Thursday 31 December 2009

Happy New Year

So we have reached the end of our first year on the blog, with a record 45 blog posts this month.

It remains to wish all our readers a very Happy and Propserpous 2010, and hope you all have lots of great photographic trips planned. 

I set some of my plans into action yesterday, which should see me going to a great location in Scotland in Spring time.  I am very excited about it as it is an area that I have wanted to go for a while, but never made any hard plans to get there before - so stay with us until at least the middle of next year to find out more.

Cheers to you all and see you next year - tomorrow :-)


Review of the Year Part 7 - July

So on into the second half of the year as part of the Year Review series.

All blogs can be seen here for July, but here are a few that might whet your appetite to revisit or see for the first time for any of our newer readers.

Dave did a review of his Nikon 200-400VRf4 - a great lens and one that many Canon users would like to have.  But as usual Canon only have marketeers rather than ears that listen to photographers - so we will continue to wait in vain.

July was a great month for macro work in the UK as all the various bugs, butterflies and damsels came out to play. 

Dave took a trip to South Carolina and sent in two reports here and here.

I finally found the way to unlock 1024 x 768 pixel res on my Samsung netbook, which meant I could use some other software to herlp processing and screen calibration.

On Tips and techniques, we covered wireless off camera flash here and here, I did a bit on Hightlight Tone Priority and Dave looked at AF assist points.

John Bulpitt was our first Guest Photographer and sent us a fascinating article on storing images on the  move, along with some great images.

Finally, the story here about a persistent pair of Great Crested Grebes was one of my favourite stories of the year.

Stat porn for July
2988 page views from 496 unique visitors from 27 countries


Wednesday 30 December 2009

The Outer Banks

My friends from the UK have only seen the insides of hospitals or shopping malls since they have arrived so a couple of days ago i checked the weather and although the Mountains were getting bad cold weather the coast had a window of a couple of days-cold but clear weather so we quickly packed and headed off yesterday, Just before we got to the coast i did a detour to try and see a bear but all the usual places were bare!! so we booked in to a hotel right on the beach, Outside were lots of gulls and a couple of gannets out at sea but not much more, We had a great sunset last night so grabbed some shots with our compacts as i hadnt unpacked the main gear, I was up and out an hour before sun rise and went back to the bear area, There are a couple of flooded fields there which have a good population of wintering wildfowl, No bears but i did get a few shots of tundra swan and pin tail, The highlight of the quick session was when 2 juvinille bald eagles flew out of the distant trees and made all the ducks of which there are thousands take to the air

I will download and post some images in my next blog


Tuesday 29 December 2009

Quick Update

Just a quickie from me today.

We were expecting a lot of snow today, so I was getting quite excited at the prospect of some garden bird photography.  Sadly, it has just rained and rained.

My garden is still Blackbird city, but have been seeing lots more finches in now, particularly Greenfinch.  I have my new Mark 11 tree trunk set up and already the birds are starting to use it so I hope for some great results from that.  Highlight of the last couple of days has been a pair of Blackcaps in although the resident Robin has been doing its level best to make sure they are not welcome.

I suppose it could be worse, it could be a Squirrel.

I went out yesterday on the second of my BTO tetrads and was pleased to see lartge flocks of Lapwing, Fieldfare and Redwing again.  Highlight of the day was a beautiful pair of Bullfinches showing well in the bright sunshine.

So fingers crossed for a decent dump of snow overnight here.


Monday 28 December 2009

Review of the Year Part 6 - June

And so on into half way through the year.

Dave started the month off with a trip to Colorado and posted some reports here, here and here.

Here in the UK it was a great time for Orchids and I shared some of my experiences here and also some sad news when my local council decimated a load of Bee Orchids here.

It had been quite a while since I needed to buy any inks for my Canon printer and had quite a shock as we reported here and here.

It was a great year too for butterflies and I found some good specimens very locally to me.

In our Tips and Techniques section, I did a bit on lighting control and Dave covered fill in flash with wildlife here and backgrounds here.

I gave the poor unloved 'Corvid' family the opportunity for a fair hearing in this post.

In my garden, I had ben getting a lot of life at my pond and we clocked up the 200th post this month.

Stat porn for June -  3,178 number of page views, from 491 unique visitors in 28 countries, and at the half year stage we had cumulative totals of  22,698 number of page views, from 2,766 unique visitors in 55 countries.


Sunday 27 December 2009

Review of the Year Part 5 - May

May is usually a busy time for wildlife in the Northern hemisphere as we get into the f'ull-on' part of the breeding season.

I took my usual trip to Mull and set out a number of reports from Day 1 here to Day 6 here. The in between days are all posted in the Archives if you want to see more from that trip. I covered off trip preparation here

On the way back south, I came via the north east of England and found a great site for Early Purple Orchids.

Sadly, Dave's mum passed away which necessitated a return to England and the need to attend to more important matters there.

Once back in the USA, Dave showed us what was happening on his local patch here, and showed us a couple of blogs on long lens techniques here and here.  We did quite a few posts throughout the year on Long lens work, so if you open one of these links and click on the long lens techniques tag, you should find all of those from the series if you are interested.

On the gear front Dave reviewed the Nikon sb900 flash head here.

In my garden, things were moving on nicely and I posted here, here and here.

