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Sophie Stafford’s top tips for budding photographers


Sophie Stafford talks about judging this years BWPA

Sophie Stafford was Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine for over eight years. A trained biologist with a passion for photography, she travelled the globe in search of the best wildlife stories and images for the award-winning magazine and its website. She judged BBC Wildlife’s prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition for over six years, joined the Nature jury on the World Press Photo Award in Amsterdam in 2011 and 2012, and flew to Moscow to judge the Golden Turtle Competition in 2012.

She shares with us her thoughts on how photography and film can help raise awareness of species under threat – as well as providing her top tips for budding photographers.

1.What are you looking forward to most about joining the BWPA jury for the first time this year?

Photography never fails to inspire and delight me, and I always look forward to seeing something new, either an incredible moment or a novel technique that shows a familiar subject in a fresh and exciting way.

2.What do you look for in a winning photo?

Originality. It goes without saying that I expect any award-winning photo to be technically excellent – well-exposed, totally sharp and pleasingly composed –  but for me the best shots are also creative, innovative and surprising. It’s not what you photograph – it’s how you do it that makes the difference.

3.How do you think photography and competitions like the BWPA can benefit conservation?

Photography can create a powerful emotional connection between people and wildlife. By showcasing the very best photos to a wide audience, competitions can help to raise awareness of conservation issues and species under threat.

I believe that competitions should also encourage the highest possible ethical standards among photographers, selecting as award-winners only those images taken with the utmost respect for wild species and their habitats.

4.Can you share with us some of your favourite BWPA photos, and touch on what it is that makes them so special?

FOX GLANCE by Samuel Morris

Fox GlanceFox Glance © Samuel Morris

BWPA 2013 Animal Portraits Highly Commended 

Foxes are well photographed subjects, so it can be a challenge to get anything fresh – but this image speaks to me. The intensity of the fox’s gaze is captivating, inspiring a great sense of intimacy yet reminding us that we can never truly know a wild animal’s thoughts. The light is subtle and mysterious, the textures of its fur almost tangible: this is a portrait that hints at so much more.

LONE GANNET by Andy Parkinson

Lone GannetLone Gannet © Andy Parkinson

BWPA 2012 Habitat Category Highly Commended 

High above the tumult of crashing waves, framed against a fortress of dark cliffs, a solitary gannet perches on a ledge. Gannet colonies are messy, busy places; a scene of such serenity is usually only achieved with paintbrush and canvas. It’s simple yet incredibly powerful. You have to work hard to get prize-winning pictures: Andy Parkinson not only went the extra mile, but crawled over dead sheep to get this.


Tabby Cat with Blackbird NestlingTabby Cat with Blackbird Nestling © Doug Mackenzie Dodds

BWPA 2011 Urban Wildlife Highly Commended 

Photography is not all about pretty pictures – real life can be ugly. Doug’s image is excruciating, yet arresting, exposing the secret killers among us: domestic cats. The nestling’s beak gapes wide as if in a silent scream, its eyes still closed, its body featherless, its future now terminated. The cat’s eyes are bright with the thrill of the hunt. It is a remorseless killing machine. It’s only doing what comes naturally.

It is estimated that the UK’s cats catch up to 55 million birds a year – and blackbirds are the third most common victims. This is one of the best images of this conservation issue I’ve seen.

5. What are your top tips for budding amateur photographers with little equipment but bags of enthusiasm?

It’s not what equipment you’ve got, but how you use it that counts. Be creative, both in your choice of subject matter and your technique. Look close to home for a project that you can make your own, and aim to show people a species or place in a way they’ve never seen before. Be inspired by the work of others, but don’t copy them. Develop your own visual fingerprint.

Be patient – you need to invest a lot of time and effort (but not neccessarily money) to capture something that is genuinely new and original, such as rare behaviour or a unique perspective.

Find out more about Sophie and her work on her website.

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