Nature photography – the art of patience and perseverance

The NIOC recently held its annual competition for bird photographers
Allen Gillespie’s photograph of a Little Bittern has won the Advanced section of the NIOC’s 43rd annual Work of Northern Ireland Bird Photographers (WONIBP) 2016 competition


THERE is an authenticity to nature photography that I have always admired – that combination of patience, judgement and the quick eye necessary to capture the perfect image of an unwitting subject.

The desire to photograph birds, mammals and other fauna in their natural habitat is almost as old as the camera itself. British brothers Richard and Cherry Kearton were Victorian pioneers, whose equipment included an ox-hide mounted on a wooden frame which camouflaged them as they worked in their native Yorkshire.

Today, wildlife and nature photographers are taking pictures all over the world, as individuals or within clubs, on an amateur or professional basis, but still with that same level of fascination and ingenuity that characterised the Keartons’ work.

The Northern Ireland Ornithologists’ Club (NIOC) just recently held its 43rd annual Work of Northern Ireland Bird Photographers (WONIBP) 2016 competition, and, as usual, the results do not disappoint.

Nature photography competition

Nature photography takes patience and a quick eye
Robert McDowell’s Kestrel was the Intermediate winner in the NIOC competition

The competition is designed to provide amateur bird photographers, resident in Northern Ireland, with the perfect opportunity to share their work with a larger audience as well as their peers. 



This year there were four main categories of entry – Juniors, Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. The works were judged by professional wildlife photographer Jamie MacArthur.

Jamie’s busy schedule over the past 12 months has taken him to Florida, Lesvos, the Shetlands and South Africa and when he’s not travelling he runs photographic workshops at locations that have included Lesvos, the Gambia and Costa Rica.

Nature photography combines patience and a quick eye
Cory’s Shearwater by John Edwards (Beginners)

The 2016 NIOC competition results were announced in the Ulster Museum in mid-March, with the winners including Allen Gillespie from Belfast for his Little Bittern (Advanced), Larne-based Robert McDowell for his Kestrel (Intermediate), John Edwards from Conlig for his Cory’s Shearwater (Beginner) and Adam Middleton from Newtownards for his Black Guillemot (Junior). Well done to all!

Nature photography takes patience and a quick eye
Black Guillemot by Adam Middleton (Junior)

The NIOC’s Stuart McQueen is keen to encourage people to start taking photographs without feeling intimidated or the need to bankrupt themselves on pricey equipment. He suggests that simply picking up your camera, getting outside and practicing is the best way to get a feel for the art.

Advice for budding nature photographers

Here are some of Stuart’s universal tips for taking the perfect wildlife picture:

  1. Trust the camera you have – modern cameras have auto-focus and a zoom facility for capturing images of camera-shy birds and animals from a distance.
  2. Take plenty of pictures – memory cards mean you can take numerous photographs of the same subject, later saving the best and simply deleting the rest.
  3. Start with shots of stationary birds, animals or plants (I personally would suggest crouching at an open window, arms resting on the sill, within easy view of your bird feeder – Val).
  4. When you’re feeling more adventurous, get ready to take actions shots, like birds in flight, by switching your camera setting to ‘sports’ – that will allow it to take photos faster, hopefully capturing perfect images of your subject in mid-movement.
  5. Stuart is keen to stress the golden rule that all photographers, and indeed, members of the public, should know – NEVER disturb a bird that’s nesting. (I have recently written about the fact that it is ILLEGAL to photograph a nesting bird, its eggs or nestlings without a special licence – Val).
  6. Finally, you don’t have to go to exotic places like Borneo or Antarctica to get great wildlife photographs – a local park, forest, beach and even your own back garden (remember the bird feeder) can provide perfect opportunities.

To learn more about the work of the NIOC visit and get snapping!


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