Stat porn for May -  3691 page visits, 523 unique visitors from 18 countries.


Really Right Stuff L Bracket

One of the problems with wide angle lenses is that they dont have a lens foot to attach the set up to the tripod, For years i have strapped a wimberley lens foot to the base of the camera body, This works OK for shooting in landscape mode but thats all and portrait mode is a no no, This year i was determined to get a proper L bracket  and stop buggering about, I have been shooting a lot more landscapes this year so it was time to make my life easier, Santa bought me a RRS L bracket, Its a thing of beauty, light,fits nicely and is an engineering feat, I have one for the D3 as they are pretty expensive and if i get another body it will be the same as the D3 i.e D3s or D3X, Having dovetails fitted to both sides allows for easy changing from landscape to portrait mode, Very expensive but worth every penny, It will also give some protection to the base and side of the camera body, Kirk also do a similar version


Saturday 26 December 2009

Local Patch - Wildlife on the Christmas Day walk

We went out for the usual walk on Christmas day late morning, with camera and binos to hand - you know just in case.

Great sightings of Reed Bunting, Buzzard, Goldfinch, Long Tailed Tit plus the winter thrushes.

Best moment was a real close up encounter with a Male Green Woodpecker who was grubbing around for food where the sun had started to thaw the ground.  Surprisingly the lock cutting on the River Avon had frozen over quite thickly so no Kingfishers down there.

Back into the town at Stratford, I was surprised and pleased to see a Great Crested Grebe on the main busy part of the river.  I guess it's usual lake habitats have frozen over solid and it needed to find a moving body of water.

So after a Guinness in the Dirty Duck it was back home.  Will post a couple of the images later next week as time is against me now

Happy Boxing Day :-)


Friday 25 December 2009

Merry Xmas from NC

I hope you all have a Merry Xmas and that 2010 is a good one for all, My friends are now all well and out of hospital, The pressies have been opened and Santa has done me proud with gifts from Nikon,Wimberley and RRS so i will be doing blogs on these next week

All the best


For a few days only

..........our new snowy white Christmas template.

Can't stop - off to make the Christmas breakfast

Happy Christmas and hope you all have a great day


Review of the Year Part 4 - April

So if you are reading this on Christmas Day - well Happy Christmas.

Looking back to April, I can see Dave had a great trip to the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee and reported the trip here, here and here. I stayed closer to home and had a day out in Gloucestershire with my buddy Robbie.

On Tips and Techniques we covered on board flash here and here, and I also showed how to use the camera technology to capture close up shots of butterflies when they are on plants flapping about in the wind.

I have loved my Samsung netbook that I bought back in February - It has been a brilliant tool and I thank Joe Fox for flagging these up to me earlier in the year.  I showed in this post how to screen colour balance when you are working with less than 1024 x 768 pixel screen resolution, although I subsequently found how to get round that which I will flag up in following year review parts.

We talked about how to do your research to find your subjects for yourself, rather than get others to do your field work here.

On the gear front we covered graduated filters, circular polarisers and also the Think Tank Security bag which is vital for those times when you need to fly with your gear.

April also saw me get my DPAGB award which I covered here.

Stat porn for April - 3611 page views, from 604 unique vistors from  28 countries

Hope you are enjoying your Christmas day wherever you are - back tomorrow with the review of May


Thursday 24 December 2009

Christmas Best Wishes and Blogs over the Festive Period

I will write up a couple of Year Reviews to autopost on Christmas and Boxing day so there will still be a daily post.

But in terms of live blogging, I will round up today with as few thanks and best wishes.

Thanks firstly to you , all of our readers around the world for making this a fulfilling thing to do.  As Dave mentioned it can be a time consuming business, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and have really welcomed all the comments that we have received, good and indifferent - please keep them coming, as we do appreciate the interaction.

Secondly, great thanks to Dave as my blog buddy for entering in to this unknown adventure at the beginning of the year.  It has been a great pleasure doing this with you.

Finally, it just remains for me to wish you all a very Happy Christmas - hope you get all the presents you wish for and have a great time with your families.  And if you do not celebrate Christmas as a religious festival in your part of the world, then please have our best wishes anyway.

See you all again soon


Review of the Year Part 3 - March

Looking back at March, I did a number of posts on the second recall for the 1Dmk111 here, here, here, here and here. Plus some test shots here.

Clearly this has been a very vexing subject for a number of Mark111 users, with seemingly the some of the most troubled users being those who shoot birds in flight.  While I expressed my satisfaction after this recall, in longer term use there are still issues.  It is now about as good as it gets, and the best the Mark111 has ever been.  But having recently done the same with the new 7D, it really does show the Mark111 to be a dog in this department.  That said, for other forms of imagery the Mark111 and the files from it are still stunning.  The fact that 'experts' claim that the 7D noise is now as good as the Mark111 is testament to that - Canon have had three years to catch up with themselves.

Anyway - enough words on that subject.

Other posts included a few on various of bits of gear such as self levelling tripod heads, extension tubes, extenders and also camera gear insurance here and here.

Trip reports were a bit thin on the ground for us in March, but we covered a number of local patch reports here in Warwickshire and here in North Carolina.

I wrote a Tips and Techniques blog on that perennial digital subject, and showed how I used a mask and layer technique to sharpen images

Finally, have a check out the archives section for March to see if there is anything else there that you like.

