Little owls are for me, after the owls, one of the most fascinating nocturnial raptors, even because in Sardinia we don't have eagle owls, that I think they're the best one, as well as the snowy owl.
To see them, they're so cute and fluffy, but they're a really skilled hunter, so during the breeding season they can hunt a lot of prey in order to feed their chicks.
Before start to photograph little owls, let me say that the first thing you have to think about them, is their safety. In my opinion preserve their safety is vital, not only for this specie, but for all species. Respecting the nature, the little owls as well, should be a "must-do" for any wildlife photographer. Instead I often saw bad behaviour from some guy who pretend being nature lovers...But carry we on!
On the Net there are a lot informations about owls, in any languages, so the best tips I can give you, is to read them before to do anything. The knowledge is really important in this field.
Little owls are nocturnial birds. They mainly hunt during the night, but it's quite easy to find some during the daytime, mostly during the breeding season. But for the same reason you'll have an opportunity to find them, as I'm going to tell you in the next paragraph.
As I said before, they're a skilled hunter, but some guys put a prey near their nest, in order to attract them only to make a better photo. Please, don't do that!! If you are only a social "like-man", don't think that everybody don't know how you have taken your photo in that pathetic way.
The best "weapon" is the patience. My first activity, when I found a nest, is to study from far with a binoculars, their movements. In this case I need to know what are their main perches, because every little owl has one, so you have to discover it before doing anything. After that you have to understand where put yourself for the photographic session. It depends by many factors: if the nest is in the middle of a field, or near an ancient house, or near a rock, or in a tree as well. In any case you have two options: the first one is to build a blind, the second one is to use a portable blind. Building a blind is, in my opinion, the best choice because day after day, the little owls will get used to the blind, and they won't scared for some movements inside the blind itself or for some noise made by you. If you are alone inside the blind, or with a friend, remember to speak with a low voice, even though some little noise is well accepted from them. Instead big movements scare a lot, so, please make small movements, like moving the tripod or the lens for some reason. In this case it's easy that the little owl will fly away.
But what's the best moment to get into the blind? During the night of course!! Yes, you have to arrive at least one hour before the sunrise, and to wait and to hope they haven't seen you when you're getting into the blind. Using a flash is possibile, but depend to the subject. Many are scared from a strong light, and it could be dangerous for their eyes. In some occasion I used a led light only for focusing the perches, or for some short shoot. But when I used a flash the little owl flown away, so I don't recommend its use.
Someone might ask itself how to build a photographic blind. It isn't difficult to do, but I going to tell you in another episode, but basically it's a tent covered by a camouflage sheets. I've got a commercial photographic blind, a Tragopan, and it's very, very useful and comfortable. It has everything you need for taking picture: small windows for seeing outside, hinges for the tripod legs, and others features. Yes, it'a a bit expensive to be a tent, but they're well done, light and made in different natural patterns.
A very important aspect of building a photographic blind is the owner of the field. For not having any surprise, and to be right, always ask to the owner of the field the permission for building your blind. If you can't, because you don't know the owner or you don't know where he/she lives, is better to use a commercial blind in order to use as you need and only for that photographic session.
Ahhh!! I was forgetting to say you a thing... Remember to bring a small camping chair. Staying on the ground for many hour isn't achievable. Then some food and drink (maybe coffee), during the waiting are always welcome!!
Another thing about the blind is the distance from the little owls. How distance should be it? Depend on your lens, but at least four or five meters is the minimum security distance. A shorter distance might frighten the little owls and they might not arrive. About the lens read below.
How long have you stay inside the blind? As always depend. The little owls could stay outside the nest for many hours, so you have to be prepared to wait for a long time before going away. The best moment is when they fly away for some reason or when they go sleeping. Be quick and go away.
If you have read something about the little owls, you should have understood where to find them... Anyway, usually their nest are holes somewhere: on the ground, a rock, a tree, an hold house or in a pile of stones. Yes, often you'll find them on a pile of stones, so when you'are going around in the countryside, try to look with a binoculars any pile of stones. If you'll be lucky, you'll see them.
Another way is looking for their pellets. Many raptors, but not only them, regurgitate regularly undigested food: hairs, feathers, bone parts and so on. So when you find it someones, probably you're near the nest or the place where they usually eat.
This is the last part of a researching and studying process, where every efforts will be paid off with amazing pictures.
