Saturday 31 January 2009

Trip report-Pea Island NC

The Outer banks in North Carolina is a 70+ mile long spit of sand that runs down the coastline, You get to it by crossing a couple of impressively long low bridges, One of the islands that make up the outer banks is called Pea Island and it has some largish lakes just yards from the sea,Here the birds over winter,Thousands of Tundra Swans,Snow Geese,Redheads,Merganser,Buffleheads,Egrets and herons to name but a few decide that this is the place for their winter vacation,there is an interpretive centre with knowlegable guides there,You can walk one of the banks which early morning has the sun behind so is good for photography,The birds can see you coming a long way off so slow walking is the way to approach these shy birds,I have found that by getting into position and staying flat to the ground that the birds will eventually start to come closer and closer, I watch for the small bufflehead ducks to start diving and when they are underwater i get closer and closer,I f you can get close by doing this and the birds continues to dive then others will come over and feed as well,The lakes are all in a row and most you are not allowed to be near but the birds use this as a highway and there is a constant procession of birds during the day allowing for some good flight photography, The last time i was there a Bald Eagle flew over and spooked thousands of redhead ducks,The air was full of them and after a couple of dives the Eagle managed to grab one of the females,He flew at distance towards me and landed on an old osprey nest,I used a 600 and 1.7x to get max reach and although the image is ok its nothing more than a great memory,Pea Island is good all year around but the majority of birds come for the winter,If visiting outside of winter months just remember you are at the bottom of the food chain and unless you have midge sprays you will get eaten alive
Its a great place to visit and get some shots in,Just up the road is the museum where the Wright Brothers did the flight flight and there are miles of empty beaches so something for the whole family


Friday 30 January 2009

News - a couple of odds and bods

Just a short news week round up from me. It has been a busy week preparing images and prints for various entries to exhibitions. Last week was my digital entries to the RPS Nature Group and the FIAP Small Print Circuit, a new circuit of four exhibitions for A4 unmounted prints. This is a good format to help keep down the costs. I have put some work in the Natural History section so we will have to see how that goes. Apparently there are over 5000 entries to all sections so it has been very well subscribed. At a local level, we had Merit comps at both Stratford Photo Group and Smethwick Photo Society, and got my butt firmly whacked in both by my partner Sue. Must try harder!!.

This weekend I will be finalising my prints for RPS Nature Exhibition. I will be writing a future blog post on my experiences with the Canon Pixma Pro9500 now that I have received the ICC profiles from Permajet. I have to say that I am blown away with the quality of the papers, I have used so far, so watch this space for a more comprehensive review soon.

I will update the Local Patch series on Sunday with more news and updates from round here - one or two new items of interest for you I hope. I shall be out hopefully tomorrow to see if I can get some images of the local Fieldfare, as these have eluded me so far.

Keep your eye on the weather as it is supposed to be going very cold again, and keep those food and water levels topped up in your gardens. I did the RSPB Big Garden Watch last weekend - quite disappointing in terms of the number of species seen during the hour I made available, and of course Sods Law dictated that the next hour saw masses of bird back in.


News - EOS Forums

EOS Forums will be off line for a few days while it goes through a change of hosting, so please feel free to use our comments here for any interaction that you may wish.

I will post any news updates so keep checking by if you are one of our regular visitors from EOS Forums

Update - Sat 31st Jan: - From EOS Magazine


Thursday 29 January 2009

Reviews - A good read for Photoshop CS4 users

If you buy the latest greatest Camera bodies you are normally forced to up grade various components to go with it. Like software and even your PC to work with the new programmes. This is something I had to do when I bought the Canon 1D3,To open the RAW files in Photoshop I had to buy the new CS3 as I prefer Photoshop to Canons DPP software, I could have opened the RAW files in DPP then converted to Tiff and then opened in CS2 but I like to work on a RAW not a Tiff so I purchased Photoshop CS3 and then found that my PC was too old for the new software so ended up with a new Dell-A lot of extra money on top of the Camera body, Now moving over to Nikons new bodies i purchased in advance from Adobe the new Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom programmes, CS4 is not that different to CS3 but it does have one or 2 nice new features tucked away in the ACR engine,The adjustment brush for one, Now I am the first to admit i am not really into processing and keep it to a bare minimum,I always try to get it right in camera so basically my workflow involves adjusting levels,Curves,Saturation and sharpening along with cropping and levelling if needed,So i have £500 software and use 2% of it, So i decided that now is the time to learn how to use the product more just in case I need to, After looking around the shops and forums one book kept coming up and that suit my needs-Photoshop CS4 for Nature Photographers-'A workshop in a book' By Ellen and Josh Anon, I purchased it from Amazon and for the last week or so have been going through it,The thing that I like is that it comes with a DVD that lasts about an hour and shows you how to set up 'Bridge' and runs through the new features found on CS4 over CS3,By watching the DVD you can clearly see how to do things and its done it a very simple manner-perfect for me as I hate it when people who know what they are doing write stuff like everybody would know how to do it,The book has lots of images of before and after and what the screen should look like as you are doing things-very layman's terms. It's priced here in the states at $39.99 but on Amazon its much cheaper-A good read and perfect for the Nature Photographer who is trying to get his/her head around Photoshop CS4-Now just need to get one for Lightroom 2


Wednesday 28 January 2009

Gear We Use and Abuse - Portable disc storage

One of the challenges we face on longer trips is that of image storage. With cameras having greater resolution and consequently larger file sizes, we need to think carefully about how we will protect our precious images until we get them back to the 'safety' ?? of our hard drives.

The options I have used over the last few years have been varied and potentially cumbersome, particularly when going overseas. I solved all my ills this time last year before I went to visit Dave in Switzerland, I knew I would not be able to take the laptop and I knew or hoped I would be coming back with many images.

I had used an old 20GB portable Flashtrax, which was unbelievably slow and battery life was awful, but it got me through a few trips and with the laptop meant that I could save my images to two locations.

