These lovely pictures of a fox were captured by Phil Grasham from an upstairs window, and he asked me for a few quick tips on how to get better pictures of his visitors when they next appear. I’ll share those tips with you here in a moment. I have not edited these photos in any way except for adding copyright. They are just as Phil sent them. He also kindly allowed me to use his photos for this blog. Thank you, Phil.
On those occasions when I have been in the company of foxes in the wild, for one reason and another, I’ve never had a camera on me, so I have yet to get a photo of a fox! On one of those occasions, what I did have was a baseball bat, and I was prepared to use it. Now, I’m going to confess all. (Yes, that kind of bat, so if you are a chiropterologist* and you came here looking for some flying mammal action because of the title, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed!)
To protect the identity of others, the time, place, and context of what follows are not relevant, and a name has been changed. What is important is what happened and why, so let me take you back ‘a few years’.
I am with a group of about five people late in the evening, chatting around a makeshift brick barbecue watching the dying embers that had cooked our food earlier. Most people have gone to bed.
A fox had been bold enough to sneak into our camp looking, hoping for scraps. It reappears now, slinking around the perimeter of our group. Dan (not his real name), Sees it first.
“Hey, Nige. Grab that baseball bat.”
“Foxes are a nuisance. Vermin. We need to ‘take it out’. Tell you what, I’ll chuck this brick at it to stun it, and you finish it off with that bat.”
I pick up the bat, weighing it in my hands. Yeah, it feels like I could do some damage with this.
“OK. I’ll tell you what, Dan. If you chuck a brick at that fox, ….
“I’ll take YOU out with this bat”
Silence. For what seems a long time he stares at me, not sure if I’m joking or not. I’m not! It’s like the end scenes of ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’!
“I mean it, Dan. If you hurt that fox, I’ll hurt you.”
Dan sees his window of opportunity.
Suddenly, the brick whistles past my head. There’s a yelp of pain. I spin round to see the fox lying on her side, one of her back legs is twitching. There are angry voices around the fire. Dan thinks he’s a hero. No one else does. The fox gets to her feet and limps off into the forest, leaving me with a baseball bat facing Dan, and my ridiculous threat ringing in my ears. I had warned him ….
That’s an image of Dan I’ll never forget – him lying stunned on the floor while I lean over him saying something only he can hear.
It’s the next day, and there is pandemonium in the camp. We’re having a tournament with all kinds of physical challenges. One of the events is pugil sticks. Remember the TV show ‘Gladiators’ from the 1990’s? It’s like that, but more ‘home made’. I’m on one podium, and my opponent is …. yes, Dan, the Chunk Chucking Chump from Cheam! (That’s my name for him, in my head. He isn’t from Cheam, but you know, continuity!)
It’s best of three. I weigh him up and realise he’s broader than me, slightly shorter with a lower centre of gravity. This isn’t going to be easy. We get the all clear to commence, and for the first couple of seconds it’s all about getting our footing, feigning moves, testing each other’s defensive reactions. Then he sees the first opening and strikes with brilliant accuracy. I’m off balance but fight to regain composure and strike back. But my lunge is a stretch too far that leaves me prone to several blows to the back of the head, knocking me off my perch. It must look comical. Well, I know it does because the spectators are laughing!
1-0 to Dan. I climb back on knowing I have to win this next one or it’s over. Dan gets himself ready but is still lapping up the applause from his team members. My team members are spurring me on too. Dan loses focus for a second and then SMACK! He takes one right in kisser from the end of my pugil stick and he’s off the podium!
1-1. My team members go nuts, while it’s his turn to take the laughter.
Third and final round. As we’re about to recommence he grins stupidly at me, but all I can see is the limping fox, and suddenly I’m off. Not off the podium. Not yet. I’m landing blows all over him. He’s struggling to maintain balance and so far he’s not managed to land one on me. There is no way he’s coming back from this. I’m just going bonkers, and some of my team are warning me to go easy. I swing at the back of his standing leg and miss as he hops over my stick, but he lands off balance giving me the chance to land the winning blow, and he’s off the podium lying on the ground on his back. Not everyone there knows what happened the previous night, and I’m not going to tell them. Instead, I lean over him while the team members are laughing and bantering with the opposition. “THAT” I hiss in his face, “was for the fox!”, and throw my pugil stick on him and walk away. 2-1 to me. Job done!
So no, I didn’t swing the baseball bat at him the night before. I was angry, as were the others who witnessed it, but he knew as well as I did that I was never going to do it. I was all mouth, and I thought he was too, until he threw the brick!
It all sounds so ridiculous now years later, but that is my memory of how two young men behaved in the heat of the moment. We didn’t keep in touch. I have no idea what he is doing now, but I like to think that he’s not lobbing rocks at animals for the fun of it! People change. They need space and time to do that, and I have to remember how older and wiser people showed great patience and understanding with me in my youth. I cringe when I think of some of the things I said and did, thinking I was right about so many things as I climbed onto my podium of self-righteousness! I need to knock down that podium. I still get tempted to climb on it when I read what I consider to be stupid comments on social media! Dan had come from ‘a bad place’ as the saying goes. He had witnessed things that had a profound effect on him, and sadly it came out in an irrational surge of anger at a fox. This doesn’t excuse the outburst but it helps to begin to explain it and points to the complexity of us as human beings. It is hard to excuse many things that some people do, as well as explain them.
What about the fox? Well, she came back into the camp in the day time looking for food. The limp lessened which was a relief, and she seemed content to accept food out of our hands. On the day before we packed up, I heard a voice round the side of one of the huts. A soothing, gentle voice. A voice you would associate with a parent reassuring a small child when they graze their knee. As I walked round the corner, there she was, the fox, taking food …
… from the hand of Dan.
So here are a few quick tips for wildlife photography. Actually, some of this will apply to photographing your pets, or your kids!
1. Whenever possible, try and get on the eye level of your subject, whether that is a fox, your pet cat, or your toddler. Phil wasn’t able to do that for his photos as he was upstairs, but he still managed to get a couple of decent shots of the foxes.
2. Focus on the eye nearest the camera, and use a wide aperture. It helps to let in more light, and it will throw the background out of focus which draws the viewer’s eye to the subject.
3. If using a camera with a telephoto lens, steady yourself against a tree or fence if possible. Keep your elbows down, breathe in, and when you have locked on to your subject, breathe out slowly as you s q e e z e the shutter.
4. Try and separate the subject from any over hanging branches or blades of grass. This might mean moving slightly to one side if possible, or in the case of people portraits, ask them to move!
5. With portraits of your family, watch out for: hairs across the eyes, drain pipes or telegraph poles growing out of someone’s head, and the inevitable photobomb by the cat!
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*Someone who studies bats, and yes, I had to look it up!