Stat porn for March - 4283 page visits,  657  unique visitors from 31 countries


Wednesday 23 December 2009

News - Canon 1Dmk IV dribbling into the shops

A quick scan of one of the more popular (by activity) photographic forums (not brand aligned in case you were wondering) indicates that single digit numbers of production units are dribbling into one or two places around the world.

So let the beta testing customer experience commence.  As a 1Dmk111 user, I am only interested in high ISO performance, dynamic range and an AF system that works.

Canon can make an AF system work - the 7D has proved that so there will no excuses there, and I would expect them to shoot themselves in the foot this time around.

High ISO will be more of the challenge particularly based on the competition it is up against with the Nikon D3s, which is getting positive reviews.

However, all the while the 1DIV stays at this ridiculous 50% price hike on like for like retail prices against the III, it will be a long time before I consider it.


The best laid plans

Well just when you think you have things sorted for xmas-Somebody high above decides he has other plans, My friends arrived OK from the UK, Luckily missing all the snow only to fall ill on the plane, So i have spent today up the hospital and will be back there again tomorrow, Fingers crossed he will be out and OK for the main day but its left me with no time to sort a blog out, Adding to Martins blog about feeding birds i would like to say Keep the feeders clean as bacteria builds up and can kill our feathered friends, I am afraid that will be it for a few days and will post again straight after Xmas, I hope you all have a good one and that Santa brings lots of lovely shiny goodies

All the best


Tuesday 22 December 2009

Feeding the birds - be careful what you use

I have talked many times on the blog about feeding the birds,  and how critical it can be for their survival at this time of year.

Excesses at Christmas can lead to all manner of things being put out but please think carefully, and the RSPB have put out a timely note to that end here.

Please read it and pass on to as many people as you can over the next couple of days.

If you want to be kind, sunflower hearts, bird seed and nuts from your local pet store is the right thing to get, or support any of the RSPB locations and buy from them

Hat tip to my work buddy Richard for flagging the link to me


Review of the year Part 2 - February

In the second part of our look back at this year, I thought I would highlight some of the key posts that we made in February.

A couple of posts from our archives looked back at Dave's experiences in India and I took a look back at the Red Squirrels at Formby who have been having a hard time of it.

In the gear section we looked at hides, the Canon 50D,  and the Dell 2407 monitor.
Dave shared some techniques with us on Slow motion panning and also his methods of metering.

I went to Mull for four days and set out three trip reports here, here and here - so if you like to see Otter in their wild habitat have a drop into those links.

There were also quite a few local patch reports along with other reviews on software, so check in to the archives for February on the lnks down the right hand side.

Stats for Feb were  4,375 page visits,  584 visitors from 31 countries - so were were a bit up on Jan's figures


Monday 21 December 2009

Lets Talk

I will have to make this a quick one as we have friends arriving today from the UK for a couple of weeks, The snow that threatened at the end of last week came and went in hours but a couple of hours away they were swamped-lucky buggers, I have friends who have just moved to Japan in the last few days so hope that went well and look forward to my trip out there and i have have friends that have just moved from Japan to Austrailia, What does that have to do with photograhy-well it gives good reason to travel and see friends and have a photographic holiday at the same time, Its always difficult to compete with local photographers when you go away but some local knowledge goes a long way, We had a party at our house on Saturday and for fun everybody made it into my studio for a photograph during the evening and Sunday saw me processing and printing out the evenings shots which i have dropped off- A good way to make a party into something different and its already drummed up some business which wasnt the intention but always good to have, I guess its going to be 3 weeks before i get a proper session in when i go to New Jersey so just an hour or 2 in the garden hide until then, So i will try to have a longer and better blog on Xmas eve


Sunday 20 December 2009

Garden update - Blackbird Wars

The very cold weather is bringing plenty of activity into the garden as there are plenty of food options  that I have put out.

Up to 20 blackbirds this morning. It has been fascinating watch them take their little bits of space and see
them studiously watching their nearby rival, before flying at them in a threat display and  watch that displaced bird moving off to displace  another bird ....and so on.  It is like watching a sequence of chess moves.

There have also been significant numbers of sparrows and wood pigeon.chaffinches and now coming in large numbers too.

An occasional Redwing or two drops into the apple tree or maybe have a bath in the pond.

It is a constant job keeping the ice clear on the pond - it is now over two inches thick, but the birds are constantly using it to drink.  So please make sure you put out water for them in your garden a couple of times a day.

Early yesterday morning looking out the window, a very large dark shape came across and settled on the top of a neighbours tree.  Looking much larger than the usual Crow or Rook, a quick check though the binos revealed it to be a Raven.  I have seen Raven overhead in Stratford a few times but not settled like.  It sat there for about five minutes until it was intercepted by a Crow which forced it away.  But a great sight nonetheless.

I spent some time freezing my feet in the hide yesterday with little result, but will put some Blackbird images up to go with this story in a while.

No more sign of the female Blackcap that I saw last week.  Maybe I was just too hopeful that I would have another garden resident.  If she has any sense she will be a good few hundred miles south in Europe where it will be much warmer.  But we are getting a couple of regular Pied Wags in to make up for it.