It is no good saying " I'll just take plenty of cards" - they get lost, stolen or corrupted - extremely rare I grant, but you have NO back up.

One portable device also is not back up - again the same rules apply, and of course there is the old IT adage that a hard disc has two states - failed or about to fail!!

When flying, my gear is my ONE item of hand luggage, so once I have sorted all my lenses out there is no room for a laptop any more, so a newer and neater option was needed.

A good friend had given me the nod about the HyperDrive Space device, which had subsequently been updated with the Colourspace. At the time, the main route to getting these was to import from the US, but a little fishing found that Digital Depot had just started importing. So a few phone calls later, a bit of wheeling and dealing and two were on their way.

Two? - Yes as I wanted true back up. The images show the units and the screen interface. I have been using both devices for twelve months now, they have not missed a beat for me and done everything I have needed. Battery life is excellent and I have never actually needed to use the little external 4 x AA battery caddy that I also bought.

As you can see from the size compared to a CF card, they are pretty small. For full specs visit the Hyper Drive site. They have slots for all card types in current usage and for me that is both CF and SD with the 1Dmk3. Load and download speeds are incredibly quick and have never caused me any issues.

Since I bought this model, there are now another couple of variants out that may or may not be what you need. I know I do not need to change for a while. The units I have use a standard laptop 2.5" drive and can easily be interchanged if I wish. I chose the 160GB models that were a reasonable deal at the time, and have served all my needs on trips of up to ten days so far with ample space to spare, bearing in mind I have to cater for two photographers needs in that allowance for my partner Sue.

There are a number of other manufacturers who make similar devices including Canon, Epson and Jobo. I chose the HyperDrive for value for money, capacity, speed, size convenience and above all they were recommended from a couple of sources I consider to be trustworthy - always a good recommendation.

One final reminder is not to keep them together in the same bag while travelling - lose one, lose both - keep them well separated, and if you have a long suffering partner with you, give them one to carry for you.


Tuesday 27 January 2009

Trip Report-Moody skies

A couple of weeks ago when i was at the coast, Things were tough,The conditions were extremly hard to shoot in, Bitter cold and High winds were some of the toughest i have shot in for a long time, I dont remember having colder winds in either Switzerland or even when i shot polar bears in Canada,
The birds werent playing ball and many had moved further south or inland to get away from the unseasonal weather, So what to do,Well i had plenty of time to have a think,Do i move or do i stay, I decided to give it another go and one morning before the sun came up i headed out ,Driving down the coast i noticed some nice moody cloud formations out at sea-East where the sun will rise, I thought it would be nice to try and incorporate the cloud formations in the images i wanted of the Snow Geese making the clouds just as much of the image as the birds, Luck was with me, I watched the Geese as i arrived and the did something i had not seen there before,They left the partly frozen lake and did a short flight up and over the road and landed in the grass next to the sand dunes,I parked next to the road and grabbed my D3 and 200-400 combo,This would allow me to better compose the images as the birds flew in,Not only from across the road but from further down the road where another group were sleeping on the ice, This would either work or it wouldnt,The images would look good or fit for the bin,I had nothing to loose and spent a cold but enjoyable 2 hrs shooting small groups of Snow geese in flight.All the time the light was changing so i kept in AV mode and compensated as needed to stop the bright areas in the clouds from blowing out, A different style for me i guess but one i like and will try again,more a bird in landscape shot than straight portrait type images-what do you think?

Monday 26 January 2009

Techniques - Metering

One of the comments we had early on was for some technique tips on metering, or more correctly shooting mode.

For most of my work these days, I tend to use M Mode. All the images on the Short Eared Owl post were taken in M mode, and I will tell you how I did it a little further on. When I started off my wildlife photography, it was either Av or Tv mode, depending on the speed of the subject. Control of the depth of field is probably the most overarching variable to control. We often prefer to just isolate our subject, blur out the background so all concentration is on the subject and we are not distracted by busy and cluttered backgrounds. However, this is something that we should be looking closely at when taking the image. Often with Birds in flight, I wait before I press the shutter button so the subject is in the right part of the scene, rather than just snap away.

However, there are other times, such as with the Armilleria fungus in this post, I actually wanted to get a good sense of the environment of the forest to put the subject in place.

Anyway, before I get too distracted by depth of field, lets concentrate on shooting mode With Av mode, we control the aperture, setting the depth field at whatever subject distance and focal length we are using. The camera then sets the required shutter speeds, based on whatever ISO and metering pattern you have selected. We will cover the metering mode (spot, matrix, partial etc) and the different options at a later date, as this is worthy of a separate posting.

Now Av is fine as long as your subject is in a reasonably consistent background. So what if your subject, lets say a Red Kite is one minute against a bright sky and the next against the dark tones of trees . If you are in one of the auto or semi auto modes, your exposure is going to be all over the place. Yet, the light may not have changed on the subject, and that is what we want the exposure for. In Av mode, we might have been at + 1 1/2 stops to counter the bright sky, which is going to be clearly very wrong for when the subject dips below the tree line.

To counter this, I shoot in M mode - but how do I set the three variables f ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Simple - meter from a suitable mid tone, grass is a good place to start. For the Owls, I metered from the foreground grass, took a shot, checked the histogram and that was that. Using the ISO to ensure that the shutter speeds was in the right sort of range, the aperture set for the depth of field I wanted, and the shutter speed fast enough to make sure I had a fighting chance of a sharp image.

Once the exposure set, then I can forget it and just get shooting, and wherever the bird goes, it will be correctly exposed won't it? Well not quite - you do have to keep an eye on the light levels. So when the sun is popping in and out of the clouds, you do need to adjust the exposure to ensure a consistent exposure. But you will be surprised how sensitive you get to the changes in light, and it will become instinctive you to dial in the extra light you need.

