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Four seasons of nature: Danny Green’s year<br class="br_visual" /> of wildlife

Four seasons of nature: Danny Green’s year
of wildlife

© Danny Green

December 2015

With a stash of stunning images, multiple award-winning wildlife photographer Danny Green has had an incredible 2015. In a special interview he picks out some of his favourites and discusses how he captured them with CPN writer Mark Alexander...

Canon Explorer and top wildlife photographer Danny Green has had a busy year. In fact, he says 2015 has been the most productive of his 25-year career. “I have to pinch myself sometimes that this is the job that I do,” he says sincerely. “I’m sure a lot of people say their job is the best in the world, but I think being a wildlife photographer really is the best. This year, I look back on the stuff I’ve done and I can say a lot of the trips were very successful.”

Choosing an image to sum up each month was no easy task with so many trips to look back on. Danny takes up the story behind each one of these incredible wildlife moments...


© Danny Green

Common cranes. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/5sec at f/18, ISO 100.

“This image I’ve chosen for January was taken in the Hula valley in northern Israel, which is beautiful; very lush and green, and, of course, during the winter it supports about 40,000 wintering common cranes. In this picture, I deliberately used a slow shutter speed to convey a sense of movement, but I wanted some of the cranes to be sharp. I think when you have to explain the subject, you’ve lost your audience. I must have taken over 3,000 images of blurred cranes, and really only two or three stood out. It is very much a case of trial and error. You don’t know what you’ve got until you see them on a big screen.”


© Danny Green

Japanese cranes. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/13, ISO 800.

Moving onto February, Danny recalls: “I’ve got this thing about cranes, and the Japanese crane was high on my wish list. This shot was taken on the island of Hokkaido. I got some great weather to work with; some really adverse stuff. I was inspired by Japanese art, but to do this in a photograph was extremely difficult. During the days of film, it would have been impossible. I shot it around f/18 because I wanted the cranes in the foreground to be the main focus but there was a constant stream of cranes walking behind them and if I shot it wide open at f/4, they would be out of focus. By stopping down, I could bring the cranes in the background more into focus, which really added to the composition. Of course when you do that, your shutter speed becomes dangerously low. But because I could shoot at quite high ISOs on the EOS-1D X, I still had the speed to arrest the movement of the displaying cranes.”


© Danny Green

Red deer and snow. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/320sec at f/7.1, ISO 1600.

With more snow on his return from Japan, Danny turned his attention to Scotland for March. “This image was taken on an estate in the Cairngorms National Park,” he recalls. “It’s a location that I’ve been to many times although not a lot of field craft skills went into this image. Basically the deer are used to being fed every day and so have become quite habituated to humans. I had a really good forecast for heavy snow, which produces a whiteout, high-key effect with the snow in the background, but also falling on the deer’s fur and antlers. I also had the flexibility of moving around and trying different compositions. In this one I like the way the deer is peering around the tree. That’s why I chose the 500mm lens; it throws everything out [of focus]. It’s like a split second image as the deer peers around a tree. They say the camera never lies; but the reality is I could have taken the image with a wide angle lens.”


© Danny Green

Black grouse. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/6400sec at f/8, ISO 400.

With spring in the air, Danny headed over to Finland in April. “This is a shot of a black grouse,” he remembers. “I was sat in a hide, trying to capture the males displaying and fighting for the right to breed with the females. On the morning I took this picture it was amazing. They were conditions you pray for as a photographer. It was about -30 degrees Celcius and I was excited about getting something unique. But, when it’s too cold, the grouse just stay in the trees. As the sun started to rise, a female dropped down on the lake, and that of course brought the males down. I managed to get one of the best sessions I’ve ever had photographing black grouse. It was just amazing. This picture is all about the mist clinging to the snow so it looks like the black grouse is standing in clouds. As the sun rose, it gave the mist a beautiful, ethereal orange glow. Amazing conditions. When I can, I love creating simplistic, artistic images like that.”


© Danny Green

Gannets. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x at 388mm; the exposure was 1/2000sec at f/10, ISO 400.

Moving onto May, Danny took a trip to Ireland. “This image was taken on the Saltee Islands off the south coast of Ireland,” he reflects. “I’ve been going there for ten years photographing gannets. It’s a wonderful island and the conditions were perfect for showing off the birds’ yellow, white and black plumage. The light was right on my back, so it was classic sunny light. I really like photographing in adverse weather conditions but I am equally at home in beautiful light as well. I took this image with the EF200-400mm lens. It was perfect because you can zoom into 400mm then switch on the converter which is great for portraits. What I like about this shot is the sweep of the rocks leading up to the gannets. It leads your eye into the main focus of the image. I deliberately zoomed out to 300mm to get that. It’s a great lens because it gives you flexibility especially in a restricted area or a fixed position like in a gannet colony.”


© Danny Green

Arctic terns. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and EF1.4x III extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/800sec at f/5.6, ISO 800.

For the month of June, Danny headed to Iceland. “This was taken at the famous Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. It’s one of those locations you keep going back to in the hope of getting beautiful light. The problem is Iceland is the coldest, wettest and windiest place I’ve ever been to. However, during the summer you get 24 hours of daylight and in the evening you can get some stunning light to work with. This was taken at midnight. The ice lagoon sits at the foot of a huge glacier and as the ice gets carved into the lagoon, you get these wonderful shapes and colours. When the birds were perched in the block of ice, it was a nice enough picture but you really needed a bird in flight to illuminate the backlighting. I use a converter quite a lot; mainly the 1.4 on my 500mm. I find I don’t lose any sharpness and the autofocus is just as quick. Technology is improving all the time which is making my job a lot easier.”


