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Phototuts+ Reader Profile: Colin Varndell

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Today we're running our first ever "reader profile" - an interview with a remarkably talented wildlife photographer, Colin Varndell. Colin is renowned for his outstanding wildlife and natural history photography. His work is reproduced nationally and internationally in books, magazines, calendars, newspapers and is regularly used for advertising purposes.

Please tell us a little about your background. Do you have a traditional education in photography, or have you moved into the field from another profession?

I am a self-taught photographer. I spent the first half of my adult career in the construction industry and took up photography in 1976. Throughout the 1980’s I developed my work as an amateur nature photographer. I found my work being used more and more in national magazines and books which gave me the incentive to go professional. I gave up full time employment to concentrate on nature photography in 1989.

The majority of seasoned photographers find and specialise in a particular niche. Which area of photography interests you the most, and why?

My main interest is in British natural history, although I have also found it important to cover as broad an area of subject matter as possible. So in addition to everything wild I also photograph agriculture, weather, horticulture and the occasional wedding.

Could you outline how you approach a wildlife photography shoot, in terms of planning, preparation and positioning yourself to capture the perfect image?

This depends upon the subject, wild mammals being the most difficult. They take a lot more planning and preparation than say birds or insects. The fox for example is a favourite subject of mine. The first step is to find wild foxes living in a particular location and then to spend time watching them. Once I have identified a fox’s regular habits and movements to a den or a supply of food I wait until the weather conditions are favourable, take along a portable hide and set it up so that any available breeze is in my favour.

Are there any useful tips and techniques you rely on (and would be happy to share!) when shooting wildlife photography?

  • From a hide, only move your lens as a subject looks away.
  • Make sure there is always space on the side an animal or bird is facing in the final image.
  • Concentrate hard and be ready for that special moment when an animal does something other than simply pose.
  • Always wait that extra minute or hour in case something extraordinary happens.

What photography equipment and software do you use on a regular basis, and why have you chosen this particular setup?

I use Nikon cameras with Nikkor telephoto lenses and macro lenses. I have always found Nikon equipment to be reliable and the lenses pin sharp. I do not do much post processing so Adobe Photoshop Elements is more than adequate for my purposes. In Photoshop I normally adjust levels and curves and leave it at that.

You regularly organize various photographic events and workshops throughout the year. How do you feel these help someone to improve their photography, and what should our readers look for when choosing a workshop to attend in their local area?

I regularly organise photo workshops. I feel that most people enjoy the fact that they are totally immersed in photography during these events, so that is how I aim to organise them: non-stop photography. I lead people to special locations which have taken me years to find. Most people enjoy the fact that they are not only developing their photographic skills but also increasing their knowledge of the natural world.

They learn from the compositions that I set up with my own equipment and the questions I answer in the field on technique generally. I also issue up to date factsheets for every workshop with my latest thoughts on the relevant subjects being covered. In addition, they learn from other participants.

When choosing a workshop make sure there are alternative arrangements for inclement weather conditions.

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring wildlife photographers, what would it be?

Keep it simple!

Colin Varndell leads various photography workshops and events throughout the year. Indulge yourself and join him for a weekend of nature photography from the 11th – 13th June 2010. This three day event is based at the Kingcombe Environmental Study Centre in the heart of the west Dorset countryside.

Subjects covered will include landscape, wild flowers, butterflies, dragonflies and reptiles. For more information on this, or other photo events visit www.colinvarndell.co.uk or e-mail info@colinvarndell.co.uk.

More of Colin's Photography

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