"Animalscape" Photography With Peter Batty
"I enjoy both wildlife and landscape photography, and where possible I like to combine both genres and capture “animalscapes”, showing wildlife in its environment. "
Peter Batty has been to around 40 countries on six continents so far (with just Antarctica left), which has given him incredible opportunities to photograph "animalscapes", a word he uses to refer to capturing both wildlife and landscape images. With his appreciation for nature and a good technical challenge, along with a lot of patience and persistence, he has seen through his lens images that most people would never have the opportunity to see in person.
A pair of Green Jays at a waterhole in South Texas. I love the symmetry here, with the combination of the birds’ poses and the reflection. I took probably a hundred or so rapid fire shots to get them in exactly this position, which they only held for a fraction of a second.
First thing you do every morning?
Play Wordle. Unless I’m doing a super early photo outing, in which case I just get up and go.
Walkers cheese and onion crisps, from Britain, which is where I was born and lived for the first half of my life. They’re hard to get hold of here!
Walkers cheese and onion crisps!
Mountain goat surveying the view at 14,000ft above sea level at the top of Mount Evans, Colorado, shortly before sunrise.
Last show or movie you watched?
We were just at the Telluride Film Festival and saw a lot of movies over the long weekend. My favorite was Living, starring Bill Nighy.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Live in the present.
African buffalo taking a night time drink at a waterhole in Zimanga Game Reserve, South Africa. We were in a hide just 12 feet away from it, and waited several hours to get this shot.
Who are your top three artists/ photographers you are following right now?
There are so many great photographers, it’s hard to pick just three.
Daniel Kordan, @danielkordan, is the photographer whose photos most consistently make me go “wow”. He travels to some incredible places, and I’d love to do one of his workshops one of these days.
Scott Wilson, @wilsonaxpe, is a friend of mine and fellow Brit in Colorado. His recent work has been focused on wild mustangs, both photographing them and advocating for them - but his overall work covers a wide range of landscape and wildlife subjects. This year he won the open contest in the 2022 Sony World Photography Awards, one of the largest and most prestigious global photo contests, which was an amazing achievement.
Fernando Boza, @ferbozaphoto, is a close friend of mine and we’ve done a lot of photo trips together, including a recent trip to South Africa. Like me, he is into both wildlife and landscape photography, and he’s also a great astrophotographer. A focus of his recent work is using remote “camera traps” - it’s incredible the number of mountain lions, bears and bobcats that he captures very close to Boulder, which are very hard to see in person.
An ice boulder at sunset on Jökulsárlón beach in Iceland. Ice chunks from a nearby glacier get washed out to sea and form these beautiful boulders, which make up an amazing and constantly changing set of sculptures on the black pebble beach.
How did you first get into photography?
I first got into it in high school, back in the days of film, and even did a bit of my own developing in the school dark room. I maintained an interest in it from then on, but have gotten progressively more serious about it over the last ten years or so. In 2013 I did a birds of prey in flight workshop in Denver with a great local wildlife photographer, Rob Palmer, and then did a trip to Utah organized by Rob to photograph bald eagles - which was also where I met Fernando. That was perhaps the beginning of me putting more effort into improving my photography. I read somewhere that if you want to improve your photography, you should spend as much on education as you spend on equipment, and that has stuck with me. Since then I’ve done a number of other workshops and trips with various top photographers, learned from other local photographers I have shot with, studied things online, and worked out various things for myself by trying things and getting out and shooting (lots of getting out and shooting!).
A Steller’s sea eagle on a snowy day on Hokkaido island, at the very northern tip of Japan. These are some of the largest eagles in the world and are only found in this small area of Japan and in the very remote Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia. I love its expression and the small icicle forming on its beak!
What is your preferred equipment to photograph with?
For the past 11 years or so I’ve shot with micro four thirds (MFT) mirrorless cameras, which have interchangeable lenses and advanced features, but the camera bodies and lenses are more compact than the traditional full frame cameras that many serious photographers use. I feel this is a big advantage if you travel a lot, and also it’s great if you are hiking with your camera gear. I shot with Lumix (Panasonic) cameras for most of that time, but this year I switched to the OM System (formerly Olympus) OM-1, the newest MFT camera, which is incredible for wildlife photography in particular. One of its coolest features is called “Pro Capture” - if you half press the shutter button, it rapidly buffers photos in memory, and then when you press the shutter, it saves images from the previous second or so. It feels like it’s almost cheating to be able to capture images going back into the immediate past, but it’s great for capturing specific moments like bird takeoffs.
A herd of bison grazing in front of the Grand Teton mountain range, with a storm moving in at sunset. This is a shot that is really a moment in time that would be hard to reproduce, with the position of the bison in front of the mountains, the beautiful sunset and the storm moving in with sun rays through the clouds.
Can you tell us about some of your favorite subject matters to shoot and why?
I enjoy both wildlife and landscape photography, and where possible I like to combine both genres and capture “animalscapes”, showing wildlife in its environment. I enjoy the adventure of getting out into nature, I enjoy the technical challenges and I enjoy it when people appreciate my images. Wildlife and landscape photography are quite different in terms of the mindset. Landscape photography is slower paced and more relaxing in many ways. You often plan out the locations in advance and then return at a certain time, typically close to sunrise or sunset, to get good light. And you can return to do similar shots multiple times, to capture different conditions. Wildlife photography is less predictable, you never know quite what you’ll get and you have to react more quickly and think on the fly about composition and other factors. There’s a lot of excitement when you get a great wildlife shot!
