We love frogs here at Wild Arena and are really pleased to add two more species to our small animal team, Cinnamon Tree Frog and Spiny Bottom Frog. These guys have been settling in over the last few weeks, but they’re now joining the rest of the team and this makes it the perfect time to launch a Bite Size Frog Photography session. 

A whole session devoted to just Frogs and how colourful, diverse and awesome they really are. For more information on our Bite Size Frog Sessions please click here

Summer Update

The safari park has seen some changes over the last year, the wolves have currently moved back up to the safari drive and are looking great in the long grass of the meadow. The youngsters are fully grown, so the pack looks great with Dad showing them how to be Wolves. Kuzma the male Tiger has returned to Banham Zoo where he has been joined by a new female Tiger and Miron has arrived here at Knowsley from Copenhagen Zoo. This very large male Tiger is settling in well and looks amazing in his new surroundings.

If you visited last year some of you may have noticed a change to the White Rhino, with Jazz and Bhinta moving on, to help the breeding programme. Keva and Byami have joined Winnie, Piglet and Meru, plus the males, Sharka and Pembay making up the very large crash.

Last year also saw the Chapmans Zebra depart and new Grevy Zebra arrive. The two stallions are still in a side paddock settling into Safari Park life, but we can’t wait for them to join the other animals on the Africa section of the drive.

The Bushdogs have seen a complete refurbishment of their exhibit and they are loving playing around in their new surroundings, which also gives us much better viewing opportunities.

Our safari park and macro studio 1-2-1 photograph events have been really popular over the last few months. We’ve also had lots of customers coming along with another member of their family, a friend or colleague as an additional attendee on these events. Normally these second (or even third) places are charged at £25, but for August and September we are doing them ABSOLUTELY FREE!

All you need to do is find a ‘photo buddy’ to come along, book an event & schedule a date during August or September and you can get an amazingly good value day of quality photography!

Thank you to everyone who entered our Easter Photography Competition, we were overwhelmed with the response and it was a very difficult decision to pick the winners.

After much deliberation we are please to announce the winners below. Due to the amount of great pictures received, we have added in a Highly Commended image for each category and each winner will receive a £20 Wild Arena voucher.

Category 1 – Nature in Bloom

Winner – Ruth Brotherton

Easter Photography Competition

Runner Up – Carole Kitson

Highly Commended – Clive Foreman

Category 2 – My Lockdown Companion

Winner – Mark Davies

Runner Up – Laura Boothroyd

Highly Commended – Judy Munford

Category 3 – Backyard Safari

Winner – Michael Porter

Runner Up – Clive Foreman

Highly Commended – Carol Kitson

Overall Winner – Micheal Porter

Once again thank you to everyone who took part, we really enjoyed looking through all your images and we hope you all really enjoyed taking them.

For the original list of prizes please click here

 

It has been a crazy year, with most of us stuck at home or working incredibly hard. Easter hopefully will see the start of restrictions easing, so what better way to celebrate being outside in nature again than to dust off your camera and show us what spring means to you! This is an incredibly easy photography competition, we would just like nature pictures taken over the easter break, they should show the wonders of the natural world and how the places around us are bursting into life.

You can submit up to 3 images per category and our team will pick the ones that we feel meet the brief, and are of a technically and creatively, very high standard.

What are the categories and prizes are here you say … this is the most important bit, so here they are:

Categories

We initially thought we would do a simple ‘enter to win’ competition, but judging such a broad range of potential subjects, one against the other, can be difficult. So, we have decided on 3 categories to really help focus everyone’s minds!

(1) Nature in bloom

This category is all about flowers & plants and how, at this time of year, they are just emerging and starting to fill our landscape and gardens with bright vibrant colours. Please note, we are hoping to see wild or garden flowers not inside bouquets or florist examples.

(2) My lockdown companion

Over lockdown those of you who have pets will have really appreciated how they have supported us and kept us going through some lonely times, so this category is all about showing your love and appreciation for them with some wonderful pictures, capturing their crazy personalities or their simple calming influence.

(3) Backyard Safari

Our final category includes all that lovely wildlife that exists just outside your door, from the yearlong birds who stay around in the coldest of weathers to seasonal but sleepy animals who are just yawning and making their way out of their winter hideaways to greet the spring sunshine. Everything from small jumping spiders to larger mammals, as long as you found it here in the UK and close to your home, it counts!

Prizes 

So, onto the second most important bit, the prizes!

  • Each category winner will receive a Wild Arena ‘Membership Plus’ worth £199, which includes a number of options for a photographic day out.
  • The runners up will receive a Wild Arena ‘Membership Extra’ worth £49, which also includes a photography session with us.
  • Finally, we will also pick an overall winner who will also receive a fantastic Lowepro bag worth £200!

