Monday 31 May 2010

Just back from Scotland

Regular readers will know that I like to make at least one trip per year to Scotland to photograph the wonderful wildlife that can be found there.  After five trips to Mull in previous years, I thought it was time for something different. Having seen many great images from the Outer Hebrides over a few years, Jac and I sat down and made plans over the Christmas holiday period for this years trip.

We ended up on North Uist, part of the Western Isles in Outer Hebrides.  Having just got back yesterday, and had no regular internet access, I will file all my trip reports in the coming posts.  Suffice to say that there is a lot of material, so I expect to be posting a day report for each of thae days we were away, with additional material covering the journies there and back, as we fitted in some exciting opportunities on those and had some great sights during the travelling.  I will also set out the planning and logistics for those who might contemplate a similar trip.

As in all good productions, I will also do a post on the outakes and mistakes that were made too.
Suffice to say, that we are now both pretty tired after the drive back from the Highlands last night.  We drove a total of 1775 miles over the ten days and managed to see 124 bird species and numerous mammals as well.  This is significantly more than in previous years to Mull so it has been a good result.

So I am off to sort out all the gear and clothes, and then get on with sorting and processing a lot of images.


Sunday 30 May 2010

Happy Birthday to me

Another year has shot by and today i am another year older-and feel it as i am still under the weather but we have a big BBQ today to celebrate so will have lots of medicine (drink) to make me feel better, So you know that i now have a kayak (still unused) as the weather has been either crap or i have been ill but what you dont know is that i now have a Nikon D3s on order, It should have been here yesterday but Amazon messed me around abit and it missed the shipping date and as its a holiday weekend here in the USA it wont be with me until Wednesday, Now i have ummed and arred over a D3s ever since they came out and nearly got one about 3 months ago but couldn't really justify getting one over the D3 that i already have, But i do hate not having a sensor cleaner and the D3 is a dust magnet, I used live view alot when i had Canon as i set the exposure using the live histogram, With the D3 is not the one touch that it was on the Canon so i went back to my old ways but the D3s has a dedicated live view button so i can once again set the exposure without having to take a test shot, Another feature i loved on the Canon 1D3 was the silent mode and this was a big advantage when shooting foxes and other shy animals, The D3s now has this excellent and i am sure under used feature and of course it now has 720p video, Not that i can see myself using it much but may take the old bit of video when shooting the Manatees again early next year, I will sell the D3 more or less straight away but will do some side to side shots to see how the grain stacks up at various ISO settings, From what i have read its about the same up to ISO 1600 and then the D3s steps up a gear and is in a class of its own, I dont really shoot above ISO 1600 on the D3 as i see that as the limit that i feel agencies will accept but if i can shoot at 1 stop higher and get the same IQ it will be great and a real benefit, So there you are i have justified it well at least to myself, The D3 has been fantastic and i will miss it-certainly THE best camera i have ever owned, What a great birthday its turned out to be


Saturday 29 May 2010

Mothing and Moth Traps

I have been getting lots of Tweets recently about National Mothing Day, and other mothing events.  I have had a couple of go's at it in the past, a few times when I was in Mull last year with a link here.

After a quick look around Ebay to see about getting a moth trap for use at home, and seeing the prices, I thought these really cannot be too difficult to make.

A good general guide to the subject can be found here.

Plans can be founds here.

The lights can be found here and here.

Living in an area where I have neighbours, a brigh light is pretty antisocial so a black actinic light is the best bet.

So welcome to another project that is about to start - I will keep you up to speed.

If you haven't the inclination to make your own, here is a link to buy one, and the best book tat you can get to help with the identifications.


Friday 28 May 2010

Be careful out there

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that i had found a tick buried in me and had removed it, Well 3 weeks after finding the tick and the mark is still there-slightly raised and in the last couple of days i have felt very tired and lethargic, I have the sweats and generally feel crap, So yesterday i visited the doctors for a check over to see if the symptoms were anything to do with the tick, Lymes disease is well known from tick bites and it seems that although Lymes disease is registered in NC its Rocky Mountain spotty fever thats the most common, Both can be a real problem if left unchecked and a course of anti biotics will sort the problem out, You would normally have a blood test first to see if anything shows up in your blood but as my doctor said it could take between 2 and 4 weeks to get the results back so its best just to go straight to the course of tablets which is what i am now on, It just goes to show that you need to be careful out there, Ticks are now widespread around the world, If you find one buried on you either use a proper tick remover-we have one for our dog available at vets for just a dollar or 2-or get it removed by a doctor, Ticks need to be removed carefully or they will leave their heads which can get infected, If you have any doubts i would strongly suggest seeking medical advise, These diseases are not to be taken lightly as left unchecked can cause serious health problems


