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About the Art: Wendy Ball

In our latest blog post focusing on photographers featured in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards, we spoke to Wendy Ball about finding the perfect shot in the Arctic or even in your back garden.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?

Although we have a large variety of birds visiting my feeders in the garden, visits from Sparrowhawks are rare. As I was about to leave home I saw this Sparrowhawk endeavouring to fly with this freshly killed Collared Dove. After unlocking the door of the house, running upstairs, attaching my camera and lens I fully expected the bird to have vanished. However, it was still there trying to fly off with the Collared Dove. I was able to capture this image before it finally left with its prize. Sometimes you need a great spoonful of luck.

  • Murder in the Garden, Wendy Ball's 'Murder in the Garden' is featured in the 'Urban' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards on display at the Horniman, Wendy Ball
    Wendy Ball's 'Murder in the Garden' is featured in the 'Urban' category of this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards on display at the Horniman, Wendy Ball

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

The equipment I used was a Canon 5D Mark 111 and 100-400mm lens, handheld.

What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?

I find that I am not only fascinated by principally wildlife but the wider picture of landscapes, the minutiae of macro as well as everything in between. It has enhanced my perception of the world around us and made me very aware of the environment, wildlife, and the ever-changing light.

  • Polar Bear, As we anchored off the atmospheric remote island of Karl X11-Oya, in the Svalbard archipelago, a female polar bear was spotted on the cliffs scouring a kittiwake colony. For me, my images transport me back to the occasion of their capture. I can hear the cries of the kittiwakes, the gentle sound of the water, cracking and popping of the ice and the breath of an apex predator., Wendy Ball
    As we anchored off the atmospheric remote island of Karl X11-Oya, in the Svalbard archipelago, a female polar bear was spotted on the cliffs scouring a kittiwake colony. For me, my images transport me back to the occasion of their capture. I can hear the cries of the kittiwakes, the gentle sound of the water, cracking and popping of the ice and the breath of an apex predator., Wendy Ball

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

I suppose one of the main difficulties that I face is the lack of time. I would love to be able to spend more time adding to the already amazing bank of wildlife experiences that I have shared with my husband. There are many, many more places and wildlife to see and experience, and time is becoming increasingly more precious. As our knowledge increases, I find there is so much more to learn, not only about photography but about the species that I am capturing and the wonderful world we live in.

For example, I was taking pictures of solitary bees that were establishing nest sites in our garden. Another rather different looking bee was in the vicinity, so I took pictures of it. Later, using the photos as ID, I found out that it was a cuckoo bee of the leaf cutter bees that I had been observing.
On another occasion, I found that one of the Bumblebees had parasites that were clearly seen in the photos - again something that would have passed me by. You learn something new every day.

  • Walruses, These two Walrus were lying on a floating ice platform in Svalbard. These animals forage on the sea floor, searching and identifying prey, principally bivalve mollusks such as clams, with its sensitive whiskers and clearing the sediment with jets of water and active flipper movements.  The walrus sucks the meat out by sealing its powerful lips to the clam and withdrawing its tongue rapidly into its mouth, creating a vacuum., Wendy Ball
    These two Walrus were lying on a floating ice platform in Svalbard. These animals forage on the sea floor, searching and identifying prey, principally bivalve mollusks such as clams, with its sensitive whiskers and clearing the sediment with jets of water and active flipper movements. The walrus sucks the meat out by sealing its powerful lips to the clam and withdrawing its tongue rapidly into its mouth, creating a vacuum., Wendy Ball

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

For me, the joy of taking photographs is that it has taken me to places in the world that I would never have visited otherwise. I have been very lucky that my husband and I have the same sense of values, love of the outdoors and wildlife, and have been able to enjoy the same hobbies together. It is wonderful that other people get a taste of these things through our photographs. My photographs have been a great learning tool too. As a former teacher they provoked many questions, excitement, and wonderment of the world. The fact that I could relate the tales behind the images as first-hand experiences definitely brought them alive in quite a unique and personal way. This has also applied to friends and family too.

