Wild about Wildlife Photography!
Being an amateur wildlife and nature photographer based in Norfolk I am spoilt for choice on options of nature reserves and beautiful landscapes. But there are very few that feel as special as a trip around the 170 acres of Watatunga, with some of the rarest and most spectacular birds, deer and antelope from around the world roaming free around the reserve, and it’s just up the road from King’s Lynn. I have been fortunate enough to visit Watatunga on the tutored and untutored photographic tours and loved the place so much I have taken friends and family back to the guided buggy tours.
So how did my Watatunga experiences originate? It goes back to the last night of the Royal Norfolk show, a lovely sunny evening and I was leaving the beer tent I was distracted by a stand with some rather large antlers on display. Andy and Julian, both part of the Watatunga team, ran me through everything about the reserve and then let me bore them with some photography chat. They told me that there were sessions scheduled specifically for photographers. They explained that these sessions are longer and allow extra freedom to get out of the trailer the best angles you can for the photographs.
When I got home, I immediately went to the website and booked the intermediate photography experience, led by Helen Black. This session sounded like an excellent idea, to be guided by an established photographer around the reserve and maybe pick up on some tips and tricks that I didn’t know myself.
Skip forward to the day, and I arrived to the session a little nervous as to what I was doing driving towards a quarry with some fairly heavy rain setting in for the evening. We were greeted at reception by Helen and to my surprise it was Julian and Andy from the Royal Norfolk show joining us for the session too.
The group settled in with a coffee and broke the ice with some introductions, starting with Helen and working around the group establishing what our photography level was and what kit we had brought with us. I’ll break down what I took with me:
- Camera Body – Canon R6 MKii
- Lens – Canon 500mm f4
- Extra’s – 2X extender, Canon 100-400mm f4-5.6 Lens, spare batteries and memory card
After introductions, Helen took us through a bit of her portfolio and ran through the basics of nature photography and what settings are best for you to use. Helen ran through the information and catered to everyone’s needs regardless of what level they were. During these introductions, we as a group were hoping that the weather would pass over us, but unfortunately it didn’t and it was time for us to brave the elements and get onto the reserve…
We joined Julian and Andy at the trailer (which had some cover to block some of the rain) and set off down the track to the reserve entrance. This was super exciting and almost felt like we were on a safari or just about to enter Jurassic Park!
Any worries that the bad weather would scare off the animals was quickly put to bed as we were greeted into the reserve by the 2 water buffalo and some of the Pere David’s deer by the first of the lakes. On the lake there were plenty of birds including a Stork, which was a first for me to see.
As we passed through the next couple of fields of the reserve towards the second of the two lakes, we saw even more species and got some great photographic opportunities, getting out of the trailer to capture some shots of the Eurasian cranes, Sika and Hog deer.
As we got to the lake, we were met by a sea of noise with the notable whistling sound of the white-faced whistling ducks drowning out the others. The noise was followed by a wall of the birds making their way up to the trailer to investigate, and get some feed. My favourite capture from these birds was one of some of the red breasted geese nicely lined up for me.
From here we made out way around to meet Rommel the Great Bustard, once again we were allowed to leave the trailer to get an optimal photographic position. Throughout the tour I was chatting with Helen who had the same camera set up as me and leant me her 1.4X extender to get a great shot of Rommel.
As we continued through the rain to the other side of the lake, we were greeted by some of the other Bustards, a Nile lechwe, White lipped deer and Blesbok once again posing for some excellent captures! We even had a hare join in the action.
The tour continued and we made our way through the reserve seeing some of the Blackbuck, the glorious Scimitar Horned Oryx and the massive presence of the Eland keeping a careful watch over us through the rain and the grass which made for an amazing capture.
As we started to make our way back to reception, looking forward to drying off with a cup of tea we caught a glimpse of one of the most spectacular animals I’ve seen, Mtoto the Bongo. We turned around to stop, with Julian managing to get Mtoto to come out of the woods for us to get some fantastic captures, this is where some of the advice from Helen was valuable for a lot of us on tour with dying light now playing a major issue for any captures.
Now back at reception, drying ourselves and our cameras, Helen began a quick session on post editing using Lightroom. This is one of the areas that I don’t do too much of so seeing some of the things that can be done in the software was great to learn. As the session ended Helen took contact details to send out further info for those who asked specific questions and wanted some more in-depth information to take away.
As I reflected on the experience, I thought about what I had taken away from the session, apart from discovering my waterproof jacket wasn’t as waterproof as I thought. But apart from that and the relentless rain, what a fantastic time I had. The amazing animals, the great tour guides in Julian and Andy and Helen’s tips and tricks that were shared especially on the new camera body I had just bought. I would absolutely recommend any photographer interested to take a trip on the photographic tours.
Once again, as soon as I got home, I couldn’t wait to look for the next session which was a non-tutored photographic session… and this time hopefully the weather can hold off!
Written by Gareth Clifford
Photography by Gareth Clifford