Friday 31 July 2009

Tips & Techniques - Highlight Tone Priority

For us Canon users and D-Light Control (I believe) for the Nikonites is a feature that can be found on the more recent bodies..

I mentioned about this feature on a forum recently and it was suggested that should feature as a blogpost - so here you go Calum!!

Firstly, I did a little bit of web searching as you do to check it out - it is remarkable how little information there actually is around. Which suggests that either people don't know what it is for, don't use it much, or that anyone has been that much interested in it.

Well I am no techno geek when it comes to some of these finer points - I use what is available to me, and try to find out it's limitations.

Using the Canon 1Dmk111 as an example, Highlight Tone Priority (HTP) can be found in the Custom Function setting, in the second group under Image/Flash exp./Disp and scroll through to C.Fn 11. You have the option to enable or disable.

I leave mine as disabled unless I am working in certain lighting and subject conditions.

So what does the manual advise us?

By using this setting, we will get improved highlight detail. The dynamic range is expanded from the standard 18% grey to the bright highlights. The gradation between the greys (or grays if you are US I guess) and the highlights become smoother.

There is a caution that with setting 1 (i.e. enabled) that noise in the shadows may be slightly more than usual.

The main visual clue is that the ISO setting on the top plate goes from upper case to lower case on the zeros. So for example ISO 400 with the HTP setting will appear as ISO 4oo. The minimum ISO becomes ISO200, as the camera is effectively carrying out a split exposure processing between the areas above and below 18% grey.

I understand that the selection of this feature will affect frame rate or buffer capacity, although I cannot confirm that from my own experiences.

Here is a bit of info I cribbed from a Google search which is attributed to the fine work by Arthur Morris on his BIRDS AS ART blog

"Canon has not publicly disclosed all the details of the method used to achieve Highlight Tone Priority. I can confirm that Canon’s method involves lowering the gain on the image sensor and modifying the image processing algorithm to simulate the ISO speed set by the user, but the details of the algorithm are confidential. Since HTP does involve lower gain than standard camera settings, it affects both RAW data and JPEG images. Although it would be possible for users to come close to simulating the effects of HTP for RAW images by shooting at a lower ISO speed and altering the tone curve of the image during post-processing, this method requires advance planning and furthermore offers no advantages in terms of noise reduction compared to setting HTP on the camera. Finally, as stated in the camera instruction manuals, “noise in the shadow areas may be slightly more than usual” when HTP is activated. Therefore, it’s basically up to users to decide if the benefits of HTP outweigh the potential drawbacks.” - all as written by Chuck Westfall of Canon USA

So does it work in RAW and jpeg. It clearly works in jpeg, and I understand to get the best of the results you should process your RAW images via Canon's own Digital Photo Professional software (DPP). This would make sense as the the software is designed specifically for Canon files.

Does it work with Adobe products to get the full benefit? Maybe somebody can answer that one. I do understand that it works correctly with Breezebrowser Pro - but you all know that Dave and I are big fans of that particular software.

Here are a couple of image that with and with HTP on. I used manual exposure to ensure that the settings remained the same. Certainly on the back of the camera, the black 'blinkies' were showing on the version that didn't use HTP. You will note that the shadows are clipped on both versions from the little blue triangle.

The main thing to note though is the shift leftwards of the highlights on the histogram with the HTP on version., and that the red clipping warning is extinguished on that version.

So when and where would I use it?

Bright light conditions, with very light subjects - so Egrets for starters, plus Kingfishers in the sunshine, when the sun is beating down on their white neck patch Calum :-).

When wouldn't I use it? - the rest of the time - as I said before I set it to default OFF.

So try for yourself and see what you find.

Without HTP (blown highlights)

With HTP on (clean highlights)


Thursday 30 July 2009

Just a quicky

Well my friends are still with me for another couple of days so no chance to get any wildlife/nature work done, Infact i havent had a spare minute and am about to go out on some canoes so will make this one a quicky, Yesterday we had 'The President' fly in to NC and as i live not too far from the airport sat out by the pool and waited for him to fly over,i told my friends i had arranged a fly by for them but dont think that they believed me, So i grabbed a few shots of airforce one but as with all things in life it wasnt as good as it could have been, The blue skies turned grey just before he flew in, I have shot everyday to keep a record of friends who visit and last night i put the D3 to work again as we went to a ball game and shot at high ISO as mentioned in a previous blog, I had seen some ball game at night images that i though were pretty cool and after taking a couple of test shots and adjusting the exposure until the histogram looked good i managed to get some reasonable images-as i said just a quicky and more technical blogs to come next week


Wednesday 29 July 2009

News - A Billion Painted Ladies

Just a quick update tonight, on yet another miserable wet day in the UK.

