Friday 31 December 2010

Nikon D7000 AF-Florida

As you know i have had the D7000 a few months now and am very happy with it, The 'hot pixel' problems that people were complaining about in various forums have been fixed by the latest firmware update, I had 4 hot pixels when i looked at the video in a dark room but they did not bother me as i dont use the video function, Now that the firmware update is installed the pixels have been mapped out and all is well with the world,
When i was in Florida just before Xmas i used the D7000 to shoot birds at the beach, A mixed bag ranging from egrets to gulls,skimmer and grackles, I thought that it would be a good test for the D7000's AF system especially the grackles which are about the size of a European blackbird, I didn't spend to much time trying the grackles but the camera did nail a few and performed very well overall

As i had my wife with me it was not an out and out shoot, I just set up and as when birds flew by i just snapped away, The pelican was actually taken at a local lake to where we were staying, We were taking a drive and happen to stop at a scenic area when i noticed the pelican in the distance dropping down to grab some fish, As it got closer i grabbed the camera which was set up on the back seat and grabbed some shots-very opportunistic photography, The top grackle image is probably only 40-50% of the image, The rest have small crops or are full frame

Hope that where ever you are in the world that you have a great and safe New Years and a successful 2011


Thursday 30 December 2010

Review of the Year - Part 2 - February

We bought you a total of 48 posts in February.  As many as any other month, so not bad for the shortest month of the year.  We were clearly in chatty mood this month

Dave started the month off bringing us Deer and Beaver in this post, while later in the month, I popped across to the Forset of Dean looking for Hawfinch, but found Crossbills instead, along with a beautiful little Mandarin Duck.

Looking back through the month, we were clearly in techie gizmo mode judging by the number of posts on the subjects with plenty on the Nikon D3S and the Canon 1Dmk4 as a result of their previous recent launches.

Meanwhile, I wrote a couple of articles based on hands on ownership with the 7D on general handling and also the AF system.  I have been very happy with it this year as it has proved to be a significant upgrade from the 1Dmk3 on many levels.  I know lots of people have poo poo'ed it, but generally they are people who have never picked one up.  I was very sceptical when it was announced as the claims being made on paper were the same that Canon made for the 50D.  But having lived with mine for 9 months now, and Jacqui had one a good few months before me, I can definitely say it has been a great camera.

Here is a Sparrowhawk that called by in the garden shot with the 7D

To see all of our posts from February, here are the archives.

A total of 908 visitors dropped by for a total of 2525 visits from 43 countries.

Back next time with March


Wednesday 29 December 2010

Success and Failures

Whats wrong with this image?
Yep you have guessed it, There isn't a fox or Raccoon to be seen, Two nights and 10 long and cold hours sat in a hide with barely a movement and nothing to show for it except some test shots when setting the flashguns up, The image above has 3 flashguns making all the light, The snow is now patchy and pretty much gone where i put bait so for me very disappointing, I do hope we get more snow soon, But that's the 2nd time we have had snow in the last couple of weeks and both times the wildlife did a no show, You would have thought they would have turned up early and hungry but no nothing to show but an aching back, All you can do in these situations is preserver and learn, By doing that results will come-eventually, Patience is a wildlife photographers best friend, Its something i normally have very little of but i believe in myself and that what i am doing is right so in my mind its just a matter of time. I can guarantee that as soon as the snow is gone the fox and raccoon will be feeding between 6.30 and 8pm, All that time was not wasted, As we don't have many days here with snow it gave me a a chance to play with the flashguns-3 SB600's and see what settings i needed so as not to blow the whites/snow, Fox especially red fox have a couple of white patches on the end of the nose, These are very easy to blow out so good exposure is essential, I put some corn out close to the hide and the deer came both nights and fed, i like to do this for 2 reasons, firstly having other wildlife close by should reassure any other wildlife in the area and secondly if the deer stay and feed it shows that i am silent and that any odour i may give out is trapped in the hide-both very important, It also gives me something to watch whilst waiting for my target specie, I enjoy my time in the hide at night as in many ways its like being blind and although i do have light its just in front of me, My senses take over and my hearing is on constant alert for anything outside of the light, I normally hear the wildlife way before i see it, I knew that night photography would be a big part of my photography here in NC as the mammals normally like to move around when the temperatures cool off which is normally after sunset, Its another dimension and an added challenge which i am glad to take up 
When i was in Florida i spent an afternoon shooting birds in flight with the D7000, I did it to test out the AF and see if was was as good as the D300, See my next blog for the results


Tuesday 28 December 2010

Review of the Year - Part 1 - January

We started off the year with a catch up from our previous years review, and moved on to some trip reports.  Dave went to New Jersey,clearly had a great time and bought us some great images in seven parts.

