Behind the Lens with Les Binns

22 September 2020 | Posted in Emma Chaplin , wildlife photography
Behind the Lens with Les Binns
Whimbrel at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Les Binns took some beautiful photographs on some of our reserves during a trip to Sussex. He has kindly donated these to our image library, and here he shares some of his favourites

The Mens

Taken at The Mens

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you developed an interest in wildlife photography.  

I live in Lincolnshire and volunteer for the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, chairing my local area group. When I was younger, I had a 30 year career in the Armed Forces. Now I still lecture for Lincoln college, where I've taught photography workshops, amongst other things. 

As a young lad, my playground was local fields and a pond, that held lots of fascinating things I didn’t understand. Summer days were spent exploring these areas and the creatures therein. Something that is sadly lacking from many children’s experiences, in these days of perceived and real risk from harm.

The interest in photography probably came about from my father’s use of a twin lens reflex camera. Over time I realised I had a desire to freeze memories, storing them for future appreciation and reflection, and saved my pocket money to buy a Kodak Brownie film camera at the age of 12. It was one button, point and shoot, but I was happy with the limited results. Later in life, I was able to afford a Pentax Spotmatic with removable lenses and learnt how to process my own black and white film in a makeshift darkroom and produce prints from an enlarger.

As digital photography started to outpace roll film, I found the lifting of ‘limitations’ very attractive. No longer was I restricted to 36 exposures and slides or print to enjoy, after laboratory colour processing a week later.

Waltham Brooks 1

Taken at Waltham Brooks

What was your favourite shot taken at one of our reserves?

This one of a White-legged Damselfly female (Platycnemis pennipes), because it’s the first one I have found, and they don’t occur in my home territory of Lincolnshire. I noticed it alongside a path at Woods Mill. It stood out as being something different, and I realised what it was after viewing it through my 400 mm lens.

White legged Damselfly female (Platycnemis pennipes)

White-legged Damselfly at Woods Mill

And your favourite shot ever?

Stonehenge; this is an HDR (High Dynamic Range) composite of six different exposures. I had spent the day photographing and videoing the henge, then waited for the sun to be in a certain position. The camera was on a tripod and set to bracket exposures in steps of 1EV, due to the extreme range of highlight and shadow. The exposures were in quick succession, to minimise the movement of cloud between them. Which turned out to be fortunate, as I hadn’t noticed the hare sat in front of the stones!

Stonehenge

What qualities do you need to be a good photographer?

Lots of patience, some field craft, and a working knowledge of your subjects, where and when they can be found and how they can be recorded without disturbance. Being observant is key and this improves with experience. It’s important to listen as you move, an alarm call can make you aware of other animals in the vicinity, and use your peripheral vision, to catch movement. Most importantly, remember that the welfare of the subject is more important than the photograph.

Little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)

Little Grebe at Woods Mill

What equipment do you use, in brief? 

I mostly use a Nikon D810 with a range of lenses from 18 mm to 600 mm. I also carry and a Panasonic DC-TZ95 compact with a superzoom that does decent 4K video. I have Manfrotto tripods for long exposures with Lee filters. I also wear muted clothing that doesn’t make too much noise.

Waltham Brooks 2

Taken at Waltham Brooks

What are you trying to communicate with your photographs?

Wildlife photography has become my way of sharing the wonders of, and my fascination for, the natural world. Even now, I am sometimes still surprised by the diversity and the incredible results of evolution I see through my lens. I’ve come across creatures I didn’t know existed, that are filling a niche in the environment, and using defensive strategies or camouflage you just couldn’t dream of – right here in the UK. So, I make it my mission to raise awareness of the natural world. I believe it’s important for all generations to learn to appreciate and respect all wildlife. We should all strive to preserve and protect the environment and its diversity, as a living machine. There are no lifeboats…

Eridge Rocks

Taken at Eridge Rocks

What do you find most challenging to photograph and why?

Macro, because of the limited depth of field. I sometimes use image stacking to overcome this.

Bridge Spider (Larinioides sclopetarius)

Bridge Spider, at Burton and Chingford Ponds

Where, and when, historically, would you most have liked to be with a camera?

I would like to have done a very long, time lapse, of the building of Stonehenge.

Ebernoe Common 1

Taken at Ebernoe Common

Any tips?

Get out there and enjoy nature but most importantly, respect what you see. 

When there are large areas of highlight or shadow in the frame, your exposure meter may not give the exposure you want. Use the +/- EV (Exposure Value/Compensation) to fine tune it. Increase the exposure (lighten the shadow) with ‘+’, decrease it (reduce the highlight) with ‘-‘. 

Robin's pincushion (Gall wasp   Diplolepis rosae)

Robins Pincushion in one of the Badlands Meadows at The Mens

Has anything unexpected happened with your photography?

There have been a few times I have met wildlife unexpectedly, eye-to-eye. Staring into each other’s eyes, I’ve remained motionless for what seems like minutes, but in reality, it’s only seconds until the ‘spell’ breaks. From the relaxed way they have turned and left or flown away, I’m left with the knowledge that the creature accepted my presence and knew I wasn’t a threat. Needless to say, the camera doesn’t get used, but those are special memories.

Les Binns (Homo sapiens   mostly)

Here is a link to Les's YouTube channel

Or you can find him on Flickr

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