The photo forums are full of Painted Lady images at the moment.

Why is that?

Well it seems that it has been a bumper year. I posted a few images earlier in the year here and as recently as this weekend here.

Here is the reason for so many as posted by Wildlife Extra News - so know you know.

Not withstanding this success, numbers of butterflies are generally declining so how about doing your bit to support Butterfly Conservation here. Check out the events page for things in your patch and why not let us know what you have been up to.


Tuesday 28 July 2009

Local news

I have my first visitors over from the UK this week so no chance of getting out, I have continued to feed the birds, deer and mammals that visit the garden ever day/night, The ruby throated hummingbirds have finally started to arrive and i have seen them 3 times either on the feeders or nearby, You cant imagine just how small hummingbirds are until you see them in real life, Last night i shone the torch across the garden and nearby woodland and a grey fox was sitting watching which is always nice to see and i must start making an effort to get some images, Last week i was at the BBQ and had just put some corn out for the deer when a white tail came slowly out and started to feed, It looked at me a few times and then carried on,a fawn soon followed so the next night i put my D3 and 14-24 out on the beanbag with some camo netting over it,within a few minuted a deer came out but instantly stopped and after 20 mins over stamping its feet and moving left and right it disappeared back into the woods,The corn was gone in the morning,The next night the same thing but with 5 deer so i have swapped the camera for a water bottle and hope that they get used to this soon so that i can swap it back and get some shots
So back to entertaining my guests and enjoying the 90 degree heat that we have hear this week


Monday 27 July 2009

Trip Report - Butterfly Conservation Site

Yesterday I organised a trip for a number of photographers from the Smethwick Photographic Society Natural History Group to go to the site at near Coventry that is owned and managed by the Warwickshire Branch of the Butterfly Conservation Group.

Well what could go wrong arranging such a trip in the height of summer when warm, sunny and still days occur so frequently in the UK. So nine hardy souls turned up on the cold, grey and windy morning with expectations set fairly low. Our guide for the morning was Mike Slater, the Conservation Officer for the Warwickshire branch, and through this blog I would like to thank Mike for his time, knowledge and enthusiasm that he shared with us. His knowledge was important as he was able to make the best of the conditions to find subjects for us.

I guess the success can be measured in that we saw and had the chance to photograph twelve species of butterfly, plus numerous other bugs and insects.

The site is significant for Warwickshire in that it supports up to 33 of the 36 butterfly species that can be found in Warwickshire, which is testament to Mike and his teams of workers skills in restoring an old sand extraction site.

I have put a larger number of images than I normally would on the blog post to show some of the range of species that we saw. Not all photographic masterpieces, and in some cases a record of the day.

All were shot with the Canon 1Dmk111 and the Canon180f3.5L macro lens, except the White Admiral larvae image which was with the 100mmf.28 macro and MR14EX macro flash


Tatty looking Ringlet

Soldier Beetle

Small White

Silver Washed Fritillary (shame about the grass stems)

Scorpion Fly

Red Tailed Bumble Bee on Teasel head

Painted Lady (another from the many of the latest batch in the UK)

Meadow Brown on Common Knapweed

Poplar Leaf Beetle

Green Veined White

Larvae of the White Admiral (about 2 to 3mm long)

Please post any comments or id updates in the Comments section. For new visitors, if you click on the images they will enlarge, but you need to hit the back button in your browser to get back as they do not open in a separate window.

To just finish the report. When I checked with Metcheck on Sunday morning, rain was forecast for 1300. As we got in the cars to leave at 1300, it started to rain - impeccable timing. Thanks again to all those that turned up and especially to Mike for his time and knowledge


