Tuesday 31 March 2009

Reviews - Looking back at your own work

Later on this evening I will be giving an illustrated photo talk on the Wildlife of Mull for the second time.

While putting the talk together and considering and processing the images, it prompted many thoughts.

But lets quickly step back in time as to why I am doing the talk to set it in context.

Last year while on Mull, I was asked if I would do a talk for Wild Isles Week which is
held every year in May. Naturally I was pleased to be asked and of course accepted. In order to give it a dry run, I asked if I could speak to Stratford Photo Group just to check out the content and flow - nothing like a home audience to see what works and what doesn't. Meanwhile, I have also been asked to give it to the Smethwick Photo Society Nature Group and later in the year to the RPS Nature Group

Well I was asked for the Smethwick talk at quite short notice and hadn't prepared a thing with a couple of weeks to go- so panic set in and I got to work quickly.

Tracing through four sets of images comprising of a total of about 2500, I was never convinced that I would have enough material and expected to have to supplement the talk with images of wildlife that is seen on Mull but not actually taken there, so I slight cheat if you like.

But once I got into the selection process, based around the story I wanted to tell, I found that I had more than enough and had to filter out hard.

So what?

Well what came out of this for me was that I had many more images that I revisited with a specific purpose in mind and found them both useful and actually pleased with a lot of them in a way that I had previously glossed over in the past.

It also got me thinking about the photography I do on these trips as I quickly realised that there were many holes in the story I wanted to tell with missing images. For example, I don't have any decent Red Deer shots from Mull. Red Deer are one of the major animals that many visitors want to see - I just took it for granted. Also it is worth taking some of the picture post card type shots to set the scene, show the landscape and show the topology, all important stuff for contextualising the wildlife environment.

So given that I need to do this talk later in the year, and I have another trip in May, I can fill those gaps in.

However, for me, the great benefit of doing this is that it really got me closely looking at some archive work, processing many images that were 'just there', occupying disc space and for no seeming purpose.

So with that in mind, I now need to go through the rest of my files with the same 'eye'

How many of us have got many 'photographic gems' on our hard drives that we overlook?

Tell us your views


Monday 30 March 2009

Purple Days

Some days are memorable for many reasons, Purple day photographic sessions don't come around very often but today was one of those days, The weather man said that Monday would be the best day of the week weather wise so i was up and out before the sun was up and down at a large lake about 10 miles from home to have another go at the ospreys, With the weather being nice i knew it would be a short session as the light would get harsh and contrasty once the sun was up high, The ospreys were flying around the nest when i arrived so i quickly set up and took some meter reading and some test shots, The next thing i know is a beaver swimming right towards me, A first for me since i have been here,He came pretty close as if to check me out then did a few large circles and headed off only to be joined by another beaver who did the same, Every now and again one would smash his tail against the water and bolt off under the water,They did this for a few minutes before heading off around to the next bay,The beaver dam cant be that far away and i will go back and see if i can find it,What a great start, Things went quiet for about an hour with just one osprey on the nest and then 3 more arrived, One had a fish in the talons and briefly dropped down onto the nest a minute later it was off which i thought was strange, It went over the trees and suddenly returned being chased by a juvenille Bald Eagle who swooped around trying to relieve the osprey of its catch,After a minute or 2 it gave up and order was restored, I had this time used the 600 and 1.4x combo with the D300 as the weather was brighter than the last time and the D300 would give me some more reach, The ospreys started to mate on the post above the nest so i swapped the 1.4x for the 1.7x and waded abit further out into the lake, i was still further away from the nest than i would like and next time the chest waders are making an apperance as i ended up with 2 boots full of water, Cant complain though as the beaver and eagle shots were unexpected as were the mating shots,Back tomorrow i hope


Sunday 29 March 2009

Review - British Butterflies DVD ROM Guide

For our 101st post, I wanted to tell you about a great DVD interactive guide I have just acquired. Published by Birdguides, it features over 60 regular British Species, with over 500 illustrations and 200 professionally filmed video clips. It shows all stages of the cycle of a butterfly with all the relevant information. They great thing with this guide is that it now resides on the Netbook, so I have full field availablility of the information.

With the warmer weather, and the first appearrance in the last couple of weeks of butterflies in my garden, the timing for this is just right.

Update: Some more detailed info here


Saturday 28 March 2009

Gear Reviews-Camera Insurance for the USA

Following on from Martins blog yesterday covering camera insurance in the UK i will just add abit for us guys living in the USA, When i moved over here i bought all new camera gear and within a few days the appartment that we first rented was full of new shiny Nikon gear, In total $30 000+ so there was a great need to get this insured as if it went missing i wouldnt be able to afford to get it replaced, I made some enquiries on more USA nature forums and the general consensus was to join NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) and get covered by CHUBB who do great deals for NANPA members, It costs around $100 to join NANPA but then you get lots of benefits like the quarterly mag and discounts on other mags and gear, I joined and within a few days the cameras were covered, £30 000 of gear cost me just under $700 a year which i thought was very reasonable, They give a calcualtion of $0,0230 so times that by the value of your gear and you have the total cost,you also get 30 days to pay but are covered from day 1,There is a minimum of $350, All in all everybody gives them a thumbs up and NANPA is based on my kind of work,Its a very informative site and worth spending some time on


Friday 27 March 2009

Reviews - Gear Insurance

This will be a short post tonight, specifically covering an item which somebody has requested.

Before I moved to my current house, I was in rented accommodation for a few years I had all my gear covered by House Contents insurance, with a maximum allowance for loss at any one time. I didn't really properly check out the T's & C's with hindsight, but fortunately was never in a position to need to make a claim.

That all changed when I moved into my current house and switched to a connected Buildings and Contents Policy. The new insurers could not entertain that my kit levels were purely of an amateur status. They did offer me some additional cover but the quote was quite frankly ridiculous. So time for a rethink.