Saturday 19 December 2009

Adobe Camera RAW 5.6 and Lightroom 2.6 now available


Be Straight PT2

After my post last week about being truthful in your photograhy it has been bought to my attention that this years winner of the prestigous Wildlife Photographer of the year is under investigation as another Spanish photographer has put evidence forward that could show the ''wild'' wolf is actually a captive animal-see here
Lets hope this not the case for the sake of the competition as well as the photographers reputation


Pop up hides

One of the first things i bought when i moved to the States were some pop up hides, At around $65 they are a bargain, I had one up in my garden for about 2 months before taking it down and storing it in the garage,One of the poles that form the roof split during that time but i gaffer taped it and thought nothing else about it, A couple of months ago i had it back in place and this time one of the springs that form the wall broke and shot through the side of the hide, The other day i had it back up but the roof pole rebroke and shot through the rook and the sides have started to rot-so you get what you pay for, My last hide from wildlifewatching supplies lasted years but are very expensive and these new ones last a year if you are lucky but at the cost you can afford to throw them away, also if some dirtbag walks off with it then what the heck


Friday 18 December 2009

It's gonna be windy on Chrismas Eve

I regularly use Metcheck to see what the weather is over the horizon, even though it is not the most accurate, it is well presented and updated.

Just did a quick look ahead for the seven days here in Stratford upon Avon

Stratford weather

Looks like Stratford will be flattened on Christmas eve judging by those winds speeds - looks like their computer picked up some spurious data.  353mph wind speed would almost certainly be a UK record.

Don't think we believe that

 Update:  Somebody must have put another bit of coal on the metcheck boiler powered computer as they have sorted out the winds speeds now - back to 11 and 12 mph. Means I can stay at home on Christmas eve instead of being blown off to Oz.


So where is the 1Dmk4?

Looks like the forum rumour mills are stepping up into overdrive with more conspiracy theories over the Canon 1Dmk4.

Expectation has been set that deliveries were to commence in November, and then December and now into next year.

The consiracy theorists are working on the premise that all is not well and there must be problems with it.

I wouldn't necessarily suscribe to it, but Canon's communication processes do have form to support that view point, and silence doesn't help them

Anyway, it is not of great personal interest to me as I am very clear about the purchase of new DSLR's - let everyone else do the testing until they work OK, and let the prices come down.

The Canon 7D is testament to this - two lots of firmware and a drop of £500.


Bright moment on a dull day

So there I was on Tuesday afternoon in the glass corporate offices at Birmingham Airport.  It was dull outside, a horrible dull dreay dank December afternoon.  Some might say the subject matter of the meeting I was in was also pretty dull.

Just about 10 meters away from the window I was sat near the lights of the multi storey car park shed little light into the outside world.  Suddenly my eye was caught by the movement of a dark shape rising up from below and landing on one of the handrail barriers of the car park.  My initial thoughts was that it was one of the many corvids, but through the gloom the wingshape seemed far too agile and pointed.

My concentration momentarily broken reverted back into the meeting.  But something didn't sit right with me.  I had only seen the back of the bird on the railing but that head bob didn't seem right for corvid.

Casting my gaze back out into the gloom, the bird turned it's head towards me and all became clear.

The white cheeks, the moustachial stripe and the long wings - sat in the middle of the airport was a beautiful Peregrine Falcon.

It sat there for a good five minutes, taking a rest on a cold day before it flew off into the darkening glooom.

Checking with the ops guys at the site established that falconry isnt part of their bird clearance operation so this was a wild bird

It was a wonderful moment on a dull day.


Thursday 17 December 2009

Canon firmware, DPP and Aperture updates

Details on Rob Galbraiths site here

Garden Birds and Nikon SU 800

Its my 18th wedding anniversary tomorrow (yes she has every bodies condolences) and my lovely wife has bought me a Nikon SU 800 which is the equivalent of Canons ST-E2 remote flash controller, so yesterday i put the hide up in the garden and gave it a quick work out, I set my SB 900 flashgun to remote and with the SU 800 on the hot shoe took some images-NOTHING- as i suspected it needs clear field of view from the controller to the flashgun as with the Canon but unlike the pocket wizards which are out of budget, No problem, i just put the controller on its own tripod and connect it to the camera with a remote cord and put the controller so that it can see the flashgun through the hide window, The Nikon cord is long enough to connect the controller with it outside the hide which is a feature i like, Straight away the flash worked, I has positioned it about 5 feet in front of the hide and slightly to the left and slightly above the perch, I did a couple of test shots and played about with the flash compensation by using the SU 800-all very easy to do and takes a few seconds, I plan on using it for my night time photography in the coming months for fox.possum and Raccoon with the aid of multi flashguns, I was up and out at first light today in the hide with everything set up as before in the hope of getting some tufted titmouse of which i managed lots of shots but due to the very low light only one sharpish image, I am in the last throws of getting over a bad cold and now just have a cough which seems to coincide with anything landing on the perch, So after an hour or so i gave it best and headed in for a cup of coffee, First impressions of the SU 800 are good, Its well built and easy to set up, You see it alot on programmes like CSI were they have their Nikon's with a macro lens and 2 macro flashes set on the end of the lens and the SU 800 on the camera, The controller has 2 settings, 1 for macro and 1 for just controlling multi flash set up, The images are nothing special but it was only a test after all, There is a strong possibility of snow tomorrow so its time to get some decent perches set up just in case


Wednesday 16 December 2009

Canon 7D AF testing

As promised on my last post, I said I would write up some of my experiences on the 7D AF system.