Due to the distance from the nest, is desirable using long-focus lenses, in order to have a nearer image of the little owl, even because they're quite small. It doesn't matter wich camera you're using if you're interested only in portrait-photo of the little owl. I mean that in that situation is not important to have a fast camera with a high-frame shooting rate, but a camera with a good sensor, maybe an high-resolution sensor. But, as always happen, the most important aspect of the picture is related to the lens used. In low light situation, having a prime-lens is always a very good opportunity to get wonderful pictures. A 500mm f/4 lens, or if you can a 600mm f/4, will offers you a lot of opportunity to get the right photos, as well as using standard zoom lenses, like Sigma and Tamron 150-600mm, Nikon 200-500mm, Sony 200-600mm. Usually these last lenses are not so fast, so taking little owls flying could be really challenging, but not impossible. In this case having a tripod with a gimbal-head is the best solution, because it allows you to follow the subject easily. Of course, to take a picture of a bird flying needs very fast shutter speed, at least 1/2000 of second. So check if your camera allows to you to get that shutter speed in low light situation, because you'll have to wait a good light. For BIF (Birds-In-Flight) I always use the maximun frames per second that my camera gives me (20 frames per second with the Sony A9 using the electronic shutter) and I set the minimum shutter speed of 1/2000 of second. Then I use the A mode (aperture priority) and set an automatic ISO with a maximum limit of 6400 ISO. With these settings I'm pretty sure to get the proper photo. Following a birds in flight is difficult, but if you know what perch it usually uses, you can anticipate the little owl putting the framge just on that: put the view on the perch and wait until the little owl starts flying in that direction, so you can start shooting until the little owl get to perch (if you are fortunate of course). Maybe you'll need some tries before achieve a good result, but never give up!!
For portrait photos, is always a good idea using a remote control, in order to avoid camera shaking, even though you're using a tripod.
This short article is ended and I hope it will be useful in some way. Every picture showed here is mine and took with Sony gears. If you have some trouble don't hesitate to contact me.
Nowadays nature and wildlife photography are quite challenging, even though on the Net you can find many "How to" in order to achieve your goals. Photographing animals is not simple, due to their erratic presence in the field or due to their distance from cities, in fact they live in very hard environment and often they're difficult to reach. But that only if we're speaking about "top animals", like big raptors, bears, leons/tigers or very elusive mammals.
In these short writings I'm going to show you some trick how to approach wildlifes respecting species, because the nature and wildlife photography must have an ethic to preserve their safety, mostly during the breeding season.
But let's get started!
Yes, to know where we are, where we live is really important because tells you which species you can approach. It's unuseful looking for a white-tailed eagle whether in your country doesn't live one. So the first thing is to understand the fauna of the area where you're living. For example in Sardinia, the italian region where I've been living since 1984, there are many raptors like the common buzzard, the common kestrel, the golden eagle e many other falcon, but some mammals as well. On Internet usually you can find that informations or you can ask to the other nature photographers, if they'll tell you something... Depending on the species, sometimes is easy to find the right place, like a pond or a small lake, or a river as well. Others sources on Internet are forums, so look for some specific forum, better of your country, introduce yourself, and enjoy! Anyway, you have to study your area before to start thinking any pictures, this is really the most important part to begin, even though you are in your private backyard.
Ok, now you know your area, and you know what species there are, you can choose ones. At the beginning it should be better choice an easy specie, like some water birds. Usually water birds like ducks, herons and various waders are quite easy to photograph. Depending on the area, often you can take some picture staying into a car because birds aren't so scared by cars, but be carefull and not get of from the car, birds will fly away.
Let me tell you, but the worst moment is when the Sun in high in the sky and casts an hard light. So the best moment, in my opinion, is during the early morning and in late afternoon when the light is warm. Of course this aspect will affect your way to take pictures, because you'll need a tripod, or at least a beanbag where to put on the camera. So if you want to photograph birds in early morning, you should turn up in the place really, really early, maybe when it's still dark, in order to not being seen from birds, and to prepare your gears (blind, tripod, etc.) in advance.
This aspect of the nature and wildlife photography is really important, because you have to choose the right equipment. Depending on your subject and the chosen stakeout, the right combination of camera and lense is crucial. Inside a photographic blind, in my opinion, is always better using a tripod, maybe with a gimbal head in order to use even a single hand to shot without worries about keeping the camera with hands, and opening/closing the lock continuosly. But even a classic tripod with a ball-head is good as well.
