Apart from blood relatives the person I have known longest in my life is my great school friend Jamie. When I was thirteen my family moved to Cumbria and I turned up at a new school, as a geeky teenager, knowing no-one! It didn’t take too long for me to make friends with Jamie and our friendship was a lifeline for us both at a difficult age and time.
Over the years our families holidayed together and I even lived with Jamie and his dad Tom (a wonderful man who passed a way a few years back) during my holidays from Uni. Jamie and Tom were really talented artists and I was somewhat hopeless at such things. But it was great to see them at work and the walls of their home were covered in amazing paintings. I will always remain grateful to Tom and Jamie for giving me a safe place in the world at this key time in my life.
The Art and Science of Wildlife Photography
I still don’t consider myself “artistic” as such. Well certainly I cannot paint or draw. However, in wildlife photography I have found a creative, even artistic, outlet that I really enjoy and can share with others.
For me there is both a science and an art to wildlife photography.
The science is all to do with camera settings, aperture and shutter speed, depth of fields and the exposure triangle. The art is all to do with fieldcraft, getting close to the subject, composition and capturing the subject’s character.
My style of wildlife photography is quite representational, with close identification photos of the bird or animal being my mainstay, so in my own head at least I wouldn’t really consider them art.
A journey in collaboration
Jamie and I have repeatedly grown apart and then closer again over the years (both geographically and relationally) but we have always remained connected as if by a friendship bungee cord.
Recently Jamie got married and moved to London and set up as a full-time artist. This presented an opportunity for us to collaborate to create some great Bird Art together. My role was definitely as junior partner, I gave Jamie access to all my wildlife photos. Jamie started painting some of them and, whilst I am unashamedly biased, I think they are great.
He has kindly given permission for me to share some of his work here and I would really encourage you to check out his work.
Use the sliders (one webpage version of this blogpost only) to compare the original photograph and the subsequent painting by Jamie Oldham.
I took this picture of a Treecreeper in Menstrie Wood. It was busy feeding so it was possible to follow it from tree to tree. It flew down to the bottom of a nearby tree which meant I was able to photograph it at eye level which always makes a better shot. The shiny bill and huge claws are the standout features I wanted to capture. I love how Jamie has used gold-leaf in the painting and captured the silvery bill.
Last January I took a session with some friends at the Woodland Hide at Argaty Farm. I really like Nuthatch as a bird which was once rare in Scotland but now seems widespread. When the Nuthatch landed on this gnarled wooden log I fired off several shots and this was one of my favourites. Jamie has really captured the essence of this bird with its dagger bill, sparkly eye and black eye stripe.
Capturing a bird in flight is always more challenging than from a perch. You have to crank the shutter speed up to 800 or so and tracking the bird and using the right autofocus settings can also be a challenge. But if you go to the Isle of May in May or June you will have about 46,000 puffins to practice on. The challenge was to spot a bird far off loaded with sand-eels and track it as it came into land for the classic image. My photo had quite a distracting background and I like how Jamie has simplified the image to let the bird be the star.
This was a photo I took during the start of lockdown when I decided to spend 10 minutes a day taking a photo within 10 steps of my house. It was very therapeutic to capture a different bird each day and discover that nature was right on my doorstep. I believe Jamie chose this photo as someone had commissioned a painting of a Blue tit. He has really nailed the stunning plumage of this common bird and again the gold-leaf really makes the painting sing.
This Long-tailed Tit arrived in a large flock when I was at the Argaty hide (see Nuthatch above). There were at least a dozen of these birds taking turns at the feeder and I spotted this log as a place where they waited their turn. I liked the simple out of focus background which created a cleaner shot. This photo was published in Bird Watching magazine which was great bonus for me. I really appreciate how Jamie has captured the badger-head plumage of this bird, and again used gold-leaf to set the log alight.
A few years back we took a holiday around Easter to Glen Clova. It was teaming with wildlife and it was a great opportunity to practice my wildlife photography. I don’t normally like taking photos of the backs of birds as it is usually a failure of fieldcraft for the bird to be moving away already. However, I was reasonably happy with this shot as the bird was checking me out whilst also showing its plumage in the fading light. Jamie’s painting creates a lovely focal point of the red eye whilst capturing the essence of this lovely bird.
This is the first photo I took with the possibility of Jamie painting it in the back of my mind. I was out bird watching with a friend on a winters day looking mainly for waders at Skinflats pools. The day was drawing to a close and as we returned to the car I heard a flock of goldfinch and siskin nearby. The evening light was lovely and golden and this was a photo I was especially pleased with as it really captured the acrobatic feeding of this bird. I loved Jamie’s painting so much that I promptly bought it and it is now in pride of place in my lounge.