So there you go, if you haven't tried it, give it a go, let us know how you get on


Sunday 25 January 2009

Local Patch-Raleigh

I moved to Raleigh in North Carolina at the beginning of Sept 08, We rented an appartment for a couple of months whilst we found our way around, I spent alot of time driving around the area not just in search of a house to buy but for good areas for wildlife, There are many lakes in this part of the world and some are huge, The main 2 lakes that i have been viewing have been Falls lake and Jordan Lake, Jordan lake is massive-14000 acres and splits off into many arms, Here i have seen Osprey and Bald Eagle on many occasions, Falls lake is smaller but still extremely large,There are Osprey nests on posts on many lake in the area and a couple look good for photography when the birds nest in the spring, I have spoken to various wildlife rangers here and they have told me of the nests that are reguarly used so i can start to prepare, One thing that i wanted when looking for a house was that there was some woodland near as where there is woodland there will be fox, I was lucky enough to find a house at the end of a cul de sac backing onto a farm and between the farm and the house is woodland, The first time i viewed the property i thought i saw a white flash go through the woods, When i moved in late one evening i looked out of my living room window to see White tailed deer at the fence and during the night they jumped the fence and come into the back garden, Now i buy sacks of corn and every evening i throw some over into the wood and the deer come to eat, I also throw some minced dog food over and i see Grey fox and possum almost nightly, I havent set out to take any images of these yet although have grabbed a few snaps of the deer that now come into the garden mid day and eat my bird food,
There are some beautiful birds out here,Most notably the Cardinal which is the state bird,The Eastern bluebird is a stunner and my favorite the tufted titmouse, But i get a good mix with pine siskins,house finch,doves and others feeding there most days, I have set up some simple feeding stations with nice branches strapped above for the birds to land and where i can get a nice looking shot without food being in the shot-see my last post in the snow, Its very early days for me here but i am meeting and talking to people about my local patch and in the spring/summer will be concentrating on Beaver,Osprey,Grey fox and Possum which i will shoot both in the day and during the night and alot can be done from my own back yard


Saturday 24 January 2009

News and a few views

Just a short update from me today, having just got back from a meeting with a few folks from the RPS Nature Group as we get ready for the 2009 Exhibition. Images from last years exhibition can be seen here. My partner Sue is this years Exhibition Secretary and so we now have a house full of printed work, and stunning it looks too of the some of the work submitted so far, and I am sure that the digital entries will be stunning quality too, with the anticipation of increased numbers this year.

On the news front, this week has seen Canon updated the firmware for the 40D - who said it was superseded then? I occasionally steal Sue's 40D so will get that updated in a couple of weeks time. I like to leave any firmware updates for a couple of weeks before updating, unless it is a specific problems that I am experiencing. There are plenty of people who will be the beta testers for me, and the forums are full of problems , real or perceived soon enough. The only area where I didn't follow this was when I was going through the traumas of the 1Dmk3 AF issues last year.

To follow up the the 5Dmk2 recent upgrades, posted here, Adobe have released Lightroom v2.3 and ACR 5.3 as release candidate status. This was a new one on me but apparently means they are seeking further 'community' testing, as set out in more detail in DPR.

I finally bought into the Lightroom way of life over the Christmas holiday period and am getting to grips with it slowly. My main reason is simply for the Digital Asset Management (DAM) capabilities, as this is one area that I am sadly lacking and having had a good friend Andy Page show me some capability I can see where he is coming from, pity it cost me though.

Finally, there was a thread last night on EOS Forums pointing out that Calumet were selling the Canon 800 f5.6 IS L lens for just over £900. Well worth a punt I thought, but as to be expected there was a prompt email in my inbox this morning explaining the computer error. More like operator error!!

If you haven't done the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch today, then you have still got the opportunity on Sunday' We would love to hear of your sightings so please do leave some comments with what you have seen.

Dave will be back tomorrow with an update from his garden and local patch since we started blogging.


Friday 23 January 2009

Long Lenses- Part 3-Getting Down

Being a wildlife photographer normally means shooting low down to the ground as there is nothing worse than feeling like you are looking down at your subject when looking at the final product,Eye level is the name of the game, Now using long heavy lenses for long periods of time mean that some kind of support is needed, Its rare for me not to use some support as sharp images are what count and supporting your lens will help when composing an image, There are 3 types of support that i use, The first is the tripod, A nature photographer needs a tripod that can be used at ground level without a long centre column, I use a Gitzo 1548 which is now superceded by the 5541-fantastic tripods made of carbon fibre with a fantastic price to match, For those who do not want to spend so much money i would recommend the Manfrotto 055 pro,This is a great tripod and will comfortably hold lenses up to 500F4, I always have a beanbag in my car and in my opinion there is no better support,
There is no way that you will get a soft image if you use a beanbag, The one i use is bt wildlifewatchingsupplies, Its a double beanbag so sits securly when shooting in a car or equally good flat on the ground, Mine weighs a hefty 8KG when filled with rice so not the best thing to lug around and if you want one for walking with then by the smaller version, There are 2 inner bags that go into the outer bag so you can actually just take a bag out and use it individually, I always take one when travelling and fill it when i arrive, If i am in India or Africa i give the rice away to locals when i leave,

The 3rd and latest support i have been using for the last few months is the Skimmer pod which is available from the Naturescapes web site, Basically its like a platic frying pan which you add your tripod head, Its designed for use on flat surfaces like a beach and its works perfectly, I find a subject on the beach like a bird or seal and then lay flat and push the 'pod' with camera attached towards the subject, By being flat to the ground its amazing how close you can get without spooking the subject and the low point of view really helps give the image some impact,You could actually use a frying pan with a beanbag in it or convert a frying pan which i know some people do, Buying the pod is the easy way out and it works perfectly


Thursday 22 January 2009

From the archives - Fungi

I thought I would share some 'out of season images with you all this week. The Autumn is one of the great seasons for wildlife photographers with fabulous golden light of late afternoons and early mornings, lots of bird migration and for those of us who like some close up work then there are the opportunities for fungi as well.

The 2006 'season' was fantastic with a bumper year that seemed to last for ages, whereas the last two years have been pretty challenging. I am fortunate in that I have a great wood near me with varied coniferous and deciduous habitat.

