Sussex Wildlife Trust member Richard Sharman generously donated all of the stunning images that appear in our 2020 wildlife calendar. We speak to him about what photography means to him, as well as his love of nature.
Tell us about how you developed an interest in wildlife photography, and what it means to you.
My parents returned to England from India after the war when I was very young and settled in a farm cottage in Surrey. It was the best thing they ever did for me. My early years were spent steeped in nature and the countryside, and around all manner of wildlife, in the fields, streams and woods. I remember the Barn Owls circling the field, and watching the birds of prey, foxes and insects after the farmer had circled the fields on his combine harvester. Aged eight I saved for my first camera, a Box Brownie, and that’s when my interest in wildlife photography began. However, the demands of my career as well as raising a family placed my photographic aspirations on the back burner. After I retired aged 67, I suffered a major heart attack. My son Duncan bought me a Canon camera which gave me something positive to focus on and revived my interest in wildlife and photography.
What qualities do you need to be a good wildlife photographer?
Patience is key, an essential which I’d also learnt as an amateur fisherman. I think what’s most important is to really love what you’re doing, to try in your photography to be original, to tell a story and to aim to make an impact with your images. I like to show unusual activities and action in nature.
I now tend to divide my work into three categories – record shots, action shots and mood/emotion/feeling shots.
What equipment do you use, in brief?
Canon 7D Mk II, 100/400mm prime lens, 300mm fixed lens, and a 100mm lens for macro, particularly insects. Ring flash. Monopod (I stopped using a tripod after a dog crashed into it). High quality secondhand equipment is often available. I recommend buying the highest quality you can afford. As your skills increase, you will be glad you did. I also take out a bean bag to rest my camera where possible and a bin bag for sitting on wet ground, logs or benches.
What do you most enjoy photographing?
All wildlife. Birds of course, but also insects, amphibians and mammals.
Where do you tend to go?
Most often, the nature reserve at Warnham, because it offers a variety of birds, insects and amphibians. Also, Arundel, Pulborough Brooks, Pagham Harbour all offer great opportunities.
Do you have advice to offer?
Don’t chase your subject, let it come to you. And the best advice I was ever given was to pick one species and focus on it for a year and get to know everything about it. Photograph it in different lights, weather conditions, habitats, time of the year, life cycle, action, movement and flight. I actually chose two species – the Great Crested Grebe, and also gulls, which are really hard to capture in flight, and white is difficult to photograph. In this way I learnt a huge amount about my camera and shooting techniques, and this played a big part in how I achieved Royal Photographic Society Associate Distinction membership.
What’s your favourite shot?
The first good one I ever took, about six years ago was at the British Wildlife Centre. It’s of a fox’s eyes. I successfully entered it into a club competition. My son has it on his wall. It inspired me.
What are you trying to communicate with your photographs?
I’m hoping I might inspire other people to realise what stunning creatures and photographic opportunities are out there and to get out and experience it and to value, cherish and protect our dwindling and vulnerable wildlife.
My hope in the future is to take my photography to schools and give talks and lectures with this aim in mind.
To see further examples of Richard’s photography, some of which is available to buy: wildsideuk.com
To buy one of Sussex Wildlife Trust’s 2020 calendars, featuring Richard’s work sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/shop/category/calendar