Sunday 26 July 2009

High ISO

Technology never stays still and camera bodies are getting forever more complex and complicated, One thing that has improved wildlife photographers life has been the new bodies with better processors and better quality pixels, This has allowed us to use ISO's that we could never have dreamed of a few years ago, My Canon 1D MK2 was good at ISO 200 and OK at 400, this changed with the 1D MK3 which was good at 400 and OK at 800 and even 1600 in some circumstances was usable-by this i mean no clean backgrounds like sky, Nikon went another step forward by offering a camera with a full frame sensor but with only 12 mp so each pixel was big allowing lots of light to be grabbed and the use of high ISO to be used and usable, being old school and being bought up on film/slide i still try to keep the ISO as low as possible but by having the use of the D3 it has meant that where i would normally be packing up through lack of light i can now carry on by increasing my ISO and still get very usable good quality images, In June i shot late one evening when a marmot sat next to the road,the light was dropping fast and i ended up shooting at ISO1600, i had a clean background and was very careful to make sure that the exposure was as good as i could get by looking at the histogram,This is very important in any shot but more so when you are using a high ISO, any playing around in photoshop to sort the exposure will bring grain out, I was amazed at the results-perfectly clean and no grain,i know that there are noise reduction software out now that are very good but i cant use these for shots going to agencies and i don't really like to use them on fur or feathers, Canons new 5D MK2 is also getting a good name for using high ISO and has nearly twice the pixels-very impressive,but it doesn't matter what you use-if you are going to use high ISO its very important that you get the exposure right in camera and not rely on PS to help you out


Saturday 25 July 2009

Local Patch - a quick update from the garden

One of the delights of the wildlife garden that I have developed over the last twelve months means that when I am very busy with other things in my life such as work, decorating and other chores, a bit of relief back to nature is but half a dozen steps away.

While giving my aching arms and hands a rest (sanding down and painting walls, doors and skirting boards!!!) a quick wander round the garden resulting in seeing numerous butterflies; Large and Small Whites, Green Veined Whites, Peacocks, Brimstones, Painted Ladies, Red Admiral and Gatekeepers. The last three named species recently turning up in more prolific numbers. After the very wet week that we have had, it is good to see the sun bringing out the butterflies again.

Down in the pond most of the little froglets have now dispersed out into the undergrowth, and there are now numerous baby Smooth Newts instead. There are still quite a few adult frogs still there too. Damsels are now fewer in number, but Blue tailed were seen today.

I think there is a hedgehog too - I keep putting out some special food which is disappearing.

Overhead, I saw a male Emperor Dragonfly today looking beautiful in the sunshine.

There are still plenty of Swifts overhead here, despite seeing lots going home, as I reported earlier in the week.

Nothing out of the ordinary in the garden on the bird front at the moment. This is a repeat of last year. Best sightings have been watching the adult Blackbirds feeding their juveniles, which I guess must be their second, or possibly even their third clutch of the year.

I have a trip out with a group of other photographers to the Warwickshire Butterfly Conservation site that I reported on here earlier in the year. It will be interesting to see how things have changed since May

Hope I can bring some images back to share with you later in the week.

In the meantime, here are a couple of images of Painted Lady from about an hour ago in the garden here. That Canon 180 macro is just such a peachy lens.


Friday 24 July 2009

Lens hood and Lens Coat

I received a package from Nikon yesterday and apart from 2 small screws that are back ordered i had all the parts to put the lens hood for my 600VR together, Not a difficult job but very fiddly,The last time i said that they had sent the worlds smallest screws well i was wrong as 2 screws 1/2 the size came yesterday,anyways although i am 2 screws short its still usable, The only problem is that when the hood went flying over the mountain side it had a lens coat on it,Now the lens coat kit for this lens is in about 6 pieces-i only need 1 piece so i contacted lens coat yesterday and explained the situation expecting a 'sorry but we only sell full kits' but the nice people there responded quickly and said that they would in this instance make a custom piece for me, Great customer service from a company making a great product, The lens coats look and feel great-fit well and will over time pay for themselves by protecting your investment, Their range is for ever growing so check out their website here


Thursday 23 July 2009

Persistence pays off

Just every once in a while, we find examples of the persistence and dedication of nature having successful outcomes.

I have been lucky enough to see the fortunes of a pair of Great Crested Grebes at my place of work.

Back at the beginning of the year, we needed to undertake a project to shore up the banking around the lake as it was subsiding. As a nature lover, I was aware, as was the Project Engineer of the breeding pair of Grebes that nest in the affected area.

To that end, he bought a floating island, pre-planted with reeds for it to nest. It was placed about 15 metres away from the previous nest site that was actually within touching distance of a public footpath. This was put in position well before the breeding season and the reeds in the effected area were removed.

However, this didn't deter the Grebes and they promptly built there nest on the open water right next to the footpath.

She sat on eggs for many weeks but it was clearly a failure.

They tried again with the same result!!