Now for us folks who have stuck out with Canon 1Dmk3, this is probably the one area that many of us have struggled with. It is is against this backdrop of Canon marketing spin, plus the poor ISO capabilities of the 50D that many have become doubtful of marketing speak.

As I mentioned when the same sort of hype heralded the launch of the 7D I was very cynical but said I would believe it when I was able to confirm it myself, with the type of photography that I do,  and not  have my views based on someone else's claims.

As I posted here on high ISO's Canon finally caught up with themselves on the 1Dmk3 v 7D noise issues but I did not get the chance to check the AF performance for moving subjects.

Now I have and it proves what a dog the 1Dmk3 really was/is for this type of subject.

The set up for the 7D has essentially all the same AF elements that the mark 3 has in terms of AI servo sensitivity, tracking, search, micro adjust, assist point selections.  It is more complicated with a range of different settings such as zone or area.  For my type of work, a lot of this quite unnecessary, but it might be relevant to some I guess.

The shots below were all taken as L jpegs, at 8fps, as faithful picture style, Auto WB,  in srgb for testing purposes, ISO 400, Av mode, f5.6, partial metering mode, Canon 70-200f2.8 ISL lens.

Af settings were AI servo, with the sensitivity set back 1 notch to medium slow, centre point only with surround AF assist points, focus search on, tracking priority activated.

All images are cropped to roughly half size and to 1024 x 768 pix when you click on them

Blackheaded Gulls coming for bread at Stratford -upon-Avon

One coming in from right hand side

Foreground bird (not the subject being tracked) coming across main subject, subject still sharp

Subject mostly covered but still sharp

Subject now uncovered, but still sharp and another one coming across too

Subject again interfered with by foreground bird, but subject still sharp

  Interfering birds out of subject area, subject still sharp

So having carried out my own reviews what are my thoughts?

Well it is a 1.6 crop body, so if you have a 40D this would be a good upgrade.  If you have a 50D it would be an even better upgrade, but then so would a 20D be over that.

From an AF point of view, it is very easy to use from the word go.  This was a first pick up and set up based on my experiences of the mark3 in terms of custom functions and settings.....and it worked.

I am not sure that I would ever have got 7 frames sharp in succession like this.  The AF would have wondered off  before this with the Mark3.

So to those 'experts' who said that many bird in flight wildlife photographers didn't know how to deal with the complexities of the Mark3 AF systems - your argument was just shot down by the 7D.

I do like the 1.3 crop of the 1 series though - but life is always a compromise isn't it.

So would I buy one - yes, but would need to make sure that it had the very expensive battery grip - £200!!!!  - come on Canon stop it!!!


Tuesday 15 December 2009

Time to reflect

Its a good idea of Martins to review the blog over the last year since we started, The year has flown by and i havent managed to get half the images that i want, Highlights of the year for me was the trip to Colorado to shoot the mountain goat as well as shooting on the North Carolina coast in the winter and having a couple of trips to the Smokey mountains in Tennessee, I have already been making plans for next year with a trip to New Jersey in early Jan for Harlequin Ducks and shore birds and a trip to the NC coast at the end of Jan for Snow Geese,Tundra Swans and Black bear, I will have at least 2 trips to the Smokeys and hopefully 1 major trip abroad, I was very taken with Colorado and am itching to get back there so lets hope that the pennies continue to come in, Next year will see a couple of workshops from me and i hope to increase the one to one training, The blog does take time out of our days and its been quite difficult to keep it updated on a daily basis, We have both had good comments from our readers but there have been some critisism over the year from some others, All i can say is that the comments that we make are our own personal opinions and they may not be everybodies, But its our blog and its free-nobody makes you read it although i do hope that you do, I know that Santa has left a few boxes of camera gear under the tree so that means some new reviews in the new year, 2010 will see me back doing alot of night time photography for racoon,possum and fox and it will be something that will take a lot of my time to get the images that i have in my head
So as i have manflu and am sitting here feeling naff its off for a bath and then back to bed


Monday 14 December 2009

Review of the Year Part 1 - January

Thought it was a good time to start a look back on the first year of our blog and pick out some of the highlights and maybe in an extended 12 days of Christmas theme we will look at each month in turn from now until we have reached the twelfth night, so you will be spared a summary each day as we will as usual continue to put new stuff in between these.

Just before I start on January, I thought that was a good post of Dave's yesterday and will add my own views later in the week with a few images to illustrate the point.

It is probably worth a quick recap about why the blog came about.

Here was our first post back in December last year as one of the trial posts, little did we know that we would be here with this  a year later.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I guess judging from the number of views and visitors we get it is worth doing, but would appreciate your comments as always.

We started off with themes on kit reviews, Here is Dave's. Started a series on Long lens work.

I covered off a trip report on Short Eared Owls and Dave went for a pee, or Pea Island more correctly.

We covered off come techniques on metering and also making the most of the moment and working with the light - probably my favourite images in January in that post from Dave.

We also talked about various bits of software and hardware covering off bags, tripods, and mobile back up options.

