If you’ve been watching the latest David Attenborough moments in Planet Earth II, you may be wondering how you too can photograph the illusive snow leopard or soar with the eagles. While most of us won’t get the chance to film tigers in the wild, there’s plenty of fun to be had photographing wildlife in the woods or parks near where we live, as I discovered at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey.
I was at a workshop hosted by Panasonic UK, learning how to improve my wildlife photography using the Lumix GX80 camera, under the expert tuition of top wildlife photographer, Phil Gould. Phil told us about the 4 P’s of wildlife photography: Passion, Patience, Perseverance, Practice, as well as giving us his top tips, before we were let loose to photograph the different animals around the centre. Read my review of the Lumix GX80 here.
If you’d like to capture better wildlife photos, here are 6 things to consider;
1. Get down low
For the most natural photograph, your camera needs to be at the eye level of the animal, so that it feels less threatened. I quickly noticed that the wildlife pro-photographers in our group, like Jason of Wildlife Gadget Man and Ben from Ben Porter Wildlife were down on the ground, trying to get at the same level as Elwood the otter.
As the grass was wet and muddy I don’t think any of us wanted to go as far as actually lying down, but the Lumix GX80’s tilt screen meant that we could rest the camera on the ground and still be able to compose the picture on the screen. I noticed that Ben took some lovely shots with blurred grass framing the animals, which you can see in his article from the day here.
2. Get up close and personal
Phil showed us some close-ups of wildlife that he’d taken, and I tried to capture something similar with this photo of Florence the Tawny Owl holding me in her inscrutible gaze. In order to capture the close up shots, I needed to switch the standard 12-32 lens for a zoom lens like the 45-200, which I had the chance to try during the workshop. This photo was taken from a few metres away and then I cropped it further – the original is at the beginning of the article.
Here’s another photo of the Scottish wild cat taken by Phil which shows how getting close up with your lens or even cropping your shot can really add to the impact.
3. Capture the story
When you’re out photographing wildlife, the most memorable shots can be those that tell a story about the true nature of the animal you are photographing, or capture an illusive moment. Phil told us to observe the creatures we were photographing, to understand what they were likely to do next and use that knowledge to anticipate the best shot. For instance deer are naturally curious and will often come towards you if you stand patiently and wait.
With this in mind I used the 4K option on the Lumix GX80 to take a series of shots of Biscuit the fox as she swung around and then picked the one that I felt captured the moment. I was trying to capture an image of the fox as if out hunting, at that moment when she had just spotted a rabbit.
4. Take advantage of the natural light
When photographing wildlife outside, you can’t control the lighting as you would in a studio, so you need to be much more aware of the natural light. You need to keep the sun behind you so that it will be lighting up your subject in the photograph and keep an eye on any patches of light and shade that can be used to good effect. I liked that way the sunlight lit up the face of McAverty the Scottish Wild Cat and the blades of grass, while the log in front of him was in shadow.
5. Watch your background
While we were out photographing during the workshop, Phil reminded us to keep an eye on the background behind the animals we were photographing. Ideally you want a clean background without too much distraction so that you can focus on the animal itself. By just shifting your position slightly you may be able to move that pole or bench out of shot.
I was trying to do this when I photographed Dale the red squirrel but although I succeeded with a nice background of foliage, the rope kept popping into shot behind him. When I got home I was able to crop the photo to the image below, cutting out the rope and some of the metal pole to improve the image. Don’t be afraid of a bit of post-processing to improve your shot!
6. Use the camera settings to your advantage
Although I confess to not being a very ‘technical’ photographer and mainly shooting on auto, if you want to take your photography up a notch, it’s worth experimenting with the camera settings. Phil’s photo of the squirrel below shows how he has used the aperture mode to create a depth of field, blurring the background to make the subject stand out more clearly. It’s a useful technique for portrait photography generally which Hannah from Make do and push, who was at the workshop, uses to capture lovely shots of her children.
