Now a full size replica of part of Nelson’s column is not only an ambitious idea but also potentially controversial, probably why it never got off the drawing board. But building smaller more manageable sets is a great way of infinitely extending the scope of your gardens potential – because part of it can be part of anything you like.
Generally even the tamest animals will require a little time to accustomise themselves to your new ideas or contraptions, so a degree of permanence is desirable. For naturally curious species, such as Grey squirrels or foxes, a few days or maybe a few hours, will be enough to overcome their caution and jump onto or into your best laid plans. Even then the light, weather or pose may not be quite right and you may wish to repeat your shot, hence piling things loosely together is not a good idea and nor is putting it in the middle of the lawn. Bolt, nail or screw your set together because this will help with the second essential – its portability. If this is possible, then between shoots you can store it out of everyones way and avoid conflicts of interests and arguments about what constitutes an attractive new feature in the garden. It seems that most people prefer sculptures of cupids, urns or even gaudy gnomes to would be sections of castle battlement or factory air-conditioning outlets – a couple of my realised, but vilified beauties! And because most of our British subjects are small then your set doesn’t need to be that much bigger, large enough to allow for ‘shoot-off’ around the subject, even if its not centrally placed where it rarely looks very good. It’s best to plan all this in advance, effectively design your ideal picture, even sketch it and measure it out. You know, or can find out, how tall a Starling stands. Decide how big you’d like it to appear in your final photograph and extrapolate to decide how much background you need to make. Keep a camera complete with the appropriate lens handy whilst you’re building so you can keep a visual check on all perspectives and remember, the more confident you are about what you want the less flexibility you’ll need to exploit. Awareness of this means you can cut down on time, effort and money when building sets. If you know what you won’t see in your final frame – why construct it?
Often theres not a lot of DIY needed, just a keen eye for opportunities that enable you to exploit new angles or ideas. I was walking along a railway line once where the tops of all the telegraph poles had been cut off – I didn’t, so don’t ask why! With permission I lugged one away and stood it up in the garden. Immediately I was standing two metres away at eye level from a top of a telegraph pole, something you’d normally be looking directly up at. A trained Kestrel and a roll of sky blue paper provided me with a simple but never before seen perspective of this bird. On another occasion a friend had a tame Jackdaw so I repeated the idea using an ancient chimney stack which I found on a demolition site. Heavy that was and seemingly heavier still carrying it away again!
But now we’re gravitating towards ‘props’ rather than full blown sets and many of these can be simply natural artifacts to aesthetically enhance the picture. Moss or lichen covered branches look better than a plain fence top if you have a bird perched on them, as would natural stones, rather than paving slabs at the pond side. Its not a lot of trouble to procure and place items like this and it instantly makes a lazy snap into a better photograph. Once again the only real limits are your imagination and endurance. I once constructed the tail-end of a Cruise Missile out of a drainpipe, hardboard and cardboard as I wanted to get a poignant shot of a Blackbird singing from its unexploded fin. It didn’t work actually, but only because I didn’t put in enough time but I recall that it was great to tell my mates down the pub that I’d spent the day making a nuclear weapon!