Finally, a theme I have visited more than once, and will continue to bang this particular drum when relevant is that our Subject is more important than the Photo.

If you only click on one of the above links in detail, I would encourage this one as it affects all of our reputations as wildlife photographers.

But I do hope you have stroll through the archives that I have put here - maybe there is something useful you missed first time round.

Back later in the week with some views on the Be Honest post and some more real live user feedback from a wildlife photography perspective on the Canon 7D and its AF performance for birds in flight  - that old bete noir for us folk that spent money on the 1Dmk3.

Stats for Jan were 3617 page visits, 537 visitors from 32 countries


Sunday 13 December 2009

Be Straight

There have been some rumblings in the press and forums lately about people not being straight with the truth or actually cheating, The big one was about a Floridian photographer who has been trying to make his name in the business actually entering a large American wildlife competition and when asked for the RAW files declined as they had been overly altered in photoshop and also the details given about where the images were taken were found to be false-A reputation in any business takes many years to get but only a few seconds to destroy, This story not only shot around the forums but also made it into the Washington post!!!, The people who run the competition actually named and shamed the photographer-so beware, Along the same lines but not as serious are people whi try to pull the wool over your eyes by putting very nice images up on forums of small shy birds taken with smallish lenses and not putting up that the image is cropped in any way, Its always been a bug bear of mine, Just say that the image is cropped and even by roughly what amount, A few percent is neither here nor there but 30-70% is a major alteration of the image and should be stated-its only yourself that you are cheating after all, I saw a very nice image a few weeks ago taken with a smallish lens and the guy was asked if it was a large crop and even to show the RAW file-both of which he denied-whats the point??

Here an example of what i am talking about-not the best image but i took it the other week for this particular blog but havent managed to get around to getting it done until today

Now the thing that gives many image way is the excessive grain for the given ISO showing either a heavy crop or excessive under exposure in the original image-now as in the example above i have used noise reduction to try and mask the heavy grain-here i was using a high ISO and with the heavy crop it just acentuates the grain even further
When taking images always have in your mind that the finished image will be the one you are taking and not well i have a high megapixel camera so i can crop it-thats just bad photography-well in my opinion anyway


Saturday 12 December 2009

A couple from the Garden

After a manic week or two, I took some relaxation time out early this morning and get out in the hide for a couple of hours.

Lots of stuff passing through the garden, but little where I wanted it to land, and when it did it was off in a couple of milliseconds.

Anyway, here are a couple that prove two things.

You will never have the right lens on at the right time.

When I took the pigeon image, I was geared up with the 500mm for the little birds.

The second point illustates the point of Dave's recent post on getting the good light early in the morning.

Hoping for some snow soon so I can get some Christmas card Robin images, but pretty pleased with the light on this one.

One other bit of good news was to see the return of the Female Blackcap in the garden. She was skulking around at the bottom of the garden. It was about the same time in December two years ago that she came to the garden (probably not the same one though). I had the pleasure of watching her for about three months last time, so lets hope she stays the same and I can get some more images.


Calling Vermont State, USA

Just had a quick look at the stats for the year.

Vermont you are the only state that hasn't visited us.

Wake up up there :-)

Be great to see the whole of the USA coloured green on the analytics


Friday 11 December 2009

Strange weather in Raleigh

Its been a strange week weather wise, The start of the week was cold followed by a warm and very wet period mid week and strong winds, Now at the end of the week the temperatures have plummeted and today i popped down to the local lake to find the shallows iced over, The Kingfisher was still around but kept distant and although he tried a few times i never saw him catch anything, He tried various perches as well but maybe the water is still abit murky for him, I spent a very nice hour shooting a Killdeer which looks like a European Plover on stilts, They are normally very shy and difficult to get near but today he approached me and at some points was within a few feet from me, he took no notice of the flash which helped in the dull conditions so i filled a 4 gb card, He was too interested in getting some food and spent most of the time doing there soft shoe shuffle in the shallows, Animals and birds change their habits in the colder months and food seems more important than self preservation and shy animals can be very approachable, One thing i did realise this morning is that i need some better cold weather boots, Its amazing how chilly your extremities can get when hanging around for long periods of time, So i will get a pair of Sorrel boots before things get too bad,The mallards were still at it as before and i watched a nuthatch going in and out of a tree hole which has been noted for the future, The lake has a population of Muscovy ducks as well as various hybrids so there is normally something having a clean and flap of the wings to keep you busy, The Muscovy ducks are very dark on the body and very light around the head and under the wings making exposure difficult and easy to get wrong, I took a test shot before the bird reared up and flapped its wings, I was shooting at ISO 800 at the time and didn't want to under expose too much as this give me a grainy image when processing


Thursday 10 December 2009

Crazy Week

It has been a mad mad few days for me and I can relax and hopefully get back to some 'normal' life and some better blog contributions.

It all culminated in an examination for an environmental management diploma. Much of the syllabus is dry and steeped in legislation but many of the questions that I answered today were centred on many areas that I am passionate about.

It was particularly pleasing to be able to use a story I wrote about here last Friday about environmental protection for wildlife species to reference one of my answers.

So just got to write up a major project report and wait until March to see if I passed, or whether I will have more very late nights and very early mornings revising.


