Capturing farm life from behind the lens

Suffolk Punches at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. Picture: Sarah Darnell

Suffolk Punches at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. Picture: Sarah Darnell - Credit: Archant

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse volunteer Sarah Darnell shares her secrets about capturing farm life on camera.

Rabbits at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. Picture: Sarah Darnell

Rabbits at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. Picture: Sarah Darnell - Credit: Archant

This week we begin with the wonderful news that Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse has opened to the general public, with advanced booking required for entry.

Visitors to the museum will have access to hand sanitiser and handwashing facilities while signage and recommended visitor routes will allow for social distancing.

The reopening arrangements for Gressenhall have been awarded a Visit Britain ‘We’re Good To Go’ certification, the official UK mark to signal that a tourism and hospitality business has worked hard to follow Government and industry Covid-19 guidelines and has a process in place to maintain cleanliness and aid social distancing.

When you come back to Gressenhall you may want to bring your camera to capture the wonderful wildlife.

A fox at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. Picture: Sarah Darnell

A fox at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. Picture: Sarah Darnell - Credit: Archant

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Life through a lens

I am a morning person. I love the soft, special light at that time of day. I always feel so privileged to be listening to the bird song and sounds of nature winding up to start a new day. I always leave my home with an optimism that today may be the day of being involved in something special that I can record with my camera.

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My something special is often not what I had hoped for however hard I plan. I pride myself on thinking ahead.

Learning where my chosen wildlife subject most frequents, where the perfect place with the best light maybe so I often have the ideal photograph in my head long before I have actually taken it.

A roe deer stag at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. Picture: Sarah Darnell

A roe deer stag at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. Picture: Sarah Darnell - Credit: Archant

Each one of my photographs is a personal investment of time, patience and emotion. I have had so many, wonderful moments of sitting with animals feeding their young, sharing moments of play and fun, watching intimate, heartbreaking, moments of desperate acts of animal behaviour chancing life and limb, trying to find food rather than becoming food themselves.

A lot of my time, favourite photographs are those that I have missed.

Either I didn’t have my camera to hand or I wasn’t quick enough to capture the moment.

Those award-winning shots are stored in my photo memory bank and become wonderful stories to tell.

A bit like a fisherman telling the story of the giant fish that got away, I have my own, too many to confess to, missed opportunities!

As a volunteer at Gressenhall being able to photograph farm life alongside wildlife is a huge privilege. Often I have captured my magic moment long before staff, let alone visitors have arrived.

I like to imagine whose footsteps have walked the same track in the past that I may be walking in.

Or how different the bird and animal sight, sounds now may be. How lucky to be there for pleasure, rather than having to toil for my bread and board.

Often as I have been laying on the track anticipating the approach of a fox or deer a large shadow has fallen over me.

I’ve looked up expecting to see dark clouds in the sky but only to find it is usually one our majestic but curious Suffolk Punches leaning over the fence trying to get a view of what I am looking at!

Other times I have been so absorbed looking through my lens willing the sleeping hare to wake up or do something interesting and finding to my surprise that leverets have crept up behind me and sat within tickling distance.

How long they have been there is anyone’s guess!

Getting a photograph is more than a having a good camera as visual skills and listening skills play a huge part being in the right place, at the right time.

I’ve learnt to listen to the urgent alarm calls of the chickens when the fox may be passing by, the pigs’ morning grunts for breakfast that scare off the multitude of birds hunting for insects amongst the overnight bedding and the thunderous sounds of heavy, horse feet churning up the ground, making rabbits scatter.

All very photographic, worthy opportunities to capture.

I am often asked for some photographic top tips, I’m not a technical expert but I do love what I do, so here are my few suggestions:

• Think about the overall composure of your shot, check the backgrounds and overall setting. So often a wonderful image is spoilt by a busy background of messy branches or worse.

• Capture a natural behaviour or moment of intimacy, focusing, if possible, on the eye of your subject.

• Let the subject have space in which to relax and behave naturally. A scared, trapped expression on a subject isn’t good whereas a surprised expression is often quite fun!

• Hone your field skills, stay down wind and don’t wear lots of perfumed toiletries.

• Wear muted colours not bright clothing.

• Stay low and don’t create a skyline profile, walk slowly and quietly.

• Like the photo you have taken. What other people think is secondary. It’s a personal moment, a memory and experience that should remain special to you. It is a bonus if it’s technically brilliant but for me it is the overall story the picture tells that is more important.

• Be tenacious and keep working on your subject until you think you have capture what you really wanted.

Lastly, check the weather forecast the night before you plan to go out as you never know it might be a chance of a rare lie in rather than a fruitless expedition.

Note from the Gressenhall team

Many thanks to Sarah for this lovely article but also for her countless beautiful photographs of the farm. And remember – if the weather forecast looks grey there is still plenty to do at Gressenhall so hop online, book your timed tickets and enjoy your visit!

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