Discovering Lumix Unmissable Moments
If you want more inspiration on how other photographers are using the Panasonic Lumix G range, check out the Lumix Experience website where you’ll find galleries and video tutorials to show you how you can get the best from your Lumix camera. You can also follow the conversation on social media with the hashtag #UnmissableMoments.
Wildlife photography at the British Wildlife Centre
All the wildlife photographs were taken in a wildlife photography workshop at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, where you can see and photograph some of the wild animals that are native to the UK. The centre also runs regular photography workshops where you can improve your wildlife photography, with tips from the experts. The workshop I attended was specially arranged to enable our group to try out the Panasonic Lumix GX80 camera.
British Wildlife Centre, Eastbourne Road, Newchapel, Lingfield, Surrey, RH7 6LF, Tel: 01342 834 658
About the Panasonic Lumix GX80
You can read my review of the Panasonic Lumix GX80, which is ideal for travellers and photographer who want to get great pictures without having to carry a large, heavy camera around. I loved the smaller body and the ability to change the lens to suit the situation, for instance you really do need a zoom lens like the 45-200 if you’re photographing a lot of wildlife.
The body is sturdy, with a textured and slightly retro feel and has a comfortable finger grip at one end. The 4K feature enables you to take a series of photos and then choose the best one and there’s in-body stabilisation and fast auto-focus to enable you to capture those #unmissablemoments, whether it’s a squirrel in your garden or your kids having fun.
This camera would make a fabulous gift for anyone who’s a keen photographer but wants a camera that’s light and easy to use – or why not treat yourself? You can buy the Lumix GX80 on Amazon here.
Key information about the Panasonic Lumix GX80
- 16-million-pixel Four Thirds sensor, no optical low-pass filter
- ISO 200-25,600 (ISO 100-25,600 extended)
- Dual IS: 5-axis in-body stabilisation working with 2-axis in-lens
- 4K video recording and 4K Photo mode
- 76-million-dot equivalent EVF (16:9 aspect ratio)
- 04-million-dot 3-inch tilting touchscreen
- New low-vibration shutter: 60sec – 1/4000sec (1sec – 1/16000 sec electronic)
- £509 body only, £599 with 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
Thanks to Panasonic UK who invited me to the workshop and gave me a Panasonic Lumix GX80 for the purposes of this review.
The woodsmoke wafts from the bratwurst stall in the Coburg Christmas market, drawing a patient queue of people. For these aren’t just any sausage, they are the famous Coburger Bratwurst, made with the seasoned blend of beef and pork and cooked over an open fire of pine cones, for that authentic smoky flavour. If your mouth isn’t watering yet, it will be soon as you catch the warm, aromatic scent of mulled wine and hear the sizzle of onions and mushrooms cooking in a big metal pan.
I was in Coburg at the beginning of December to experience the magic of Christmas in Germany, where they seem to strike just the right balance of festive spirit, local tradition and religious meaning. The air was crisp, but the atmosphere warm, as friends gathered under the statue of Prince Albert in Marktplatz to chat over a steaming mug of Glühwein while parents watched their little ones enjoying a ride on the traditional merry-go-round.
This is the season of Christmas markets when you’ll hear a lot about the popular but somewhat overwhelming Christmas markets of Cologne and Munich. What many people don’t realise that every place in Germany has its own Christmas market and as I’ve found, the smaller the town or village, the more charming and authentic the markets become.
We enjoyed walking through the Christmas market in the central Martketplatz of Coburg, surrounded by the 16th century buildings, such as Duke Casimir’s impressive Stadthaus with decorative oriel windows at each corner. The square was just 10 minutes walk from Hotel Villa Victoria where we were staying and had all the ingredients for a fine Christmas Market. We’ve found that the markets in Germany are mainly about delicious things to eat and drink, and there were stalls selling tempting hot dishes, sausages and cheeses as well as gifts destined for someone’s Christmas stocking.