New Nikon 300 F2.8VR +2X

Nikon today announced a new 300F2.8 VR and 2x converter, I read some leaks on this the other day and didn't believe them as there current 300 F2.8 lens is a good'un and there are plenty of other lenses in their range that are in better need of an upgrade like the 80-400, Nikon's 2x has never had a good review and its something that i didn't buy instead keeping to the 1.4x and 1.7x that are both optically very good so i will wait with interest to see just how good the new version is, 2x in general be it Nikon or Canon have few supporters but with good light and stopping the aperture down a couple of stops can yield very good results

More details here

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Light Direction

One thing that makes a image look great is the quality of the light-warm soft early morning or late evening light adds a soft glow to the image rather than the harsh bright light of mid day, But another thing that must be taken into consideration is the angle of the light, Always try to position yourself with the sun on your back unless you are trying to get a silhouette, That way your subject will be evenly lit, If you have the sun at an angle to you you will end up with a heavy shadow on the side of your subject, If its not possible to to get the sun on your back then a small amount of flash (fill in) can be used to even the shadow out, I do this by using a better beamer on my flash when using a long lens and dialing down the flash compensation to say -3, If you are using a lens smaller than 300 then you do not need a better beamer, When shooting from your own hide take the morning and evening light into consideration when setting the hide up, if you set up in deep woodland where you are shooting in the trees shadows then you do not need to worry about the light direction just the amount of available light around you at the time of shooting, Here in North Carolina (East Coast USA) i like to shoot on the beach in the evening as the sun sets behind me but if i lived on the west coast then morning would be the best time, Its one of those very important but often over looked things in photography but one that will make a lot of difference from making nice images into great images


Tuesday 8 December 2009

Santa Wish List - Part 3

Here are just a few more ideas for you

This time from Amazon for the Brits. Still time if you choose quickly.

These batteries are meant to be the business for your speedlite flashheads

These too have a great following

Happy shopping


Monday 7 December 2009

Local Patch-Raleigh

Last week we had a lot of rain in a short period and there were floods, My local lake is around 50-80 acres went up 18'' and is the colour of doo daa, The last few days has seen water levels dropping back to normal so today i decided to pop down and see whats about, I took the dog there last night for a quick walk and could here the Kingfisher in the distance, It was very cold and a thick frost when i left at day break, I could here the Kingfisher before i could even see the lake and found him in the shallows next to the board walk, He is quite shy and likes some space so i never managed to get close enough for any decent shots, He did land next to the board walk a few times so i will need to get there at dark and use some sort of concealment, The resident heron,Mallard and Muscovy ducks were around and soon settled so i could take a few stock images whilst i watched the mist rise off the lake as the sun come up, I spent 3 hrs there mainly watching the KF going about his business catching fish and taking note of his favorite perches, There were a few migratory residence in the way of buffleheads out in the middle of the lake with a beautiful drake taking pride of place, There were also a few pied grebes which i don't often see here, This year has been a good one for jays and there were a few kicking around the car park-still a bird i have yet to get any shots of, So a nice but cold morning with some data taken for future use, One thing that was strange was that the mallards were mating, the duck equivalent of a rabbit i guess


Sunday 6 December 2009

Local Patch - a few recent sightings

Just a short one from me today.

Winter has finally arrived in Warwickshire this last week with a hard frost or two, although with the continuing gales and rain it still feels more like autumn.

Regular winter thrushes are coming in to the garden now with daily regular visits from Redwings. I had the pleasure of watching one bathing in my pond this week. Fieldfares are less common in the urban environment, but I have already seen many very large flocks out in the surrounding fields.

I certainly had an exciting sighting last weekend with a Kingfisher flying within a couple of meters of me while I was by the Rowing Club in Stratford, feeding the birds. Great to see one in the town environment. Also the Grey Wagtail is quite a regular sighting now in the same area.

Large flocks of Black headed gulls are now also resident in the town around the river as they have moved inland from their summer sites.

It is also great to see the regular flock of Long tail tits in the garden and had the pleasure of watching them about three meters from me while eating my breakfast.

So I have put the hide back up in the garden now and looking forward to getting out there again when the weather is kind to the birds and they are in the right places at the right times for me.


Saturday 5 December 2009

Fair weather Photographer?

With winter approaching does your wildlife photography take a back seat, Don't want to get your gear wet or the sofa and warm house is too inviting, Nope its time to grin and bear it, Adverse weather will give your images a different dimension, There are lots of hides around to keep dry in and yet still get good images from, If you don't want to shelter in a hide then its time to buy some good quality waterproof camo gear and a lens/camera cover, Camo gear is available at many outlets as i have mentioned before, Prices here in the states are crazy low, Last week i purchased some waterproof salopets that are soft and quiet and really thick to keep you warm in the sales for $39, I used a lens cover from wildlifewatching supplies for years and it worked very well at keeping my lens dry and clean-so no excuses-forces yourself out of that nice warm bed and head out, At the end of the day it will be worth the effort


Friday 4 December 2009

Environmental Conflicts

Part of my day job includes environmental matters from a business perspective so I tend to see a wide range of environmental issues.

A story that caught my eye earlier this week from The Independant was how the authorities in Scotland are protecting the Golden Eagle from the impacts of wind turbines.

Full story is here

Now I tend to find that people either love or loathe wind turbines.