I has heard of good things of Glover & Howe from some of the pro's who used to frequent EOS Forums when that was alive so checked them out.

The long and short was that they offered 10% discount for EOS Magazine subscribers as I was then, they offered various levels of cover from Amateur, Semi Professional and Full Professional. It turned out that Semi Pro insurance was actually cheaper than Amateur for me. This gave me the option of actually being able to sell some of my work, if I desired to so do.

The cover and replacement options were much better, particlualrly in terms of theft from vehicles a,d it has been extremely easy when adding or subtracting bits of kit as I have bought and sold stuff.

No claims discount is accrued each year if you do not make a claim as well, and it is just the most simple business dealing with them on the phone.

So if you have gear that you cannot afford to lose, think carefully about how it is insured. Check out all the Terms very carefully and if there are loopholes, then think about going to a specialist.

There is a very good Tips document that Glover & Howe have published if you are not sure.

Do yourself a favour and read it.

And if you buy from them, please mention my name


PS - it will be our 100th post tomorrow

Thursday 26 March 2009

Local Patch-Raleigh

Things are hotting up in my local area as spring kicks in-out and in again, The spring migration is in full flow and every visit to lakes show more and more ospreys, Yesterday i revisited the nest and there were 4 ospreys circling over, One would drop onto the nest and the other 3 would swoop down,The one on the nest would literally back flip as if you grab the swooping bird,then all fly off and have some fun in the air calling each other before doing it all again, I did get some shots,nothing spectacular but the account is now well and truly open,The weather yesterday was very grey which made metering difficult so i used manual mode and after a couple of test shots i realised that to get a bird in flight properly exposed i would need to completely blow the sky which was fine as it was a horrible grey anyway, I used the Nikon D3 along with the 600+1.4x but the conditions meant that i needed to go up to ISO 800 and sometimes ISO 1600, The D3 is famous for its high ISO capabilities but in order to get grain free ISO 1600 shots you need to have the exposure bang on,Any adjustments in processing will bring the grain out,
The garden is going very well with more and more birds turning up everyday as well as different mammals,The usual suspects are still coming like cardinals,junco,sparrows (2 types now) woodpecker,tufted titmouse,pine siskin and a sparrowhawk but we now have new guests that are regulars like American goldfinch that are just coming into breeding colours,Nuthatches (2 types) warblers,bluebirds and yesterday whilst in the hide a brown headed cowbird-what a crazy name-no udders and doesn't moo,still nice to see and a great addition to the portfolio,
Mammal wise i have deer coming every night along with 2 possums,2 grey fox and the other night a raccoon and lots of squirrels-not too bad for a small town garden,
All this means that i can grab the camera and spend a pleasant hour or 2 in the hide when the conditions allow,I haven't tried for the mammals yet as most come out when its dark so will need a couple of extra flashguns for that but will continue to feed them to get them into a routine,


Wednesday 25 March 2009

Local Patch - Warwickshire

Well about as local as it gets, more precisely my back garden.

Many of the readers of the blog know that I spent a lot of time last year making over about 2/3 of my back garden to a wildlife garden.

This involved hand digging out years worth of weeds and brambles and reshaping the earth into raised banks and planting out with wild flower seeds. I put three areas of water in the garden and this has attracted quite a bit of wildlife in that I didn't previously see.

Well I spent a fair bit of time out there this weekend building the waterfall into the main pond and saw my first three butterfly species of the year in the warm spring sunshine. These were Brimstone, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell. I tried to sneak up on the Comma while it was sunning itself for an image, but it wasn't having any of it. I really could do with the Canon 180 macro lens which would allow me much more stand off distance - anybody got one going spare?

Anyway, to the main point of this thread which is to share some images of some of the flowers that are coming up now. Nothing particularly special, but important in setting the overall ecology of what I'm trying to set up.

From the top down, the species are as follows;

Red Dead Nettle

Common Speedwell

Sun Spurge

Shepherds Purse

Common Fumitory

And if I have got any of those wrong, please do let me know.

Update: - The tadpoles are free and swimming today - well the first few anyway


Tuesday 24 March 2009

Garden Bird Photography

Spring is a good time of year to get some great shots of your garden birds, The adults will have young to feed so will be busy at the feeders and the trees have blossom on which will add some colour to your shots, Decide on what birds you want to shoot and then make a garden studio where you can control the light direction and the perch making sure that the perch will suit the bird,Don't have a great big branch for small birds to land on-it has to look natural and proportionate, I have various types of feeder for different birds, I have a pole with hanging feeders with nuts/seeds and fat and a flat bed feeder for birds that like the feet on the ground feeding, Certain foods will attract certain birds,Niger seeds for instance will bring goldfinch in and suet/fat will bring in woodpeckers, So with the flat feeders i strap (using cable ties) a nice looking branch above for birds to land on or a place for them to perch whilst waiting their turn to feed, The pole feeders have various branched/twigs strapped next to each feeder, I change these throughout the year-spring time i will use some pussy willow or some cherry/apple blossom and in the winter i will use some holly or similar with berries for added colour, For woodpeckers and nuthatch i will find a nice looking branch-not too thick and drill some holes in it which i fill with peanuts or fat and strap it to a pole or partly bury it so that it sticks straight up out of the ground like a small tree,The woodpeckers will soon find the peanuts and use it on a regular basis,Make sure when you set your stages up that the light will be in the right direction i.e from behind and that the background is good-use a tree or bush in the background to give a nice diffused even colour, Your garden doesn't have to be big but try to get a good distance from feeder to background say 30 feet or more, When shooting the birds i use a hide and try to use F8-11 to try to get all the bird in focus-remember to focus on the eye, Prefocus on the perch for speed as they flit around the perch you will need to be quick,If your shutter speed is low then use a higher ISO


Monday 23 March 2009

News - 1Dmk3 Update - Test shots

Further to my post on Saturday, I promised some test shots for you.