I went more local for a couple of day trips and caught some Short Eared Owls and some waterfowl from Slimbridge from the daytime, and Starlings flocking at sunset.

As usual there were plenty of news stories from te world of wildlife, and photo gear, along with a few thoughts on the news that the Wildlife Photographer of the Year was stripped of his crown for basically cheating.  Having seen a lot of dodgy practice in the camera club and exhibition photo world in the past, it is something I am quite happy not to be involved with.

Anyway, 804 of you visited a total of 2401 times and from 42 countries.

The whole archive for January can be seen here if you want a trip down memory lane.

Back with Feb next time

Monday 27 December 2010

White Christmas

Snow was predicted to fall on Christmas afternoon here in Raleigh, White Christmas's here are pretty much unheard of and last year it was 71 degrees, But they were right and early evening it started and carried on until i went to bed around midnight, It was very light snow and i didn't have much faith that the predicted 2-6'' would happen, I opened my bedroom blinds on Boxing day (26th) and it was still snowing and we did get around 7'', Now i don't need many excuses to get the camera out when it snows, Its my favourite condition, A giant reflector meaning no shadows, My dog Alfie loves snow and was soon out playing in it, He loves to try and catch snowballs so is an easy target when photography comes into the equation, We had a 20 mins play before he doubled in size due to the amount of snow stuck to him then i set about planning the night shoot, I want grey fox and in the 'desperately' we dont get much snow here so my chances are limited, The last time it snowed i waited 5 hrs in the blind and although the fox came it was nervous around the tripods that held my flashguns, So yesterday i found some tiny tripods and put 2 of the 3 flashguns on these then wrapped the legs in white material to help camouflage them, Another 5 cold hours in the hide and nothing, A couple of deer made an appearance but the fox.,opossum and raccoons stayed away-it was like a ghost town, Very disappointing but i am hoping that there will still be enough snow around tonight to give it another go-fingers crossed
Here are a few of Alfie having a great time

I used the D3s with a 70-200 and 1.4x, I set the camera to manual, took a couple of shots until the snow started to blow out then dialled back 1/3

Hope to have some stories of success in my next blog, Until then carry on enjoying the holidays


Sunday 26 December 2010

Strewth - its was cold today

Jac and I walked into Stratford yesterday for Christmas lunch to see large slabs of ice on the moving River Avon.  It hit a max. of minus 5 dec C yesterday and dropped down to to minus 17 dec C  overnight for the second night running.

I took myself out first thing with a couple of cameras down to the river, with the temperature about minus 12.  Well the river was now just about frozen solid, with just a couple of small areas of water where all the birds had congregated.  This had bought in more Goosander, Great Crested Grebe, and another first for this year, Pochard.
The temperatures were killing the old 5D batteries in no time, even with taking them out of the camera and putting them in my gloves.  The much newer battery technology in the 7D coped so much better, with just one coping with the temperatures for all the time without taking it out of the battery grip.

As I have said before this really is a life and death struggle for wildlife, particularly the small birds.  Even I was surprised to see a Mute Swan had not survived.

Given my movements today, I am not able to share the images I took, but will bring them as soon as I practically can.

I hope you are coping with the extreme weather, if you have been suffering with it wherever you live, and I hope Santa bought all the things you were hoping for.

After a good few days of extremely low temperatures, even the Bee Em wouldn't start in the extreme temperatures first thing, as the diesel had got too cold, and emulsified.......that is bad for the UK.

At least it is starting to warm up now, thank goodness.


Saturday 25 December 2010

Merry Xmas

A very Merry Xmas from North Carolina, A very big thank you to all of you that take time to read our ramblings and to all those who take time to comment
We have snow forecast here today which would be the topping on the cake


Merry Christmas to all of our readers

Well here are my best wishes to all of our readers across the world on Christmas Day.

