We speak to the photographer behind 'The Frozen Moment'

What Digital Camera spoke to Fergus Gill, the winner of this year’s Young Wildlife Photographer award at the unveiling of the competition winners in the Natural History Museum’s Waterhouse Gallery in London. His image ‘The Frozen Moment’ captures a Fieldfare, which is part of the Thrush family and tends to flock to the UK in Winter, while hovering and taking berries from a tree. By keeping the wings of the bird in motion and the body static enough to gain a high level of detail Fergus achieved a mix of an image both aesthetically and technically pleasing. ‘The Frozen Moment’ was taken in Fergus’ back garden in rural Perthshire, the same location in which he took the winning image for the 15-17 years category in 2009.

What camera did you use to take the photo?

A Nikon D300 with a 500mm f/4 lens, resting on a Manfrotto 680B Monopod.

What particular challenges did you face when taking the photo?

It was -17 degrees Celsius, but still quite a dull day with freezing fog. Getting the fastest shutter speed possible was the biggest challenge, but I was shooting through the trees so I was down at f/4 anyway which helped. I was up at 800 ISO which was pretty much the limit of what I normally go to on the D300. I was happy with the balance between motion and stillness in the picture as you really get a sense of the movement of the bird. A lot of it is down to luck though!

Were you there for the whole three hours?

I was taking photos anyway in my back garden, and I was really lucky to see a flock flying overhead. They clocked the tree as it’s such a great food source and came down. If I was in the house I would never have noticed it.

It must have been pretty tough to sit there in the cold for that length of time waiting for the right shot…

I had gloves, mitts, three ski jackets, waterproof trousers, hill walking boots, a balaclava and a hat on and I was still freezing! I ended up getting frostbite along the tops of all of my fingers because I was out there for so long. I love the winter, so I’ll keep taking photos when it’s cold, I just need a cup of tea every now and then.

How many images did you take before you got the winning shot?

I was on continuous high with an MB-D10 battery pack, which gives 8 frames per second. The birds were only there for 3 hours so I filled up all my cards while they stripped the tree bare. I’m glad the pictures turned out so well as when the birds are there that long you really have to make the most out of it. I was taking lots of different shots but this action shot of the Fieldfare hovering and picking off the berries was the one I really wanted to get.

How important to this particular photograph was the surrounding landscape?

Winter’s my favorite time of year because I love the atmosphere of that sort of time. It was difficult to make it so the tree wasn’t imposing on the photo, I needed to focus on the subject and give a hint of what was happening behind it. You can see the frost on the bark and a few drops of snow which really gives the image a cold feel. Using a shallow depth of field really adds to the atmosphere and gave me the effect I was looking for.

Is it the availability of the wildlife around you that drew you to the genre?

Where I live is in a little village around Perthshire has lots of hedgerows so it’s a good place for wildlife anyway. So when I was much younger walking around you’d see loads of creatures and birds. My Dad’s a photographer so he got me into it, and it became second nature after a while to photograph the wildlife around us. We feed a lot of the birds and my Mum and Dad planted a lot of the trees that, as you can tell, is a great food source for the birds.

Are you getting used to predicting the patterns and movements of the birds to get your shots?

Normally when I’m taking photos it’s around the seed feeders with Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows and various Tits but especially in the wintertime you get more Thurshes. I was lucky as there’s usually a Mistle Thrush that dominates the tree and chases everything away but when there’s 15 Fieldfares against one Mistle Thrush it’s never going to end well.

Are you looking to go further afield now that you’ve won this prize?

I won last year with a shot from my back garden, which I think goes to prove you don’t have to travel too far to get a great image. My thoughts on photography are that you don’t need to go to far flung, exotic locations to win Wildlife Photographer of the Year. If you really work an area, even if it’s your own back garden or a surrounding urban landscape, you can really take good photographers.

Are you looking to upgrade to a full frame DSLR now?

I’ve had the D300 ever since it came out, but with the introduction of video technology I’d be quite interested in doing a bit of both. I’d love a D3s but I’ve got nowhere near enough money. Maybe one day if I save up for long enough….