By this time, the reeds on the floating island had grown and it was now occupied by a Coot that has fledged a couple of chicks. But they tried for a third time, and happily a couple of weeks ago two little chicks hatched, looking just like little black and white mint humbugs sweets.

So I headed off to the Lake in my lunchtime today and got some images to share with you.

Mum, Dad and the two chicks

Hitchin' a ride a two week old chick just about
outgrowing mum and hanging off the back

Man made floating island with a tiny Coot chick

So with perseverance and dedication, nature has made it. It has been great to see that they were finally successful, despite them ignoring the helping hand that we tried to give them.

As a result of them nesting where they did, our project works were much delayed and are only just commencing at the furthest point away from them.


Wednesday 22 July 2009

Lets Talk

Well today the forums are full of the news that Canon has announced a new 'hybrid' image stabilisation system, Canon are always at the front of breaking edge technology which was the main reason i went with them many years ago-they don't always get it right mind you, I.S is a major leap forward for the photographer in getting 'critically' sharp images, I am a fan of anything that makes my life easier, Canon haven't said what lenses will be the first to come out with this new system ,My guess would be the 100-400 as i think its the weak link in the 'L' lens range, But who knows maybe they will bring out a new lens range-200-400 anybody-that would please many Canon users-more details can be found here
As always i am stuck behind the PC after a trip away-processing is the burden of the modern photographer but the images are far superior than the old days of Slide/Film that i am willing to put up with it, I still put food out in the garden and over the last few days we have had new families of cardinals,tufted titmouse and chickadees so the birds seem to be doing well, We have a new member of the white tailed deer family and whilst striking up the BBQ last night mum came out to eat some corn that i had put out 5 Min's before, followed by a small spotty Bambi so tonight i will set up a remote camera with a wide angle lens and hope they return, We have also had a red shouldered hawk visiting the garden most mornings and it has been landing on a log next to a plastic container that holds water for the birds and animals and has been bathing and drinking from it-its a beauty and this morning it bought a juvenile with it and they sat there for more than 20 Min's until the gardener came and they flew-not before i managed a quick snap shot of the young one-so a hide will go up later today and tomorrow morning i know where i will be-always nice to have something unusual coming into your garden.
A quick note for those using extenders-try not to shoot wide open if you want the best-read sharpest results, Nikon have 3 in their range-1.4x,1.7x and 2x and Canon have the 1.4x and 2x, Now i have used the Canon extenders extensively and they work well if used correctly, The 1.4x has little effect on focusing speed and image quality but i would shoot at least 1 stop over so for a F4 lens that would be F5.6 or F8 for the best results whereas the 2x will slow the AF by 75% and will need to only be used in very good light with a highish ISO for a decent shutter speed,don't forget on the 500 you will have 1000mm of lens so any movement will show so its best used on a beanbag or very low stiff tripod and set the aperture to F8 on a F2.8 lens and F11 on a F4 lens, i would only use the 2X on fast prime lenses and if its possible use a remote release, You can see by this that the 2x is a specialist piece of kit and not for everyday use but its another piece of kit in the armoury that has its uses-if used properly(see kingfisher image below), I have the 1.4x and 1.7x Nikon extenders, I shy ed away from the 2x as i had heard some not so good reports on it, All i can say that if used as described about then the results are great

Tuesday 21 July 2009

News (Sad) - The Swifts are leaving

It only seems like five minutes ago that I wrote this blog posting about the arrival of the Swifts over my house. How time passes quickly.

Today while I was sitting at my PC at work writing up various reports, I glanced out of the window to see many Swifts, quite low over the buildings, in the terrible weather all heading south or southwest. Now I don't usually see Swifts over the office very much so it was an unusual sight. This carried on throughout the day. So it looks like they are heading back south on their exceptionally long migration back to southern Africa.

This lead me to thinking about some of mine and Dave's philosophies about wildlife photography. We have set out to make this an entertaining, educational and generally useful blog for a wide range of readers from a photographic perspective. However, it is also important , if we are genuinely passionate about the natural world to ensure that we understand our subjects, learn about them and increase our knowledge, particularly where circumstances make their lives difficult.

I also recently posted about the RSPB Swift survey that I hope that you responded too - please be quick if you haven't before they have all gone south.

So one of my favourite birds will not be back for another nine months. It seems rather ironic that such a fabulous bird only stays for such a short time.