  • Arctic Fox cubs, Arctic Foxes are able to survive in the harshest environments due to the quality of their fur providing insulation and by building up their fat reserves in the autumn, sometimes increasing their body weight by more than 50%. This provides greater insulation during the winter and a source of energy when food is scarce. We have watched them on several occasions predating on Kittiwake colonies taking birds and eggs and caching them in dens.  These two cubs were fighting over a kittiwake wing.  The photo was taken hand held from a small zodiac close to the shore., Wendy Ball
    Arctic Foxes are able to survive in the harshest environments due to the quality of their fur providing insulation and by building up their fat reserves in the autumn, sometimes increasing their body weight by more than 50%. This provides greater insulation during the winter and a source of energy when food is scarce. We have watched them on several occasions predating on Kittiwake colonies taking birds and eggs and caching them in dens. These two cubs were fighting over a kittiwake wing. The photo was taken hand held from a small zodiac close to the shore., Wendy Ball

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

My father was a keen photographer and I was fascinated as a young child to see images emerging like magic from blank paper. I began taking photos myself in order to record family life and family holidays. With the luxury of more time when I retired, it became a natural progression to take photography more seriously and it became a steep learning curve in order to take more imaginative images and to progress from ‘record shots’ to aesthetically pleasing images. This steep learning curve has not diminished - it is increasing. Primarily I take photographs for my own purposes and enjoyment. For me, they transport me back to the sight, sound, and feeling of the location where they were taken. Increasingly more people have taken an interest and gained enjoyment from my photographs. It is lovely to be able to share them with a wider audience.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

Firstly, do not underestimate your immediate locality. My image that achieved a Highly Commended in the 2016 British Wildlife photography awards is a good example. Many of my images have been taken in our small garden which is located in a village on the South Downs. I have attracted a lot of wildlife into the garden by setting up bird feeders and a regular supply of water. I have two water features in the garden with running water. Both have attracted wildlife such as birds, frogs, snails, and newts. An old Belfast sink had seven newts breeding in it this last year which was fascinating to see. I have grown many pollen-rich plants for bees and butterflies. I purchase a colony of Bumblebees each year which the family finds fascinating to watch. We also have a large cedar tree in the garden and erected a Tawny Owl nest box which is sited so that it is visible from the bedroom windows. To our delight, it has been used for the last two years and enabled us to witness the development of the young owlets.

  • Mouse in the compost bin_60A4196, I had noticed that there had been some disturbance in the compost bin in our garden.  After observing at a distance using the car as a hide, I discovered that some mice were foraging amongst the discarded vegetable matter.  So I set up my camera on a tripod at the side of the car and waited.  Eventually, the mice reappeared and continued with their foraging.  During the course of three or four days, I continued to photograph them, gradually moving closer.  By keeping very still the mice accepted and appeared totally unaware of my presence, and some even began caching food in the flower bed adjacent to my feet.  It was fascinating to watch their antics and the interaction and personality of some of the individuals.  It is a good example of nature on your doorstep., Wendy Ball
    I had noticed that there had been some disturbance in the compost bin in our garden. After observing at a distance using the car as a hide, I discovered that some mice were foraging amongst the discarded vegetable matter. So I set up my camera on a tripod at the side of the car and waited. Eventually, the mice reappeared and continued with their foraging. During the course of three or four days, I continued to photograph them, gradually moving closer. By keeping very still the mice accepted and appeared totally unaware of my presence, and some even began caching food in the flower bed adjacent to my feet. It was fascinating to watch their antics and the interaction and personality of some of the individuals. It is a good example of nature on your doorstep., Wendy Ball

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

On a local level, I am baiting an old post in our garden to hopefully attract the Tawny Owl in order for me to take photos using techniques that I am learning at present. I am applying these techniques to foxes that are visiting the garden too. I discovered they were visiting the garden on a regular basis by setting up a couple of trail cameras. This year I want to experiment with trying to capture the newt activity using underwater photography.

On a wider front, we have two major projects planned for next year. The first is a trip to Canada to photograph Snowy Owls. This will present quite a few challenges working in an extremely cold environment. We have worked in the cold before in Finland, Norway and Svalbard.
The second involves underwater photography which will be a new venture for us. We will be snorkelling with Whale Sharks, Manta Rays and hopefully Humpbacks on the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.

  • Wendy Ball IMG_0631, Wendy Ball
    , Wendy Ball