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Animal photography - looking through the lens

10 Feb 2021 | Justine Shotton


BVA Junior Vice President and keen wildlife photographer Justine Shotton shares her tips for getting that perfect shot and what wildlife photography means to her.

Animal photography - looking through the lens Image

BVA’s Veterinary Photographer of the Year competition, sponsored by iM3, is now open for entries until the 8 March. In this year’s competition, we have three categories including ‘All creatures great and small’, ‘A vet’s life in lockdown’, and ‘Happy pets that make us smile’.

I’ve been passionate about photography for the last few years, and particularly love taking photos of animals in the wild. I was lucky enough to be awarded a commendation for my photo of ‘sleeping Bees’ in the BVA’s 2019 competition and find entering competitions such as this a really useful nudge to think more seriously about photography and selecting images I really like. 

For the last couple of years, I’ve been a member of my local photographic society, and have been lucky enough to attend a wide range of talks and training seminars on photography of all kinds. One thing I’ve really learned from this, is that, like all forms of art, photography is very subjective, and the most important thing is that you like the images you are taking. I think sometimes as photographers we are told to follow general rules, such as getting the angles and light right, positioning subjects off-centre, dividing the image into thirds, and many more. But really, if you like a picture you’ve taken a certain way, and can develop your style the way you want, then you really get the most fun and creativity out of this artform!

It’s important to remember that we all have a camera with us in our pockets almost every day – on our phones – and these cameras are now incredibly sophisticated.  I do also own a more professional camera but find that most of my best images are simply taken on my phone in the moment, when I see that animal or that scene that I want to capture. I’ve even started taking photos on my lunchtime lockdown runs, capturing our local British White cows or swans on the river. I think photography as a medium has really helped me to be more mindful and become a better noticer of the natural world, as I look around me thinking ‘I wonder how I could make a beautiful photo from this scene’, and that has really helped me to get outside and engage with nature more during lockdown.

I’ve been lucky enough to take my camera to Kenya on safari and to the Galapagos over the last few years and have managed to capture some moments I’m really proud of on these trips. But while it’s amazing to be able to travel to exotic locations to snap shots of beautiful animals in their natural environments, we have a wealth of wonderful native species on our doorsteps. With some patience and practice, these neighbours can make beautiful subjects. Of course, we also have our beloved pets, and our colleagues (!), and these can make fantastic photographic subjects too. 

There are a few tips I’ve picked up over the last few years learning more about photography, which I’ll share here: 

  • Light can make the difference between a mediocre and a stunning image. Always consider the ‘mood’ of the lighting; where the light source is coming from; how shadows and highlights are cast on your subject. 
  • Always consider the ‘subject’ of the image; even in a landscape shot it may help it to have a prominent tree or wandering sheep to help guide the viewer to a focal point.
  • Most importantly, what emotion does your image convey? The best photographs, I’ve found, are indeed the ones that ‘can paint a thousand words’, and using your images to stir emotion in the viewer can be a very powerful tool of photography.  This could be something happy like a playful ballgame with an over-excited new puppy, its ears flying up in the air, or something very challenging, like the look of terror in a prey animal’s eyes as it’s caught by a predator in the field.  I think the category in this year’s competition ‘A vet’s life in lockdown’ will be a great opportunity for our members to explore some of the myriad of emotions we’ve all experienced in practice over the last very challenging year, and to convey these through the medium of photography. 

A photograph is a moment captured forever, and it tells a story. When you’re thinking of what images to choose for this competition, think about what the story is that you want to tell. Think about how you want to make the viewer feel. Maybe try sending the photo to your friends and see what feedback you get.

I wish you all the best for the 2021 photo competition – but remember – even if you’re not a winner, photography is a form of art, and as long as you are enjoying taking photos and looking at the images you’ve captured, you will have gained a lifelong reward.

The BVA photo competition is open to all BVA members, visit the competition page to find out more




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