As other photographers might relate, I often have lots of photography projects in mind. There are many species I hope to find and photograph across the UK with the possibility of traveling overseas for other species at some point in the future. However, I find that I become easily overwhelmed with just how many projects I want to take on and it ends up with most projects staying written in a notebook, never coming to fruition. Other life factors also play a role in whether a project will be successful and whether I achieve the image I imagined in my mind. Below are some of the ways I plan out my wildlife photography projects, and you are more than welcome to use these methods to help you with better planning!
One big factor when it comes to planning photography projects is time. Most of us have full-time jobs, a busy family life, or the responsibility of looking after other people who need extra care. While it can be tricky to fit in moments to do your own photography, or anything else creative, I find it important to set a period aside to purely focus on the current project. Make it non-negotiable if possible, by either making arrangements with other people or just stating that you will be unavailable. This way you can have all of your attention towards where you are going and what subject you hope to find.
Previously, I would write out one long list at the start of each year, but that is where I often start feeling overwhelmed. Furthermore, some of those projects would mean traveling a much further distance, and more planning is involved such as booking travel and accommodation (the earlier booked, the better!). More often than not, my list changes quite a bit throughout the year, especially if something like a rare bird turns up unexpectedly. One way that I tackle a sometimes long and ever-changing list is to look at seasonal wildlife events. For example, red deer have their annual rut during the autumn months so witnessing that would mean a better opportunity to capture social interactions between the deer and, of course, the moments when antlers clash. Another example is looking at when migrating bird species visit UK shores, such as the hundreds if not thousands of redwings and fieldfares that visit during the winter months to gorge themselves on berry trees. Once I know when certain wildlife events occur throughout the year, I can proceed to look at which locations to visit for a better chance of finding the species at that time of the year.
One thing that can put most photographers off from completing their projects is the weather. Forecasts aren’t always entirely accurate, and for moments where clear skies are predicted for a bright, golden sunrise, it can often turn out overcast first thing and it would feel like a morning, or even a full day, wasted. Even if the conditions or lighting aren’t what you hoped for, you can either return to the same location across multiple days or simply make the most of your time there if it is a day trip, as there is still the possibility of getting an image that you didn’t have in mind from the start — falling snow or rain can add movement to a shot of a bird or mammal standing still, as I found out when I photographed the local hares earlier this year. Of course, the best thing to do for unpredictable weather is to be prepared, so wherever I happen to be going I always pack a waterproof jacket and lens cover in my camera bag in case the weather does take a turn.
Something else I consider when planning projects is that certain events can occur out of my control, such as travel arrangements becoming thwarted or personal matters arising. While this can lead to projects being put on hold, it is good to remember that there will be another time to return to those projects again. Alternatively, another wildlife event that occurs at around the same time as your original project can be looked into and carried out instead if the situation allows it.
With all of this to consider, I always remind myself that not every project on my list has to be completed in one year alone. While I wish to spend many days out photographing wildlife, it is still important that I don’t run myself into the ground and space out my projects evenly throughout the year.
As we head towards the end of the year, I thought I would quickly mention a few projects that I hope to see through until the end of 2023. One of them includes an upcoming short stay in northern England where I hope to find my first-ever wild red squirrels! I have my fingers crossed that I get to see them with the current autumn colours we have at the moment. I am also keeping an eye out for visiting waxwings —they are one of the winter visitors that I have never seen before — as some flocks are starting to arrive in the northern parts of Scotland and I hope that some will make their way further south into England. Another notable wildlife event is the large starling murmurations that occur during the autumn and winter months, so I plan to visit a couple of locations in the hopes of capturing this spectacle with the sunrise or sunset.