The Seßlach Christmas Market
We also visited the Seßlach Advent Market, just 20 minutes drive from Coburg and at another level of charm and local flavour. The small town is beautiful of course, and the market was just for that weekend so it really felt as if we’d chanced on a local secret. As we walked through the archway in the town wall, the choirs and musicians were filing into church for a musical Advent concert, and we popped back later to stand at the back and listen to the music.
There was everything you’d expect at a traditional Christmas market; stalls selling good things to eat and drink, the children’s carousel and the lights strung along the old buildings and on the Christmas tree. But as we walked along the cobbled streets that radiated from the main square, we discovered archways leading to hidden courtyards and barns, where the local shops, businesses and charities had set out their stall with everything that you could possibly need for a magical Christmas.
We treated ourselves to a bowl of warming Gulyasuppe, a rich meaty goulash soup and then a sugary Baumstriezel, the dough wrapped around a metal cylindar and cooked over the open fire, to be pulled apart and eaten with our fingers.
Let there be light
While the Christmas markets in German towns are open throughout the day, it’s in the late afternoon that the magic really starts to happen. As dusk falls, the flat grey skies give way to a warm glow as buildings are illuminated and the strings of fairy lights and bulbs come to life. In these cold winter days, it’s all about creating a warm, cosy feeling in your home, with candles flickering on the mantlepiece and the lights on the Christmas tree. The stalls in the Christmas market are full of candles and star lamps to hang at your window, not only to chase away the cold, but to remind us of the meaning of Advent, the preparing for the baby who was to light up the world.
Street Food at the Christmas Market
The Christmas markets bring plenty of hot dishes that seem designed to spread the seasonal cheer. For just a few Euros we tried a dish of Champignonpfanne: button mushrooms sauted with onions as well as Gemüsepfanne: stir fried vegetables, which could be topped with different sauces – we chose the creamy garlic flavour.
Potatoes were shaved into thin slices and fried to make Kartoffelchips – a home made potato crisp served in twirls on a wooden stick. There was Gulyasuppe, a rich and warming meaty soup, served in a hollowed out crusty roll which you could eat at the end, so as not to waste any of the savoury juices.
We also enjoyed the galettes with ham and cheese freshly cooked on the Hauser’s stand – they are well known in the area, selling galettes at all the markets and festivals. I don’t think any of these dishes set us back more than €3.50 and it was fun to snack on different flavours, all of them warming and delicious. I also love that the eco-conscious Germans serve everything in an edible wafer container, with wooden cutlery, which will quickly bio-degrade.
The sweet taste of Chocolate
After tasting a few different savoury dishes, I found myself looking around for something sweet to finish the meal and of course there was no shortage of options. On some stalls nuts were being mixed in hot praline, giving off a sweet toffee fragrance – we tried some warm in small paper cones.
But I couldn’t resist the chocolate, especially the wooden skewers with fresh fruit covered in chocolate; grapes, strawberries, pineapple and even whole bananas. I enjoyed the way that the fresh, juicy fruit cut through the sweetness of the chocolate, although it was hard to eat without getting chocolate all around your mouth! For something a little more elegant we popped into the Chocolate Coburg Shop just off Marktplatz to buy some marzipan chocolates and other chocolate gifts to take home with us.
The Coburg Bratwurst
Following the waft of smoke at one side of the market we joined the queue of locals waiting for their Coburger Bratwurst from the small white van, with a wood fire burning at the back. These bratwurst vans stand on the Marktplatz all year round and the local butchers take it in turn to sell the sausages cooked over a wood fire. They are made with a mixture of beef and pork seasoned with nutmeg and are bound with raw egg (which requires a special exemption from normal food regulations).
The Coburg Bratwurst or Coburger is long and thin and served in a crisp white roll, which is cut along the top, although I got the feeling that the bread is more to hold the sausage than to be eaten. It’s completed with a liberal squirt of mustard, to complement the smoky flavour that comes from being cooked over a fire of pine cones.