Personally I'm using Sony cameras and lenses. About the camera the best for animals is the A9 with its really silent electronic shutter that allow you to shoot without any noise, and without getting animals in trouble. Currently I've got only two telephoto lens, an old Sony 300mm f/2.8 SSM II (A-Mount) that I use it with the LA-EA3 adapter, and the new Sony 100-400GM. This second one is really versatile, fast enough and pretty light to carry on everywhere. Then I've got a carbon tripod with a gimbal-head when I stay in a blind, or a lighter carbon tripod when I go in the field. Another useful accessory is the remote control, in order to not make any shake in the camera during the shooting.
A final, but not least, aspect is clothing. On winter, you should be aware that staying in a blind for many hours could be really cold, so put on a really warm clothes, and don't forget gloves and a cap. Also on summer is useful having a light jacket, often in damp days.
During one of my usual short trip, I saw a place that I knew before. Always the sensation has been of bewilderment and desolation, but later with anger. A fire has destroyed a large part of countryside near my city, a place where I spent my time looking for some raptors or taking some nice pictures during the sunset, but mostly to stay in nature.
Seeing all that devastation was terrible. Knowing that many animals are dead by hand's man is discouraging. Nothing change, never. Year after year, here in Sardinia every summer is dead somewhere due to some fire. And anyone can do anything because it's difficult to find the responsible for that destroy, and the worst thing is that they're arson!! Natural fires are quite rare, despite the hot wheater of this period.
Our Government isn't doing anything. They know the causes but they prefer to ignore the truth because it would be quite impossible to arrest those people. Basically, often, are the same forest rangers starting fires in order to guarantee to themselves the job for the next year.
And now some pictures of the result...
Looking at these photos I can't imagine how many animals have died. Those who couldn't escape were burned to death, like those small snails and the trees as well.
Yes, I know, nature will reborn again, but it will need several years during the while, maybe, another crazy man will set a fire..
In my last holiday, I went to Cornwall in the UK. My expectations were really high because I saw many images on the Net with marvellous places. But how sometimes happens, the weather wasn't so good. Actually I had many sunny days, but they were too sunny, so no days with some clouds for stunning sunsets, no wind for powerful seas or coastlines.
My trip started from Luton towards Bath, where I spent a few days going around for that area. The town is really nice with its cathedral, the Roman baths, and a pleasant city centre where to walk quietly. In Bath I've taken some pictures of the Roman baths, but it isn't my genre as you know.
Not so far Bath, a day, I went to see Stonehenge. That place is an icon of the UK and I couldn't not see it. If it had been alone in an unknown countryside, I'd have liked more, because with the visitor reception centre, the bar and the shop, it loses a bit its magic aura. Fortunately people can't go inside the stone circle, so you can admire its beauty with no distracting people inside it.
These are my pictures:
In both, I had to clone some people from the background but thankfully they were only a few.
Going further south I found isle of Portland, a small isle linked to a road, so it's easy going there by car. This isle is pretty nice, but I spent there only some hours, anyway enough for some pictures:
I spent the last part of the holiday in the southern part of the UK, sleeping in Truro, a really, really nice town, very characteristic, it deserves to be visited. From there I went to see another icon of UK, St.Michael isle. That place is strange and magic. During the high tide you can go in the isle only walking in the water, using a stone path, or using a boat. But with low tide, everything changes, and it becomes easy going to visit it crossing the sea. The stone path became visible, dry, and you can go there safely. I was hoping to have a good sunset, but I wasn't lucky: the sky was really clear!! I tried some shot, but I'm not so sure of the result:
Continuing my trip I went to Titangel, a famous small village for its castle, the King Arthur castle, maybe. Due to the coronavirus, the castle was visitable only pre-booking the tickets, and of course I didn't!! I took only some picture of the beach under the castle, where there's Merlin's cave, but equally interesting.
But really close to Titangel, there's a beautiful waterfall inside a woodland, the St. Nectans waterfall. To get there is quite easy. You have to walk for about 30 minutes following a road at the beginning and then following a stream until you reach the place. The area was wonderful, but finding a bar and a visitor centre was weird for me, that I'm getting used to having a wilder place in Sardinia. Anyway, I took only one picture, because it was impossible doing anything else: there were really too much people!!! Someone was in front of my camera, someone was under the waterfall, someone was waiting for me. So this is the only picture of "my" St. Nectans waterfall:
The last day of the trip was the Land's end, but I was very unfortunate. The weather was really bad. I found a foggy, windy and cold day. I couldn't see anything. The worst day of the trip!! I took only two pictures, just as I remember...
With two these pictures ends my trip in Cornwall, but I hope to go there again, maybe with better weather.