The amazing Iguassu Falls, on the border between Brazil and Argentina. I have also visited Niagara Falls and Victoria Falls, and think that Iguassu is the most impressive of all of them!
How often do you get to travel for your photography and what have been some of the most memorable places you’ve been?
I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot both for work (I’m a software person in my day job) and pleasure, and I have often managed to combine both. I’ve been to around 40 countries on six continents so far (just Antarctica left!). Africa has definitely been the most amazing place that I’ve been for wildlife photography - I went to Botswana way back in 2002, when I wasn’t quite as serious about my photography, and then to an amazing place called Zimanga in South Africa a few months ago, where I got some of the best shots I’ve ever taken. Photographing snow monkeys in Japan (and bathing with them in a natural outdoor onsen, or hot tub!) has been a highlight of my travels. I’d say that Iceland and New Zealand are a couple of my favorites for landscape photography. We’re also fortunate here to be in a beautiful part of the world - Colorado and the American West have lots of great locations for both wildlife and landscape photography. Mount Evans is a favorite spot within easy striking distance of Denver, and Grand Teton National Park is amazing for both wildlife and landscape photography.
White rhino at a waterhole at sunset in Zimanga Game Reserve, South Africa. It was incredible to see such a huge and prehistoric looking animal so close up - we were just 12 feet away in a hide.
How do you choose your locations?
There’s so much information online these days. Facebook is a pretty major source of information and ideas for me - I’m in quite a few photography groups there. And then I have a good local network of photographer friends and we’ll share tips with one another on wildlife sightings. Sometimes I’ll strike out alone and explore a new area, and sometimes I’ll do a workshop or tour with a local photographer to really get the most out of my time in a new location.
Mitre Peak in Milford Sound, New Zealand. This amazing peak rises 5,560 feet directly from the coastline - higher than Denver! We did an overnight cruise on the boat in the picture, which was quite an adventure.
Your photos of the most recent Denver lightning storm were superb. Can you talk about your process to capture shots like those?
Thank you! The technique that I use for this type of shot is to set up the camera on a tripod and then take images continuously while the lightning is active, then you can blend together the shots that have lightning strikes in them in post processing. So the shots that you see here contain all the lightning strikes that occurred over the space of a few minutes. My current OM-1 camera actually has the ability to intelligently combine images in camera, which is a cool feature that saves some post processing time. It’s a combination of luck and judgment to guess where the lightning might appear, and then of course you want to get a nice foreground composition. And like a lot of things in life, patience and persistence is important - I shot for an hour or so and then selected the best image to get the multi-lightning strike shot that you see here.
Lightning over the Ice House in downtown Denver, during a recent electrical storm. This is a composite image featuring a few minutes of lightning strikes - they were coming thick and fast!
It looks like electricity is leaking from the Xcel Energy building in downtown Denver. I have shot a number of thunderstorms from the rooftop of the building where I live, and this is the only time I have managed to capture lightning over the downtown skyscrapers.
How long do you usually have to spend in a location to get the perfect shot?
It can vary a lot, but for wildlife photography in particular patience is an important attribute! To get both of the African wildlife shots that I shared here, I spent 18 hours in a small underground hide, from 3pm to 9am the next morning! And we did that twice. Though admittedly it was a comfortable hide, with bunk beds, a fridge stocked with food (including ostrich skewers!), and a toilet. Sometimes you need to make really early starts to get the shot too - on occasion I like to get to the top of Mount Evans about half an hour before sunrise, which means leaving my home in downtown Denver at 4am.
A snow monkey (Japanese Macaque) in Jigokudani, Japan. I was lucky that my visit coincided with a big snowstorm, and immediately after that the monkeys were walking through the deep fluffy snow which stuck to their fur and made for some good pictures.
What has been the most fulfilling part of being a photographer?
I really appreciate it when people tell me how much they enjoy following my photography online. Several people have said that I show them places, animals and moments that they don’t think they will ever see in person. And I feel it’s valuable to help make people more aware of nature, as so many wild places and animal species are increasingly threatened.
Comet NEOWISE above the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico. We backpacked in and camped overnight by these amazing rock formations to get images of the comet above the alien looking landscape.
If you could shoot in any dream location, where would it be and why?
Zimanga Private Game Reserve in South Africa had been top of my list, and it didn’t disappoint when I visited there for the first time in June this year. I definitely want to return there. The great wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara in Kenya and Tanzania is something I would love to see. And Grizzly Bears in Alaska and Jaguars in the Pantanal in Brazil are a couple of other places I would love to shoot.
Mountain goat surveying the view at 14,000ft above sea level at the top of Mount Evans, Colorado, shortly before sunrise.
SpaceX rocket launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida. This was a 3 minute long exposure to capture the rocket trail, and the “star” is the full moon - this effect is due to the wide angle lens I was using and the camera settings. I was pleased with this one as it was a “one shot” deal - no second chances if you mess up the settings or the field of view or anything else! It’s also interesting to look at the people on the beach - there are hardly any “shadow” images from people moving, which shows that more or less everyone was still for that 3 minutes watching the rocket!
Dancing aspens, near Telluride, Colorado. It’s interesting that nobody seems to have a definitive explanation for why they are this shape, from the research that I’ve done. The most plausible reasons that I’ve seen include some combination of an avalanche and/or heavy snow storm making the trees start growing at an angle when they are young, combined with gradual soil slippage over time to cause the subsequent curve.
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