Mulled wine at the Christmas Market
To drink, it had to be something warming with a bit of a kick to keep out the winter chill. The stalls selling mulled wine, beer or cider were doing a steady trade. Friends of all ages were gathering to buy a steaming mug and take it over to the central area where there were tall tables to rest the drinks. Sometimes there was a wood burning brazier, to take the edge off the cold.
There were also plenty of stalls selling bottles of spicy mulled wine to buy and serve to your guests at home, or mead with animal horns to drink it out of. The stalls have an environmentally friendly system where you pay a couple of Euro extra for a decorative mug which you can later return for a refund. The designs are different each year and some become collectables (or memorabilia gathering dust on the mantlepiece).
A cosy café for coffee and cake
During the day you might need to find a cosy café to retreat from the cold, to warm up with a Kaffee und Kuchen after walking around Coburg. You’ll have plenty of choice in Coburg – we liked the Queen’s Cafe on Albertplatz and the more traditional Feyler who specialise in Coburger Schmätzchen. Most bakeries and cake shops have a café area where you can order (or point at) the cake that takes your fancy and then be served with a milky coffee to warm up before heading out onto the streets again.
Another German Christmas tradition we discovered is that every place in Germany makes its own special Christmas biscuit. In Coburg the Feyler bakery is the place to buy Coburg’s special biscuit, the Coburger Schmätzchen. It literally means Coburg kisses and I was told that these biscuits made with honey and hazlenuts are quite hard when first baked and need to be left out of the packet for a day or so to soften. They come plain or with a dark chocolate coating which is dotted with specks of gold leaf.
Another local favourite are the Elisen Lebkuchen – a speciality of nearby Nuremberg which are a soft and slightly spicy biscuit, covered either with chocolate or a light icing. I bought one in the Christmas market and it was quite delicious with a gentle rather than overbearing Chrismas flavour.
Advent Wreaths in Coburg, Germany
At the beginning of advent you will see Advent wreaths on sale in Germany, which every German family would have in their home. Many are traditional, with evergreen foliage decorated with baubles and pine cones, but others may be more contemporary to fit in with your home decor.
On the wreath there are four candles, one for each of the Sundays in Advent, when a new candle would be lit. We saw a lovely wreath in the chapel at Schloss Callanberg, a touch of Christmas decoration in the otherwise simple protestant chapel.
Not too far from Coburg is the town of Lauscha which specialises in making glass Christmas ornaments and although we weren’t able to visit the town, we did buy one of the Lauscha glass baubles from the Chocolate-Coburg shop to add to our collection. I love the vintage look of these baubles, taking us back to the tradition of the Christmas tree that was introduced to England by Prince Albert, who was born in Coburg.
I can imagine how homesick Prince Albert must have felt for the pine forests of his native Germany and why wanted to bring some of his own German traditions back to England. Last year in her Christmas message, Queen Elizabeth mentioned that Prince Albert had started the tradition of the Christmas tree, and this gave such pleasure to the people of Coburg that they offered to send a Christmas tree to mark her 90th birthday. The offer was accepted and this Christmas a 40 ft Christmas tree stands proudly in Windsor town centre, next to the statue of Queen Victoria, decorated with glass baubles from Lauscha.
Germany is the place to soak up the festive atmosphere and kick start your Christmas season, with Coburg being a charming place to spend a few days at any time of year, to discover the history, castles and royal connections. Enjoy your Christmas preparations and as you do, remember that many of our English Christmas traditions had their origins in Germany, when Prince Albert and Queen Victoria gathered their family around the Christmas tree.
Plan your Visit to Coburg
For more information about what there is to see and do in Coburg, visit the Coburg Tourism website and follow them on their social media channels: Facebook and Twitter. You can also find information to plan your holidays in Germany at the Germany Tourism Website.
From the UK you can reach Coburg via Nuremberg airport (1 hr 15 min drive), Frankfurt (2 hrs 50 mins drive) or Munich (2 hrs 50 mins drive) and we recommend hiring a car, which will enable you to easily visit all the castles and places of interest around Coburg.
