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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sniper turned snapper captures stunning wildlife shots after trading his rifle for a long lens

-Craig Jones donned his old camouflage gear and spent four months in undergrowth to get amazing photographs of owls

By Tom Gardner

Focus: The owl uses its incredible eyesight to spot its prey from hundreds of feet away - oblivious to Craig being nearby

Almost invisible, camouflaged against the green undergrowth, sharpshooter Craig Jones is prepared to lay in wait for hours until his furtive target appears.

But this isn't a sinister covert military operation. Former sniper Craig has traded his rifle for a long lens to become a wildlife photographer and is using all those skills to capture these stunning wildlife shots.

Dedicated Craig spent four months hidden in the foliage to snap the amazing natural shots of owls in their habitat across the UK’s marshes.

Prey: Talons raised, the owl swoops down as it goes in for the kill

Prey: The owl flies off with its food after diving in a capturing it in its talons

He donned his old army camouflage and employed the tactics learnt as a sniper in the Airborne forces. It enabled him to become almost completely invisible to the wildlife around him, allowing unrivalled access to them soaring, diving and feeding.

Craig, from Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs, said: ‘I was in the army from 16 until 23 and became a sniper.

But I have swapped my rifle for a long lens now. I use the exact same techniques of a sniper - shape, shine and silhouette - to make sure I go unnoticed by the wildlife.

‘And if you think like the animal you are trying to photograph, then you can trace its moves easily and get those killer shots.’

In one spectacular shot, Craig captures an owl seemingly heading straight down the barrel of his lens.

Another, shows a barn owl seconds after it swoops in on its prey - a dormouse - and carries it off to feast on.

Craig, who left the army to become a full-time wildlife photographer, said: ‘I spent four months becoming a part of the environment, blending in and simply disappearing.

Dedicated: Craig Jones spent four months painstakingly integrating himself into the habitat of owls he was photographing across the UKs marshes

See without being seen: All the shots captured by Craig were the results of meticulous preparation and hours of time waiting. But it was worth it judging by the images

‘I integrate myself into the foliage of the marshes so that the owls barely notice I’m there.

‘As a sniper our motto was "to see without being seen". I just employ that but in the wild.

‘I use the terrain and its features to mask my ground movement and break up my outline and blend in.

‘Reading the signals around you that nature will show you, watching for changes in wind direction can be the difference of seeing the subject and not.

‘So everything has to be planned down to the very last detail. The deodorant you wear, the toothpaste you use, the smell of your clothes. Believe it or not it all matters.

‘The slightest unnatural smell and the owls will tell. If my wife washes my outdoors gear in Persil they will know and stay clear of me.

‘So it is very important to plan everything - the devil is in the detail.’

He added: ‘I’ve always had an affinity with owls. Ever since I was a lad growing up on a council estate I’d go to this little area that had been left by the council to just overgrow.

‘You would always find owls there and I became fascinated by them.

‘I love all wildlife now, but owls were the creatures that got me interested in the world outside my urban council estate.’

Preparation: Craig had to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure he did not disturb the wildlife, including being careful not to give off unnatural smells which spook the owls

Sharp shooter: Sniper turned snapper Craig Jones is now capturing stunning wildlife shots with his long lens

Skills: Craig Jones's seven years as a hot shot sniper enabled him to blend in to the background and take incredible photos of the undisturbed owls



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