Suffolk is one of my favourite places to photograph wildlife. The range of habitats means that there is a vast array of subjects that can end up in front of my camera. As much as I like photographing wildlife in exotic locations such as the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, there is so much in this country, so after my second year university exams finished at the start of June I packed my stuff into the car, including my new Manfrotto Pro Light RedBee-210 BP, and headed out there for just under two weeks.
As a wildlife photographer I am almost inevitably always carrying a heavy telephoto lens. Add to this a pair of binoculars, a macro and wide angle lens, and possibly a couple of flashes, and it starts to add up! I always like to have a range of equipment if I’m out for the day because with wildlife, you never know what will show up. In Suffolk I could easily go from photographing barn owls using my Nikon 400mm f/2.8 one minute to putting my Tamron 90mm macro lens on for dragonflies and damselflies the next. The bag’s different access points mean that you do not need to open the whole bag to just get one lens out so in environments with sand or dust you don’t risk damaging other equipment.
The RedBee-210 BP holds all this kit mentioned above, plus my laptop, batteries and memory cards. Being small enough to take abroad in hand luggage is also a big plus. It is very comfortable to wear due to the padded shoulder supports, and doesn’t feel bulky when on your back. It can of course also be used with smaller lenses; the padded dividers allow you to customise the layout in whatever way suits your needs. It also comes with a rain cover, very useful when you are out all day and relying on the sometimes-less-than-accurate British weather forecasts!
This year one of my main targets in Suffolk was Barn Owls. I frequently see them quartering over the fields by the roads when driving to locations around dawn and dusk, but this year was the first time I have dedicated much time to photographing them. I always like to try and take images that are slightly different to what has already been taken. A quick search online of barn owl images shows lots where the sun is over the photographer’s shoulder, bathing the bird in nice low sunlight, but there are far fewer taken towards the light, so this was something I was aiming for.
Unfortunately, the first few evenings featured a sky of wall-to-wall cloud, but it was still useful to watch the owls and see their favoured areas of the fields to hunt in so I could position myself and give myself a better chance of getting images.
Fortunately, after this the light started to improve and I had some fantastic light. On very rare occasions this also coincided with an owl flying in front of it!
In light like this I keep my Nikon D800 on manual so the camera’s metering system is not confused by either the bright bird, or when it flies against dark backgrounds. I find that when the light is staying fairly constant and I will be photographing the same subject for a while, manual results in far more ‘keepers’ than aperture priority (my other shooting mode).
During my evenings spent photographing the owls I think I was pretty much the only person who wanted to photograph them into the setting sun. Whereas most people would stop photographing when they were on that side of the road, I was the opposite! With so many people photographing wildlife now, your images must have something about them that causes someone to remember yours over the hundreds and thousands of other barn owl images out there. Investing in a good quality bag like the RedBee-210 BP is totally worth it supports heavy kit well so you do not go home early and miss opportunities. It is big enough that you can squeeze an enormous amount of kit in, but not so large that you are put off putting it on your back and heading out into the field!