‘I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day.’ Vincent Van Gogh
We set off to Suffolk in the early evening expecting to get back to our beds by about four in the morning. I drove and although we had an easy drive there we had difficulty locating Jamie’s cottage. The sat. nav. hadn’t got a clue so in the end Sylvie decided the best option was to knock on a door and ask. Had she not done this we may still have been searching. Next time I book something I will remember to ask for the finer details!!!
By the time we found the cottage we were both full of questions as to how we would achieve sharp pictures of owls using long exposures. I think secretly we both thought it was impossible as owls move and both of us expected to get very ephemeral type creative results rather than anything resembling a wild life picture. I think Jamie must have felt bombarded by questions as we unloaded our gear into his kitchen. We both asked questions continuously and each question was answered patiently.
We had both purchased new radio remote controls and having spent nearly two hours in Sylvie’s kitchen, trying to work out how to stop them triggering both our flashes at the same time (we should have made a video to give everyone a good laugh), we were fairly confident we were all set to go. We had a try out and it was clear, despite being told that we could fire the flash from the remote unit on the camera, that this method was not going to give us enough light to get good pictures. Jamie patiently explained how to achieve the results we wanted and finally we had two separate systems that would work. Out in the field behind the house, Jamie helped us to get the focus and settings correct and using wide angle lenses initially, we left our cameras poised to shoot should an owl appear. Back in the kitchen we watched the screen of the infrared camera expectantly with instructions to ensure our flashes maintained a ready position and to take turns to take pictures so the photographs were not over exposed.
As we became fixated on the infrared screen in the kitchen, we were both surprised how full the air was in the sultry heat. We could see moths and other insects as well as air born ‘waves’ of dust or debris from the fields flying across. It was at this point that huge clouds of smoke appeared on the horizon and the trees were lit with bright flickering lights. After checking his neighbour’s house was not on fire, Jamie joined us to watch the screen.
As the smoke died down a barn owl appeared suddenly. Initially he sat on Sylvie’s camera and then, as if on cue, he flew to the post and watched for movement. At one point he sat on the infrared camera, moving back to the post. When he finally flew off we all rushed out in the darkness to check what we had captured. I changed from my 16-35mm lens to my 100mm prime and we repositioned the cameras to get a closer view.
Once again we sat patiently and waited and eventually the barn owl returned, this time choosing my camera as a perch before landing on the post for the last time.
We both feel we learned a lot from Jamie and as I had wanted to capture an owl, at night, in a wild habitat I was very pleased with my pictures. I think we both feel fairly confident that we could now go on to take more long exposure wild life pictures successfully, thanks to Jamie’s great tuition. I am looking forward to Jamie’s talk at Cambridge Camera Club next year.
Sweet Suffolk owl, so trimly dight,
With feathers like a lady bright,
Thou sing’st alone, sitting by night:
Thy note, that forth so freely rolls,
With shrill command the mouse controls,
And sings a dirge for dying souls:
Te-whit, te-whoo… Thomas Vautor