Report on a July 2015 wildlife photography workshop with a focus on photographing deer.
Photographing fawns and wild piglets
In July 2015, we gathered four wildlife photographers in Charente-Maritime, France to photograph fawns and wild piglets. The does calve during the months of June and July, and the piglets are born in June. During the six-day-long workshop, the participants were able to take full advantage of the area’s burgeoning, luxuriant nature. The good weather and beautiful lights of Charente-Maritime allowed them to photograph animals at their best.
The participants of the wildlife photo workshop (from left to right): Amar, Pascale, Frank, Mary et Robin.
The first day on the field
On the first day in Charente-Maritime, the group met in the late morning to eat a hearty regional lunch together. It was an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other better and for us to explain the goals of the photography trip.
After everyone was installed in their proper place, we took a four-wheel-drive Land Rover to reconnoiter the 1800 acres of forests, glades, ponds and meadows that would serve as our playground for six days. Each participant got a map marked with the paths and landmarks that they would use for orientation once alone in the field.
Around 5:00 PM, when the sun started to sink towards the horizon, it was time to practice, and the group went walking into the woods or meadows to take their first photographs. The area was divided into large geographical zones of about 380 acres each.
On the first day we accompanied two of the students to give them a personal lesson. It was their first time in the field. It is always good to show new students some tricks about using blinds or walking quietly in the woods. The others would come in for dinner at 9:00 PM. Until then, they were alone in nature.
Days divided between photography and image analysis
Everyone had the same daily schedule. A large breakfast was served each morning at 6:30 AM. Then everyone departed on foot or by Land Rover at 7. Some of the areas were quite far from the lodgings. We have found that it is best to drop photographers off at specified points so that they don’t unnecessarily wear themselves out by walking for two hours. On the field each photographer was free to choose whether they wanted to approach the animals or wait in a blind.
During each photography session, we went with one photographer to teach them how to compose good pictures using the animals and background, and to explain the terrain. Perfect knowledge of the ground is necessary for creating beautiful wildlife pictures. We showed them the best ponds for photographing wild pigs bathing and the best places to find deer and roe deer.
When we went with a student, we did not carry our own cameras. Only the student had one. We only carried our binoculars. We did not come on the trip to take pictures, but to explain to the participants how to take them.
Every morning we asked the students to come back no later than 11:00 AM. When everyone had come back, after some good coffee or tea, we reviewed their photos and gave a technical lecture. We also took time to answer questions and suggest ways to improve their photos. Usually, during our workshops, we ask the students to show us 5 photos per day.
Beside explaining how to create good photographs, we discussed camera settings, tripod placement, composition, framing, managing depth of field, aperture size, sensitivity, and speed. We also studied how much to emphasize the subjects in a photo, in both close-ups and wide angle photos. We do not photograph a 16-point buck the same way that we would a herd of eight deer. There are different settings and compositional rules for each situation, but the compositional rules are especially important. After a large, rich lunch, because we had all worked hard, we took a much-needed nap.
Then, around 3:00 PM, we met again in the big room for a presentation on computers. Wildlife photography requires special computer techniques. Every day, we talked about different topics, ranging from cropping photos properly, to noise reduction, to improving sharpness. We discussed every imaginable technical topic — even how to export images with a watermark.
Around 5:00 PM, it was time for the afternoon session. At that time of year, 5:00 was when the lights began to be the most beautiful. Again, we accompanied one photographer during each session. The others went to the assigned geographic areas. Every day, they returned around 9:00 PM for dinner.
Some photos taken by the participants
Comments of the participants
I had a great week. Everything was perfect, whether the area where we took our photos, or the atmosphere in the group. Personally, I came to this workshop to accompany my husband Frank. During the week, I learned the meaning of photography. I learned to frame and compose photographs using the lighting and background. I cannot go into the details because I learned so much.
During this class, I learned how to frame and compose my photos. Now my pictures are much better and more beautiful. I learned how to place points of interest, manage the exposure, and use colors. Before this course, when I saw an animal, I looked through the viewfinder and took a picture. Now I take the time to compose my photos. I create a stage for the animals using the background and lighting. I learned to look before taking a picture. Taking a wildlife photo is much more than pushing the button on a camera. You have to take the time to set up the background for the animals.
The area you showed us was superb. I enjoyed walking around as much as I enjoyed taking pictures. It was quiet and tranquil. I will not even try to describe the odors. It was a real experience. I enjoyed everything. I did not notice the passing of time during the week.
As for the animals we saw, I enjoyed seeing the wild pigs and red deer. I played hide and seek with them.
Regarding the organization, I appreciated the welcome we received from our hosts. Frank and I have stayed in many guest houses, but we have never received such a welcome. We were at home. We ate very well.
Your technical presentations and photography reviews were very helpful. I really progressed during the week because of your advice. The atmosphere in the group was very friendly. It felt like we were family. I am very relaxed. It was very quiet and zen.
My favorite thing about the trip was the beauty of the area where we stayed, but I will remember everything, because it was a really good workshop. We will come back. Thank you, Amar.
This workshop met all my expectations in terms of the animals that we saw, the atmosphere among the participants, and the photography techniques we learned. Everything we needed was provided at the location.