Heather and Guy flew from Bristol to Frankfurt with bmi regional who fly up to three times daily between Bristol and Frankfurt. One way fares cost from £93 and as with all bmi flights, include a generous 23kg of hold luggage, a complimentary in-flight drink and breakfast snack, allocated seating and a speedy 30 minute check-in.
Where to stay in Coburg
Heather and Guy stayed at Hotel Villa Victoria in Coburg, which was the perfect place to spend a few days while exploring the town and the castles nearby. The accommodation is in a very pretty turn of the century villa, just outside the old town walls, with convenient parking outside for our hire car (although the spaces quickly filled up). In the villa are 12 rooms and ours was a most delightful suite with adjoining sitting room and view of the city gatehouse.
The house had been beautifully renovated and we had the use of a guest sitting room on the same floor, with a tea and coffee station on the landing. We especially enjoyed breakfast in the charmingly furnished ground floor room, with pretty floral china and lace tablecloths. Across the road is a more modern residence, and guests staying there can also have breakfast in the villa, but I would check when you book that you can have a room in the older house if possible.
Despite the name, you should be aware that Hotel Villa Victoria is more of a guest house than a hotel; for instance when we arrived mid afternoon there was no-one manning the reception and we had to call the owner who gave us instructions on how to find our key. When staying here be sure to let the owners know at what time you will be arriving and make arrangements accordingly.
Thanks to German National Tourist Board who hosted my visit to Coburg and to BMI Regional who covered my flight via Frankfurt.
Living in Bristol I often get asked for recommendations on the best places to stay as well as what to do in my lovely home town. For travellers who enjoy taking short city-breaks, I believe that the choice of hotel is a big factor in how you experience a place. I prefer to stay at hotels that are centrally located, with stylish decor and a personal touch with staff who really care. I have my own comfy bed in Bristol, so I haven’t stayed overnight in the hotels I’m going to recommend, but I have visited them all for one event or another and they are hotels that I would choose myself, if I were visiting Bristol.
1. Brooks Guest House – for quirky charm and affordability
This charming guest house is right in the middle of the old city, tucked down a lane by St Nicholas Market. It’s a great choice if you are arriving in Bristol by coach or train since there’s no parking at the hotel, but then you will be bang in the heart of things. There’s a contemporary but slightly retro feel in the decor, with painted woodwork and Cole & Sons wallpaper.
The big talking points are the four shiny Rocket caravans on the roof where you can stay in a cosy twosome (and yes they do have bathrooms). Breakfast is downstairs in the light and airy kitchen area and there’s a pretty paved courtyard which is perfect to sit outside as the weather gets warmer.
Brooks Guest House, St Nicholas Street, Bristol, BS1 1UB. Check out the best prices and book for Brooks Guest House at HotelLook.com
What do do while staying at Brooks Guest House
- Wander around St Nicholas Market where the Guest House is located and try something delicious from the food stalls under the glass roof. This is a favourite spot for locals to come and buy their lunch, and you can choose from a multicultural selection, from Jamaican to Portuguese hot dishes, Pieminster pies to pulled pork in a bun. Inside the Covered Market and Exchange Hall are lots of small stalls selling clothes, jewellery and a whole range of interesting things, all run by small indie businesses.
- Visit Castle Park which is a short walk through the market. If the weather is fine, this is a great place to take your lunch from St Nick’s market to sit on the grass overlooking the river. The church of St Peter’s was bombed in the war but its shell remains as a monument and there’s a sheltered herb garden and sculpture avenue next to it. There’s also a children’s playground tucked away on the mound beyond the church.
- Watch a play at the Theatre Royal close to Queen’s square, where the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company puts on everything from Shakespeare to family shows. The theatre dates back to the 18th century and has an impressive classical facade and original gilded Georgian auditorium so it’s always worth checking on the latest productions.