Thursday 27 May 2010

Guest photographer - Chris Jones

Regular readers and those of you who explore this site will be familiar with the link to Chris Jones blog here.  Chris is what I call a proper birder and you will see this come through in his site and this post.

Chris recently did a nice series on a trip to Morocco so I asked him if he would like to do a guest slot for us.
Happily he agreed and I am pleased to bring this to you.  Over to you Chris.


Morocco - Agadir and beyond   22nd to 29th March

By way of introduction, I'm a "weekend in, weekend out" birder who has managed to convince his partner that holidays are not all about beaches but can provide an opportunity to increase the birding calendar and put to the test some of the dialogue you can find in many of the overseas birding guides.  So it was by this logic that in March this year we found ourselves, for the second time, boarding a flight to Agadir, bags packed with birding and camera gear and an itinery that would take us from a back street in Agadir to a couple of nights in the Northern Sahara situated on the site on an old Foreign legion fort.

When you arrive in Morocco from a cold winter England, things hit you.  Firstly the Swallows are in full muster and darting around like it's mid summer in the UK, Swifts are also about but not in great numbers.  Gulls are everywhere, mainly Lesser Black Backed and Yellow Legged.  Whether you are in your hotel or walking out you will hear loud melodious calls, your thoughts will go to exotic species, but you will soon discover that they are Bulbuls and they can be seen in the streets taking cover in the road side trees.  Finally you will look at the Sparrows and notice all is not as it seems because occasionally they will turn out to be House Buntings.  You are in North Africa.


House Bunting

The City of Agadir is a great base for the birder, it's far enough south to make the difference in the species from those you would easily find in the southern Mediterranean to those that only very rarely, or never reach European shores.  In the local vicinity you have the Massa (a prime, renowned birding area and one of the last outpost of the Bald Ibis)  Then inland, there are the paths and road of the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains and Paradise Valley.  It's well serviced by air and with your hire car you can bomb off further south and really take in some new stuff.

Bald Ibis

For the first day, we head to the Massa, waters are high this year and normally arid areas are wet at best and in a lot of cases under water.  There are Flamingos, Black Winged Stilts and Egrets as far inland as Arhbalou.  It is whilst taking in these sights we see Plain Martin amongst some Swallows over the water.  We head further on towards the coast. Northern Wheatear and Black Eared Wheatear are frequent along with numerous Larks, Warblers and Roussiers Redstarts.  On the coast at Sidi Ousassai, five or six Kestrels are pairing up and sorting out the accommodation in which to nest.  It is not far from here that last year we were shown four Bald Ibis feeding on an area of ground that was laying fallow.  Stone Curlew also breed in the area.


Greater Flamingo

Greater Flamingo

Cattle Egret

The next three days of our trip (sorry holiday!) were to be given up to travelling south down through Tiznit and Guelmim to the northern extremities of the Sahara.  En route there was little in the way of birds but on the outskirts of Guelmim we had read about a good site to see Scrub Warbler.  So after over five hours on the road we pulled over.  Now I must warn you at this stage, that me and target birds do not go down well. in fact, I would go so far as to say that it  should be called the "Chris going to dip list".  Anyway suffice to say, no Scrub Warbler, but as a reward we did see Tristram's Warbler and Trumpeter Finch, so all was well with the world.

We then headed west, at first on pretty good roads and finally on a desert track to the hotel Fort Bou Jerif, picking up Marbled Duck, numerous Montague's Harriers, Honey Buzzard and White Crowned Wheatear en route.  We arrived early evening and were quickly shown our room, politely we enquired "was the bar open"......phew it was!  Over our evening meal of camel we enquired about hiring a driver with a more suitable vehicle to take us out the next day over the surrounding  desert.  This was negotiated and arranged in minutes.  The owner here is very "birder friendly" as they say.

