against the fishes fins.
Luke set up one of his camera's for me to use so I was poised on the trigger ready to capture each of the dives and although I am not a photographer myself, I really enjoyed the experience. I got a bit of a thrill every time I caught a dive so I can see why professional photographers find wildlife photography so enjoyable. (Lets not mention the amount of times I missed)
Photographing A Little Egret
In between our visits from the Kingfishers we also had a couple of Little Egret's stop by. They would swoop down, have a little wander or a fish before flying back off again.
I felt they were quite unassuming birds at first but the more I watched them go about their day, they appeared more graceful and dainty.
As our day at The Pond Hide drew to a close, we were delighted to have had so many visits from our new animal friends but it was time to leave and get back to our home comforts. Our 24 hour experience was a great way to unwind and we left feeling a little more connected with nature, albeit rather sleepy.
If you are looking for a similar experience, I would recommend getting in contact with Chris who can discuss the different options available. Chris is a fantastic wildlife photographer who can offer a range of advice depending on your ability and experience behind the camera. Naturally, you have to accept that you may not see anything, but as a regular visitor, Chris understands the general habits and has experience in encouraging them to visit.
The facilities within the hide were great; with a stove to heat water or food if needed plus a sink and plenty of room to store your belongings comfortably I really couldn't fault it. I will admit I was a little dubious about the compostable toilet, but it really wasn't an issue as it was so well designed. We visited Mid April but found that as long as the log burner was kept topped up (and we had our layers on) we stayed nice and warm, there was plenty of room for a small group to share the hide and It's certainly an experience we recommend. We hope to return again in the future or perhaps visit one of the other hides available.
All unwatermarked photographs featured on this blog were taken on my phone, as you can see I am not a photographer but I wanted to show you a little from behind the scenes.