Hampshire winners reveal top tips for South Downs National Park photo competition as it reopens for 2021

Perhaps 2020 will be remembered as the year that we fell back in love with nature.

Friday, 14th May 2021, 3:25 pm
Orchids on Butser Hill by Lewis Watt.

For many of us, our single government-prescribed walk was the highlight of each day.

Savouring sunsets and sunrises, tuning into the sweet birdsong in the trees and watching flowers bloom were some of the key ingredients to happiness.

As life slowly returns to normal, it is important not only to appreciate nature and the remedial effects we relied on, but also to stop and absorb it everyday.

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Chanctonbury Ring by Tim Kahane, winner of 2020 competition.

For avid nature photographers, enjoying the natural world is part of the hobby.

And there is no better time to get snapping now the South Downs National Park photo competition has reopened for 2021.

Nick Heasman who is chairing the judging panel this year, says: ‘It’s been a challenging 12 months for so many people, but one thing is for sure – nature brings a smile to the face. Those experiences in the natural world, whether it be walking in a beautiful green space, seeing a majestic bird in the sky or going for a jog in the woods, have really inspired people.’

The theme for the competition this year is ‘Nature Makes Me Happy’, encouraging entries of uplifting images that capture the beauty of the natural world – whether that be landscape, wildlife, rivers and coastline, woodland, a piece of history, or people enjoying the national park.

Wildlife winner, Winter Runner by Richard Murray

The top prize for the adult category will be £250, with a runner-up prize of £150, third prize of £100 and fourth prize of £50. For budding young photographers, there are categories for 10 years and under as well as 11 to 17 with prizes of a family pass to Marwell Zoo and Forest Segway outdoor adventure ride at Go Ape.

Nick, 47, countryside and policy manager at the South Downs National Park, continues: ‘It really is a privilege to chair the judging panel and one of the highlights of the year for me.

‘I’ve been an amateur photographer ever since I started working in the woodlands of the South Downs aged 16 with the Forestry Commission. Photography is a way of connecting people to their place and we’re spoilt for choice in the South Downs.’

The deadline for competition entries is October 31, 2021, so there is plenty of time to capture the changing seasons. Nick, who is one of four judges, says: ‘My favourite time to photograph does depend on the time of the year. Often it’s about timing and working with the natural conditions of the season rather than a particular place. I like to take images every day, often in the same forest I walk every day. You can see something different each time.’

An English Bluebell Wood taken by Simon Newman.

Winner of the wildlife category in the 2020 competition was Richard Murray, from Waterlooville, who captured hares sprinting across a frosted field early in the morning.

Richard, 42, says: ‘The South Downs competition was one of the first I entered and I was blown away by the fact I won. Since then, I also came third in their astrophotography competition.

‘You have to be very patient with photography. It is as much about observing animals, their habitats and characteristics as it is actually taking the photograph.

‘Understanding the animals and their habits takes an awful lot of working around. I have been photographing at all hours. I now set out projects where I will observe different animals and find out more about their habitats before photographing them straight away.’

Fritillary butterfly by Paul Sharman.

Being patient is synonymous with photography, agrees Mark Couper, from Cosham, who won runner-up in 2019. ‘What I photograph depends a lot on the season, which affects the weather and a lot of the finer details. Sometimes I go back four or five times to the same place to get a different angle, watch how the light changes and see how the weather affects it.’

Mark, 36, trained in media and spent much of his career working in video editing. In the past year, he has branched out and hopes to work in photography full-time. He says: ‘In 2018, I was shortlisted for the best close-up photographer at the British Photography Awards. It was crazy.

‘My top tip for anyone is if something catches your eye, it is probably worth photographing.’

The past year has proved how much photography means to Mark. ‘During lockdown, I wasn’t able to visit many of my favourite spots so I had to think outside the box. Getting out with my camera is so important to me, it helps clear my head.

‘Seeing things through a viewfinder gives you a select view and it’s a nice bit of escapism.’

Richard, who runs a town planning consultancy, says photography does wonders for his mindset. ‘I would encourage anyone to pick up a camera,’ he says.

Surprised water vole taken in East Meon village by Dick Hawkes, who was runner-up in the best wildlife category in 2019.

‘It helps you de-stress and form the ability of not just walking through a natural area, but stop, look and focus on something.

‘I am very passionate about conservation and capturing our natural world through photography. I hope it inspires others to help and appreciate the wildlife on our doorstep and preserve and protect the environment we live in.

Nick says his biggest tip is to ensure you have fun while taking the photographs.

‘It’s a creative process and enjoying that process often sparks other creative influences to take even better pictures. You may also find that by taking photographs you’re developing an even deeper connection with nature and, speaking from experience, I know how rewarding this can be.’

To enter the competition, go to southdowns.gov.uk and download the entry form.

Stedham Common Sunrise by Mark Couper.
Nick Heasman, Countryside and Policy Manager for the South Downs National Park