BY DICK HAWKES
Over the last couple of years, I have been taking photographs with an OM-D E-M1 for my book Chalk Streams – A Unique Environment Worth Conserving. As well as showing the beauty of the landscape, an important theme of the book is to highlight the rich variety of wildlife supported by the chalk streams. As I discovered on multiple occasions, the wildlife do not appear to order.
The two images of water voles in the book are the result of four 120-mile round trips. Unfortunately, these extremely shy animals are usually only seen very briefly – perhaps a momentary glimpse, – then a “plop” as it enters the water. I knew that the chances of water vole sightings coinciding with my visits with a camera were not high. I was on my fourth (so far unsuccessful) trip when I arranged to have a drink in East Meon. I was a few minutes early, so I revisited a nearby tiny channel of the Meon chalk stream — more a ditch, really. I looked over a low wall to spot a water vole peering out of its burrow. I don’t know who was most surprised! I managed to quickly shoot off a few frames with the M.Zuiko 300mm F4 PRO before it disappeared.
I wanted to get a close-up image of the iconic chalk stream species, the Mayfly, so needed to get some control over the process. To do this, I used a very soft bug net to capture a male spinner returning to the River Avon in the late afternoon. I then placed the fly on a leaf I had set up in a light tent to give the soft lighting essential to bring out the features of the body and wings. The mayfly was co-operative just long enough for me to get my focus stacked image with the M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 Macro before it flew off. I think this image shows the intricate details that are so easy to miss when you’re viewing these creatures from a distance on the river bank.
Getting photographs of wild brown trout proved to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated. I wanted shots of them in their natural habitat. Many of my attempts to photograph them from the bank or from bridges proved to be unsatisfactory. Reflections that couldn’t be eliminated with a polarising filter and the refraction of the moving water resulted in a blurred and milky picture. The image used in the book was captured by wading in a crystal clear stretch of the River Itchen shooting with the Olympus Tough TG-6, taking advantage of the bright sunshine at the right angle to get the reflections which makes the picture.
I hope the book captures the essence of the chalk streams – featuring the beauty of the environments, the way they were formed and are now being maintained, and the rich variety of wildlife these habitats support.