The first two are screen grabs from Breezebrowser showing the AF points lit. In each case I specifically use an off centre point, as this was one area that the 1D did not perform as well, and was mentioned in the recall note. I have to say I am happy with tis performance. Both of these images have some background clutter that was previously difficult for the camera to always separate - again no troubles here now.

The second two shots have been processed, but I have not cropped so you can see all the elements in the image that the camera had to contend with.

Again, I wanted to show performance with close background confusion opportunities. These two images are consecutive shots, taken at 5fps, my usual default for multi shots. This time I used the centre point, AI servo, 70 -200 f2.8 set at f2.8. Not particularly posted for photographic merit, but from a test perspective.

If you want to know any of my other CF settings for this please let me know via the comments and I will be pleased to help.

If you want to the images slightly larger, just click on them, but remember to press the back buton in the browser to get back here


Sunday 22 March 2009

Full Frame or Cropped sensor

I read a mag yesterday and it confirmed things that I have been saying for the last couple of years, since Full Frame cameras came out and namely the Canon 5D people on forums see them as a holy grail-something to aim for whilst having to 'put up' with a camera body with a cropped sensor. I have always believed that a cropped sensor with the correct amount of pixels (I will come to that bit in a minute) will give as good an image as a full frame sensor. When the full frame bodies came out people were over joyed at being able to get good wide angle shots-great for landscapers, but the camera manufacturers soon dealt with that by bringing out super wide and lenses like Canons 10-22 and Sigma's 12-24 so that advantage was gone, with the new bodies using the latest technologies in processing, noise isn't so much of an issue either until you hit a certain amount of pixel density and here's the rub. The magazine tested the Nikon D700 Full Frame against the D300 and found image quality on both to be excellent and quite evenly matched up to ISO 1600, they also tested the Canon 40D and 50D and noted that the 50D with 15 MP against the 40D'S 10MP lost on image quality due to too many pixels as that was producing lots of noise as I believe Martin mentioned a few weeks ago when he borrowed one, so it seems that with the cropped sensors we have reached the plateau of around 12 mp for optimum IQ and after that IQ starts to drop off, I am sure in the future new processors will somehow remove grain and allow higher and higher ISO's to be used. So now we see an advantage with Full Frame sensors where you can still get good IQ at ISO 1600 and above but how many of us actually use extreme ISO, the price difference between a Full Frame body and cropped sensor body is substantial, the lenses needed for the Full Frames a have to be the best and are extremely expensive, this goes for the 50D as well, the high pixel count does not take kindly to cheaper lenses, the cropped sensors give you the reach advantage as well-its like having a 1.5x extender on which for people like myself can be a real boon, yes I do have a Full Frame camera but I also have a Cropped one as well and I find myself reaching for the D300 more times than the D3. So it was summerised as saying that very few (normal i.e. not pro's that need high MP bodies for agency work) people would see an advantage when using a Full Frame body to a cropped body as few people use extreme ISO and very few people print over A3 which a 10-12mp body can do nicely, dont get caught up in all the snobbery of Full Frame unless you need to and can afford the lenses.


Saturday 21 March 2009

News - 1Dmk111 recall - Final Part.......probably

Right then - I am now happy. I finally believe this is the camera I hoped that I was buying back in August 2007. Yes it has been a long time, yes it has been frustrating and to be fair has been pretty good since the firmware update in April 2008.

But this has taken the performance to where I think Canon users have been demanding.

When I did my original moving subject testing, I went to the footbridge in Stratford upon Avon to capture images of the numerous black headed gulls who respond will to bread being thrown high into the air.

So off I went with my pet tosser, of the bread, today in very bright light. Alas there were no gulls - obviously gone off to their breeding grounds now, or maybe they just don't like tourists.

Fortunately, there are also a lot of pigeons which are at least as difficult to capture.

I tried a number of different options of AF point, from full 'ring of fire', single centre point only, and also off centre points as well, with or without assist points activated. I used my 70-200f2.8L lens, set at f2.8.
At that aperture, i was not always getting my subject fully in focus across the width of the subject, but for test purposes that was fine as it helped to better define the actual focus point and plane.

So - the verdict.

As long as I got the AF point in the right place - everything was sharp. All were keepers in that respect. This is not something that I had experienced to date.

One particular area that was always trouble was when the subject was in a low contrast situation, such as a mid tone bird flying through a similar background. Well these are now very good too.

I will post up a couple of images tomorrow to back up this post.

I guess the one area that I haven't tested that I need to just be certain of is flat light low contrast subjects. So maybe I need to just hold a little in reserve until we have crossed that hurdle.

But based on use since it has come back I am very happy with it ............so far

Update: - Will post images tomorrow including screen grabs from Breezebrowser showing the AF point highlighted


Friday 20 March 2009

Wildlife Photographer of the year

Time is running out for you to enter this years Wildlife Photographer of the Year. On-line entries have to be in by this time next week, see below for info on how and what to enter, Don't judge yourself if your images are good enough let the judges do it. After seeing a couple of winners last year I think anybody is in with a chance. The site shows last years winners and commended's, look out for the exhibitions that tour the UK as the images look far better in real life than on screen.



Thursday 19 March 2009

Tips and Techniques - Sharpening

Well having read lots of questions about sharpening, and seen lots of problems with digital sharpening on prints, web images and digitally projected images I thought it was about time I did a 'Techniques and Tips' tutorial.

Before I start I need to issue a health check - there are many many ways to sharpen digital images - I know I have used many different ways to get to where I am now.

