Dulwich Park is a large landscaped park in South London. With 76 acres of open lawns, woodland, rhododendron gardens and a boating lake with rivulets, it is a magnet for all kinds of urban wildlife. I'm a regular visitor to the park, often armed with a pair of binoculars in search of rare birds such as firecrests and water rails. On some occasions I bring my camera along instead, and it is in these moments that I realise how much beauty there is in the common species (no pun intended).
The park is popular throughout the week with dog walkers, joggers and families, so I keep my photo visits to early morning (about 7:30am when gates open) to avoid the larger crowds. I find the light is most conducive for photography at this time, when the sun rises over the boating lake, spotlighting the reeds and casting soft areas of light and shadow on the water. From the boardwalk it is possible to get close-up, low-level views of the resident ducks and geese in their environment. Here are a few of my favourite lakeside portraits from recent years...
Drifting through a patch of sunlight, this tufted duck stands out for me. As it turns its head, following me with an intense yellow eye, I catch a flash of purple and green iridescence on its cheek. The water surface is rippling, offering a last chance to photograph any reflections before the wind and midday sun erases them.
A female mallard splashes about, pushing water over her wings. Morning is generally the best time for bird activity, with ducks exercising their flight muscles, and herons and cormorants returning from their evening roosts.
In contrast, dusk in the park feels quieter. I find this a good time to create more reflective images. As the evening sun shimmers through the reeds on the opposite bank, it creates pleasing discs of light that dance on the water.
A cormorant swims towards me, holding its bill in profile. With the sun directly behind it, the scene looks prehistoric.
With the light changing constantly, the park's pond-life is elevated to another level. I have taken countless photos of mute swans in Dulwich Park but few show their grace in my opinion like this one does - with its arched wings held symmetrically over its back and the soft evening sun filtering through its plumes.
In this light another common bird, the coot, seems oddly serene and magical as it swims by. I focus on its back, which is bejewelled with fine beads of water. The swirls of moss on the water, combined with the discs of sunlight reflected in the water, reminds me for some reason of the aurora borealis over a mountainside.
There is lots to see wherever you look - if only you look, that is. As a photographer it's good to have a regular haunt like a local park, as every visit offers new ways of seeing familiar subjects and endless creative possibilities for photos. I probably wouldn't have given this pigeon a second glance as it strutted up to me, but I liked the shadowy light and quirky perspective given from being below the pigeon with my wide-angle lens. The two children playing on the boardwalk adds a humorous touch of distorted scale.
No trip to the park would be complete without saying hello to its parakeets. I have photographed these birds rearing their chicks, which you can read about here. It's easy to be distracted by the gaudy colours and boisterous character of this exotic species as they squawk in the trees around the fringes of the lake.
Next year I'll be running some wildlife photography outings around London for these species and many more, so keep an eye on my workshop page and social media for updates. Thanks for reading and happy snapping!