If you celebrate this day with your religion wherever you are in the world, I trust you will have a peaceful and great day with whoever you are sharing it with.

Dave and I have been blessed with a total of 17,677 individual visitors to the blog this year, so to each and every one of you, here are best wishes and trust that you have enjoyed our  efforts here and come back and check in with us, and also that you have a prosperous and Happy 2011.



Friday 24 December 2010

Two firsts today in Stratford

The first first was a this years first.  We had the first Brambling of all of this year in the garden today - a female popped in with the many Chaffinches to take some of the large amount of seed that is out in the garden.  It was great to see one of these back with us. The first time in three years.

The second first was an all time first for me here in Stratford.  Walking back over the bridge in town  half an hour ago, I saw two female Goosanders on the river.  Their distinctive sawbills with the little downturn hook on them showing very well.  To think I had to fly out to Switzerland three years ago to photograph these with Dave too.

One of them came up with a fish and promptly got hassled by a dozen screaming Black Headed Gulls, but it managed to swallow its prey and avoid the mugging.

As I have said on a couple of previous blogs, the extreme weather throws up some interesting wildlife anomalies.  Let us know what you are seeing in your area that is different from the norm.

A Christmas message from me will be posted tomorrow.


Florida days 4+5-Swimming with Giants

I decided to go back to Kings Spring on Wednesday, The day before had been soo addictive i was on a real high, I kept relaying the experience to my wife who couldn't come on the boat as we had the dog with us, I have been shooting wildlife for more years than i can remember and have had the pleasure of close encounters with numerous endangered species as well as some memorable times with common species but to have a close and i mean close encounter with a huge mammal is amazing but the thing that makes its fairly unique is the interaction between you and the manantee, You can get close to bear,tigers, lions etc but thats it, here you have more than that, eye to eye contact and touch make this amazing, The way that they come up to you and look you in the eye from a few inches like they are either trying to tell you something or are trying to read your mind is incredible, I made a friend at kings spring, It was a barnacle covered female, I again was the first to get to the spring and clear water, 3 manatees came straight over and checked me out, One being the barnacle cover one-i called here Barnacle Betty-dont ask me why we always have to name something but it seemed apt, Two of the 3 had some interaction with me and left, Betty stayed and when i swam off she came with me, If and when i had other mantees with me she would nudge me for a tummy rub, At one point i swam off and left her and had 2 other manatee right in front of me and all of a sudden Betty swam under me and decided to surface, problem was i was above her, I had here pretty much to myself for an hour, A few times 'the pod' got together and surrounded me, Side by side with 2 large Manatees like bouncers in a nightclub, Manatees infront and behind and also below, Nothing else to do but float, nowhere to go, the big females are 1500lb+ so no chance of moving them out of the way, The water at Kings Spring is very green, quite clear over the spring but murky elsewhere when there are so many manatees in one area, I tried my hardest to stay right over the spring, If you are there just to swim with the manatees then anywhere in the kings spring area will give you the thrill of a lifetime as the manatees come so close visibility doesn't matter but for photography some more clarity is nice so a very small area over the spring became my place whilst i was there, My wife's back clicked out that morning so we spent the afternoon relaxing and grabbing some much needed sleep, The weather had clouded up anyway and became windy so i dont think i missed anything
One thing i think i should mention is that i don't really like water and am not a strong and confident swimmer yet i have no problem of snorkelling for a couple of hours with the manatees, The water is fresh which is a bonus, the wet suit allows plenty of buoyancy and as long as you breathe normally and relax its easy, I am not sure you will be getting me cave diving or even deep sea diving but never say never,
Thursday morning and its my last day with the manatees, i arrived early and got changed, I had a chat with the captains and they asked where i would like to go, there were 3 boats of people so very busy, i said that although Kings spring was the business and that 3 sisters had been fairly quiet and cloudy the day before i felt it was the best place to offer good clear water if the conditions were good so the other boats were sent to kings spring and just the one boat went to 3 sisters, On arrival there were manatees everywhere but leaving the area, a couple came up the boat as soon as we stopped, the group stayed with them as i shot off up stream to try and get some good clear water shots, problem was there was plenty of dirty water coming down from the spring above, a couple of manatees-mother and daughter had a play and as the light was still low i had a play without thought of shooting, I went up to the spring before anybody else and turned right at the top, The water quality was dreadful and you could barely see the bottom which looked like a battleship graveyard, hundreds of sleeping manatees strewn all over the bottom, They look dead when you first see one and they look extremely creepy, I made my way to the far side of the spring, it was like swimming in gravy-zero visibility although a lot of nose and tails were breaking the surface, They had started to mate as the weather had warmed the water, I left the spring down the very narrow inlet to the main river, some manatees were heading down as well and you have to pull over and give them the right of way, at the bottom our group had decided to move up into the spring which left me on my own and soon the water started to become crystal clear, The mother and calf came and went, the mother being very playful and i would try to manoeuvre away from her and get the sun behind me and wait as she came from distance out of the murk and into the clear water, The group came down after 30 minutes and most had had enough and got out and dressed, i stayed another hour mainly on my own and enjoying fairly decent light and water quality, It was my best day photographically by far, nearly as good as i had hoped, The wardens were out in force and i made sure that i never got between the mother and calf although at some points that was very difficult, I went and said good moring to a few of them-doesn't hurt to let them know that i knew i was being watched, there is even a remote camera surveying the area all the time-big brother is watching
Once we had finished i changed and said my goodbyes to the captains Donna,Chris and Rhonda who were amazing and left, Packed the car and we left and stopped in Savannah Georgia for the night to break the journey up
The end of an extremely magical week, Its very tiring and i am looking forward to getting back into my own bed and enjoy the Xmas break
Here are a few from the last couple of days,Again quickly processed on my laptop

