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Photographing Wildlife in the UK

Marianne Stenger
6th September 2019

When we think of wildlife photography, our thoughts often drift to images of elephants, big cats, and other exotic species. But the UK is home to some amazing wildlife too, and taking the time to enjoy and photograph it can be a great way to highlight and preserve local wildlife habitats.

Northamptonshire-based wildlife and landscape photographer Daniel Hauck has been photographing British wildlife ever since he was gifted his first DSLR camera on his 14th birthday.

“I’ve lived in the countryside my whole life, so I was always exploring and experiencing the local nature which is where my love of wildlife comes from. As I got older I started wanting to document the wildlife and experiences I was having,” he explains.

His main aim when photographing wildlife locally is to inspire more people to get outside and enjoy their local nature. “Hopefully this will lead to more people wanting to protect the species and habitats that we have,” he says.

“One of the facts I like to share, which usually shocks people, is that the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Despite nature struggling against all odds to survive, more than one in seven native species face extinction and more than half are in decline.”

Here are his insights on finding photography locations and tracking down local wildlife, as well as some of the challenges of photographing wild animals in their natural habitat.

How did you first get started? Have you always been drawn to wildlife photography?

I first started taking photos of Red Kites in my back garden. We’re very lucky to live next to one of the reintroduction sites, Fineshade Wood, so we get red kites circling over our house every day. It’s brilliant to watch these beautiful birds up close and it allowed me to practice my photographic skills.

In the early days, my dad and I would explore local parks, nature reserves and the countryside, and I would shoot anything that moved including lots of garden birds and swans. These days I dabble in photographing landscapes on my travels and using my drone to get interesting perspectives, but my main passion still lies with birds and capturing images of them in flight.

Do you have any favourite types of wildlife to photograph within the UK?

I think my favourite things to photograph are birds of prey or just general birds in flight. I do love going on trips abroad to capture exotic wildlife and landscapes you just can't find at home because it creates a whole different challenge that you haven't experienced before.

However, I am always excited to come home and photograph the local wildlife that I’ve spent so much time with. Over the years, my trips abroad have actually taught me how lucky we are to live in the UK and have so many great species on our doorstep.

I end up getting more satisfaction from capturing new and improved shots of British wildlife from different angles and perspectives because it gives me a sense of joy and patriotism.

The species I like to photograph are often some of the most difficult to get photos of, but I love the challenge of capturing shots of wildlife that you struggle to see with the human eye. Getting shots of birds flying, diving, or fishing is incredibly difficult, but nothing beats the feeling when you get the shot that you envisaged beforehand.

Is it difficult to find remote locations with plenty of wildlife in the UK?

It’s not as difficult as you might think. I’m lucky that I live in the countryside, because walks in the fields or around local reserves can be done without seeing anybody else and there’s lots of wildlife if you’re careful and patient.

There are also some very popular locations in my local region for capturing wildlife such as the short-eared owl, and this brings quite a lot of people out to the Fenlands. But I enjoy this just as much as being on my own, as there’s a lovely community where we share knowledge and experiences.

Even the hustle and bustle of the city can be great for wildlife. When I was studying in Bristol I would often go to the parks at dawn and dusk and see foxes, grey squirrels and deer. It’s all about picking the right times of day to go and explore.

If you want to travel a little further afield, we have fantastic national parks in Scotland, such as the Cairngorms National Park which I highly recommend. It gives you the chance to see iconic species including osprey, red squirrels, eagles, and dolphins with not many people around.

What would you say is the most challenging part about photographing wild animals?

Personally, I think the most challenging aspects of photographing wild animals are the early mornings, since I am more of a night owl, and the waiting around. Many of the species that I like to photograph are quite shy and very quick, so it can take long days in hides waiting around for the wildlife to appear and lots of shots before you get anything that you’re happy with.

It’s common to go all day without seeing anything or getting any decent shots. This can be a little disheartening, but if you keep persisting over days, weeks or months and then manage to get some good shots, the end product is much more satisfying.

I do always try to plan my locations and get advice from locals, as this gives me a better chance of seeing wildlife. So if you’re visiting a new location, I would highly recommend trying to get local advice whether it’s from social media, photo sharing websites, or by travelling with local guides.

When it comes to photographing wildlife, is there anything you wish you’d learned earlier on?

When I was younger I was so excited to photograph any wildlife I saw that I wasn't very interested in learning about manual settings, shooting in RAW or key photography techniques like composition. Although I got a lot of average photos, I never captured anything I was very happy with.

So some of the things I wish I’d learned about earlier on are the massive benefits of shooting in RAW, especially in wildlife photography which is often done under less than ideal conditions, and mastering my camera settings and composition. Of course, the years before this weren’t wasted, because just by getting outside I was constantly learning about wildlife and the behaviour of different species.

I also love looking at other photographers’ work to get inspiration, but when I was younger I was often too worried about what other photographers were doing, rather than trying to create photos with my own identity and style.

Do you have any other advice for new wildlife photographers?

I think the most important piece of advice I can give to any beginner wildlife photographer is that it’s not about having the best gear. It’s more important to focus on learning about and becoming familiar with your camera, so when the moment arises, you’ll know exactly what to do.

Secondly, I advise people to just get outside to see what wildlife is about. The more you get outside and see different species the more you’ll understand their behaviour, which will allow you to get better shots and to get closer to them without very expensive long lenses. Once you've got the hang of the settings and practiced your field craft, you can start to invest in longer lenses and better glass that might make capturing photos a little easier. 

Of course, the number one rule in wildlife photography is that the welfare of the wildlife should always come before a photograph. Don't get too close and always respect the animal’s space. 

Photographs are copyright Daniel Hauck. To see more of his images, you can visit his website or follow him on Instagram @haucksie.

For more tips and inspiration for photographing wildlife, you can check out our Ultimate Guide to Wildlife Photography. Or if you’d like to turn some of your favourite wildlife and landscape photos into a sleek lay flat photo book with Bob Books, be sure to explore our selection and find the best format for your project.