This is my way - it works for me. If your way works - great, stick with it but if it doesn't then here is an option for you to consider.

Before we start, lets just consider workflow.

I review my image with Breezebrowser Pro, check out link for Dave's review last month, using the view in HQ mode to see if the image is a keeper or bin fodder.

Once I have decided what I want to keep I convert the .cr2 file to a 16bit TIF - always. Not jpeg, not 8 bit.

I then post process, currently using Adobe Photoshop CS3. The image is generally still at original size unless I am doing a quick and dirty for a web post or something.

So global changes in the RAW processing, local changes using adjustment layer masks for levels, curves, sat, and selective colour.

Then I save the file as my master.

Now the next choice is what form of output do I go for. Once I have decided I will then crop or resize the image. I may, albeit rarely, run a bit of localised noise reduction using a layer mask in a separate layer and then only attack the noise areas, certainly not the main subject such as a bird, to avoid loss of detail.

Now I think about sharpening.

So I will show some quick screen grabs to illustrate.

Take your master, save as a separate file and flatten any layers that you have to help make the file size more manageable.

In the layers pallette, drag and drop the background layer onto the 'Create a new layer' icon at the bottom left. This will give you a duplicate layer. On that bottom row of icons, you will also see a 'Add Layer mask'.

Click that and you will see a small white rectangle next to the duplicate layer.
Click back on the duplicate layer thumbnail, next to the new layer mask. This will ensure that the sharpening changes you make are being applied to the image and not the mask.

Then select Filter >Sharpen > Unsharp mask.

Set the zoom at 100% if you are sharpening for web/digital projection and 50% if printing. For the former, I would use about 50%, 0.3 and 0. I then do this a few times until it is just oversharpened in the window. Then click OK.

Now on the full screen image at actual pixels, so Zoom, then actual pixels to get that, I then modulate the opacity of the layer using the percentage slider to fine tune the sharpening to exactly where I want it. If there are slight halos, I look to slide back until they have gone.

However, if they don't totally go, then don't fret - more later.

The next thing is I then click on the layer mask we added a bit ago, then select the paint bucket tool and fill the layer mask with black paint and all the sharpening disappears. Huh? I hear you say.

Stay with me.

Then click the \ key, select the paint brush tool, set the colour to white and start painting those areas of the subject you want sharp, and only those areas. The area you are painting will show as red so you can see where you have been. Just toggle the \ key on and off as you require to see the effects.

Complete the image and check. Use the opacity slider just to re verify you are happy with the level of sharpening.

If you have any halos, you can actually paint then out again, by selecting the brush, colour black, set the brush to a small and hard setting and paint the halos into history.

Make sure you paint sharpening onto any areas of the scene that you think needs to be sharp.

Now I have shown a Sanderling here. I only want the bird and the sand that is in the line of the DOF in focus. If I sharpen the background, I might induce noise or sharpening artefact's, so this method will allow me to keep that creamy smooth. Particularly important when I am making A3 + prints.

Also remember you can vary the levels of sharpening that you give an image across it by varying the levels of masking. If you have set the sharpening for one area at the optimum level, but you want a some but not as much in another area, then set the opacity of the brush tool to 50% or whatever is appropriate for your image and paint the sharpening out.

This might sound complicated, but once you have done it once or twice, it comes very quickly.

Now as I say, this works for me and if you have your own pet method, then do stay with it. But I have found I can avoid inducing or increasing noise, I can control the halos, only that part of an image that I want is sharpened.

if you try this, lets us know how you get on.

Scott Kelby shows a number of different ways to sharpen in his books that you might also like to look at.

Update: Replaced the last two images as the original ones showed you how to nicely sharpen the background and not the subject - apologies for the confusion


Wednesday 18 March 2009

Little and Large

The last couple of days have seen me shooting Ospreys and tiny yellow rumped warblers, I went down to the lake yesterday to do a recce and see if i could get in a decent position to get shots of the osprey on the nest,I took the dog (mistake) and grabbed my D300 and 200-400 plus a converter, I wasn't going to shoot but if you don't take the camera something will happen, I managed to find the nest and i should be able to get a reasonable angle to it, The Osprey was on a post above the nest and watched as i approached, I was still some distance off and slowly made my way down, It was obvious that i would need to use the converter so i quickly put it on and took some shots at distance then all of a sudden the bird flew off the nest and come over to check me out,The focusing seemed horribly slow and i grabbed a couple of hand held shots and then left, When i got home i downloaded a load of rubbish, I didnt have time to set the camera up and the shots were under exposed and then realised that i had grabbed the 1.7x instead of the 1.4x-No wonder the AF was slow and i wasnt suprised that only a couple of the shots were sharpish,Not a problem for web use but really only fit for the bin-will write 100 times 'must keep standards up',It wasnt a wasted trip and i may leave it a couple of weeks until she has eggs before i shoot properly,

I was in my local supermarket a couple of days ago and noticed that they had some pussy willow for sale for a few dollars so i bought some and yesterday when i returned i strapped some next to my feeders and within a couple of hours the birds were landing on it and using it as a perch-Great, I wanted some shots of the Yellow Rumped Warblers now that they were getting their breeding plummage so decided that i would try today,The weatherman predicted an early fog that would burn off to a sunny day-He was correct and first thing i popped into the hide that i had set up yesterday,The fog was quite heavy but burning off giving a nice diffused light, I knew i wouldnt have long so kept my fingers crossed, I had set up the hide at minimum focusing distance and put on a 1.4x to get the bird a good size in the frame, I noticed that the ends of the willow curled towards me and and were too close to focus so i put a 12mm extension tube on and that corrected the matter, I managed about an hour before the light was too harsh, I got a couple of nice shots but noticed that the background wasnt quite how i wanted it so when i finished i moved the hide 3 feet to the right and will try again tomorrow-weather permitting


Tuesday 17 March 2009

Reviews - Your feedback to us

Just a short post from me today.