© Danny Green

Pine marten in the rain. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and EF1.4x III extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/400sec at f/4, ISO 400.

A rainy July saw Danny return to Scotland, for an encounter with one of the country’s more elusive animals. “I’ve been going to the west coast of Scotland to photograph pine martens for the last three summers,” he advises. “This time I wanted to photograph them jumping but I was bogged down in terrible weather. I nailed pine martens in the rain so if anyone needs one, I’m your man! A lot of photographers don’t go out in bad weather, but I thrive in it. You need a third ingredient for a good picture and that could be exquisite light, a bit of action or adverse weather, and I think rain really stands out. You can see how wet it is with all that lovely texture on the fur. I put out food to attract pine martens like peanuts and raisins, but their favourite food is strawberry jam and this one was licking jam from a bit of bread. His head was down so I had to make a squeaky noise for him to look up.”


© Danny Green

Alaskan bull moose. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and EF1.4x III extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/400sec at f/5.6, ISO 800.

August saw Danny clock up more air miles, this time to photograph moose. “This was taken in Denali National Park in Alaska,” he recalls. “I was there photographing the autumnal rut which starts in late August. It was something I had always wanted to photograph. I was pleased with what I got because they are such as elusive animal and one of the most aggressive in north America. The males are so pumped up that if you make any movement they’ll think you’re a female moose, so you have to be careful. I was less than 30ft away. This moose was extremely difficult to photograph because his antlers were fresh. He had just lost his velvet and for a few days they’re blood red, but then they start to bleach a bright white. I expose for the animal, but I’m on dangerous territory here because I could lose detail in the antlers. However for me it is more important to get the eye contact and detail in the fur.”


© Danny Green

Grizzly bears fighting. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and EF1.4x III extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/500sec at f/6.3, ISO 1600.

Staying in Alaska for September, Danny recalls: “Lake Clark National Park in Alaska is a fantastic place for bears because there’s no hunting so the bears don’t fear humans. In early September the annual silver salmon run starts and, of course, the bears are waiting. There was one stream being fished by a small female bear with two cubs. She was very protective of her spot. One morning, she had been fishing successfully when another female came down and a proper fight that lasted for over six minutes broke out. At one point, we thought the bigger female was going to kill the mother bear, but she was a real scrapper. As a photographer, you dream of situations like that unfolding in front of you. Six minutes is a long time. Usually you get six seconds. With six minutes, I could change position and lenses. This shot really stood out because of the saliva and the intent look in the bear’s eyes. It’s such a dramatic image.”


© Danny Green

Red deer stag in the rain. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and EF1.4x III extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/250sec at f/5.6, ISO 1600.

For October, Danny stayed local. “I travel around the world, but I’m also a great believer in working your local patch,” he advises. “My patch is Bradgate Park near Leicester where I’ve been photographing for 26 years and always go in the month of October. It’s one of my favourite places. When the red deer are roaring and there’s mist in the valley, it’s beautiful and primeval. I chose this image because I like the rain. I deliberately chose a dark, moody background so the rain would stand out. It’s probably one of my favourite pictures because it shows you can work in adverse weather conditions. Canon has spent a lot of money on R&D to make their pro bodies and lenses weatherproof and I am good guinea pig. People say I must have all the images I could ever want of deer, but I try to treat every day as if I’ve never photographed deer before. That keeps me fresh. I like going back over and over again because you can never finish photographing a subject.”


© Danny Green

Male polar bears sparring, Canada. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and EF1.4x III extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/800sec at f/5.6, ISO 800.

November saw a return to more snow and freezing temperatures, as Danny explains: “These are two male polar bears in their prime sparring in Churchill, Canada. While they wait for the ice to thaw, they play fight in preparation for the following spring when things get serious. It wasn’t until the end of the trip that we saw the big males. It was getting colder and the ice was starting to form on the sea. The bears knew it was only a matter of days before they could start hunting. I could have used the 500mm on its own, but I wanted to go really tight in to isolate the bears so all your attention was on the bears’ heads. I didn’t want any distractions so that’s why I put the converter on. It made it difficult because the framing was tight and they were moving quickly. I always advise people to go for the image they know is going to work rather than taking the easier option of using a smaller lens and cropping it.”


© Danny Green

Russian wolf. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and EF1.4x III extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/320sec at f/5.6, ISO 800.

Danny’s most recent assignment has been to Scandinavia once more. “I went to Finland to photograph iconic predators in the forests along the eastern border of Russia,” he explains. “I’ve been there in July when you there is light for most of the night but later in the year, it gets dark a lot earlier and it is a long cold night waiting for morning. Wolves were the main draw and we had some fantastic encounters. The wolves in particular were active during the early part of the evening turning up once the sun had set so the light levels were low. Modern digital cameras produce amazing results at high ISOs. In the days of film, it would have been impossible to get these shots. One evening the light was exquisite and the wolves came out a bit earlier. The light filtered across the swamp with the wolves occasionally stepping into these pockets of light. It was the kind of conditions you pray for.”

Biography: Danny Green

Danny Green

Danny Green is an award-winning wildlife photographer based in the UK. He became interested in nature from a young age and has been photographing the natural world for over 20 years. His approach to photography is detailed and can involve him spending months, if not years, working on one specific subject. Danny has travelled to some of the most remote regions of the world – from the Highlands of Scotland to the Boreal forests of Finland and polar ice caps of Svalbard. He has won many prizes in the most respected wildlife photography competitions and his work is represented by the leading natural history picture agencies. His recent book The Long Journey North details seven years of shooting in the arctic and subarctic regions of northern Europe.