Fungi compared to other wildlife subjects are actually really easy if you think about it, as they are not going to get up and run away from you, so you as the photographer have the opportunity to control everything. The most difficult part is finding your subjects, but once you have then the results are all down to you.

I took this just over two years ago with my old Canon 1Dmk2N and 100mmf2.8 macro. I have shown a phone pic I took of the set up, using a couple of reflectors and a diffuser to hold back the strong sunlight. Tripod mounted, of course with remote release and manually focussed as all of my fungi shots are.

The latest 'Live View' facilities on the current breed of Canon and Nikon cameras has transformed macro photography for me now. I use the Live View, in conjunction with the histogram information to verify the exposure using M Mode, and then zoom in with the 5X magnification, depress the DOF preview button and then scroll around the main part of the subject to ensure that the subject has exactly the right components sharp. This technique really has taken out a lot of inaccuracies associated with looking through the viewfinder, particularly if the camera is at ground level.

I have only found one drawback using this technique and that is battery life. Using the screen does drain the battery much faster than conventional shooting as you would expect. That said, current battery life on the 1D mk3 is excellent and I am sure it is also on the latest Nikon offerings too.

When setting out to find fungi, early damp mornings have proven to be the most successful although you will have to watch out for the dog walkers, and make sure that you don't scare them if you suddenly get up as they are approaching you, unless you have a warped sense of humour. Another consideration is to make sure that you have permission to access the land you are photographing on.

There are some great resources on the 'net, one of the better ones is Roger's Mushrooms. I have had species confirmed by Roger Phillips - a really helpful guy. I can also thoroughly recommend his great book - see ad below.

This family group of Mycena was takenwith my old Canon 5D and 100mmf2.8 macro.

And finally, this was taken in the October last year, using the 1Dmk3, using the Live View technique. The species is Armilleria Ostoyae or Brown Honey Fungus, and was the species that Roger helped to confirm.

So something a little different from our blogs to date. Many thanks to those who have commented and continue to support the blog. If there are any subjects you want to see covered, then give us a shout on here


Wednesday 21 January 2009

Seize the moment

I am very lucky being able to shoot when i want and not have the confines of weekend and holidays, Yesterday was a prime example and when i woke up and looked out side i could not believe that there was snow and that it was still snowing hard, Being away for a few days i hadnt seen the weather forecast so was totally unprepared so plans had to be made on the spot, Its not very pleasant to drive when the weather is so bad so i decided to grab my pop up 2 man tent and put it near my bird feeders,The birds would be cold and hungry and will be easier to shoot, I used the tent as opposed to a hide as it has a built in ground sheet and as i wanted to be low level meant that i could sit on the ground,It is also double skinned so would help keep me warm,

I dressed in multi layers and ended up in the tent for about 6 hrs and still felt fine,I made sure that i kept my gloves and hat dry when i left the tent as this is were the body heat will be lost, Its also worth remembering that you dehydrate when you are out in the cold for long periods as you do in heat so make sure that you have plenty of warm drinks during the day, As soon as i put some fresh food out and got into position the birds started to arrive and there was a constant stream all day,I had to top the feeders up 3 times!! When shooting in snow i set my camera to manual and spot meter directly off of the snow, I then add 2 stops as the white snow will try to fool the camera into under exposing leaing to a dark grey image,Once set i take a test shot and checked the histogram,It depends on how much sun there is on the snow but yesterday with heavy cloud and snow coming down it was spot on,The histogram was way to the right but there were no 'blinkys' showing, i had placed a log on the ground a few weeks before so i sprinkled some food on tht and then had a flat tray that had a branch strapped above it and i put food there,I didnt fill the other feeders that i had as i wanted the birds infront of me, The only bird that i really wanted to get but never came to feeders in front of me was the tufted titmouse-a beautiful bird and one that i would love to get with the snow falling, There are 2 that visit my garden and they were around yesterday but it just never happened, I was pleased to end the day with some very nice images,The snow acts as a reflector and the images end up nice and evenly lit, I put some corn out hoping that the deer that visit my garden may come out early but i watched them come out and start feeding when there was little light so left them to it,

Tuesday 20 January 2009

News - A Quicky

You never know what's around the corner, I was expecting to get up today and start downloading and processing some images from the last few days but instead we opened the blinds and there was snow-not just snow but SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOW,Lots of it. We have had about 6'' last night and its still coming down,The birds are all over the feeders and I have set up a low tent with built in ground sheet for some comfort and for the past couple of hours have been shooting constantly,So far I have seen Cardinal, Junco, Mourning dove, Downy woodpecker, Tufted titmouse and house finch to name but a few. I have some very nice stuff so far but the cardinals are not landing where I want them to, So its back out until I get the shots I want. Sorry to make this such a short post but it rarely snows here in NC so I am going to make the most of it. I will post some images as soon as I can-they look great on the camera screen so hopefully it will be worth the wait.


Monday 19 January 2009

Long Lens - Part 2 - Which BIG one?

In the first part, I talked about a progression path through a number of the smaller lenses that many people find themselves on. In Part 2, I am going to explore some of the thinking that you might have gone through if you already are an owner of one of the big 'uns, or some of the things you need to think about before you part with a lot of money.

I will talk about the Canon primes today essentially, although the same basic logic will also apply to the Nikon offerings too, as I am sure Dave will agree.

The first issue most amateurs go through is the justification of such a significant amount of money - but before you get your mind set on your dream lens at a particular price, you need to think about how you are going to carry this prized bit glass around and how you are going to support it. Your tripod and head that you have been happy supporting anything below something like the 300f2.8 will probably not be anything like sufficient for your 500 f4 or 600f4!!. Dave's article here sets out some of the main things you need to think about. As a guide, I spent almost a further £1000 on tripod, head and Wimberley Sidekick to support my 500f4 before anything else.

But nevertheless, you understand that and you NEED a long lens. So what are your choices?