So, at a very civilised time in the morning, we headed off with our local man and Land Rover, the only common language being hands and gestures.  It worked a treat!  During the trip, we reached the coast at Plage Blanc to see a lone beach fisherman and came upon Camel trains.  Birds bagged included Red rumped Wheatear, Black eared Wheatear, Short Toed lark, Bar tailed Lark,  Temminck's Lark, Rufous Bush Robin, Booted Eagle and Richard's Pipit.  It was so good to have someone else doing the driving in a suitable vehicle.

The final days of the stay were given over to travelling back to Agadir, visiting the souk, eating out in a very nice sea front restaurant with an Italian cook, sorting through photos and worrying, unnecessarily, about the state we got the hire car into.  Oh and one last trip inland to Imouzzer via Tamri.  On the mountain road we found Grey and Woodchat Shrike along with Melodious Warbler feeding in the valley.

Melodious Warbler

For those interested, here are few of the domestics.

Travel arrangements; we took a Thompson flight out of Gatwick to Agadir, booked it late in 2009 to get the best deal.  With respect to the car hire, again we booked in advance but paid when we got there, finding on the internet we used the "sixth" and picked it up at the airport without any problem, though they do take rather a large reservation on your credit card.

Driving is not a major issue; vehicles in the towns will go anywhere they choose and motorbikes will come at you on the wrong side of the road, but everything tends to happen slower in the UK, so you can react accordingly.

For hotels, we used the Petit Sued in Agadir, very friendly, clean, great breakfast and very good value.  In the northern Sahara, we use the Fort Bou Jerif, a little more expednsive, but check out the link for their website.  They live up to everything they say and more.

That's about it really.  Change your money out there and only Sterling cash is accepted in most banks, though cash machines are much more available than last year.  Traveller's cheques were not good news.  Take an international driving licence.  We were stopped twice and the IDL did the trick both times.  Pay the man who looks after your car when its parked on the street at night.  Take sweets or pens for the children you will meet everywhere and buy a packet of cigarettes for the kind men who talk to you while you are scoping or taking photos.  For most part they mean well.

For reference, I would recommend two of  the Dave Gosney Guides, "Finding Birds in Morocco - The Deserts" & "Finding Birds in Southern Morocco" and "The Birdwatchers Guide to Morocco" by Patrick & Fedora Bergier.


Well what a great post for us. Many thanks Chris.  Great images and story and very useful planning information too.


Wednesday 26 May 2010

Lets Talk-Plans

I like to plan ahead-way ahead and have projects that i can work on over long periods, Last year we had lots of butterflies in and around the garden so i went and purchased some Buddleia or butterfly bushes and put them in the garden ready for this year, they are very colourful when they bloom and as the name inplies they attract butterflies of all kinds, When i was shooting the oppusums earlier this year i had lots of time to think whilst sitting in the hide and i thought that images of Opposum and fox would also look nice under the Buddleia bush so i have started to bait around them and i have already seen the fox eating the small bits of dog food, Although the bush hasnt bloomed yet i will soon be putting the hide up and taking some test shots so that when the time is right the animals will be relaxed with the flashguns, The butterflies have started to arrive and last week i managed a few images although the swallowtails were a bit scruffy, Hopefully it will be a good year for butterflies and bugs, I watched a couple of hummingbirds around the garden feeders last year and they should be here any time soon so a feeder has already gone up and i really hope to get some high speed flash in over the next couple of months, I will soon set up a test rig so that when the hummers are ready so am i, Foward planning is very important if you want good consistent results,
The Carolina Nature Photographer Association Exhibition starts next week at the Holly Springs Convention Centre and as i mentioned before i have 3 images in the exhibit, The images look great framed and i have decided to have my own exhibition in the near future, I ordered some 'mats' last week for the frames and they arrived to day and as soon as i sort where and when, i can get the frames and images printed, Its something i have always wanted to do and this year it will happen
The later part of the year is already starting to look busy with a trip to California for sea otters etc and the Smokey Mountains for the fall colours, Straight after Xmas i am back to the Outer Banks and New Jersey for winter birds then Florida for Manatees before going to Japan in Feb 2011 so a tonne of planning and research to make all the trips successful
The more that you plan the more successful that you will be in your photography especially if you have a long term project a head of you


Tuesday 25 May 2010

Canon 5D2 frimware update

See Here

Site Research and Trip Preparation

Following on from my Spring Cleaning post a few days ago, another thing that I like to do is to make sure I understand where I am going, waht might be around, when is the bets time to go etc.