Monday 20 July 2009

Focus Assist Points

Cameras these days are getting more advanced AF systems and along with that more and more AF points to allow you to compose your image without moving the camera-brilliant, But why use just the 1 AF point when you can use more, I don't mean having them all alight so that the camera grabs what it thinks you want, I mean use the AF assist points, My Nikon D3 and D300 have AF 51 points and i can choose to have 9,21 or 51 assist points to help the main AF point incase the main subject drifts off of the point of focus, I currently have my bird in flight set up using 21 assist points,What does this mean-well the centre focus point tends to be the most accurate and fastest so this grabs the subject first and tracks the subject,if you track a bird and the bird moves off of the centre AF point then the assist points jump in to help keep it in focus, On the Nikon this works very well even with a busy background, I didnt have the same confidence in the Canon 1D3 which grabbed the background at every available oppotunity, I think the last couple of firmware updates have helped with this, Whilst talking of the Canon 1D3/S bodies i feel Canon took a big step backwards when moving from the 45 points of the 1D2 to the 1D3 where they disabled the photographers ability to use all 45, Although there are 45 points some can only be used as assist points-come on Canon give the photographer the right to choose and not be told,I am sure it could be fixed with a firmware upgrade, Anyway back to Nikon-The D300 and D3 bodies have a 51 point 3D tracking where as the centre point works first and then ALL the points automatically track the subject where the AF points dances around the screen whilst keeping the subject in focus-very clever and great for birds in flight against a plain background but i am not sure about a buy one, Have a play with the assist points and find what one works for you, All i can say id that they have saved my bacon on many occasion and allow you to move the subject off of centre giving a better composition, The images below are all taken using the assist points where the main point is the centre one-all are full frame-not the best images in the world but show how without using assist points i would have ended up with an out of focus main subject


Sunday 19 July 2009

Hardware & software - Virtual Screen Res on Netbooks

Well I promised that I would share how you can get 1024 x 768 res on a netbook screen that has a native res of 1024 x 600 when I posted our first guest photographer blog on John Bulpitt on Friday just gone.

I found this after a bit of googling and found that some people were saying this was possible.

Now why would you want more res. than the screen can support. John made the point in his post that certain bits of software need a minimum screen res to run, including some of the Photoshop series, the Canon software and of interest to me is my colour calibration Eye One 2 software.

So here is how you do it.

On the desktop, right click and select properties. On the Settings tab, select Advanced button. Then on the monitor tab untick the box that says 'Hide modes that this monitor cannot display.

Click Apply and OK. Then back to the Display properties window and use the slider to select 1024 x 768 res.

And again Apply and OK.

Now when you see the screen you will either be missing the top or the bottom. Just use the scroll part of the built in mousepad to scroll the screen up and down.

I moved my desktop icons down to ensure I could see them all when using the taskbar and quick launch bar.

Now you may not get on with this but I find it is pretty easy really.

Would be good to get your feedback on how easy you find this.

So finally apologies that none of this is any good for our Mac readers, but you could always upgrade to a PC so you can get the benefits of Breezebrowser :-)


Saturday 18 July 2009

Trip Report-South Carolina 2

Hot and Extremely Humid that about sums up the last few days, I have just arrived home and its nice to be back to less humid conditions, The South Carolina coastline is very pretty but a very busy place,Wildlife only getting a look in in designated areas, The area i was first in was better for photography and its a shame i didn't get more time there but its noted and i will make it back at some time, I managed a couple of sessions there and it was very successful and you had chances of shots every couple of minutes so you could get the standard shots and have plenty of opportunities for arty farty shots as well, As i said before i chose the D300 over the D3+1.4x as the AF is faster without the extender and D3 combo and IQ is great under ISO400, I am old school and still try to keep the ISO as low as possible although last week i processed a couple of images taken at high ISO with the D3 and its very impressive and i will come to this in a later blog,The skies were clear so only the first hour or more after sunrise would be worth shooting in as the light after this was harsh although i did some back lit flight shots that worked OK in Bright light, I set the D300 to ISO 400 which is the max that i use it for and this gave a shutter speed of 1/500 or more which was adequate for what i wanted and the wimberley Gimbal head worked perfectly with the 600 F4 making my life very easy for tracking birds, The birds were feeding in the mud next to the river and with the sun behind me i could focus on the trees next to the river so as soon as the birds flew over the on the way back to the nests i was already focused and could track them from distance and shoot when i felt they were a good size in the frame, Even if the birds were closer than the trees by the time i saw them the AF snapped on to them, I would rather focus at distance and then lock onto something closer than focus close and then try to grab a distant subject if that makes sense,
So that's another state pinned on the map and a big thank you to my buddies for allowing me to stay with them and show me around


Friday 17 July 2009

Guest Photographer - John Bulpitt FRPS

Today is the first of what will hopefully be a new features for Wildlife Photography across the Water with our first guest photographer slot on the blog.

