On a very sunny Sunday at the start of September, I spent the day in Richmond park with two friends to give wildlife photography a go. Going to see the deer has been a bit of a project bucket list item, and we were prepped to spend the full day wandering the park to see what we could capture (photographically of course!). We weren’t as prepped for the 8 miles that we walked all across the park though – my legs have never been so sore!
Leg pain aside, I learnt a few things that I wanted to share with all of you. Yep, even from that one days worth of shoot time.
Plan your route, and prepare
Wherever you go, even if it’s somewhere you know well, it’s always worth planning your schedule and walking route. Your subjects are going to be unpredictable so it’s vitally important that you plan and control everything you possibly can as it makes responding to your subjects much easier.
We got to the park fairly early, and planned to walk against the crowd. Specifically for Richmond Park, most people walk the park anti-clockwise stopping by Pembroke Lodge first to pick up maps and refreshments, etc. We decided to go in a clockwise direction, where we knew it would be slightly quieter so we were able to find quiet spots to sit and wait in.
Also, this goes without saying but PLEASE make sure you take water and something to eat. It was really hot when I was out, and having a huge water bottle was a life saver.
Choose your hardware carefully
Streamline your kit where possible. I only took 2 lenses with me to Richmond to make sure I had the 2 things I wanted to be able to cover; watching the deer safely from a distance and some landscape images. My main lens was my 70-300mm zoom lens, and my second was my 35mm wide angle lens. Unless you’re in the middle of nowhere, or out on safari, there is no need to take tonnes of equipment. You’re the one who’ll be carrying it, and you’ll waste energy doing so if you’re not going to actually use it.
Patience is a virtue
If you do a lot of street photography work you’ll be familiar with this, but you’re not going to see what you want as soon as you rock up to your shoot location. In fact, odds are, you’ll have to do a fair bit of waiting. When we arrived, we spent our first 40 minutes wandering the start of our route just to see what the area was like, and saw no deer at all.
When we saw our first deer, I did what any one would do and immediately found a spot to sit down in with my camera. We sat with the same deer for around 45 minutes, and the majority of my time was spent sitting and watching – some people prefer to shoot continuously on burst mode during this time, but I prefer to wait for my chosen moment. That said, I’d probably relent and shift to burst mode if I was on safari with animals that move slightly faster than the deer do!
Waiting paid off though; not only did I get up close, but I managed to catch a very short moment where a crow decided to hop down and join in on the fun!
Settings are important
I changed my camera settings, and sorted my setup before getting to the park – I knew the weather wouldn’t change before I got there, and I wanted to make sure I was ready to capture what I needed as soon as it happened. It’s one of those weird situations where you’re reactive to everything going on around you, and you don’t want to miss anything.
It was really sunny when I took these shots, so I had to get the balance right between my shutter speed and my aperture in order to get clean shots that weren’t blown out or blurry. That’s right; I fell back on the old exposure triangle to select the right settings. For the majority of the day I kept my shutter speed at around 1/125 as I didn’t have a tripod and my subjects were unpredictable and moving constantly. Because there was a lot of light, my aperture settings stayed between f7 to f9. As it was a bright day, I was able to keep my ISO fairly low at around 160 so I avoided having lots of noise in my images.
These aren’t the golden rule of settings for outdoor sessions, but you need to be aware of the light you’ll be working in more than anything. You won’t always have time to go through your settings to correct them when you’re in the middle of your shoot.
I loved trying something new and giving wildlife photography a go – it was a really useful experience and I got some work I’m really proud of out of it. If you have a spare day or two, it’s worth making the effort to get yourself to the deer at Richmond Park.
Although I am super keen to get back out there to see what else I can do, you really don’t have to go too far to see British wildlife at all – on the days I can’t travel, I think I’m going to have a go at seeing what I can spot in my very own back garden.