The winners will be contacted via email on 1st May and then announced on our website and Facebook on 2nd May 2021

How to Enter

To enter simply send us your pictures (as a Jpeg file no larger than 2Mb), to us via email at info@wildarena.com

Competition Rules

  • Open to all residents of the UK except Wild Arena employees. By entering the competition, the participants agree that their name and nearest town of residence may be released if they win.
  • All entries must be the original work of the entrant and must not contravene the rights of third parties.
  • All images must be taken over the Easter period (29thMarch to 16th April) in the UK. We may not be able to verify everyone’s images, so we are expecting you to be honest.
  • Technical spec: images must be entered as .jpg files no larger than 2Mb.
  • Entrants grant Wild Arena the right to place their entry onto the Wild Arena website in relation to the competition.
  • Entries must be submitted by 23rdApril 2021.
  • The winning entrants will be the ones that in the judge’s opinion are the best.
  • Once photos are submitted, they cannot be changed.
  • The judges’ decisions are final.

 

We were lucky enough to first visit the beautiful landscape of central Norway back in 2007 and since then have returned many times. Our initial invitation was to see a number of locations, but particularly to focus on the chance to see and photograph wild Eagles. Memorably we were not disappointed and over the coming 3 or 4 years, we have had some amazing encounters with these illusive creatures.

Typically, a trip to see the Norwegian Eagles would begin with meeting our host, Ole Martin Dahle at the airport, followed by a scenic drive north from Trondheim passing rugged coastline, sleepy fjords and forested hillsides. After around 3 hours we would arrive at our destination, the small village of Lauvsnes.  Very comfortable accommodation is provided by Ole Martin’s guest house, sat above the harbour, with great views across to the hills and water beyond.

There is something very special about this part of the world as autumn begins to turn to winter and colder temperatures invite snow and ice into the landscape. Of course, the wild countryside is beautiful in all seasons, but the shorter days and low light just adds a magical feeling of the raw majesty of nature. This time of year is also perfect for Eagles, as it provides a chance to see, both Golden Eagles from hides as well as the majestic White Tailed Sea Eagles fishing out on the fjords.

A trip will normally start with a relaxed chat with Ole over hot tea and coffee at the guest house, to plan which subjects we should target on what days. In fine weather it is more likely we would plan to head out in Ole’s boat and try and photograph the White Tailed Eagles, fishing in the complex maze of fjords and islands in the surrounding area. However, if the immediate weather is less favourable, Golden Eagles would be a usual choice.

Kongeørn, as Golden Eagles are called in Norway, are notoriously shy and timid, and it takes a huge amount of care and patience to create a hide that is simply good enough to predictably attract these iconic raptors. Ole Martin usually has several options, all set out perfectly for photography. Lighting direction, backgrounds and angles are all thought through and Ole will take great care in positioning natural carrion bait to attract the birds.

 

Photographing the Golden Eagles, largely follows the same pattern. In order to enter the hides in such a way as to not disturb them. An early start is required to be in the hides well before dawn. The short walk in induces a sense of anticipation of what might follow and as your head torch picks out small pieces of the snowy landscape, it is easy to imagine the Eagles watching from their hidden, wild roosts.  Once in the hides it is just a question of carefully positioning your camera and then getting comfortable. In the colder months, the hides usually have a small heater running to lift the temperature and it is easy to stay warm with a cosy sleeping bag wrapped over your legs and body.

It is then, of course, just a matter of staying quiet and patiently waiting. With hot coffee from a flask and a supply of snacks, the time passes easily, as you watch from the small hide windows as the light grows from the east and begins to illuminate the scene before you.  Hooded crows, Magpies and Ravens might well visit the bait before the eagles, so there are still fascinating things to watch, although you might need to be careful in not moving your camera prematurely. With a little luck and stoicism, the moment then comes when you notice other birds become quieter and then your eye catches a different movement. By comparison to other visitors the Golden Eagles are huge, and you are instantly aware of their steely, magnetic presence.

Cautiously at first, they approach the food set out for them and the job of the photographers in the hide is to hold their nerve and wait for the birds to become relaxed and start feeding. This might take a few minutes or an hour, but it is crucial the Eagles feel no risk or threat around them. Once settled however, it is the possible to carefully position cameras and begin to tentatively shoot the pictures you had been hoping for. As the golden light moves across the sky, morning drifts into afternoon and after eating their fill the Eagles will move away. It is time to leave the hides and return to the warmth of the guest house and review the pictures from the day.