John Bulpitt read this article I posted back in February and contacted me ahead of a trip he made to Africa earlier this year and we got into dialogue about digital storage. But before John's story her a few details and background on John.

John's Bio

I have been a keen sports photographer for more than 20 years and gained my RPS Fellowship in 2003 with a panel of athletics/track and field prints. More recently I have diversified into nature and street photography. Most action pics are taken with a Canon 1D mkII with either a 70-200f2.8L (often with a 1.4 converter) or a 300f4 IS. A Canon 40D is used for more static subjects.

I enter many National and International exhibitions and am an enthusiastic member of Cambridge Camera Club, click on the Gallery for some of my sports pics. If you can take sharp images of Greyhounds, birds in flight are straightforward!

John now takes up the story below with his article that was published in summer 2009 edition of "The Iris", the magazine of the Nature Group of the RPS.

Storing Digital Images on the move

On a recent trip to Tanzania with Mark Hamblin of Wildshots, I took about 8000 images. Some may find this excessive, but as a photographer whose main interest is action photography in all it's manifestations, I tend to hit the motordrive and only stop when the Bar opens. In any event, it does raise the question of how you back up and store digital images on a "big" trip. Over the past five years I have tried four different solutions. If I knew then what I know now my kids would (eventually) be far better off.

One could take a pocket full of CF cards. I tend to use Sandisk Extreme 11, 4GB cards and shooting in RAW on a Canon 1DmkII would need about 20 of these for the trip described above.

At the time of writing (April 1st appropriately) these would cost about £280 from Amazon. You could argue that fewer are needed because of the facility to edit in camera but I would counsel against this. You can't really see what you are doing and it can corrupt the card. However, the main drawback with total reliance on CF cards is that you can not take full advantage of the benefit of digital the facility to review a day's shoot and learn any lessons that need to be learnt in preparation for the next day. There are cheap CF cards but I wouldn't go there personally. You could also buy bigger capacity cards but I would be nervous about having too many eggs in one basket as it were.

The second possibility is a photo viewer. I think that today this is the most expensive solution. The Epson P4000 costs about £390 and holds 80GB. Other than cost I also believe that this can be the worse solution out of the four options outlined in this article. You can not back up and hard drives do fail. you cannot edit other than delete and downloading takes about 15 minutes for a 4GB card. Moreover the battery has a relatively small capacity. It will download two 4GB cards, but not three which can be a problem in places with an intermittent power supply.

Then there is the laptop. This may not involve additional expenditure because many of you may already own one. You can back up onto an external hard drive, DVD's or a number of 16Gb pen drives. it will also take imaging software, But of course Hard drives can fail..... The main drawback is that it takes a big chunk of your carry on baggage allowance and opportunist thieves can spot them from a thousand paces.

The final option and the one I have now decided on is the Netbook. Essentially this is a very small laptop. I have bought the Samsung NC10 (£380 from John Lewis with a 2 year warranty). It has a 160GB hard drive and comes with a 1GB RAM, but I have upgraded to a 2GB (about £20 from Amazon) I back up onto a Seagate external portable hard drive. £75 from PC World a few months ago but you can buy similar products today a much lower price. It all fits very easily into the outside pocket of my camera rucksack.

Of course the hard drive can fail... you know the story now! And it will not load Canon software because the screen resolution is 1024 x 600 and not 1024 x 768***. But it will take Breezebrowser pro (free 15 day trial download available). This enables me to review my images quickly but a full edit would be a bit of a fiddle and cuts down on drinking time. if you are still with me you may have concluded that there is no perfect solution and this is where i have got to, But in my view, the best solution at present is the Netbook plus a lot of CF cards.

I am most grateful to RPS Nature group member Martin Dyer for his help with my Netbook purchase and configuration. Martin co authors what, in my view, is the best wildlife photography website around.

Thanks for that John....... and of course we are most grateful for the kind words about our blog.

*** Note: I (Martin) have found a way round this now and will report in a couple of days time on how to get 1024 x 768 res. and unlock other programs.