Now you can be really lazy, as I have many others do on forums and ask where to go and find out from others hard work or you can pay somebody to take you there and do everything for you except press the shutter button.

However, there is so much that you can do for yourself ahead of your trip to get yourself armed with all the knowledge you need by your own leg work.

Firstly maps.  Get good quality maps and here in the UK, we are blessed with fantastic quality maps from The Ordnance Survey.  I like to use the 1:25000 series which give excellent detail.

The next purchase is the from the 'Where to Watch' range of books  This is a great series of books that cover much of the globe now, and here in the UK, the series is down to local and regional level, so you can get all the information you need.  A quick check on Amazon UK revealed a total of 171 links

These books and maps are vital when in teh field when you are far way from the internet or broadband signal.  I will keep mine n the car on trips to mull over when in tea shops considering the next part of the trip.

Online resources are massive, of course, and make an important part of the pre-planning.  A simple google of the area you are going to will yield all sorts of valuable information, even if you are going to areas that you think you already know well.

Happy planning


Monday 24 May 2010

Manual Flash

Using flash for fill or main lighting is one of the main questions that i get asked, Its probably one of the biggest fears for photographers and least understood of all the photography techniques, I find the Nikon flash very accurate and consistent and use the ETTL mode most of the time, However if you are a constant distance from your subject and want consistent exposures its best to set the camera and flash in Manual mode and then all your exposures will be the same saving some considerable time in processing, Here is how i set up to use flash in manual mode as a fill light, Firstly take an test shot without flash and once you have adjusted to get a good histogram turn your flash on, Make a note of your subject distance by looking at the distance guide on the lens barrel, Here i set up and my subject distance was 10m so i turned the flash down to that setting, You can see here on my SB900 it reads 9.8m which is close enough, This will give me full flash which is the equivalent of 0 in compensation, Now if i want to get -1 i turn the distance on the flash down until it reads 5m and if i want -2 i turn it down to 2.5m, As i say its best used for a subject at a constant distance, If your subject is moving then i prefer my flash set at ETTL and compensated as needed

Hope it helps


Sunday 23 May 2010

Gear Reviews - Bean Bags

Now I guess nearly all wildlife photographers are used to having and using a bean bag to rest the camera and long lens on to help those awkward moments, support the weight and help when shutter speeds are low.

I bought my original double bag a number of years ago from Wildlife Watching Supplies.  It has seen plenty of action and different refills from time to time.  I had noticed it was starting to emit dust so time for a clean and refill.  I also was most impressed when I went out on a day trip with Robbie that he had a funkyshoulder strap fitted to his.  So on the basis that we needed to get another one to avoid any fights between me and Jac, I ordered another one from Kevin at WWS, this time with the strap.

This is my original bag, emptied and with the liners, after a good wash out.

New bag with shoulder strap attached

New bag filled

A nice little 'over the shoulder' number

Previously I have filled bags with a mix of rice and bird seed.  Heavy and gets damp and then mouldy, and then dusty.  Good stability though.  Not easy for portability.

The last fill I used less rice and added some polystyrene chips and chopped up bubble wrap strands.  This gave a much lighter bag for ease of carrying, but there was still dust eventually.  This mix was not quite as stable as the rice/seed only, but a good compromise for the loss of weight.

The new bag is excellent with the strap for carrying so I can highly recommend this option.

So for this mix I bought a large bag of polystyrene balls from Amazon - links below for UK and USA, and used about a 50% : 50% by volume mix of rice and balls.

If you do this a word of warning - the poly balls go everwhere, so have the vacuum cleaner to hand.

Also don't put in half the rice followed by the balls or vice versa.  Make sure you put in some of each in alternate quantities so you get a good mix in the liner.  This provides for better stability and weight spread.