If the weather is better and winds are calm, we can change tack and think about capturing dramatic images of White Tailed Eagles fishing. Again, these days start early as we want to be out on the water to make the most of the early morning sun. Ole knows the local Sea Eagles intimately and will have a good idea of the best places to visit. The objective of course, is to attract these amazing birds down by providing fish for them to eat. The fjords are beautiful and there are chances to shoot the Eagles against a variety of backgrounds. Amazingly the White Tails seem to know the boat and often are in the air and following as soon as we arrive. With great skill, Ole positions the boat, considering wind direction for the Eagles and light for the photographers, and then throw a fish into the water at the perfect distance. With a little good fortune most trips out will have a good number of ‘Eagle dives’ to give multiple chances for great pictures.

Even with a busy schedule of Golden Eagles and White Tailed Eagles, we would normally find a little time to explore the amazing local landscape. Quiet forests, majestic hills and deep shaded fjords all make for super images. There might even be an opportunity to try and shoot images of other native bird species from one of the hides to broaden out the portfolio from the trip.

The one problem we always find with a visit to Norway, is it just isn’t long enough and leaving always induces a feeling we should return soon. The landscapes and abundance of extraordinary Eagles make for an unforgettable trip. This part of Norway truly is the ‘realm of the Eagles’.

 

Update 23.02.21

Further to the Government update yesterday and the road map that has been laid out by them, we should be able to operate our business as follows (if the guidelines remain the same). We have summarised the steps, dates and what we believe we can do, and follow the link for more information and exerts from the road map document to support this. We hope this seems clear, but of course please do contact us should you have any queries.

Step 1 – 8th/29th March. No change we will still be shut

Step 2 – 12th April. ‘One to one’ sessions available for safari park and studio (no indoor or outdoor social mixing) for anyone who can safely reach us

Step 3 – 17th May Outdoor events up to 6 people and ‘one to one’ sessions for anyone

Step 4 – 21st June All group events and tours as well as one to one’s. Our business should be fully re-opened

For more information please click here

 

We are absolutely delighted to launch a program of amazing on-line presentations from the Wild Arena team and our professional photography & wildlife friends. During February and early March, we have scheduled 9 different talks covering a wide variety of subjects and techniques.

During these troubled times of Covid restrictions and recurring lock downs, it has been very difficult for some in the photographic and wildlife communities to operate in anything like a normal fashion.  In some small part, we hope these talks will help this, with proceeds going to some highly skilled professional photographers and small wildlife charity.

The 1.5 hour ‘Zoom’ based presentation will be running during the evening from 7.00pm to 8.30pm and with relatively small group sizes, there should be ample time to ask any individual questions you might have.

Check out the full list here: https://www.wildarena.com/on-line-talks/

We also have a superb ‘6 X On-Line Talks – 20% discount with Multi Buy Bonanza’ here:

We hope these talks will not only educate and amuse you, but proceeds from them, will help all of the speakers in these very difficult times.

We sincerely hope that you can find something that appeals to you, buy a ticket and support this project!

Whatever type of photography you prefer, if you’re shooting outdoors weather is always a major factor in the success or failure of your images. However, few conditions can have as much impact as snow. A brief dusting of this magical white stuff can transform a mundane scene into a winter wonderland, but it is also cold, wet, slippery and will play havoc with your camera’s exposure!

Considering the colder conditions we have been experiencing, we thought it might be useful to run through our thoughts on the advantages and pitfalls of shooting in snow.

Why we like snow in images

 If we open the curtains in the morning, look out and see snow, the instinctive reaction is to reach for our camera, but why is that. What is it about snow that makes photographers excited? Well, this is probably not an exhaustive list of reasons, but here are some of our thoughts on why it appeals so much.

It sets subjects in a highly distinctive setting

There is no doubt that snow has more effect on the way a scene looks than just about any other weather-related conditions. It literally covers up the old and adds a white, shiny ‘veneer’ straight over the top of everything.  This has the effect of placing principle subjects (whatever that might be) immediately into a radically different setting. This not only physically looks very different, but also comes with lots of associated interpretations from the viewer. Snow means winter, snow is cold, snow is present in more northern locations, snow is pretty etc, etc.

Now, this characteristic isn’t going to automatically work well for everything. Photographing Lions in the snow for example, (as we have done on the odd occasion), might not ‘feel right’ because of our knowledge of that species. Wolves however, would be a totally different story and they would somehow feel perfectly placed on snow covered ground. It is therefore perhaps about considering how a subject fits within snowy conditions and how those conditions effect the story that the image tells. Whilst the Lion might look a little out of place and make the viewer question if it is cold, a Wolf would seem perfectly at home, literally in its element.