2. Hotel du Vin – for old school style and luxury
Housed in an old stone sugar warehouse, I love Hotel du Vin for its sense of style and old school luxury. As the name suggests, there’s a wine theme going on in the Bistro restaurant, with polished dark wood, panelled walls and a French inspired menu, as well as a bar area with squashy leather sofas to relax with a cocktail or coffee.
Due to the character of the old building, no two bedrooms are exactly the same, but all are luxurious with roll-top baths or powerful showers, soft velvet furnishings and antique leather easy chairs. The hotel is centrally located in the oldest part of Bristol, and where the road now runs in front of the hotel was once the original waterfront where ships would have moored.
Hotel du Vin, The Sugar House, Narrow Lewins Mead, Bristol, BS1 2NU. Check out the best prices and book for Hotel du Vin Bristol at HotelLook.com
What do do while staying at Hotel du Vin
- Walk up the atmospheric Christmas steps, to imagine how Bristol looked in the 17th and 18th century when the road in front of the hotel was part of the harbour, then check out some of the quirky independent shops. At the top of the steps there’s an old Alms House and plenty of other small arty shops along Colston Street and Perry Road.
- Colston Hall is just a short walk from the hotel, Bristol’s main music venue hosting an eclectic mix of international performers, community choirs and pop tribute bands. An open copper foyer was added to the original Victorian building a few years ago, often hosting free live music in this space with a stylish cafe too.
- Visit Red Lodge which is set on Park Row, on the hill above Hotel du Vin and the Colston Hall. It’s one of the oldest houses in Bristol where you can see oak panelled Elizabethan rooms and fireplaces in the Great Oak Room, with views over the city. The wealthy merchants who once lived here would have had a grand view of their ships coming up the harbour as well as being able to take their leisure in the Elizabethan knot garden. Entry is free and the house is open from end March to end December, closed Weds/ Thurs/ Fri.
3. The Bristol – for luxurious rooms overlooking the harbour
From the ouside The Bristol may not be the prettiest of hotels – although there’s something iconic about its listed 1960s facade that was originally built as a motel. Step inside and the rooms are spacious and stylish in relaxing natural tones with luxurious velvet throws in highlight shades of plum, mushroom or aubergine.
You can take their popular afternoon tea, order some sharing plates in the Lounge or have dinner with a view of the harbour in the River Grille restaurant, with drinks in the Shore Cafe Bar next door. As there’s a multi-story car park next door, this is a convenient choice for those who are driving but want a central location by the harbour in Bristol.
The Bristol, Prince Street, Bristol, BS1 4QF. Check out the best prices and book for The Bristol at HotelLook.com
What to do while staying at The Bristol
- Take a Bristol Ferry Company boat from the steps opposite the Watershed Arts Centre which will take you around the harbour with lots of different stops on the way. You could get off at the furthest point for a pleasant walk back along the water or just stay on board for a mini tour which will take around 40 minutes to see harbour sights like the ss Great Britain and Underfall Yard from the water.
- Just along the harbour front is M-shed, a free museum that brings to life the history and people of Bristol. With plenty of hands-on exhibits it’s great for all ages and since its free, you can dip in and out depending on how long you’ve got. When your tummy is rumbling it’s time to discover Bristol’s latest foodie hub which is just next door at Wapping Wharf – a pedestrian street full of indie restaurants and bars, including Cargo – a group of food retailers housed in shipping containers.
- Take the steam train or walk down to ss Great Britain – from M-shed, there’s a small steam train that runs at weekends, manned by enthusiasts that will take you along the harbourside down to ss Great Britain (of course you can also walk). This historic iron steam ship was built by Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who also designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the ship was returned to Bristol from the Falklands. Now fully restored, it is one of Bristol’s leading visitor attractions and a great day out for families and those interested in Bristol’s maritime history.
I hope you enjoyed my mini-tour of some of my favourite places to see and stay in Bristol. If you’re planning a weekend break in Bristol, do check out the best prices and book at Hotellook.com.
Disclosure: This article was brought to you in partnership with HotelLook.com