In October last year, the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016 was announced as Gideon Knight. He talks to Oliver Atwell about his dreamy shot of a carrion crow

Each year, much of the focus on the Wildlife Photographer of the Year can tend to land on the overall adult winner (this year it was Tim Laman). However, that does a massive disservice to the always excellent overall youth winner, which this year was announced as 16-year-old nature enthusiast Gideon Knight. We talked to him about his winning shot and how he achieved it.

Can you tell me all about your winning shot?

It was taken in London’s Valentines Park. It was only January, but this was already my sixth visit of the year – I was looking for the great light that often comes with a winter sunset. On this particular afternoon I had been shooting by the lake, which had frozen over, and was on my way home when I was struck by the beauty of a carrion crow, perched among the spindly branches of a sycamore and silhouetted by an almost full moon rising through the blue twilight. It was an image I knew I had to capture, and so with the light fading fast, I got into position.

I shot with my lens wide open at f/5.6, to not only allow the most light onto the sensor and avoid too much noise, but also to leave the moon blurred. I kept the ISO at 500. This left me with a shutter speed of 1/250sec at an equivalent of 640mm (crop sensor). As a result, quite a few of the images weren’t exactly sharp! When I saw the final image, I realised it was quite a magical scene.

What is it about studying the natural world that particularly appeals to you?

It’s the beauty of the natural world, but also the unknown – when you’re out and about in nature, you never know what surprises it may throw at you. We live in a technological society where people are increasingly alienated from the natural world. Wildlife photography can be used to convey to people the wonder of the outside world through a medium that they can readily relate to. It is, however, not just important in encouraging people to notice what’s around them, but also to convey conservation messages and the dangers that face wildlife.

What lessons have you picked up over time?

One of the best things to learn early is to photograph at your subject’s eye level – this will enable you to get striking and more emotive images. The most valuable thing by far, though, is something you have to learn yourself over time – how to be creative. Look at a scene, or the way the light works, or how your subject moves and be inspired.

How do you set about planning an image?

Most of my photography is done in areas I’m very familiar with, be it parks or gardens. Over time you begin to build up a profile of what you’re quite likely to see, where and when. So, when I do plan images, I have a rough idea of how to go about it and the likelihood of success. Occasionally, I’ll plan a shot and head out with a goal in mind, but usually I prefer to be inspired by what I see – nature is such an unpredictable thing, like I said, so I don’t like to plan too much. Sometimes something could happen that is more incredible than you were hoping for.

Is there one camera/lens that you find yourself using more than any other?

Usually, I shoot on my main camera body (which as of recently is the incredible Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) and my telephoto lens (Canon 400mm f/5.6 L). It’s a great set-up – lightweight, quick and sharp. I usually spend my time photographing birds, so it’s not often – even with good fieldwork – that you need a shorter lens.

Do have any accessories you can’t live without?

My angled viewfinder. When you shoot at your subject’s eye level, it can mean getting quite low to the ground, so the viewfinder helps me to compose without getting a crick in my neck. I find myself using extension tubes a lot, too, to increase the magnification of my telephoto and macro lens.

Gideon Knight head shot

From the first moment Gideon Knight paid attention to nature it has never failed to amaze him. He aims to work in conservation as a wildlife photographer to help raise awareness. www.gideonknightphotography.zenfolio.com.