So, of itself, snow can transform a scene and the setting of our subjects and if we consider carefully how this effects the story in the picture, it can be a highly effective element in our images.

It simplifies messiness

The ability of snow to ‘cover things up’ is also very attractive to simplify messiness. Imagine a well-trodden trail covered in mud and debris, suddenly being transformed into a pristine white pathway, along which our person or animal strolls. Snow just has a habit of making scenes less distracting. Simplicity is often our friend in terms of finding compositions and snow is an ally in this endeavour.

It is for this reason, we might seek out not only appropriate subjects (wolves not Lions), but also subject that could do with simplifying.

It can add a different beauty to light

Perhaps a less obvious benefit is the ability of snow covered ground to act as a giant reflector. We are normally used to seeing subjects heavily lit from above (the sky) and certainly in sunny conditions this can lead to heavy shadows. Whilst overcast light improves this situation, snow covered ground adds an entirely new level of ‘fill-in’ illumination by bouncing the light from the sky back up into those shadows.

This characteristic varies depending on the level of snow on the ground, the type of subject we are shooting and, of course, the type of light in the sky, but there is no doubt that snow can add some really interesting effects to the way our subjects are lit.

It can evoke an emotion

As we have already said, snow has a habit of kicking up associated interpretations in our viewers. These reactions might be quite superficial, like “it looks cold” but these thoughts can run deeper and invoke a more emotional response. For example, the fact a subject looks cold might make the viewer feel concerned about our subject, or even feel uncomfortable about the subject’s situation.

Not all of these emotional reactions will be negative, however. A sparkling, sun covered snow scene with people or animals playing might feel fresh, fun, natural or even invigorating. Considering the possible emotional reaction of our audience can be a useful thought as we consider what the image we are making will ‘say’.

The Problems of snow

Sadly, for all those positive attributes, snow can also bring its fair share of difficulties. Naturally, there are some simple, logistical problems. Snow can be wet, cold and uncomfortable to work in, but hopefully these obstacles are easily remedied with a little preparation and appropriate clothing. Let’s take a moment however, to think about the technical issues it might cause us as photographers.

Exposure variation

First up, and most obvious is complications with correct exposure. This is a very common problem, and many photographers are unsure how to tackle it. Before we dive into potential solutions, we should look at what causes the issues in the first place.

If we take a quick and simplistic view of how a camera assesses correct exposure, we might propose the idea that the camera works on the notion that everything is, on average, average in tone. If we think about it, we photograph subjects with light tones, dark tones, whites, black and a lot of various ‘mid tones’. The camera can’t actually know what tone a part of the scene should be, but it can bring all those tones together and average them. And, actually this works a surprising amount of the time. However, snow does not quite play to these rules, as it is most definitely not mid-tone. How often have you seen images where the snow hasn’t been recorded as pristine white, but somehow looks a little ‘dirty’ or ‘grey’? This is almost certainly the result of the camera mis-calculating its exposure.

Sadly, there isn’t a simple answer to this issue. The problem lies in the fact that every time we compose an image, there might be radically different amounts of snow (very pale tones) and main subject (mid or darker tones). This uncertainty will lead to some pretty unpredictable results if left unchecked.

Here are 3 techniques that might help manage and overcome this issue:

  1. a) Checking each image on the camera and then taking corrective exposure steps

If you are shooting subjects in the snow that are relatively slow paced, you will likely have time to take an initial frame and check the cameras exposure as a ‘test’. If this initial image shows your subject too dark or the snow as pale grey rather than white, it is then fairly straight forward to correct the error in exposure with ‘exposure compensation’. This sequence of actions; shot, check result, adjust exposure, check result, should enable you to fine tune the exposure until it exactly meets your requirements. Using the cameras Histogram, will also significantly improve the accuracy of your adjustments.

  1. b) Pre-emptively adjusting exposure with a ‘+’ to make images brighter

If the subjects you are shooting are very dynamic or fast moving, you might choose to pre-emptively adjust your exposure brighter, normally by dialling in a ‘+’ on the exposure compensation. The more snow in the frame there is likely to be and the smaller the subject, the more compensation you might need. Starting at something like +1 or +2 stops would be a good start point if you are not sure. As above, you can still of course, check the results on replay using the Histogram as you go along. Whilst this technique might not give perfect results, it will often reduce the margin of error from an uncorrected image.

  1. c) Using spot metering on the main subject

Spot metering is a slightly controversial tool. In essence it allows you to take very precise exposure meter readings from a relatively small (often central) area of the frame. Providing the ‘spot’ where this reading is taken is over your subject, this means the meter reading will ignore whatever is around it, in this case the snow. The theory therefore suggests, correct exposure on the subject (assuming of course it is roughly mid-tone in nature) regardless of that bright, white snow around it.