Barnacle Betty

They love anchor ropes and suck on them, using them abit like dental floss, Even if you dont get in the water you still get superb views of the manatees

Sorry for waffling on but as you tell these creatures get me very excited and i can wait to get back and shoot them again

Thursday 23 December 2010

A few quick thoughts

Having finished work now for the rest of the year, it is time to enjoy a festive break.  We will keep the blog going over the break, as we have done since we started and managed to post everyday for nearly two years now.

The cold weather here in the UK has been playing havoc with a lot of the wildlife, and Ii was while travelling to work by train a couple of days ago in very bleak conditions, I was reminded of the life and death struggle that our wildlife faces, while the stupid humans who like to hear their own voices on the media were busy trying to blame politicians for the snow.

Anyway, this story here tells a sad tale about the plight of barn owls at these times when they will struggle to find their prey.  It will be the same for many Kingfishers too where their sources of water have become frozen over.  On a local canal near me, they didn't recover this year from last years winter.

We have been getting through the sacks of seed in our garden and it is pleasing to see so many birds in.  If you are going to feed them, particularly over the Christmas period, there is an important story here that I am sure you will be aware of, but it is worth repeating anyway.

I will start writing my 12 part review of the best parts of this last year next, so look out for that.  Well most other news feeds do that sort of thing at this time of year, so why should we be different?

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Florida days 2+3-Swimming with Giants