Many thanks to everybody who took part in our poll that closed today. Some surprising results that always goes to show that what you think people want is not always the case.

The overwhelming majority of you, at 80% and 67% respectively want to hear more from us on Techniques and Tips, and Gear we use and Abuse subjects.

So with that in mind, we will look to tailor to fit these in more regularly than we have.

There was a pretty even split on Reviews, Trip Reports and Hardware & Software.

Surprisingly, our 'From the Archives' was the least popular with just 5% response on these. Maybe we have just pitched these incorrectly, as it was the intent that we could share some images from our older trips and interweave some good images with location information and any relevant tips or techniques to that type of photography.

So we will try to do some more of what you want.

I will be back on Thursday with a Tips and Techniques on how I post process sharpen, as I know this is one area that a number of people want to hear about. Dave and I do things slightly differently, but with similar results I believe, so you will be able to see over a period of time a couple of options that you may like to try.

If there are any other areas that we have not thought of that you want to hear about, please do leave us some comments, we would be most pleased to hear from you.


Monday 16 March 2009

Printers and prints

I have been asked over the years by people who have visited my house why i don't have any of my images up on the walls, Its just something i had never done leaving the walls to paintings and not photographs,Well my new house has loads of wall space and i am lucky to have a studio in it as well and as i have picked up a Canon 9000 PRO printer i decided that it was time to get some work printed out and framed, I have been playing around with a couple of different papers and with Martins help now have the same on print as what i am seeing on the screen, The papers i have decided on at the moment are Permajets Oyster and Canons new Platinum papers, I have found that these are good for different types of image, The Permajet paper suites wildlife images very well but portraits look aweful with it, I have had to play with the colours abit as the generic ICC profile left the images abit too magenta whereas the Canon paper was correct from the word go,The oyster is a semi gloss whereas the platinum paper is a high gloss, The image quality of the images from the Canon printer is excellent and although i have only had the printer a few weeks Canon have just announced a new MK2 model,This is bascially the same printer but 3 times faster and will be almost twice what i paid for mine so i am not too concerned as i dont print enough yet to be concerned about the speed and its far quicker that my old Epson, The Canon also seems quite frugal where ink useage is concerned, I bought direct from Canons website and it was delivered free and arrived the next day, The Canon platinum paper was also at 30% discount making it not unreasonable for such a high grade paper, Now i am looking for greeting card paper so if anybody has recomendations i would appreciate it


Sunday 15 March 2009

News - 1Dmk111 recall - Update

Further to my last post here, I said I would update after a some testing.

Well I went up north this weekend to shoot some Red Grouse. The cock birds were definitely trying to impress the hens at this time of year and were strutting their stuff.

I didnt get as many shots as I would have liked and I still need to do some more testing, particularly on moving subjects.

All the shots that I took were off pretty static birds, using the car as a hide with the bean bag on the door of the car.

I tried centre point and also off centre. There ere a few out of focus images, but cannot be certain that wasn't operator error, so am not going to say for certain. I will do some more testing at the weekend. Probably with the highly mobile Black Headed Gulls here at the bridge in Stratford upon Avon, where I did all my original testing when we had the difficulties last year.

First impressions look and seem good and appear to have better level of sharpness. But I need a bigger sample of images to be perfectly happy yet.

But anyway, here are a couple of images from my trip.

I will do some more work on this and let you know.


Saturday 14 March 2009

Thoughts-Project Photography

With spring just with us it about to become the busiest time of year for the wildlife/nature photographer, Plans need to me made fast so that opportunities are not lost and you will have to wait another year to get them, I work in project fashion, That means that i only take a couple of subjects and try to get as many different types of shots out of them, I normally have shots in mind that i want or need to get and spend as much time as possible to get these shots, Sometimes you dont get them all in one year and the project will run over 2 or 3 years as it did for me in Switzerland with Great Crested Grebe and Ibex, When i started submitting to agencies there comments were that there wasn't a problem with the quality of my work but that there were lots of different subjects and no story, I took this on board and changed my way of shooting, By doing this my photography actually improved as i spent more time with a particular subject i understood the subject better and could react to certain movements and anticipate what would happen before it happened,Take for instance great crested grebes, Once they pair up they do a lot of head shaking,Watching closely i noticed that if the head shaking became very pronounced that the birds would part and dive,once this happened i knew that if both birds surfaced with weed in the beak that they would rush towards each other and dance frantically on the top of the water,It happens very fast and only by watching their behaviour did i manage to predict what was about to happen and get the shots,Once i had got the courting behaviour i moved on to the mating,nesting and then the chicks on the back imagery so when they were sent to an agent they had a full story to work with, This year i have started my projects by watching osprey nests that are placed around the larger lakes in my area, The other day i took my dog for a walk around the lake and checked through the binoculars the nests and low and behold an osprey sitting on one, So i will now go down at different times of the day and see what time the sun hits and leaves the nest area and learn what i can about the birds and try to get some interaction, I have some shots in my mind that i would like so thats a start, Being in a new country means new species not yet on the files and each night i put some food out for the White Tailed Deer, Grey Fox and Possum so these will also be on the list to spend some time with, Being close to home is also a boon when taking a project on and most of my recent projects have been within an hour of home and most within a mile or 2, That makes it easy to pop out and check the areas,put some food down and keep an eye on your hide/blind, When photographing foxes over the last few years i spend weeks putting food down in a couple of areas and watching those areas from distance and learning where the foxes come from,their prefered times and where they go after,Its a puzzle to start with but as time goes on the pieces fall into place,
What projects do you plan to shoot this year?-do you have one? If not then i would advise taking into consideration, Make it an easy subject that is easily accessible like mallards or even lambs and let us know how the project is progressing


Friday 13 March 2009

Long Lens Series - Part 5 - Specialist Bags

Dave covered how he used some bags from the Lowe Pro range to carry his gear around including his large lenses. I too did the same until just under two years ago, when I found a limited source of a specialist bag that was designed for a single purpose. A big frustration I had was that to assemble the camera body,the lens and the hood takes quite a while. Well long enough to see an image in front of you and for it or the light to disappear.