Saturday 22 May 2010

Natures Best

Natures best magazine is the best quality nature mag around in my opinion, Its full of fantastic images and is well printed, Every year they have a few competitions and the prizes are very good, This year i decided to have a go at the Backyards comp and 3 of my images got to the finals and the top 61, Unfortunately only 40 made the winners and none of mine did, But it was good to get the mail asking for the RAW files, The winners have just been published and you can see them here, The mag is well worth subscribing to and you can get more info here


Friday 21 May 2010

Pond Life Part 3 - Mating and New Arrivals

I recieved at text while I was at work yesterday telling me that the Large Red Damselflies were now mating.  'Get some shots then please' I said.

So with that Jac set about getting a few images that I have borrowed here with her permission.

Full frame, no crop, Canon 7D and Canon 180 f3.5L macro

Messy background, but an intersting balancing act over the Lilly Pads

Apparently, just a few minutes after this shot was taken, a male Smooth Newt grabbed the female, the lower Damselfly, dragged it under water and eat it.  Nature is cruel.  There were just a pair of gossamer wings left on the pond surface when I got home.

Yesterday was really hot here in Warwickshire and we got up to about 24 deg C.  This has resulted in the next species of damsel now emerging.  The Blues are now making there appearance, and here is a freshly emerged one, shot contra jour, yet to develop its full colour.

These flies were emerging and flying away very quickly.  The heat has made a big difference to them when comapred to the Large Reds.

While I am writing, I can give early notice of our next guest photographer, Chris Jones.  Chris's slot will be published next Thursday 29th May, so make sure you drop by.  It is a great blogpost.


Thursday 20 May 2010

Processing-Capture One

Well its been a wet and dreary week here in NC, But its given me time to get some images processed and have a play with Capture One, I have spent a few hours watching the tutorials and they are very good as is the software-No i take that back-Its excellent, Probably THE best RAW processing software i have used-Ever, The colours are really lovely and the images once processed have such a nice quality to them, If you need to bring a shadow area up a notch or 2 like under a birds wing  its all done smoothly and grain/artefact free, I love the way you can process one image and at the click of a button do a batch, This is especially good when dust spotting, The D3 is a dust magnet and its not until you use one of the cameras with a sensor cleaner on there that you realise just how effective they are, Its the main reason that i keep looking at a D3s, So just bring an image up and at 100% view go along and mark all the places with dust then with one click delete the lot-Then bring all the images up for that day shot with the same camera and with one click they are all done as well-this used to take me hours, For anybody who has not used C1 yet i suggest downloading the free months trial, Having a look at the tutorials and having a play, You will see a difference over your images processed in other RAW converters, Normally you have to use software for a while to see any benefits but i could see them from the word go with C1-Cant recommend it highly enough, I know Martin had mentioned that he also uses C1 but its worth a repeat
Go to Phase One here


Wednesday 19 May 2010

Subject is more important than the photograph........again

Once again it seems that photographers need to be reminded  of this.  I take a Twitter feed from tthe West Midland Bird Club who have bought attention to this matter in this posting.

It is disturbing that so many birds face so many threats, whether it be persecution such as reported in this latest bit of terrible news from to photographers causing disturbance, such as I reported last year from Mull.  Check out that link too for the Nature Photographers Code of conduct.

We are now coming into a critical stage of the year for breeding species, so please be sensitive, and pass on this message to as many of wildlife photographers in your networks as you can.  It will be appreciated.

On a positive note, it is great to see the Peregrines at Worcester Cathedral are doing well according to their own Facebook page, as are the Ospreys on Rutland Water from their Twitter feed.


Tuesday 18 May 2010

PC Power?

The weather here over the last couple of days has been hot but wet-very wet, So i have been stuck behind the PC screen getting some processing done, I had my PC lock up 3 times when using Capture one and although my PC isnt the least powerful around it shows that the new software's that are hitting the market take up a lot of your processing power, So once again i have been spending some time in stores and on-line to see what's available and may move my purchase up and use the money set aside for a new camera, So now i have had 3 visits to the Apple store and have visited the most popular PC custom makers like Puget Systems and Cyberpower, I think my mind is made up to stay with a PC as opposed to a Mac, I was suprised to see that BH sell Macs and offer reasonable deals over the Apple store but i digress, So now its just down to specs, I was going to get the most powerful i can afford which would be one using the new i7-980 processor along with 12 mb Ram, An SSD for the OS and a fast hard drive for other stuff as well as keeping all my images externally, The PC would offer USB3 and SATA so when i upgrade my externals, downloading and up loading should be very fast, Now the question is am i going over board, The PC will basically be a gaming PC, So am i wasting my money, My thoughts are that although its a touch ott at the moment in the next year or two both Nikon and Canon will be offering 30+MP cameras in the way of the 1DS4 and D4X, I dont want to be buying a new PC every 2 years by just buying whats good now, If my PC is way too fast now-can it be? then in 2 or 3 years it should still be good right?
So give me some help here-what would you do, Buy the fastest available now or down spec