Firstly i have to say that this is a very special place, To be in the water with the Manatees is something thats difficult to describe, Sometimes a touch intimidating and sometimes very touching and intimate, Monday i was at the dive shop at 6am and found that i was 1 of 19, I was a bit gutted as i wasnt expecting so many people, We went to 3 sisters spring, I had huge hopes for this place but found that as its tidal the manatees would not be in the actual spring until the afternoon, not a problem as there were plenty of manatees at the base area which was only about 4 feet deep, The water was gin clear-for a few minutes, Then about 30 people entered the water, some kids who had not snorkelled before and either stood up or splashed about, The result was that within minutes the gin clear water was full of particles and the photography got very frustrating and difficult, I went up stream on my own to get away from the masses but the manatees preferred the warm water of the springs, there was no problem in getting close to the manatees but out of 300 images only a handful were clear and ok, It was a great experience to be close again to the manatees but after my last trip i had extremely high expectations, In the afternoon we explored the area and went to the nearest beach where i took a few bird images, A tri coloured heron was the highlight,
Tuesday was going top be even busier and after a chat with the dive shop we agreed to miss out on the easy option of the 3 sisters spring and play the wild card-kings spring, I had good results here last April and although the manatees can be hit or miss its much deeper-10-12 feet on average with a few areas around 4-5feet, So even if people kicked and flapped around the bottom would not be stirred up, Monday i was first in and last out after 2.5 hours in the water but i suffered from cramp twice which made me stand up, that would not be an option in deeper water, Luckily i warmed up properly and the cramp stayed away, I was first in again and swam towards the gap between the springs, Surprisingly the water was dark green and cloudy by the boat, It was also cold, The nights had been frosty but the water at the springs was 72 degrees so felt warm, As i made my way towards the spring it started to get warmer, The spring was about 100 yards from the boat, I made it to the spring about 10 minutes before the next person, I could hear the manatees under the water, a bit like a dolphin but couldnt see any, Suddenly there was a bang in my side which shit me up somewhat and when i looked over there was a huge female inches from me, The light was still very low-1/13 at F8 and ISO 800, I took some shots over the next 30mins which were all deleted, I found an area right over the spring that was very clear, I ended up with about 20 manatees around me, when i say around i mean i had them swimming under me, i had them i front and behind and i also had 1 nibbling my flipper and one holding one of my arms, It can be intimidating at first but i actually felt like i was swimming in a pod of whales, Huge animals making me feel very small indeed, A couple of the babies were very playful, One came over and put its flippers around my arm and pulled me in and held me face to face, Its mouth actually touching my face mask, Amazing and as i said sometimes very intimate, They look you straight in the eye and when you rub their tummies their eyes roll back and they obviously really enjoy the interaction, It was a much better day even though there were so many in a small area that shooting them was difficult, I will go back to the same area tomorrow, One of the problems is that you are dictated by other 'tourists', Once everybody is done and out of the water they get cold and want to leave, Monday i was in for 2.5 hours, Tuesday i managed 1.5 hrs before it was time to go,I am glad i have 4 sessions and wish for more, After the morning session with the manatees i went back to the beach to shoot some of the gull and skimmers and get some sunset shots over the gulf

This looks strange but the story is, The guy is standing there when the manatee comes along and waits behind him, He does nothing as he didnt see it, The manatee ends uo bumping into the guy-more than once until he stroked its back, it then rolled over and laid on the bottom as he rubbed its tummy, Some people say the public hassle the manatees-this shows it can be the other way

I know the horizon is a tad off, I can easily correct when i am on my desk top


Tuesday 21 December 2010

A few more from the weekend

While Dave is off in the warm weather of Florida, it remains sub zero and very snowy here in the Warwickshire.  So here are another few shots in my snowy garden from the weekend.

 Female Blackbird - too many stops of dynamic range for digital to handle still.  Either detail in blacks and burned out whites, or underexposed blacks for correct whites.   Note lots and lots of seeds out

 Female Chaffinch all plumped up against the cold

Wood Pigeon waiting for me to put some more seeds out

The Male Great Spotted Woodpecker came in as well to but light really disappeared and shutter speeds too low for 500 + 1.4EFTC and 1.6 crop to cope with even at ISO 3200.

It is winter solstice here today in the Northern Hemisphere, so here's a cheer to the daylight hours getting longer from hereon in


Monday 20 December 2010

Florida day 1

We made our way down from Raleigh North Carolina in Friday to Crystal River Florida on Friday, It took an epic 11 hours, We had torrential rain through North Carolina, South Carolina and way into Georgia, We also got caught up in an accident where somebody left the road and took some trees out before landing upside down, The car was flat and had some wheels missing, It didnt look good for anybody in there, I am writing this late Sunday as i am out very early tomorrow with the manatees and will then be pretty busy in the afternoon, Today (Sunday) we went down to Fort De Soto-about 1hr 45mins south, I was there in the spring and it was amazing, Today it was very cloudy and very windy, There was next to nothing at the North beach except wind surfers and after checking out various places we decided to move to the East side, There were plenty of ospreys and Kestrel around but the sky was white and bland and i didnt think that there was much point in spending time taking shots that i already had better of,So a few snaps and away, We went right to the end of the island and luckily there were some shore birds huddled up out of the wind, I got down low using the skimmer pod and edged my way towards the birds using long grass as cover, I did manage to get some images but you know what its like, The light was low,everything was grey even the water so i grabbed some images with the D7000,600 and a 1.4x, The weather looks good Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and even though i have paid for Wednesday i may bow out and do something else as its pointless shooting manatees in bad light, Lifes too short and sometimes you just have to think-well i am here to get GOOD shots not just go through the motions


