The Alps

My final project for university focuses on the wildlife found in the Aiguelles Rouges mountain range, within the nature reserves of Aiguelles Rouges, Carlaveyron and the Vallon de Berard. Covering a surface of 4,748 hectares and ranging from 1,200m to 3,000m in altitude they are home to a number of species. Though Alpine animals continue to exist in the wild, many of their populations have dramatically reduced in size and become cut off from one another due to human influences. Large predators such as the lynx, bear and wolf have been wiped out completely while the Alpine ibex managed to bounce back from near extinction. Reserves provide vital space for animals and native plant species to thrive in and many reserves serve as wildlife corridors linking wild areas and allowing animals to migrate between different areas.

The power of photography to engage and educate is widely recognised. My final portfolio aims to generate a passion for nature and wildlife that in turn might lead to a desire and concern to protect it. Below I have included some images of my final work, including a children's book, research journal and wooden portfolio.

Galapagos Expedition

In 2016 I successfully applied to a Rapid Visual Assessment Expedition to the Galapagos Archipelago with a team of Falmouth University students. Our group was given exclusive insider access to remote underwater and terrestrial locations in the archipelago, in the company of pioneering research scientists and conservationists. 

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During our expedition we spent some time exploring the crystal clear waters surrounding the islands. Our guide operators at Tesoro were great guys and I highly recommend them to anyone travelling to Santa Cruz Island, they are based in Puerto Ayora. 

 Snorkelling beside a graceful turtle in Penguin Bay was a magical moment, as someone who was once afraid to swim in the sea I can safely say Galapagos cured this! 

Snorkelling beside a graceful turtle in Penguin Bay was a magical moment, as someone who was once afraid to swim in the sea I can safely say Galapagos cured this! 

 Marine Iguanas bathing in the last light as the sun sets on Santa Cruz.

Marine Iguanas bathing in the last light as the sun sets on Santa Cruz.

The Galapagos giant tortoise was one of the species I most anticipated seeing on the islands. I was excited to photograph this species showing and iconic but endangered species from which the islands derived their name! Many of the populations of giant tortoises have been badly affected by humans. Early pirates and explorers found them to be a handy source of meat on long voyages at sea and more recently invasive species and some farming have impacted on their survival rates. But some local farmers have now opened up their land to tourists and are quite pleased to have them roaming the grassland. They are timeless creatures and somehow graceful despite their slow movement. We visited tortoises both in the wild and in captivity.

 This little tortoise was photographed at one of the breeding centres for the Galapagos Giant Tortoises, this is where they rear the young ones successfully before releasing them into the wild.

This little tortoise was photographed at one of the breeding centres for the Galapagos Giant Tortoises, this is where they rear the young ones successfully before releasing them into the wild.

Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz is a brilliant place to see how the local wildlife has become tame around the human residents. The Galapagos sea lions are completely relaxed and lie down on park benches and on the pier surrounded by busy crowds in the evenings.

 Napping on benches is a regular behaviour for these sea lions.

Napping on benches is a regular behaviour for these sea lions.

It is easy to see why the Galapagos islands are so famous. They are one of my favourite places I have had the opportunity to visit for wildlife photography. There are animals around every corner, and they are creatures who have not learned to be afraid of humans. The landscape is mystical with jagged lava rocks, fairytale mangrove forests and pristine white sand beaches. But we cannot be lulled into a false sense of security the threats to the archipelago are great and it is only with international cooperation and raised awareness that this fragile ecosystem might be protected far into the future.

 A stunning sunset on Santa Cruz, complete with marine iguanas.

A stunning sunset on Santa Cruz, complete with marine iguanas.

 

The Curious World Of Fungi

I recently completed and received feedback on an independent project towards my degree at Falmouth University. My independent project explores the curious world of fungi, through autumn and winter. The aim at the start of this project was to develop my scientific knowledge of the subject and to create a portfolio that would include a combination of microscopy and macro images to fully illustrate fungi and reveal them in a unique and interesting way. Using a variety of methods to create artistic images I finished a portfolio of work illustrating different aspects of fungal life. Fungi come in many different sizes and textures so there was no end of unusual subjects to depict in my work, especially during the autumn season when there were many species to see out in the field. Some have sheer glistening surfaces that are beautifully translucent in sunlight, which I have often seen at the ruins of Kennall Vale gunpowder works, while others might grow in curious patterns on rotting wood.  My pictures show a subject that can sometimes be disregarded as boring and become overlooked in a creative and unusual way. Most people consider mushrooms to be small and ugly compared to flowers, but theirs is a surprisingly beautiful world waiting to be explored. Fungi, together with bacteria are truly essential to life. They break down organic matter, help to prevent dead matter from accumulating and bring back nourishment to soil. Among the many thousands of species of fungi a large number are directly beneficial to people, they can be used in food, drink, medicines and industry. 