I wanted a solution where my gear was fully assembled, I could pull it out of the bag and it was ready to go immediately.

Well it did exist but only in made to order runs of at least ten, which meant that you had to find at least ten mates, all with a 500 lens that had the same need as you did. Well I was lucky then and I know from conversations and emails since then that there have been a lot of people wanting he same.

Well help is on hand here from Tripods, Heads and Gimbals here in the UK. Check out the bag section and you will see quite a range of bags for both the 500 and 600 primes. I do like the new pouch on the back, it certainly looks to be an improvement over my earlier version.

So after nearly two years of use what is the verdict?

It has done everything I wanted it to do. It has protected the body and lens against water and sand and all sorts of other dirt.

With a series of pockets round the sides, that are a big enough to get the 70-200 f2.8, 300f4, or flask, tin of Guinness, flash head and beam extender, plus 1.4 and 2x converters, it can be loaded up so it becomes too heavy to carry.

A good touch is the neck collar that you fit between the body and lens around the mount. THis gives good support on this joint.

I have carried this bag for a long time on my bag and have found it to be very comfortable, even more so than ny Lowe Pro Photo Trekker.

So if you have a 500 or 600 prime, this is a great bag to use


Thursday 12 March 2009

Gear we use and abuse-Extension Tubes

I get asked or see on forums questions about the difference between an extender or an extension tube, I covered the extenders last time-basically its a small lens that fits between the body and lens that magnifies the image, An Extension tubes fits the same as an extender but it is tube as the name says with no glass,What it does is move the lens away from the Camera bodies focal plane which make it possible to focus closer than the lens would normally allow, Camera lenses do not have any limitations in focusing away-you can focus at infinity but there are limitations in focusing close,My 600 has a minimum focusing distance of 5.5m, If i want to photograph a small plant/butterfly or bird with it they may be too small in the frame but if i put an extension tube on i can move closer and make it larger in the frame, Why use such a large lens for a small subject-well a long lens will throw the background nicely out of focus and give you some distance from skittish subjects like butterflies and dragonflies, You can use an extension tube on ANY lens unlike an extender,There is no glass so it doesn't degrade the image in anyway,The downside is that you loose the ability to focus at infinity so you can shoot closer but not at distance, Extension tubes come in a variety of sizes, Mine are a set of 12mm/20mm and 36mm and made by Kenko, I don't see the point in buying the expensive versions from the camera manufacturers when no glass is involved, My ones allow AF to work along with all electrical signals to the body and as i don't use them a lot they more than fit my needs, You can use then individually or as a pair or a complete set stacked depending on how close you want to get, One combo that works very well is a 300 F4 lens which has a good close focusing distance already combined with some tubes make a great kit for butterflies and dragonflies, You can increase the magnification when used with a macro lens to go beyond 1:1-very versatile and not overly expensive-A good addition to your camera bag,They are not going to replace a macro lens just enhance other lenses that you have for certain shooting circumstances
Here are some examples of how it works,I took these shots of a perch above one of my feeders,There are in order 600 only,600+12mm tube,600+20mm tube,600+36mm tube and 600+all tubes stacked, I notice when using some of the tubes with the 600 that i am getting some vignetting or darkening at the corners which is something i haven't had before so will need to shoot some without the hood to see what's causing it but it gives you the idea,

Wednesday 11 March 2009

News Update - Canon 1Dmk111 recall

OK here is the next instalment from this post and this post last week.

Quick recap - the recall note went out Tuesday, I responded the same day. Canon RCC Elstree called me on the Thursday and the camera was collected on the Friday as promised.

I requested it back here tomorrow and it arrived today, complete with new firmware installed, the Af system re calibrated and a new rear screen fitted as I damaged it last year, at just the price for the labour to fit.

So Canon RCC get a full 100% from me for delivering ahead of all agreed time schedules - well done to then and in particular Lauren Dicker there who has been my contact there - Thanks Lauren.

So I will be testing it over the weekend and give you another update after that to see if there are any noticeable differences, particularly in the off centre AF point focusing.


Tuesday 10 March 2009

Gear we use and abuse-Extenders

To get a little closer to our subjects and to give some flexibility when using primes i use extenders, I use the Nikon 1.4x and 1.7x, They do make a 2x but i havent read many good things about them, Like the Canon 2x you either get on with it or you dont, All extenders will affect image quality as you are putting extra glass for the light to get through, 1.4x extenders have little effect on IQ and used correctly the 2x can give very good results,Firstly lets get something straight-They are not a cheap alternative to getting a cheap long lens so dont rush out and buy one for your budget 75-300 thinking you will get a good cheap 600mm lens,They are designed for top end lenses-Fast primes in particular but will also work very well on fast zooms like the Nikon 200-400, They do have an effect on your shutter speed, A 1.4x will take 1 stop of light away so instead of getting 1/250 you will get 1/125, A 2x will take 2 stops so instead of 1/250 you will get 1/60-a big difference,The Nikon 1.7x takes 1.5 stops of light, If you think you need good long lens technique with a 500mm lens then it needs to be doubly good when used with a 2x-only the biggest best tripod or ideally a beanbag will give good results with extreme focal lengths,Another thing to think about when using one is that the view finder will get slightly darker as the light fights its way through the extra glass and that 2 stops of light from the 2x will make your F4 lens an F8 lens and the 1.4x will make the F4 lens a F5.6 lens,This means that you will need good light and may need to increase your ISO to compensate for the slower shutter speed, To get the best IQ i would advise not to shoot wide open,This is not such a problem with the 1.4x but a 2x needs at least an extra stop down to bring good results,On my old 500mm F4 lens when using a 2x i would set the aperture to F11, This i found gave very good results in good light, Most people i know don't like the 2x and complain that results from it are rubbish-its all down to set up and technique, I would advise to only use an extender when you need to and only on the best lenses,
To show the difference they make here are 3 images-The first with a 600 only, To its right is a 600+1.4x and below the 600+1.7x,The good thing about extenders is that they do not affect the minimum focusing distance