From the most practical point of view in terms of cost, weight, support, carry-ability and size, the 500f4 offering is probably the most popular choice for wildlife. They are substantially lighter than both the 600f4 and 400f2.8 models from either range. They can be used hand held for short periods of time, and their cost is relative more affordable than the others.

As we have said before, reach is everything in wildlife, and to that end the 600f4 will give that extra reach, meaning less cropping of images for distant subjects. I would like one of these but the majority of people I have spoken to who use them, never carry them that far. So if you believe you will never need to venture far from your car, then the 600 f4 would be the kiddie for you.

When I took the pictures of the Short Eared Owls here, I could have taken all these with a 600 if I had one, as I was never more than 10 metres from the car.

All of these primes lenses work exceptionally well with the Canon 1.4EFTC, and it is possible to get some images with the 2X, but more of that in another part at a later date.

One great offering that Nikon have in their range is the 200-400f4VR zoom, something that would do quite well in the Canon range if only they would make it. Dave will do a more detailed review of this lens at a later date no doubt, but I do know he is enjoying using the flexibility and quality that gives him.

In terms of portability, the Canon 500f4 IS L weighs in at 3.87Kg whereas the 600f4IS L comes in at a hefty 5.36Kg, which is substantial. I have no problems carrying my 500, plus body plus a few other bits in my bag all day and hiking up mountains with it.

The other consideration is the bag you use, particularly if you wish to travel overseas by air. Again the 500 is easily manageable with carry-on bag allowance, both in terms of weight and size. Although, make sure you check specifically with your individual carrier, and Do NOT rely upon them adopting universal carry on allowances particularly here in the UK

So, you pay your money and you take your choice. The 500 is generally the best compromise for wildlife photographers, certainly judging by the numbers that I see out in the field being used, and numbers of images posted on forums.


Sunday 18 January 2009

Trip reports-Days 2 and 3

Day 2 was pretty much like day 1 except the lakes were almost completely frozen and the sea was starting to freeze,I spent the morning shooting Snow Geese, There is nothing like tough times to get the grey matter going and as there were really nice clouds over the sea i decided to position myself so i could use it as a background when the geese flew in and out, I used the 200-400 so i could frame the birds better and tried to get them smaller in the frame and have the clouds as the main focus-fingers crossed they come out as i envisaged,Its always good to try something different, Early afternoon was spent on the beach with my wife and puppy, I spent this time testing out my gear on my puppy running at full speed towards me-you never have enough practice on a fast moving target and it gives the dog a good workout, I cannot say how impressed i am with the D300 and its becoming my body of choice unless the light is very low, We decided to drive around and look for a place to shoot the sun setting and stumbled upon a small fishing port,Very rough and ready with a fish processing plant being the main building-luckily we arrived as the workers were throwing the days cast offs in and there were hundreds of birds fighting for the scraps-Gulls,pelicans and black capped herons all flying around,the sun was behins us and ready to set so the light was to die for and i quickly rattled off 4gb of images before the light was gone-freezing cold but great fun
Today could not have been more different,Snow flurries just before sunrise and then light rain,The light was non existant and the water was a horrible muddy colour, I went to a small hide to get out of the rain and there were a couple of dying pike in front being picked off by the gulls,I hoped the Bald Eagle may come over and land-it didnt and after 2 miserable hours i left and headed back, It dried out mid day so a trip to the beach to shoot the puppy again, There were dolphins very close in-we counted more then 20 before we left,shame i didnt have the 600 with me but great to watch,they were only about 100 feet off the shore so very close, The rain came back with a vengance so that put paid for the rest of the day-tomorrow doesnt look promising so it may be an early trip home
If nothing else i met with a couple of photographers who are local to were i live and have swapped details -will be good to meet up locally with them and hope to get some good info on my local patch

Local Patch - Warwickshire

OK here is a the first of hopefully a weekly update from each side of the pond on our local wildlife.

It has been a very busy time in our garden here in Stratford upon Avon, particularly when we had the freezing condition in the early part of January. The regular birds in the garden are the Blackbirds (up to 25), always there first as the light starts to come up. Next in are the House Sparrows, which number up to about 50 throughout the day. Other regulars are Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Magpie, Crow, a rowdy mob of 20 or more Starlings. Chaffinch and Greenfinch numbers are well up this year, with dips in Goldfinch and particularly Tits. Regular couples of Blue, Great and Coal come in to the seed feeders, totally ignoring all the nut options. There is a flock of about 30 Long Tail Tits that make an appearance every few days, coming to within a couple of feet of the back windows.

Rarer stuff include our new regular Grey Wagtail who drops onto the reflection pool that I built late last year. A single Goldcrest came in last weekend along with three Redwings and single Fieldfare sat on top of the apple tree.

In my local countryside I have had great sightings of large flocks of Fieldfare and Lapwing, along with a few Redwings. Buzzard activity is pretty frequent with at least two of the pairs being regularly seen. Owl activity comprises of a couple of separate Barn Owls hunting near the road side as I have been driving home, plus a Little Owl seen on the top of a telegraph pole. Pheasant sightings are now substantially less as we get towards the end of the shooting season. There was one location last year where I was seeing three Brown Hare. Well they are back, with further sightings in the same field most days. Photographically, they are a nightmare as they are so far away, so I will be having to look to get access permissions if I am going to get any photos. It was good to see a Buzzard this morning tucking into a very good meal that will keep it fed up for quite a while.

So that's it for this week. I will be back on this topic with the next update from here in two weeks. Dave's go next week.

Finally, apologies for those of you who have come looking for Long Lenses Part 2 - events rather overtook me yesterday, so look out for it tomorrow night


Saturday 17 January 2009

News - 5Dmk2 Aerial movie

I just picked this great link up.

Wow - how cool is that? - must be loads of applications where this could come in handy, although I can see insurance claims for written off cameras, helis, people and property going through the roof.