And now for a few of John's favourite images. So for all lovers of African wildlife, here are some great images.

Taken in Ndutu where the migration reaches full swing on Jan/Feb. Shutter speed of 1/30th. Pan and blur is not easy from a Landcruiser!

Lake Manyara NP where unlike Ndutu you cannot drive off road. I think that backlighting often works well with small mammals but doesn't suit every subject.

Ngorogoro crater. Good numbers of these birds scavenge around the picnic area. The tatty tail feathers tell you that this bird spends a lot of time on the ground

Ndutu - my favourite place in Africa. We came across a mother and four cubs on four consecutive days and were able to photograph many different behaviours.

Lake Manyara. We saw the bird go into it's nest hole and hoped it would emerge quickly as we were blocking the road

Well many thanks for that great article John and the fabulous images. It looked like you had a great trip.

So finally a note to other wildlife photographers. If you would like to feature as a guest photographer, please tell us about yourself, send us some images and we will get you on the blog. Use the comments box if you want to contact us (remember we don't need to publish your contact note as the comments are moderated - so we won't be telling the world).

Thanks again John


Thursday 16 July 2009

Trip Report-South Carolina

Finally-Internet access, I have just spent a couple of days in Southern South Carolina, My friends had the chance to use a house free of charge and were kind enough to ask me along, So a social/photographic trip in one,Very much a splash and dash, No real time to search for places to go but i did notice a sign to a wildlife preserve close to the house so spent a couple of mornings there,First thing as the light rises quickly and gets harsh, The preserve had a couple of lakes/ponds with egrets/herons, Ospreys etc, The egrets and herons were very densely populated so lots of squabbles and fighting, Birds constantly flying in and out so bird in flight shots were the order of the day, I did try to get some original type shots not just a bird against a blue sky but tried various things both front and back lit, I used the Nikon D300 as i feel this still to be the best camera body available for this type of work, I shot in manual mode all the time metering off of the tress or sky and used the 600F4 VR, Image quality from this combo is very sharp and the AF is quick to grab the subject and stays with it,I have now moved to Northern South Carolina and will be here for 2 days so time to get out and explore ready for the morning session, One thing i will say is that South Carolina is a beautiful place but so far extremely humid, The first morning i made the mistake of having the AC on in the car and the camera/lens took an hour to de mist as soon as i got out of the car it was a wall of heat-probably 85% plus humidity, I haven't been anywhere like that since being in the jungles of Sumatra, Today i didn't make the same mistake and could shoot almost straight away


Wednesday 15 July 2009

Trip Report - South Carolina

Dave is currently shooting in South Carolina and can not gain access to the internet until tomorrow.
The blog will be update by Dave tomorrow.

Apologies to all our followers.


Tuesday 14 July 2009

News (sad) - Sea Eagles on Mull update

I posted this story a few days ago which was good news at the time.

Well I received an email from the Isle of Mull Bird Club today with the sad news that chick no.1 at the RSPB Loch Frisa site has died. He was retrieved from under the nest site a couple of days ago by the Dave Sexton, RSPB Officer on Mull.

This bird had appeared to fledge early, approximately one and half weeks early. A post mortem will be carried out but it is thought possible that it had fallen out, and sustained an injury.

The good news is that the second chick now fledged normally and is being fed by it's parents in the usual place. So if you are on Mull over the next few weeks, good views can still be had from the hide. Details can be found here.

Mustn't forget to mention my good friends Pam and Arthur Brown who run wildlife tours with Discover Mull, and have never yet not seen Sea Eagles when I have been out with them.

And on a final note it is Happy 70th Birthday to my Mum today - have a good one Mum


Monday 13 July 2009

Tips and Techniques- Use of wireless multi flash

Once again i will back up Martins last post about the use of remote wireless flash use,A couple of years ago i spent a very nice summer shooting European Badgers at night,Badgers suffer from 'white eye' if the lights are on camera so need to be set away from the camera/lens set up. I started off using the 2 EX550 flashguns that i had,both in front of the subject and one to either side of the camera, This was OK but gave a 'studio' feel to the shot so i bought 2 more flashguns so that i had 2 in front of the subject and 2 behind lighting up the background, This gave more depth to the image rather than just having a black background,I was shooting with Canon gear at the time using the ST-E2 to trigger the flashguns that had been set as 'slaves', the set up i had for badgers was 1 flashgun set about 4 feet each side of the camera-1 being about 5 feet high shooting down and 1 set low to the ground, The idea being to light the badger from above with the high light and the low light would lighten underneath the chin, I would look through the viewfinder and see what needed to be lit behind and set the lights up accordingly,A simple but effective set up, I had the ST-E2 set up on a L bracket so i could swap from landscape to portrait without affecting the trigger,The focusing was set to manual and i would prefocus whilst it was still light on a small amount of food that i had carefully placed,