This Technique is controversial because it depends on the photographer fully understanding how the system works and not only ensuring the spot reading area falls within the right area of the frame, but also them having a clear expectation of the tonal value of this main subject.

Crudely, if you have a mid-tone subject sat in the middle of a load of whiteness, give spot metering a try and see how it works out.

AF difficulty if it is snowing

So far, we’ve talked a lot about snow on the ground, but what if it is actually still snowing? Well, this can cause big problems for auto focus. Unlike rain, which is relatively small and fast moving, snow can literally ‘get in the way’ of the AF system seeing the subject. There really isn’t any clever auto focus work around here, there’s just too much going on. So, if we find ourselves shooting images as it is snowing, we will definitely start by using AF but then  make sure we are regularly checking the sharpness of the resulting images. If the snow gets too thick and focus starts to pick up on the flakes rather than the subject, the only option is to switch to manual focus. Whilst this seems simple enough, of course, we have the same issue as the AF system, in as much as it can be just as hard for us to see the subject as it can be for the camera. One technique to combat this might be described as ‘focus through’. This isn’t really that technical, it just requires us to take a burst of shots as we subtlety shift manual focus ‘through’ our subject. We would start by guessing the focus being slightly forward of the subject and then ‘push’ focus until we get something just behind looking sharp. If we take a series of quick shots as we do this, hopefully at least one of them will be correctly focused.

Again, this is not a perfect technique and can lead to loads of very similar and out of focus results, but if you get just one frame right it can make the effort worth it.

Creates high contrast especially in sunlight

We all know that bright sunny conditions can lead to high contrast, which in turn, is hard to get right with exposure. Well snow and sunshine just compound this problem, leading to extremely bright highlights and potentially very dark shadows. Solutions to this dilemma are tricky. We could potentially, shoot a set of images to create a high dynamic range ‘HDR’ result but this will only work if subjects are static.

For moving subjects, we would tend to adjust our exposures to make sure that highlights do not ‘burn out’ or overexpose, even if this means very deep, under exposed shadows. This technique, whilst not really addressing the basic issue of capturing high dynamic range subjects, will at least prioritise highlights over shadows for a more pleasing, natural result.

 

Low temperatures and battery drain

One final difficulty is not directly related to snow but is often associated with shooting in these conditions. Low temperatures can not only lead to a surprising drop in our camera’s battery efficiency, but they can also, even effect the operation of the camera itself. This is not likely to be an issue with UK temperatures but if you are visiting colder destinations it should be something to consider.

We would always head out with a spare battery or two and ideally, we would keep these somewhere warmer like an inside pocket under a jacket. If conditions get very cold, we would also try and manage the equipment itself, possibly by using a cover or by keeping cameras inside bags wherever possible.

As a final thought on kit and temperature, remember to warm cameras up slowly and avoid condensation from indoor warm, moist air. We tend to bring bags in and not unpack cameras for some hours to allow everything to slowly adjust to room temperature.

 

So that’s snow. It is beautiful, inspirational, dramatic and enormous fun, but being prepared for the pitfall’s as well as the opportunities can improve our pictures!

We’ve been thinking about how much we all depend on the extraordinary efforts of our amazing NHS workers in these troubled times.

As a small token of our gratitude for these amazing people we’ve decided to offer any

nhs.uk

worker with an interest in photography a FREE WILD ARENA MEMBERSHIP (normally worth £19)! We know it’s not much but it will give them priority booking and special discounts and we would love to see them on our events as things improve in the spring.

If you are an NHS worker and you are interested in photography, just message us, call on 0151 528 6607 or e-mail us at info@wildarena.com and we’ll be delighted to get you involved for FREE!
There’s no catch it’s just something we thought we could do to acknowledge the work these amazing people do!

Following the Government statement yesterday (4th January 2021) and the constantly evolving advice we are receiving, we have now modified our business operation plans for the next 7 weeks (05/01/21 to 22/02/21).

Events at Wild Arena, Knowsley Safari Park and Woburn Safari Park

In light of the government’s 3rd National Lockdown and the requirement for complete isolation along with no travelling, we have postponed all in person events until 22/02/21. Of course, all online events can still go ahead. The government has not given a date that they will be reviewing the situation but has indicated it may be Mid-February.

All customers affected by these changes will be contracted directly as quickly as possible for alternative dates to be arranged.

We will obviously continue to monitor the latest Government health advice and may update these arrangements in the coming weeks as necessary.