Monday 9 March 2009

News - New Forum

Today is my birthday!! So what I hear you cry - that doesn't let you off blogging!!.

Dave and I have set out to put up content every day, and have succeeded so far - in fact there are normally more posts than days in the month.

So anyway, just a quickie today for all of you who have followed us from the days of EOS-Forums, which I had advised was having problems with hosting, there is a new forum that we are using - Canon Fodder Forums.

It has been specifically set up for users of Canon's EOS systems, so if you are a fellow Canon snapper, why not pop by and have a look.

Right that's me tonight - off for some more wine.

Back later in the week with a report on my custom made bag for my 1D + 500 f4 with the hood fitted the right way round - so if you use that combination, drop by and see how it could make the difference between you getting the shot......or not.

Update: Just corrected a few typos - thanks to an eagle eyed follower of the blog - clearly the wine is affecting my fingers or eyes.....or both


Sunday 8 March 2009

Gear we use and abuse-Dust Busting

There is nothing worse than spending a day shooting birds in flight or something with a plain background only to find when you download the images that they are peppered with dust and you then have to spend hours of extra processing to remove them,Most cameras these days come with a dust shaker on the sensor to help remove the problem (except Nikon D3/X) but it doesn't do the job completely and there will be times when you need to do something about it, My Canon 1DMK3 came new with dust on the sensor and rather than send it back and wait for a new one or even send it straight in for a service (first canon service gives a free sensor clean) i had to decide how i was going to remove the dust myself,There are many options on the market today but the main ones are to use a blower which can blow more dust onto the sensor,Wet wipes with Eclipse fluid which will help not just remove dust but also oil/grease spots that may come off of a new shutter and a small device called an Arctic Butterfly,This is my chosen method of dealing with dust on the sensor,Its very simple to use if you obey a couple of rules,Firstly only every clean your sensor with a newly fully recharged battery,If the shutter comes down when you are working in there its going to be expensive to replace, Secondly only clean your sensor in a relatively clean envirnoment-i go outside on a still day(dont want pollen on the sensor) and when using the device NEVER SPIN IT INSIDE THE CHAMBER, So with a fresh battery you need to go into the menu on your camera and find the open shutter for cleaning mode,Spin the butterfly 3 times for a few seconds to charge the bristles and then press the shutter button to open the camera up.Keeping the opening downwards carefully put the brush onto the sensor and lightly brush from one side to the other,Once you made a sweep take the brush out and give it a spin then go back in and repeat until the sensor is completely covered,I do this in both directions,Make sure that you do not touch the sides of the sensor with the brush as you may drag oil/grease onto the sensor which will then need a wet clean,Once you are happy that you have covered all the sensor put the cap back onto the camera and turn it off then turn it back on and you will hear the shutter close and the job is done, To check to see if the sensor is clean set your camera to F22 and take a picture of a clear sky and down load the image,any dust spots should be obvious,There are a few different brushes in the range,I use the Arctic Butterfly 724, Its a great tool if you travel as there are aircraft friendly unlike having to carry fluids with you and if you are Safari you can quickly clean you sensor each evening saving lots of time cleaning the images up when you return, I have been using one of these devices for a couple of years and i highly recommend them,Available at most Good shops,If you go to the Visible Dust web site there are training video's showing exactly how to use them


Saturday 7 March 2009

Local Patch - Warwickshire

A quick update from me today.

Since I wrote last time, there has been a few pluses and minuses in the garden. Sadly, I haven't seen the Grey Wagtail since I got back from Mull, so it has either been 'catted' or hopefully moved on to breed somewhere.

There was a new garden first this week - A Red Legged Partridge dropped by for an overnight stay. It was wet and dark when I saw it, so no images and again was worried it wouldn't see the night out but things were fine, and it moved on the next day. An unusual species for what is essentially a town garden, but then maybe my plan to make the wildlife garden is bringing the countryside to us. The usual large flocks of Blackbird and Sparrows are still here with the odd surprise visitors of Long Tailed Tit were back in today's, as well as a Male Blackcap. Not sure if it is an overwintering one that has popped back or an early arrival - would tend to think it was the former.

I have a couple of Sparrow Terrace nest boxes to put up very soon so we can hopefully give a few of them an easy chance.

The pond is slowly filling up from frog spawn, there are now at least five large clumps of the stuff, so I will look forward to lots of tadpoles and froglets through the spring and summer.

Some of the early wild flowers are now popping out and the new hedging I put in is budding well.

My 1Dmk111 is with Canon as you will have seen, so I will have to wait til that is back to start getting some of this stuff onto memory card

Further out in the countryside from here, the Fieldfare are still around, although in much smaller numbers. Buzzards are flying well and displaying, and I watched a couple of Hare today, although sadly not boxing.

If you haven't completed the poll, we would be pleased if you could, as all feedback is useful for us to tailor what we write to what people want.

Although, you will have noticed that Local Patch isn't an option - you are getting that at least once a week.


