My Nocturnal Owl Photography Story - Simon Wantling Photography

My Nocturnal Owl Photography Story

For those that follow my work, either through my website or on social media, you'll know that one of my trademarks is my owl photography. I've spent many years studying the behaviour of these amazing birds in the wild in order to capture the images I do. When you get to know these birds, you'lI realise that each one has their own personality and can make for some very intimate images which is something I always strive for.

As most owls are predominately nocturnal, one of the techniques I'd employed over recent years was the use of flash photography to capture owls in action at night. This at the time in my opinion was carried out very responsibly using low power, short flash durations to minimise disturbance for the subject and over the many years of photographing them this way, I'd never seen any ill effects on any of the owls. Certainly not the extreme effects I'd been accused of causing by very strong minded people of social media, even though there was, or still is no real evidence of flash causing blindness or long term effects. However, when I was approached by a photographer who I respected, but also put across the argument for not using flash in a professional and non-aggressive manner, I decided to reconsider my technique. My approach with all my wildlife photography is the welfare of the subject comes first, and I considered myself a responsible photographer and an advocate for owl conservation, so it wasn't easy to take criticism. I became convinced though that using flash on nocturnal owls was such a grey area that there was likely to be something in it - and it was time to change.


In moving away from flash photography, I still wanted to somehow photograph owls responsibly at night. I am very lucky and privileged to be the owner of professional level photography equipment by Canon, with top end full frame camera bodies and lenses, so I would be able to push the limits of low light photography but still maintain good image quality. I decided to use continuous LED lights by Rotolight to light the area where the wild owls would normally land. These Rotolight Neo lights are amazing. The lights although not cheap, are fully controllable for light temperature and can easily be balanced to the given situation. For my images, I use 3 of these lights. In using continuous lights, there is not the sudden flash of light and is totally down to the comfort of the owls if they land or not. With this relatively low light setup, camera settings are key to achieving a good image. My go to settings for these images was - Canon 1DX Mark II, Canon 600mm Mark II, ISO6400, f4, 1/200 shutter speed.

Action shots are not possible in that you can't freeze them in flight etc - but for static poses - good quality images are totally achievable. On reflection, the quality of light from the continuous light setup is far more pleasing and natural - plus I don't think anyone can argue that this will have affected the subject in anyway. If the owl is not happy - it won't land. Saying that, there are always people that just simply don't agree with any lighting setup for wildlife photography but I'm more than happy with this technique and indeed have received many comments of praise in showing that there is a responsible way to photography owls at night without the use of flash.

If you are one of those people still using flash then please can I encourage you to make the change and stop this techniques. Its not needed and with a little photography skill, images of great quality can be achieved. Believe me - you won't look back.. For those interested in using these lights, they can be purchased directly from WexPhotographic from the following link.

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