I also used Canons 20D instead of the 1D MK2 that i had at the time as the shutter was much quieter and was less likely to spook the animal-today i would use the 1D3 if i still use Canon as it has a brilliant silent shutter mode,
You can trigger 'slave' flashguns by having a 'master' gun set up on the camera but i preferred this set up for what i was doing at the time, I still have yet to get a Nikon equivalent but its on the list


Sunday 12 July 2009

Tips & Techniques - Use of Wireless Multi Flash

I mentioned sometime ago about the use of wirelessly triggered flash to light subjects. My most recent use of this was on Mull to light a Sword Leaved Helleborine, in dark conditions in the wind, so I needed to keep fast shutter speeds but wanted to maintain a naturally lit feel to it. I will do a more detailed blog on it in the near future.

In the meantime, here is a setup that I used about twenty months. I had organsised a trip to a bird of prey centre in Wales for a few friends. Our subject were all British Birds of Prey and I wanted to place the subjects in the most natural settings possible.

For this shot, we took the Barn Owl into an old derelict barn to represent his natural roosting place. To get a balanced light, we needed to use a wireless multi flash set up.

This consisted of the Canon STE2 wireless trigger - we only had one between the nine of us so we had to share it around. We set up three 580EX flashheads - two either side, strapped to the barn beams and pointed up to the barn ceiling, which was fortunately quite light in colour. This ensured the light was reflected from what was essentially a large reflector rather than point sources. This was critical for the welfare of the bird - we did not want to flash directly into his eyes. A third 580 EX was set up on my monopod behind the bird just to put a little light on to the rear wall to provide a more even balance.

How did that stay upright on a monopod I hear you say? I have the little pull out microphone style feet built into the bottom on my Manfrotto so that it can self support.

Minor success with this last week - it got me a third place in the Advanced Digital Merit at Smethwick Photo Society.

I would never use this is a Natural History section as it is a captive bird, but for general photographic competition entries it is fine.


Saturday 11 July 2009

Nikon 600F4 VR Lenshood

As i mentioned a few weeks ago when shooting in Colorado at 14000 feet i lost the end section (its in 2 pcs) of my 600,s lens hood, After numerous phone calls to Nikon's not too friendly parts department in California i was told that if i want just the end piece i will need to buy it in kit form otherwise pay $800 for both pieces fully made up and ready to go.Well i only need one piece but cant understand why i have to put it together myself,surely there is a person in japan who's job that is, Anyway for $349 i have the pleasure in doing it myself, I was told that not all the parts are in so that they would send what they had, So last week a small package arrived and inside was-see below

11 pieces out of the 17 needed to make the whole lens hood,One of the packets in the above image has 2 of the worlds smallest screws

This looks like its going to be fun to put together-NOT
I think i have found the chink in Nikon's Armour here in the spare parts, I understand that replacing 1 part of a 2 part lens hood is a rarity but come on at least for that kind of money have it in one piece
I now wait for the rest of the parts and hope it wont be long but i wont hold my breathe-To be continued


Friday 10 July 2009

Welcome to 'The Iris' readers

Many thanks to John Bulpitt FRPS for the mention of this blog in The Iris, the excellent magazine of The Royal Photographic Society Nature Group.

So if you have found us from John's article, welcome to the blog.

Please have a look back in the archives to check out our tips and techniques, gear reports, news - just use the tags at the bottom of the posts to find related articles.

Any feedback will be most welcomed.


News - Sea Eagles on Mulls

One of my favourite wildlife news sites is carrying a great little story with some images of this years Sea Eagle chicks on Mull here. As a regular visitor to Mull, it is great top see such close images. The photographer, who I met once is fortunate enough to be involved in the ringing programme and is therefore Schedule 1 licensed.

For the rest of us, they are difficult subjects to get close up images of, and you have to be patient and lucky, to be in the right place, should they happen to fly by you.

I happen to chance on these in years gone by - sadly not close enough or detailed enough, but some happy memories of great wildlife moments.