Friday 6 March 2009

Website Redesign

Well it seems to have taken forever but i guess 4-5 weeks in total but today its finally gone live, The Mail address still needs to be set up and i hope thats done by close of play tonight and i still have some of my older images to put up but they are still packed in boxes from my move but all in all its 99.999% finished,If you can have a look and give some feedback both good and bad-likes and dislikes,I can change most things myself through the edit suite but certain things are to be done by the designer and i have a month to make any changes without incurring costs, I always find having a site designed by others stressful and this was the case this time, Its always difficult having something in your mind and getting it across to others,Also being on opposite sides of the country compounds the fact, Any changes minor or major take 3 days which can be frustrating, But its done and being easy to modify myself means that i wont have to pay for up keep,the site was very expensive but i guess you get what you pay for,The company i have been dealing with are www.livebooks.com,Prices start from $800 and they specialise in websites for photographers,There are a couple of things to take into account when you view the site-to get back to the home page you have to click on my name-thats the most unintuative part and i may get that changed,there is a slideshow button at the bottom which i have left for you to turn on,It can be done automatically at my end-is that better?Do you like the opening pages?easily changed
Give me some honest feedback and i can then put this baby to bed


News - 1Dmk111 update

Further to my post earlier this week here, I registered my Mark111 with Canon just before I wrote that post. In the Canon registration, it said they would contact you within a week.

Well I got my call and email within 48 hours to arrange collection. As I need the camera next weekend, I requested collection on Monday 16th, to be advised that if they could collect today, I would have it back in time during next week.

So with that guarantee, the body was collected this morning and is due back by next Thursday. I am also taking the opportunity to get my rear screen replaced at the same time as I managed to scratch it while shooting Sanderling in Norfolk last year.

So, considering what 1D 3 users went through last year with the recall for the sub mirror fix, it is encouraging that Canon, at least here in the UK seem to have sorted the logistics in advance of the notification.

I know they took a real hard time last year, but I will come to the defence of the folk I have dealt with at Elstree RCC who did their very best by me. It is no good shooting the messengers - they didn't design these flaws.

So here's hoping for a quick return.

Will keep you posted on the experience as I know there are many people who will go through this and maybe have not started the process off yet.


Thursday 5 March 2009

Gear we use and Abuse - Gitzo SLV1321 Head

Well not a true tripod head as such but an extremely worthwhile addition to add to your Gitzo tripod legs, assuming you have the right model for it to work on.

Dave alerted me to this last year and was in a couple of minds as to the perceived value of this initially. But I trusted his judgement and bought one to fit to my GT5540LS. He also mentioned it briefly here, but I thought I would just add a little more from my perspective on this fine bit of kit

Simple to fit, just undo the bolt at the head of the legs to remove the top plate and it fits straight in. Do up the bolt again and you are sorted. Fit whatever head you are using and you are ready to roll.

So what does it do for you?

Well, when you are using panning type heads such as the Wimberley or in my case the Arca Swiss with the Sidekick for my 500, to ensure that you maintain a level pan, it is essential that the head is level.

Now we have all messed about for ages, adjusting this leg up a bit, reducing that one, and by the time we have finished faffing about the light or subject have gone!!!.

Well with this little addition, you can get the position roughly right, then with a quick unscrew release of the centre column, you can rapidly level the head using the built in spirit level.

It takes longer to type those few words than do it.

I have found it a great benefit since I have been using it, and it has reduced my set up times when I get to a location, which can make the difference to getting the image or not.

It works just as well for landscapes as well, as I found out last week on Mull.

Downsides? - well if you want to operate at just above ground level, you have the short column and the additional overall height that the head will sit to contend with. So not as good in that context, but I also carry the original top plate should I need to change over, although I also use the Skimmer Pod as an alternate that Dave mentioned previously.

Pictures of the SLV head can be seen here.


Wednesday 4 March 2009

Local Patch-Waxwings part 2

The snow that arrived a couple of days ago has stayed as the temperatures at night plummeted well below freezing and daytime wasn't much warmer-Great, So i did the same as usual i dropped my wife off at work early and raced back to get the camera gear, I spotted a good group of waxwings around the clubhouse/pool area and the light was good for me being low in the sky and behind me, I managed to get fairly close without disturbing them and waited,After a few minutes one dropped onto a low hedge covered in snow but with a small hole where it could pick some berries from and it wasnt long before about 20 dropped down to join him,The action is thick and fast and all of a sudden they fly off and land back in the trees,At one point they landed directly above me and i waited a good 10 minutes with no action so i grabbed the 200-400 and slowly got out of the car and took some shots standing up hoping that at some point they would fly,They didnt so i grabbed some shots and got back in the warm, I always make sure that the engine is turned off when shooting as you will get vibration from the engine-always ask the driver to do the same if you are on safari, Metering is easy when there is a lot of snow-just set you camera to manual and spot metering, set the aperture to what you want which in my case was F8 then looking through the viewfinder with the screen on a large snowy patch adjust the compensation until it shows +2 and you are done,Make sure that you meter off of snow that is in the same light as the birds,Also make sure that you spot meter, I made the mistake to leaving it in evaluative/matrix for the test shot and the whites completly blew-quickly changing back to spot and all was fine,Remember when you look at the histogram that most of the scene is white so it should be all the way to the right but not clipping and no flashing highlights,That way the snow will be lovely and white and not grey, I only shot for 2 hrs as it was a bright sunny day and after that the light was getting harsh,The added bonus yesterday was that the waxwings were joined by some robins and a couple of beautiful Eastern Bluebirds, The snow will be all gone tomorrow and the forecast is back to a warm 65, I hope the birds stay around for a while longer as i would like to get some in flight, I was hoping that my website would have been finished and up and running by now but there are still a couple of issues and its now looking like a few more days before they are sorted-all very frustrating but i hope it will be worth it in the end