I learnt that throughout Europe there is evidence that fungi are declining in both variety and numbers. However it is only more recently that serious consideration has been given to the need for the conservation of fungi. Mycorrhizal species and fungi with specialised habitats tend to suffer the most. Decline seems to be the result of several factors, the most obvious being habitat loss. These losses tend to be the result of changes in land use and agricultural improvement. With this knowledge I hope that my work will encourage more people to admire the curious world of fungi and perhaps  encourage them to protect it. 

I researched several professional photographers who inspired this project... Martin Pfister is a wildlife photographer from Southern Germany, who was key in my research. His imagery focuses on being expressive, using special perspectives, lighting and processing techniques. The often-dramatic lighting in his photographs emphasizes the amazing textures of the fungi as well as their vivid surroundings. Martin Pfister inspired me to use refreshingly creative and unique ways to photograph fungi. Using artificial lighting from tiny LED’s I was able to emphasize amazing textures on fungi and make them stand out in vivid surroundings. My final print of a Fairy Inkcap mushroom surrounded by autumn leaves makes use of subtle lighting, to draw attention to the subject. 

Norwegian artist Andreas Lie creates subtle double exposures, combining wild landscapes with photographs of animals. His work has been recognised internationally, most notably with the series “Norwegian Wood” that merges portraits of Norwegian animals with the landscapes in which they live. His work demonstrates a deep appreciation for the natural world, and the animals within it. He inspired me to try something completely new, using double exposures to show living landscapes within the outline of fungi.  In conservation it is important to focus of ecosystems rather than just individual species and his work demonstrates this well. Giving the impression the animals are at one with their habitats and rely on the natural balance and systems within it to survive. My final double exposure images demonstrate the relationship between fungi and their environment. The outline of a mushroom is filled in by a forest landscape, a habitat that relies on fungi to survive. 

Misja Smits is an incredibly creative and artistic nature photographer, who has inspired a lot of my own photographic work and style. Since 2002 she has focused entirely on nature photography. She has specialized in macro subjects, including fungi, which makes her work particularly relevant for my project. She has a good understanding of colour, detail and composition in photography. By using wide apertures to blur colourful surroundings she is able to create mystical images. Her work has won several awards in international nature photography competitions including the European Nature Photographer of the Year.  I decided to achieve a similar effect in my own photographic work by using fallen leaves overlapping the camera lens to isolate the subject. The use of leaves achieves a creative effect in a natural way. 

During this project I learnt a lot about the biology of fungi and have been able to explore their uses and importance using a wide range of resources.  I even had the opportunity to meet with the lead ranger at National Trust’s Lanhydrock on a fungi tour, which enabled me to gain a lot of local knowledge about species present there and around Cornwall. 

Skomer Island

At the end of my first year at Falmouth University I was lucky enough to get a place on an organised photography trip to Skomer, the trip was full until a place became available just one week before departure, so I was extremely thankful to receive this exciting opportunity!   

Skomer is an island off the coast of Pembrokeshire in southwestern Wales. The island is renowned for being a wildlife haven, and is surrounded by some of the richest waters for wildlife off the British isles. As we drew closer to the island arriving in fantastic sunlight, we spotted our first puffins floating on the waters surface, bobbing up and down on the waves. We also saw a young seal taking a break from swimming on the rocky shore and were able to pass it within in meters, as we carried our heavy camera gear up onto the land. The next four days could easily be described as any wildlife photographers dream our group was staying in a renovated farmhouse at the centre of the island, which was a perfect place to meet between trips out taking photographs. During the day I would spend my time photographing guillemots, razorbills and puffins and occasionally a number of other species including oyster catchers, kittiwakes, herring gulls, shell ducks and curlews. The landscape itself was also incredibly photogenic and at the time of our visit in early June bluebells, thrift and sea campion added colour to the surrounding habitat. Most evenings I spent at 'The Wick', which is a sheer cliff carved with many ledges that are ideal homes for nesting seabirds. The grassy slopes are the best place to see the puffins which aren't afraid to walk within meters past island visitors, as they return to their burrows with sand eels. Another great thing to see on the island is all the rabbits, they have the usual brown wild rabbits but also some that are darker colours and look like pets! They are really cute but also provide a valuable food source for many birds on the island.

The puffin is an unmistakeable bird with its brightly coloured bill and distinctive plumage, it was certainly my favourite species on the island. They each seem to have their own personality, and are very humorous to watch as they walk around, glancing down at their webbed feet as if they were trying on slippers that were several sizes too big! 

The puffins are distinct in their ability to transport several fish at a time, crosswise in their bill rather than regurgitating food for their chicks. This adaption allows them to take longer foraging trips and increases their young's chances of survival.

It was not only the day time that was fantastic for wildlife on the island. We went out on night time walks and on a stormy night were surrounded by tens of thousands of manx shearwaters returning to their burrows on land, skimming the air gracefully until they clumsily reach the ground and seem to flop around with no control of direction! One even managed to fly straight into someones face! With so many birds calling at once there was an magical atmosphere and it is easy to see why in the past people thought they were the calls of souls lost at sea. The island also has a remarkably high population of frogs and toads, and you had to watch every step to avoid stepping on them! My favourite to photograph was the unusually vibrant orange frog that resides on Skomer.