Hat tip for colinsp on EOS forums for the post


Trip Reports - A tough start

Its amazing how different a place can change in a month since my last visit. North Carolina is in its coldest spell for years and unfortunately its coincided with my arrival at the coast. It's well into minus figures with a very stiff breeze so the wind chill feels like its trying to rip the skin off your face.

Some of the birds have moved on since the last visit and having spent all afternoon driving around I have found some inland and in dykes and ditches out of the biting wind, it's been a tough day but the highlights were watching a Bald Eagle take a duck off the lake and feeding on it. I have some shots of Hooded Merganser which I have wanted for a long time-not great but good stock shots and some nice Bufflehead, Coypu and Deer. So a 12 hr day with dreadfully uncomfortable conditions and lots of driving-around 200 miles. I went to see if there were any bears around but no signs in the usual places-not suprising really, so I have managed something out of a tough day.
We will see what tomorrow brings but the conditions are forecast the same. I cannot post any images as I have my laptop with me but don't have any processing software on it as I use it just for storage and backing up.

More soon


Friday 16 January 2009

Views - Stats and feedback

OK, a short post update from me today. After Dave and I launched this blog, I set up the Google Analytics module to let us have some feedback and data. Well what a great tool it is - so much data to be a total geek over. And it is from that data that I thought I would share a few thoughts with you.
Firstly, thank you to all our visitors, those who have signed up as 'Friends' and those of you who have signed up with the RSS feed, and of course to those of you that have left comments. We really do appreciate that and will reflect on those comments and make specific posts on any request. So thanks and please do feel free to comment on any of the posts - whether you agree or disagree - all welcomed.
So some 'stat porn' that may be of interest to you. We have been visited from 17 countries in the eight days since Analytics started, with the majority from the UK from 66 cities from all countries of the Union, so thanks Joe over there. And to the rest of you across the world, we are slowly colouring in the world map a nice shade of green.
Clearly the wildlife and photographic community is more tech savvy than the rest of the general population with 38% using Firefox as your browser, and 7.5% using Safari.
And finally thanks for the regular visits, with 62% of visits from returning visitors
If you would like to be our 'Guest Photographer' and have a chance of a clot - one day only, please contact us here.
Tomorrow I will continue the Long Lenses Series with a follow on from the last article with more on choices of the super teles, and then you will have me again on Sunday when we launch the first of the 'Local Patch' series, when I will summarise on what we have been watching in the garden and in our local patch since the start of the year.


Wednesday 14 January 2009

Working with light

What makes us get up at an unearthly hour-Way before sunrise and then to stay until after the sunsets-Light,Not just any light but sweet ,soft,warm light,It gives our images a beautiful glow and adds more than any filter ever could,There is nothing like watching the sun rise and i actually prefer it to the light at sunset but will gladly take either,The difficult bit is not finding the subject its finding the subject in the right light,This takes time and effort,Late last year i visited a large lake in North Carolina and witnessed 2 beautiful sunsets on both nights i was there,The first was a golden glow that covered the lake-see images posted before,

The second struggled until the sun had actually set and then there were bars of red,orange and yellow,This is where luck played its hand and a Great Blue Heron landed in the middle of the lake in front of me,I grabbed my D3 and 600 combo and added a 1.7x,I pushed the ISO up to 800 and checked the shutter speed-1/25 umm,I moved position until the heron coincided with a red area of the lake and looked through the view finder-WOW,I exposed for the water which made for a silhouette of the bird,I had to use a beanbag at this low shutter speed as i find this to be the most stable form of support,Right place,Right time,It doesnt happen everyday and you can only try and make the most of it,Quick thinking is the order of the day as the light only last a couple of minutes and then its gone,A couple of days later i was up with the lark and made my way up the coast to a lake near the sea that migratory birds were using,The light appeared over the sea and its was stunning,I was sitting in my car hoping that the Snow Geese close by would fly-they didnt but i watched one getting closer as it walked through the scrub which was getting hit by the lovely warm light-well beggars cant be choosers so i took some shots-nice,the scrub went really red for about a minute before the colour temp of the light changed and it was gone-shortly afterwoods a couple of thousand snow geese appeared over the horizon-if only,

The great thing about the Outer Banks that run down the North Carolina coast is that you are basically standing on a narrow spit of land with sea both sides-East one way and West the other so great for both Sunrises and Sunsets,All you can hope for is a clear sky,Of course nothing is perfect as if you have a clear sky at sunrise then after the initial light it quickly gets harsh and contrasty-causing heavy shadows, So i then call it a day and spend the rest of the time looking for new places to shoot,whereas if the sky is overcast then you dont get the lovely warm light but you get shadowless light in which you can shoot all day-just not birds in flight unless you like a white sky

Today i am off to the Outer Banks again for 4 days hoping for some great light and plenty of birds and if things go well a bear as well-I will let you know how it is going in a couple of days


Views - Subject comes before Photo

Now clearly for the majority of wildlife photographer this is stating the blinking obvious, but trawling forums and other places in web land, there are a remarkable number of people who are not aware of the Laws, certainly here in the UK.

The Wildlife Photographer's Code of Practice is compiled by the Royal Photographic Society Nature Group in conjunction with the RSPB and the three Statutory Nature Conservation Councils. So it is worth a reminder that many bird species, including such birds as the Kingfisher and Barn Owl are Schedule 1 species and require the appropriate consideration of the Law when photographing at certain times of the year. Ignorance of the law is no defence as we all know so please familiarise yourself with the relevant points as we head towards nesting season in the next couple of months or so.

Last year on Mull, a photographer disturbed one of the White Tailed Sea Eagles nests, resulting in the bird abandoning the nest and subsequent failure for that pair for the year. More details here. This sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable and causes more problems for other photographers afterwards.

Mull is a fabulous place to visit, with wonderful wildlife throughout the year and a place that I try to get to every year to see my friends Pam and Arthur Brown who run Discover Mull Wildlife Tours.

Anyway, I'll step off my soapbox now, but if we do really care about what we are trying to photograph, we will make sure that their welfare comes first, tempting as that shot of lifetime might be.


