It's one thing learning how to capture a fabulous wildlife moment when you're peering through a viewfinder and picking the right moment to press the shutter release, quite another to work out how to do that whilst fast asleep in bed!
Some major global wildlife photography competitions have been won by 'Camera Trap' shots in recent months.
Whilst I don't have access to the majestic Siberian Tigers roaming free in ancient forests, I DO have my own small corner of Warwickshire woodland and the chance to enjoy the native wildlife that comes to visit there.
With thanks to Tom Robinson of Wildlife Photography Hides and Jim Taylor who I met there, for some really helpful advice and support, I was underway with the first steps into this new photography methodology. The set up required is complex(ish) but nothing that a bit of research, a few new bits of kit, and some trial and error can't resolve.
The challenges are several - most importantly, the aspiring Camera Trap photographer needs to find a way to know where the wildlife is in the first place!
I used remote trail cameras over a number of months to discover where our wildlife visitors were spending their time under cover of darkness. A few handfuls of 'supplementary feeding' helped to ensure their visits became concentrated in spots suitable for photography, whilst the animals were still comfortable within their natural surroundings.
It's one thing knowing roughly where the animals are, quite another to know 'precisely' where they are in order to get a shot that's anywhere near in focus. For this we need a bit of infra-red beam help!
Picking the right spot, setting the infra-red beam up at the right height and having the right camera, with the right settings with the right lens and cables all connected in the right way, leaves ... you might think, lot's of scope for things to go wrong ..... and you'd be right to think that!!
Famously, camera trap photos tend to feature out of focus creatures, seemingly doing their best not to cooperate with the photographers best attempts to capture their 'good side'! You are more likely I have found, to catch their rear end as its disappears from view than you are their inquisitive face, or any action you were hoping to reveal.
Perseverance pays however, with the wildlife showing us how they go about their business when we're not watching, the reward.
I'm still right at the start of understanding how to use this new method of photography, with so much still to learn, but that's one of the best things about new stuff .... it's the effort required to get better that makes the occasional success so rewarding.
The woodland around our house is full of Deer and whilst I regularly pick up Roe and Fallow Deer on the trail cams, it's the smaller Muntjac who have showed most willing to be tempted by a handful of peanuts so far!
Our little piece of woodland is at the far end of a wooded escarpment, with the land below our land managed as a Pheasant shoot. Whilst not a particular fan (at all) of game bird shooting, it does mean that we have some incredibly colourful visitors seeking sanctuary on our more wildlife friendlier property, at all times of the day.
These non-native but now widespread birds, seem robust and really quite fearless as they patrol around their territory. It is however inevitable, that you come across casualties from time to time. One such casualty was found in a neighbours garden, providing an opportunity to see if I could capture a 'circle of life' shot.
The most likely candidate to provide some 'natural food-source recycling' (or so I thought!) was our local fox pair, both regular nightly visitors to Harris Acres.
With the camera trap set up capture the foxes picking up the valuable food resource, framed by an avenue of over arching trees, I sat back and started planning how to spend the competition prize money, soon surely to hit my bank account ha ha !
Two 'blank' nights soon put paid to that idea and called for some different thinking.
I had been rewarded for my efforts to set up 'Buzzard friendly' posts in the wildflower meadow, finally persuading a couple of the local Buzzard family to land first thing, on at least some mornings.
I took a long shot gamble, placing our 'circle of life' Pheasant at the foot of the gate post I had set up for the Buzzards and .... unbelievably .... it worked !
The Buzzards turned out to be particularly efficient 'recyclers' and I was planning to clean up what little food was left, when I thought I might just try one more night set up.
Not expecting to find anything of value on my camera's memory card, I was delighted to find that although not quite the shot I had originally envisaged, one of the foxes had eventually become inquisitive enough to check out what the Buzzards had left ... happy days!
So there you are .... first wobbly steps into a new way of engaging with wildlife undertaken. I'm looking forward to more opportunities to capture the secret world that we share with all our local wildlife .... Siberian Tigers are welcome to show up anytime !