During a totally unrelated photography workshop a friend mentioned a Birds of Prey centre based up at Haggerston Castle, he wasn't too sure of the exact location or the name but was sure they flew the birds and welcomed photographers. A quick look on the internet and I found Andy Howeys Birds of Prey Centre, based in the grounds of Haggerston Castle it is primarily a visitor centre. A place holiday makers could pop into while staying at the Caravan Park. Also a place you can book up a session for photographers.
I phoned up Andy and booked myself onto his Birds of Prey flying experience not really sure what to expect. First surprise on meeting Andy was that he was a photographer in his own right so fully understood what we would be wanting to capture, also he was full of suggestions for capturing the best shots and where to stand to get them. The second surprise was the itinerary Andy had in store for us. It wasn't just a Birds of Prey shoot on site, he actually loaded the birds up into his van and took us out into the country. There was only 4 of us on this session so plenty of room to move around, no crowding and we all managed to capture some amazing photos of his wonderful birds out in their natural environment, we spent a couple of hours at several different locations before returning to the Birds of Prey Centre at Haggerston Castle. Andy proceeded to pose his various birds of prey on posts, in the trees etc. Then the exciting bit, Andy and Juanita flying the birds, the birds were flying for tit bits so once they were full they were a bit reluctant to fly no problem there, Andy just got another bird out. This was a magnificent experience nothing was rushed and I managed to capture plenty of good photos. Andy & Juanita were so patient and did everything they could to accommodate us all. To finish off there was another little bonus, Andy got some of his harvest mice out and set them in various settings, these little guys were real characters and very quick but we got some amazing photos.
All in all a magnificent day in great company, Andy and Juanita are two smashing people and so easy to get on with. After todays workshop I would definitely be coming back for another session, it could never disappoint. Shortly after this experience Andy made contact and informed me that he would be holding a studio workshop with his reptiles, small creatures and owls. He had only gone and built a studio in his back garden. Now this should be a great day and with groups limited to around 4 it should not be crowded and we wouldn't have to jostle for the best position.
Below are some of the photographs I captured on this fantastic day out.
After finishing up with the session at Haggerston Castle, I ventured west and had a quick visit to the eerie Duddo Stones. Managed to capture this photograph of these stones.
My next visit to see Andy was at his new back garden studio, I did not know what to expect when I got there? I mean this was a studio in his back garden, there were four of us in the group, if I added Andy and Juanita that was 6 people! Would it be big enough? Arrived there and it was enormous, it had more than enough room in it for all of us. It was superbly set up and well equipped with studio lighting and plenty of props. There was even a sofa and a bar area with tea, coffee and something a bit stronger for the non-drivers. This studio session was so good I booked another session after this with Andy and also a workshop run by the amazing Trai Anfield who is a Professional Wildlife Photographer. Trai Anfield normally runs Wildlife Safaris and this would be an amazing opportunity to pick her expert brain for tips and tricks, like being in the company of photography Royalty.
My first studio session with Andy lived up to and probably exceeded my expectations, it is a full day of photography and nothing is rushed. The animals are brought out one at a time in a controlled and safe environment, the safety of the animals is paramount and you can see this the way the session is handled by Andy and assisted by Juanita. Both very highly experienced and can answer any question you may have about the huge variety of animals. There are snakes and spiders which aren't everybody's cup of tea, so all fears and phobias are also respected. Those without the fears are of course invited to hold the animals, observed closely by Andy.
We all met at the Village Hall in Andy's village and then transferred to his house. The first view of the studio was, wow look at the size of the place, I certainly wasn't expecting this. It is big enough to fly the Owls in, so that will give you an idea of how big it really is. We started off with a cuppa and a biscuit, while we introduced ourselves to each other. These studio sessions are suitable for all abilities from complete beginner to advanced, there is something for everybody. Andy is an accomplished photographer in his own right and is on hand to assist beginners. He will also make suggestions of shots to take, also when the reptiles are feeding he knows the precise moment they strike so you can hit the shutter at the right time. You will also get the chance to meet Millie, who is Andy's mischievous and lovable Spaniel who loves being made a fuss of.
Refreshments and introductions complete, we all got our photography equipment set up and with Andy on hand he will suggest the ideal lens to use. We started with the Harvest Mice, I opted to go with my 70 - 200mm f2.8 lens. This is a fast lens and I could be a little distance away from the mice and get good results. Andy uses a series of props for the little Harvest Mice to clamber around to give a realistic photo, these little guys scamper around and are very quick, this keeps Andy very busy placing them and replacing them in prominent posing positions. The two Harvest Mice in the photo who look like they are kissing was the result of extreme patience and having to wait for them to get in the right position. The sunset shadow photograph was the result of using a polystyrene ball in the background and the mouse in silhouette and then cropping the photo for better effect. The other silhouette photo is a composite, the moon is a photo of the Harvest Moon that I took previously, I layered the Harvest Mouse climbing the wheat in front of the Moon. The sky, the grass and the tree were layered and built in during post editing in photoshop.
Next up Andy brought out his delightful little Red Eyed Tree Frog. Stunning colours on its body and beautiful deep red eyes. This little character was as mischievous as the Mice and at one stage jumped off one of the plants straight into Andy's coffee cup, luckily it was empty, as the Frog climbed out we managed to capture the unique photo hanging on the lip of the spotty mug. Andy posed the tree frog on various plant props, which enhanced to photos of this stunning little creature.
We then got out the black reflective perspex sheet and captured some of the animals in reflection, first up was Frank the frog who always looks like he has the biggest smile on his face. This was followed by an array of wonderful creatures, spider, snakes, bearded dragon and chameleon as captured in my photographs. Nothing was ever hurried or rushed, we could take as many or as few photos as you wanted and the animals were only taken away and replaced when everybody was satisfied they had captured the photos they wanted.
To finish the day off Andy & Juanita got a couple of the Owls out, started with posing the Owls on various props, tree stumps, fence posts, pitch fork handles etc. Once we had captured the posed photos we rounded everything off with the Owls actually flying in the studio, with the dark background and the studio lighting it gives the impression of the Owls flying at night. Catching Owls in flight at the best of times is challenging, the conditions in the studio even more so.
What an amazing day this was, it was everything I could have wished for and I was leaving with the knowledge that I had taken over 1000 photographs, I knew for a fact I would have plenty of good captures. It would certainly take a few days to sort through them all and then post process in photoshop. Anybody interested in photography and wildlife will love to do this workshop, great opportunities to get up close and personal to these fabulous animals.
If you would like to visit Andy Howey Birds of Prey Centre to see all his Birds, Reptiles and small creatures, or maybe you would like to do a photography workshop with him. Have a look at his Trip Advisor reviews and give him a call, you will not be disappointed.
Andy Howey Birds of Prey Centre - Trip Advisor Reviews
Andy Howey Birds of Prey Centre - Website
Andy Howey email - email@example.com
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