Tuesday 13 January 2009

Gear we use and abuse,Head and Feet

So you have saved enough money to get the Long lens you have been dreaming about for a long long time, Now other questions come up-Is my tripod and head up to the extra weight and if not what do i get,Well i use a Gitzo 1548 tripod and will cover lens support next week,Tripod heads-well there are hundreds of different designs,Gimbal,Ball,3 way, you have to consider carefully exactly what you want the head to do, Either way if you are using a 500 or 600mm lens its going to be expensive, You have spent a lot of money on the lens and there is little point in using it on a cheap head,If like me you want to cover animals and birds that move then you will need a head that has a nice smooth action so that once you have focused on the subject you can 'pan' and get a nice sharp image, I use a Wimberley Gimbal head-the WH200 to be exact-seen here with the flash bracket attached,Not cheap but beautifully made and very smooth allowing you to move in a left to right and up and down movement with a single finger when using a 600 lens,This also means that if you are panning, your tripod must be dead level-a real pain to do until i found the leveling head and with a quick release of the knob underneath you can quickly level the head and then then tighten the knob and job done all in a few seconds,Particuarly good if you are shooting when standing in water with the lens a few inches from the surface,

The leveling plate has a release handle on it so that once released you can quickly remove the Gimbal head and put another head on for say landscapes,For this i use an Arca Swiss ball head, Again beautifully made and i have had mine for a few years-now in need of a service and once done will last many more years, The thing that both heads have in common is that they accept a 'wimberley' type lens plate,these have a dovetail cut into them and clamp into the head,When i moved to Nikon i decided that i needed to save as much weight as possible and so doing i bought new feet for my 200-400 and 600 lenses,

The new feet are from a company called 4th Generation (wimberley do a similar product) they are made from a high grade alloy and have the dovetail already cut into them,These have a lower profile than the standard feet from Nikon and Canon and are very light-another quality product and come with an allen key and new screws-fitted in minutes and the low profile foot leaves enough space to get a grip if you carry your lens by the foot as i often do, They have a nice security feature to,If you carry your camera/lens attached to your tripod over your shoulder and the head jaws come loose there are 2 small screws that protrude to stop the camera/lens coming out of the tripod head and come crashing to the ground-you will see that on the 600 i only have 1 fitted the reason for this is that i like to get everything balanced and if i use/dont use an extender the screw gets in the way,so i always make sure that i have 2 fingers through the camera strap if carrying it over my shoulder just in case

News - Featured Photographer

As promised yesterday, here is the link to the Featured Photographer over at BLAB.

Please feel free to leave comments there and/or here too if you wish


Monday 12 January 2009

News - Featured Photographer and Local patches

A couple of quick bits of news.

Check back tomorrow and I will post a link for you to have a look at as I will be the 'Featured Photographer' over at BLAB Pictures .

As wildlife photographers, it is important that we make the most of our local patches and indeed our gardens where we can. Dave and I will be bring you an update each week, one week from the USA and the next week back with me in the UK, alternating so hopefully we can tell you of what we have been watching locally. There are already some exciting things this year in Warwickshire.


From the archives - Skomer's Puffins

Once a week we will do a trip back down memory lane to share some images from the archives. In the depths of winter with dark days, grey light and fewer photo opportunities, at least here in the UK at the moment, I thought I would share some images from a couple of trips I made to Skomer in West Wales during the summer of 2005.
Puffins are fascinating birds, that fly at great speed while they bring ashore their load of sand eels for their chicks in the burrows. They outrun a phalanx of gulls and other predators in the air, which is the easy bit. The difficulty comes once they have landed, whereupon the gulls will mug them of their hard earned catch.
The Puffins spend the majority of their year at sea, only coming onto land to nest and fledge their chicks. So if you want to see them, your opportunities are limited between April and about the end of July. The images with sand eels were taken towards the end of June, once the chicks have hatched. If you go before hatching you will see plenty of in flight birds, but without catches as they are only eating for themselves at this stage and will do at sea where it is safer for them.
Puffins can be seen at a few locations around the UK and Skomer is a good location that entails a boat trip cross to the island.

All the details you need to now about getting the can be found on the website of The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.

It is certainly a great day out, providing you are fortunate with the weather. There is virtually no shelter on the island so make sure you are prepared for all weather eventualities, including plenty of water and sunscreen for days like we had when I took these images. It is a reasonable walk around the island, easily covered, although make sure you have appropriate footwear. The flower on the island are just magic, particulalry early in the season when the ground is carpeted with Bluebell's, followed later by White and Red Campion. There are a number of other exciting species to see including Fulmar, Razorbill and Kittiwake. I saw a few Choughs there too. All paths should be strictly adhered to as the whole island is riddled with burrows of Manx Shearwaters, a secretive bird that comes out at night time, so it is likely the only ones you will see will be dead from predation.
To see the seasonal calendar, check out the calendar here.
Photography of these birds can be very easy to very difficult, depending on what you set out to achieve. At the western side of the island at a place called The Wyck, the photo opportunities are probably the best. Stay on the marked paths, and when they walk across by your feet, please make way for thenmand remember their welfare is more important that your image. All these images were taken with my old Canon 20D and my 70-200f4L either with or without the 1.4 EF extender, so you do not need large lenses. In fact wide angles can be useful for low levels on the paths.
So get your calendar out and plan your trips now.