Sunday 19 December 2010

North Uist on the Box

Check out a Countryfile special on the box tonight.  Fleet of foot Matt Baker of  'Strictly' fame will be reporting from North Uist on BBC 2 at 1800


Winter Draws on

The UK has been getting a lot of snow this winter, but here in the West Midlands, or more precisely Warwickshire it has passed us by......until yesterday that is, when a narrow belt went through here and down through as far as the south east.  We had about 10 to 12cm of snow and a low of about -17 deg C overnight

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the extremes of weather changes your local wildlife, and it was no exception here.  Walking on the recreation ground in Stratford yesterday afternoon as the snow was coming down, |I saw a first for round these parts.  An Oystercatcher got up from the muddy area around a small flowing brook that feeds the River Avon.  I guess it was grubbing around for worms and other such like.  Well it was a surprise to see it.

We have been seeing lots of Fieldfare and Redwings around us and I managed to get some images on a walk first thing this morning.  All a bit distant as I used my walkaround kit of 7D, 300f4 IS L and 1.4 EFTC.  A nice lightweight combo, but obviously missing the firepower length of the 500.


 Frosted Cow Parsley Head


A female Great Spotted Woodpecker also popped into the garden first thing.  Light was poor and these were taken at ISO1600, but it was great to see and get a few record grab shots.  A beautiful male Bullfinch was also present but sadly not close enough for an image.

It made a pleasant change to pick the camera up again after a few 'weeks off'


Saturday 18 December 2010

On the Road

Just a quick one from me today, As you read this i will probably be on the i95 heading towards Florida, Plans are as follows, Saturday arrive in the afternoon, settle in and have a nose around the area, Sunday up early and grab some breakfast then head down to have a chat with the Manatee guys to make sure all is ok then head down the coast towards St Petersburg for the afternoon and evening shoot-birds on the coast-Monday through to thursday i will be spending my mornings with Manatees hopefully then some afternoon shooting somewhere along the coast-Friday head home for Xmas, So just a short trip but i really hope it will be productive, I have images in my head that i want and will just wait it out until it happens, The batteries are fully charged, The gear is cleaned and packed,I have had the underwater housing soaking in the bath for 8 hours to make sure that its still water tight-it is, I really must make a list as i always forget something-maybe a new years resolution, Keep your fingers crossed for me-The weather looks pretty good for the week-sunny and high 60,s so if it does what they say i wont be complaining


Friday 17 December 2010

Butterflies on the Box

Regular readers will know that I love attracting and photographing butterflies in my garden, and also seeing them out in the wider habitat.  While this is a bit short notice, there is a great programme on BBC2 in a few minutes on British Butterflies.  So set your HDD recorders, watch it live or if you miss it check out the iPlayer and catch up with it.