Personally I think they are a blight on the landscape and are particularly inefficient at delivering consistent power. When there is no wind, there still needs to be another method of delivering energy. Certainly the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacture of wind turbines,when you consider the components are shipped halfway round the world means that the true benefits are often hidden with a bit of 'greenwash spin'.

There is no doubt these things are destructive to wildlife as this clip shows

Vulture hit by wind turbine.

A particular sad but seemingly frequent occurrence if you read the comments below the main article from The Independant.

I am pleased that Scotland has seen fit to protect its wildlife and particularly avoid the visual destruction of their wonderful countryside.


Thursday 3 December 2009

Lens Accessories

So you have donated an arm and a leg to get a decent lens but the buying doesn't stop there, I like to have have a lens foot with the dovetail built in to fit on my wimberley head, I prefer the 4th Generation lens feet, They are beautifully made and light but at $85 for the 70-200 not cheap, You could add a wimberley plate to the lens foot cheaper but if you use a 4th generation lens foot you get to keep the original foot in new condition for resale,its lighter than the original foot and you save extra weight by not having to put a plate on it, Then there is a lens coat to keep your new investment scratch free and helps? with camo when in the woods for an extra $90 and if that's not enough if you use a front filter you can add around $100 for a good quality (what else would you use)item, So when buying a new lens you have to take into consideration all the little but not so cheap extras-maybe an idea or 2 for Xmas


Wednesday 2 December 2009

Your Santa Wish list - Part 2

So some good news for our USA readers, we are now set up on the Associates programme with

With that in mind, I have set out our Santa wish list to cater for all you American Nikon users as Dave has given me some clues.

Starting off with a few stocking filler books for you

And a few bits of Nikon kit for you

Plus some of our favourite memory cards and hard drives

So send your partner on to the blog with a few subtle hints, and with the links provided it will be very easy for him or her to follow :-)

Good luck


Tuesday 1 December 2009

Nikon 70-200 F2.8 VRII-First impressions

Yesterday at 3pm there was a ringing at the door bell and Mr UPS had a good sized parcel in his hands, The new Nikon 70-200 F2.8 VRII had arrived, The 70-200 is the only lens missing from my current lens collection and one that i really could have done when shooting in Colorado last June and in the Smokey mountains, The MK1 version was known as an extremely sharp lens on a DX or cropped sensor but with the new Full Frame cameras it was soft at the edges which isn't any good for landscapes where you need edge to edge sharpness, Although i do have a DX body i wanted to future proof my equipment and so i have waited over a year for this lens to come out, There aren't many photographers who don't use a 70-200 lens so i was surprised to see some of the first batch still available, I thought that i may have to wait a few months to get my hands on one but it seems that Nikon knew this and gave a good supply straight away rather than the dribs and drabs that you would normally get with either a new lens or body, This is also an expensive lens at $2300 and what with the economy and Xmas on the doorstep could be other factors in the current availability, So the lens arrives as the sun is low as it was a grey day here yesterday, I quickly unpacked the lens and put it on the D3 and upped the ISO to 2000-3200 and took a few shots of my wife whilst she was working, I got shutter speeds of 1/30@F2.8-way too low for hand holding but the images were sharp on the eye and proves that the new VR system giving 4 stops works well,When shooting wide open i.e F2.8 you have a good chance of getting Vignetting or darkening at the corners, This is well controlled as you can see in my shot of Marian (the wife), The lens feels nice in the hand,well made and solid as are all Nikon's Nano crystal lenses, The zoom ring is smooth and the lens hood snaps into place which is a feature normally looked over, I have had lens hoods fall off in the past, Once when shooting a tiger at close quarters, This cant happen with the Nikon hoods, The lens cap is one of the pinch centre types similar to the Tamron macro lens so its easy to take off and put on even with the lens hood on, By now the light had gone completely so i grabbed my dog (Alfie) and took him to my studio and sat him on a seat whilst i took another half dozen images, focusing on the eye- this is one sharp lens, Perfect for portraiture, The images were handheld at 1/100 and F8 (should have used a smaller aperture) and all images came out pin sharp, So first impressions are very good-excellent in fact, It works very well and feels nicely balanced with the D3 but some more time in the field will see if it is as good or better than Canons equivalent model and i look forward to putting it through its paces with and without an extender


Alfie @ 100%

Alfie @ 200%

Marian (she wont thank me for this grab shot) at ISO 2000 1/30 @F 2.8 notice lack of grain-no noise reduction used and minimal vignetting


Monday 30 November 2009

That time of the year - Grey Seals

So we can expect to see lots of Seal images all over the forums from Donna Nook et all as the Grey Seal population comes ashore to deliver their new offspring, so if you are going there please think about giving the animals some space. There was some bad behaviour last year so I understand so lets hope there are no repeats. We have talked often enough on here that the welfare of the subject takes priority over the image.

More interesting for me was the story from the Farne Islands last week.

Last week five of the National Trust wardens had been stuck on the Farnes for three weeks while surveying the seal population. Food was running short as the boat was unable to take them off due to continuous high winds and heavy seas. Full story here.

The weather is bad news for the young seals who also suffered terribly last year with their numbers being decimated. Lets hope it is better around other parts of the coast although I understand it has been equally as bad around the south west too.

Update: Just remembered that I had this a bookmark on Donna Nook in Firefox so thought I would share