I joined this trip because I wanted to discover wildlife photography. I have been a photographer for a long time in other areas, but I had never tried wildlife photography. The main lesson I learned is that wildlife photography is not just using a camera to photograph animals. It is not that at all. It is not enough to see an animal through the viewfinder and take a picture. I learned that wildlife photography is a complex artistic expression, like other areas of photography. Amar taught us that we need to pay attention to the composition of our photos, the colors, and the animals’ body language. All of this was completely new to me.
Until this workshop, I thought that every photographic field had its own rules. With Amar, I learned to think carefully about any photos that I take before pressing the button. I learned that artistic creation is the first priority. I thought that I had to wait until an animal appeared in the viewfinder to take a photo. Amar taught me that it is necessary to create a background for the animals before I see them. I learned that wildlife photography can be very artistic.
In terms of advice for the trip, I would say not to bring books in your suitcase. We had no time to read. It was an exciting week. We were in the field eight hours a day. Then we spent time together to look at and analyze our pictures. There were also technical lectures. We ate lunch with the group. All of these elements created a friendly atmosphere. We did not have time to get bored. We ate very well, and the food was all from local sources.
The forests and meadows where we went to take our photos were beautiful. It was especially wonderful when we went walking. The house where we stayed was very comfortable. I immediately felt at home.
The area where we stayed was beautiful. It was perfectly preserved. I felt as if I had been transported to another world.
My favorite part of this class was the diversity and richness of the animal world. The area was amazing. I will always remember the walk we took together when a group of fallow deer suddenly started running towards us. It was totally unexpected.
The second thing I took away from this trip was an understanding of what wildlife photography is. I will never forget it.
I am very satisfied, and I am happy to have participated in this workshop. It has completely met my expectations. I came hoping to photograph red deer, and I was able to do that during the week. It was really great.
I came to this class with Amar and Isabelle because I wanted to learn how to compose my wildlife photographs correctly. I am a wildlife photographer, but I did not know how to properly use the background to draw attention to the animals. Amar and Isabelle gave me the advice I needed to take good photos. Now I know how to compose and frame my pictures, and how to choose my background and lighting.
During this course, I realized that wildlife photography is not only about animals. I understood that I need to pay attention to the background and the lighting. I use green gradients more now, since I understand how to use them. Now I look at wildlife photography as though I am making a set for a play. I take plenty of time to compose my photos. During this week I made great progress in both using my camera and framing and composing my photographs.
I enjoyed the beauty of the area where we stayed. Everything was beautiful and well preserved. There were no artificial elements. Everything was natural.
Photographing the animals close up, especially the red deer coming out of the ferns, was a very emotional experience for me. I especially love deer for their power and beauty. Now when I photograph red deer, I pay attention to the background and lighting as well as the animals. I love it when deer stand in the ferns.
I liked our hosts. They were charming and welcoming. The cook was excellent, and I ate very well. We could ask for whatever we wanted, and the food was excellent. The technical presentations were very good. They were easy to understand, and we were able to apply everything we learned in the field.
The atmosphere during the week was very good. The participants trusted each other completely. We stored all the cameras, lenses and accessories in one large room. Everything was fine. Where I live, that would not be possible. What surprised me most is that Amar lent his professional equipment to trainees. I had never seen a photographer lend anyone his equipment.
The first thing I will remember from this photography trip is certainly the atmosphere of the group. Amar and Isabelle were always ready to answer questions. The second thing is the magnificent region where we stayed.
I did not notice the passing of time during this week. It was a very intense, in-depth workshop. I totally lost track of time. I was constantly absorbed in my photos. Last year, I came to the workshop in September on photographing rutting deer. This year I felt more comfortable with the technique. Now I can think less about the technical side and concentrate on composing my pictures. Before this workshop, I always wondered if I was using the right speed, aperture size, or sensitivity. During this week, I did not ask myself any of those questions. I feel free from those concerns.
Since I had already attended one workshop, I remembered the techniques for approaching animals and using hunting blinds. This year I was able to get very close to wild pigs, especially piglets. It was extraordinary. I did not think that it was possible to get so close to wild pigs. These animals have a bad reputation, and people are afraid of them. But with a little bit of technique, I was able to get close enough to observe and photograph them.
I love wild piglets. They are like cartoon characters: they are innocent, and they make a lot of noise. They never stop squeaking. For me, their behavior was a total surprise. I also loved how calm the red deer were at this time of year. It was very different from the rutting season. Because it was hot, they were looking for cool places in the ferns. When I photographed some of them coming out of the ferns, I was thrilled. It was a very emotional moment.
The atmosphere in the group was very friendly. We laughed together, and we exchanged views about our photos. Talking with other photographers is very constructive and it gives me ideas for how to create better pictures. We shared tips and good locations that we had found. Unfortunately, the woods and grasslands are large and we must find the animals, which are very unorganized!
The area where we stayed was wonderful. Since I had already come once, I ventured into areas that I did not know to discover ponds and small hidden areas where I could create good photos. Since it was so hot, I had to look for animals in unusual places where it was cool. I had to push my limits.
Since this workshop, my camera has been a part of me. I do not need to pay attention to it. I see wildlife photography differently. I take pictures differently, and my pictures are closer to what I want.
If I had to name my favorite memory, it would be the time that three piglets stayed near my blind for 30 minutes. They came to eat cherry pits, and they never noticed me. It was fabulous.