Sunday 11 January 2009

Gear we use and abuse - Its in the Bag

Now this is a difficult one as buying a new camera bag is like buying a tie-what one person likes another doesn't so all I can tell you is what I use and why. I use Lowepro and have done since 1999 when I bought a secondhand Lowepro Super Trekker to go travelling with for 6 months, I needed something that would take all the kit I had at the time-23KG in total and it swallowed it easily and would have taken more. It was massive, too big in fact and once I had finished my travels I rarely used it. I subsequently bought a Lowepro Nature trekker AW for my day to day photography and still use it as you can see here it is big enough to carry a Nikon 200-400, Body, 14-24, 24-70, extenders plus cards batteries etc. Fine for a days shoot and comfortable which after protecting your investment is very important, I have travelled extensively with this bag around the world and have used it almost daily trekking across the Jura and Alps when I lived in Switzerland and yet it is still as good as new-nothing has broken on or inside the bag.
I also use this bag as a landscape bag and when I don't have the 200-400 along with the body and lenses in it it carries Lee filter ND grads and polariser with the Lee filter holder,A very versatile bag and one that stood the test of time and I would thoroughly recommend it.
My other bag which has now become my main bag is a Lowepro Pro Trekker AW-The AW stands for All Weather and the bags that carry this tag have a pull out cover that goes over the bag and keeps the insides dry should you get caught in the rain. I have only had this bag a couple of months. When I switched to Nikon I decided that as I was getting a full frame body I didn't want to loose out on the crop factor that the 1D3 had given me so I would increase the focal length of the lens and opted for the 600 in place of my previous 500. Now the 600 is way bigger than the 500 and it then limited me to a handful or less of bags to carry it in. I looked at the Kata and Tamrac range along with a couple of others but ended up back at the Lowepro camp. As you can see the Pro Trekker carries a lot of kit.

The 600 fits in the bag with a body attached (lens hoods reversed) along with a spare body, 14-24, 24-70, 1.4 and 1.7x extenders, flash with Better Beamer, leads, remote, batteries, cards etc. etc. It carries a vast amount of kit and weighs a tonne when loaded. So I use it more for protection of my gear than walking any distance with.
Normally when I get to a destination I carry what I need in the smaller bag and have the 600+body on the tripod over my shoulder. The Pro Trekker is made from the latest material and feels very nicely put together. These bags are not cheap and its nice when you receive it to think that you have something that is going to last some years. The Pro Trekker comes with 2 side bags as you can see in the picture. These are useful for carrying another couple of lenses and I tend to keep a 180mm macro in one just in case. You could carry some water in them as it wouldn't be long before you build up a sweat.
One problem I have had over the years and one that I don't know how to stop is getting a sweaty back when carrying a back pack for any distance. When trekking in Switzerland you could be walking for an hour or more to find Ibex and then spend a couple of hours shooting them whilst sitting with a wet back-uncomfortable and not healthy. This is a problem that all backpacks seem to have and there is no real answer as the bag has to rest against your body. Anyway these are my day to day bags. Travelling by aeroplane now throws up a different set of problems especially now I have the 600, and I will be looking at the Think tank range to solve that problem, as I know Martin has been using bags from this range.


Saturday 10 January 2009

Long Lenses - Part 1 - What lens?

As wildlife photographers, lets face it we always need more length. Focal length that is and with that comes the cost/focal length/portability dilemma.

This series will cover a range of of topics dealing with the essential elements of long lenses, from supporting, techniques of use, primes v zooms through to how we carry and travel with our cherished glass and what we use to protect them while in use.

We will start off today with just a brief introduction covering some of the early thoughts that we go through as wildlife photographers when choosing a lens before we part with hard earned money and try to justify it to ourselves or others in our lives who think we should be spending money on the unnecessary luxuries like food, clothes or shoes.

One of the first dilemmas that you will face is how much you are prepared to spend. You can get a 75-300 f5.6 zoom for as little as £150 that will give you a reasonable reach on a 1.5 or 1.6 crop body, and for many this is the starting point in their wildlife photography. Early results seem promising which encourages the desire for further improvements.

Then you get fed up with the slow auto focus or lack of critical sharpness, so you start justifying bigger and longer lenses, and maybe better bodies with better AF in your ever growing quest for photo perfection. How do I know? - Well I have been there and seen many do the same thing.

Most improvements will usually come from investment in glass. One mantra that is pretty much true in the field of lenses and optics is that you get what you pay for.

You can get started with a lens for wildlife for reasonable prices. Many start with a zoom in the belief that the flexibility of the varied focal length will be what they need - and in some senses this view has much merit. However, remember that zooms will always be a compromise in terms of optimal performance at any given focal length, usually, but not always, at the long end.

Which takes me back to my opening line on this post. That is the last place we need compromise.

Good starting places are the Sigma 50 -500 or the more recent 150-500 in terms of giving you budget focal length for those more distant subjects as well as the Canon 100-400L IS. Nikon do not currently offer anything in ti's more budget price range and it is a mighty price hike for the 200-400. Additionally, the Tamron 200-500 is well liked by it's followers too. Most of these lenses will perform reasonably well when stopped down a stop or two, around f8 to f11. The respective weights make them easily portable and without any particular need for special bag requirements. If your budget is confined to these lenses, then DO NOT try out any of the bigger primes, unless you are prepared to find substantially more money, because you will end up finding a way to fund one, and I do not want to be held responsible for any domestics!!

If you are brave enough, you will start looking at the primes at the outset, and by this I am thinking about respective Canon and Nikon 300f4 offerings or the Canon 400f5.6. Why brave? - well it does take some thoughts to fix your yourself to a particular focal length, rather than zoom flexibility that you may feel you need for other forms of photography.

But let me tell you of an experience in our household. My partner Sue had the Sigma 50 -500 and got some very good images with it, I was using the Canon 100-400 at the time. I subsequently added the 500f4 and the 300f4 primes. When we were out photographing together, I was always using the 500f4 as you would expect. Sue had the two zooms available to her, but she always blagged the 300f4 prime out of my bag, with the Canon 1.4EF extender - Why? - image quality pure and simple that you get with primes. This is still true today, although she has recently taken to blagging my 300f2.8, now she owns the f4 version

But at the end of the day, the most important thing is to actually use what you have or can afford, and not spend all your time crawling over gear specs - So get out there, study your subjects, understand what they are doing and get some photos.

In part 2 this time next week, we will cover some of the thinking you go through when you make that big financial step of buying one of the big primes, and share some of the other cost impact's that you will need to think about to, such as bags, tripods and heads.