Monday 17 May 2010

Late TV update

A quick and late reminder that Springwatch Specials have just started on BBC2.  I am watching the first one as I write this.

This is the first of three specials this week.  Set your HDD recorder or get it on iPlayer if you can't see it live


A quick one from the Garden

A few weeks ago, I posted this blog with a female Orange Tip on Bluebells in the garden.

Well we have had  a few Orange Tips through this year although the males have been less inclined to set down.

While I didn't get much time with my cameras over the weekend, I did manage to get this little lady who set down on an emerging Red Campion flower.

Again it was quite windy, and I had to use the technique I first described last year with using AI servo for macro work.  This was a bit more of a challenge that the shot last year as I used the 5D and 180 macro - a not very fast focussing camera, and a slow focussing lens too.  But it came up pretty reasonably so cannot complain.


Sunday 16 May 2010

In the news this week-The good and the bad

There have been a couple of articles in the forums this week that caught my eye for different reasons, Firstly another case of a so called wildlife photographer trying to bull shit his way to fame, It made a daily news paper in the UK, Its soo stupid that you cant believe the paper would fall for it or expect their customers to fall for the story, Images obviously taken at one of Montana's games farms, This is another case where it brings wildlife photographers integrity in to suspect, I have said many times here be truthful, Its the only way, Once you have been sussed as a liar and a cheat it will be game over, Its takes a long time to get a good name and just seconds to loose it
The full story here at least the dickhead involved was named

I watched a programme a couple of years ago on a small island in the middle of the pacific called Midway, Its called that as its in the middle and the nearest neighbours are 2000 miles away, Just about everything that ends up in the sea ends up on this tiny island, The problem is that its the home of many species of Albatross and they feed their young plastic thinking its food and the consequences are not pretty, Midway is now open to tourists and mainly wildlife photographers who can get very close to these wonderful birds, One guy has documented the strife that these birds are going through and the devastation that the waste/rubbish is causing, We as nature/wildlife photographers can help in these kinds of matter by documenting the destruction that humans are causing even in the remotest of places and try to bring it to the worlds attention-see here for more


Saturday 15 May 2010

Spring Cleaning

Well as it is still spring, I thought I would just talk briefly about cleaning gear.  It is the time of year when many of you will be thinking about going on various trips so it is worth giving all your gear a good once over to make sure all is well before you go and get your shots of a lifetime.

I start by getting all the gear downstairs, emptying it out all over the floor - gently of course, I don't just tip it out you will understand. Then line up all the lenses and get the Henry vacuum cleaner, the Hurricane Blower, and puffer brush. 

The first thing is off with the lens end caps, and then brush them with the puffer brush with the fine wand on the vacuum cleaner held close by sucking up all the loose bits.  These end caps I have consistently found are the dirtiest parts of the kit, and harbour all manner of crud that can find it's way onto the glass elements.  I guess that comes from putting them in dirty pockets.

Next is glass itself.  Again puffer brush and vac get rid of the loose stuff.  

I never use filters to protect the front elements of my lenses unless I am in dirty or sea salt spray environments.  Most of my lenses were fine, but if there are any stuck on spots, then out come the lens wipes and lens cleaner.  Some folks are always very concerned about touching the front elements, but a good cleaner fluid and the Lee Filters lens cloths do the trick in no time and with no stress.

Bodies get a wipe down with Pec Pad wipes and a check of the sensor for dust spots.  A look at two 7D's and  the 1Dmk111 showed them to be totally clean.  The self cleaning sensors on the Canon's do work really well.  The 5D, which doesn't have a self cleaning sensor, that I only recently acquired has already got a dust spot - or at least it did, until I attacked it with the Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly.  Another quick job and all is well.