Thursday 16 December 2010

Taking Birds in Flight

Bird photography has always been popular but more so now than ever people want to get the bird in flight, The smaller fast birds like swallows and hummingbirds may need a specialist set up using multi flash and even beam triggers to catch the moment, For the rest of use that shoot the more common birds like wildlfowl and raptors things are a lot easier, The basics are still the same i.e get a good exposure and use a shutter speed fast enough to either freeze the bird or slow enough to give the effect that you are after, I tend to use Manual mode when shooting birds in flight as long as the light is constant, If the sun is in and out then i use AV mode, Aperture wise i will use a long lens either wide open or stopped down a bit, So in my case the 600VR is attached to my gimbal head/tripod and set at either F4 or F5.6, This will give the maximum shutter speed and then its down to the ISO which would be 400-800 as i want a shutter speed over 1/500 and preferably over 1/1500 to really grab and freeze the action, It depends on the bird as large birds like herons and swans are big and slow so you can easily get away with a slower shutter speed whereas a small fast duck will need a very fast shutter speed if you want to freeze the wings, Its not always necessary to freeze the wings completely and some movement/blur can add to the image, Get some images in the bag and then experiment with fast and slow shutter speeds, I have my cameras set up with continuous focus and i use either 9 or 21 assist focus points on the Nikon D3s or D300 (now D70000),Using just one point on a fast moving bird can be difficult and easy to loose focus, The assist points will grab the bird if it drifts off of the main focus point, If you are using a lens smaller than a 600 then its possible to handhold the lens, When i shot with the Canon system i used the 500F4 and would always handhold for birds in flight, The 600F4 is just to heavy for holding more than a few seconds at a time so it must be tripod mounted,
To sort your exposure i either take a reading off of a white subject like a gull or even a cloud and add compensation until the histogram looks good in the same way as you would meter for snow, I like to compensate until i get blinkies showing over exposure and then take 1/3 stop off, That way if you are shooting a white bird you will not blow out the feather detail and if you are shooting a black bird you will have good detail in the feathers once you have processed the image, Its basically exposing to the right, You can take a meter reading from grass in light which will be about mid tone or i sometimes take a test shot of half tree and half sky, As a general guide +2/3 will give a starting guide to get your exposure,
You will get better results if you track a bird from distance, It will give your AF system a chance to calculate the speed of the subject, I normally have my camera focused on the horizon as i find its quicker to focus from far to near than near to far, If you have a flock of birds coming towards you then just concentrate on one bird, Follow it in from distance and start taking shots when it looks a good size in the viewfinder, Set your camera to high speed continous shooting but dont spray and prey just take shots when the bird looks good, Take into account of the wing position so that you get wings up and wings down images,

Don't forget that the bird doesn't need to be big in the frame
Once you have a good selection of one species try to experiment with shutter speeds
Start with a common subject like gulls or local ducks which can be attracted with some food

Shooting birds in flight is great fun and can be a real challenge, the possibilities are endless and the more practice you have the better and more consistent your results will be


Wednesday 15 December 2010

Planning your Spring Trips in the UK - Part 5

In Part 4 of this series, I said I would take you across to the Cairgorms to have a look at some of the wildlife you might hope to see there.

I have been there on three occasions in the May/June time of the year and have never been disappointed....OK maybe just slightly that I haven't got any pictures of Crested Tit, but then winter is generally better and easier as there is more chance of getting them around feeding stations when they are out of the breeding season.  I digress.

Osprey is usually a good target species, and the Rothiemurchus Fish Farm at Aviemore was always a good bet, but then they went and got silly with their prices, insisted that you were accompanied etc , so unless you have got too much money to shell out then there are other places, but you will need to do your own research on that.  Being a Schedule 1 species, you will need to ensure you will comply with the law particularly during the breeding season, and given that they are a migratory species, that will be all the time they are present in the UK.  But if you do your research you can get some half decent images, although never as close as you can in say Florida.

 Sunset silhouette

 Dogfight Osprey v Herring Gull

 Trout Supper for the kids

Just before the dive into the pool

 Everybody's favourite Squirrel

 Plenty of other subjects to be had - Dipper

Slavonian Grebe

Regular readers will remember I posted a few shots from this part of the world when I went there this year.  Link here to more Squirrels

There are so many wonderful places in the Cairngorms to see and watch wildlife that I cannot do it justice in just a single blogpost.

The Findhorn Valley for Golden Eagle and other raptors, the Grouse on the Moors, plenty of waders around the lochs, Goldeneye and other ducks on the lochs.  Dipper, and wagtails oin the flowing burns, the forest birds and that's your best chance of Crested Tits, as well as Redstart and Treecreeper,and the woodpeckers.

If you are willing to lug all your heavy gear onto the tops you have chances of Snow Bunting, Mountain Hare, Ptarmigan and Dotteril, but whereas you used to be able to take the cable car ride up to the top of Cairngorm, you cannot do that with the funicular railway, as part of the operational licence is that walkers have to stay in a small compound, unless they have walked themselves to the top.  It is long, hard and can be cold and the mountain weather can be awful .  We were there in late May, and they will still skiing up there, and the cloud base was below the car park level.

But on a nice day, and it you are strong,  well equipped and mountain capable,  fit and minded to go to the Cairngorm plateau, it is a wonderful place to be.

A good book worth buying if you do go is from a series that I have recommended before is below