Over the past few months I have visited a few wildlife centres such as the International Bird of Prey Centre at Helmsley in Yorkshire, a Wildlife Park in Lincolnshire and a local butterfly farm. My intention has been to photograph all of the species of birds that are held in captivity, especially diurnal and nocturnal birds-of-prey. I want to present them as sort of 'old school works of art'...birds out of their natural habitat as often painted by nineteenth century artists. Enclosed and entrapped they all seem to blend into the very fabric of their cages. By using textures to enhance the backgrounds of the photographs I have tried to show the birds melding into their surroundings...becoming a part of their enclosures if you will. This appearance of blending is enhanced due to the photographic requirements. The birds are nearly always behind thick metal mesh wire and this gives a cross-hatched pattern over the birds. To avoid this I find that the bird needs to be as far beyond the mesh as possible...at the back of the pen in other words. They always look a bit forlorn when they are so sited. Although I could be accused of being anthropomorphic they seem to my eye to be skulking, nervous or, at best, resigned. I expect that they are probably not as most get flown on a regular basis, are properly fed and cleaned and are moved to more suitable quarters when the weather gets bad.
As well as the birds needing to be as far from the enclosure wire as is possible I have to get as close to the cages as I can to ensure blurring of the mesh as well as focus on the bird. Long focal length lenses are not much use therefore and neither are wide angle lenses. The optimum focal length for me is 200mm.
The other issue is light. Or rather the absence of light. When the bird is at the back of the pen this area is more often than not covered and so too are the sides. It is like shooting pictures in a box! High ISO settings are often needed and this adds unwanted noise to the images, or a long exposure is required. Fortunately for me the birds are quite often very still for quite long periods of time. I don't know what this indicates about their state of mind!
I will be posting low resolution versions of some of the images on this site and higher res. images will be available to view on my website www.andymasonphotography.com
No 1. Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus.
A couple of years back I spent two weeks in the Gambia being the only person not to see one of these even though they can be fairly reliable. This bird was photographed at the IBPC in Yorkshire back in September.