The final thing I do before I put it all back in the bag is to vacuum it out.  You will be surprised how much crud finds it's way in there.  So a good go with the wand on the 'Henry' soon sees all is clean and well.

So happy cleaning

Friday 14 May 2010

Local report-Raleigh

Lots of stuff to shoot at this time of year, The lakes have young chicks on them-notably Lake Lynn has mallard and Canade Goose chicks that are easy to shoot, Falls lake has Osprey with chicks on the nest as well as Herons with very large chicks, Reports there of water Moccasin (Cotton mouth) so be careful when near the waters edge,I have been to Falls lake for the last couple of days taking a look around, There are lots of Cliff Swallows nesting under the bridges so yesterday i spent a couple of hours there trying to get them as they flew to the nest-no luck or at least not what i had hoped for, The light was low under the bridge so ISO's between 800 and 3200 were in order along with flash, They are soo fast that even a shutter speed of 1/1000 didnt freeze them, I did get a couple of shots as you can see and as i only spend 2 hours there i guess they are ok, Ticks seem to be a problem this year-at least for me, Last Saturday i noticed one when i was having a shower buried where you really dont want one and last night i had 2 more on me but loose not buried, So keep an eye out after you have been in woodland or long grass, These can be dangerous as they can transmit limes disease which if left can be deadly,I put a bird box up in my garden a couple of months ago and last week we had a pair of Bluebirds investigating the box but they were constantly chased off by another pair and since then its been quiet, I have now put the hummingbird feeder up in hopes of getting a shot or two this year, Last year was very quiet by all accounts and we only had 2 coming to the feeder, The butterflies have started to arrive with quite a few Swallowtails hanging around my garden, Wish the Buddlia would hurry up and bloom, Last night i watched a Grey Fox in the garden and the night before a Raccoon so lots to shoot in the way of wildlife, I did notice some nice wild flowers along the road at Falls lake as well


Thursday 13 May 2010

Teasels - an interesting post

I received a request to use one of my images from this post last year yesterday via email.  After the stealing of both mine and Dave's images a while back, it was great to receive a proper bona fide request and I was happy to oblige.

The article it has been used in is very interesting and worth a read.

Link here for you and good luck with the exhibition Val


Sad news - Twice

I received two sad bits of news yesterday.

Firstly, it continues to be very depressing when you hear of stories of raptors dying.  It is doubly so when you hear that they have been killed on shooting estates.  Birdguides are reporting via their Twitter feed, the death of three Golden Eagles - three for God's sake - this is truly appalling.

Why is it that so many wonderful birds, among the rarest in our land are killed by the supposed custodians of nature.   I know the answer to my question and it is unpublishable on here.

Secondly, when I picked up my email yesterday when I got home from work, it was very sad to hear the news of the death of a fellow wildlife photographer, Gordon Howe.  Gordon was a fine wildlife photographer who I had the pleasure of sharing and reviewing images with in an on-line photo circle.  His fine work and considered responses will be sadly missed by me, and the other members of the circle.  My condolences to his family.


Wednesday 12 May 2010

Backgrounds-Birds in flight

The background to the subject is just as important as the subject itself and before pressing the shutter its important to look through the view finder and see if the background is clean and uncluttered and if needed press the DOF preview button to see exactly what the image will look like and save yourself some time when processing the image, I am processing images of birds in flight from my recent Florida trip, Some of the nicer images dont have a perfectly blue sky, They infact have some clouds in them which i feel makes the image more interesting, The shots were done one particular morning when the sky was mostly cloudy but there was a small area of blue sky with some nice cloud breaking up the solid colour, I carefully positioned myself so that i could get birds flying in and out with this as a background and didnt bother shooting other areas where the sky was white with solid cloud, The added cloud seems to give the image more depth and interest, Its worth keeping in mind the next time you are shooting birds in flight


Sunny F16

Those of us that used film will remember seeing settings within the packaging showing recommended settings, One of these was to use F16 per ISO when sunny, This rule still holds true today and is a good basis to getting a good exposure when the sun is up, How does it work well if you use ISO 100 then set your camera to 1/100@F16 etc, I tend to have my cameras set at F8 alot and either ISO 200 or 400 so i remember two settings, At ISO200  i set it at 1/800@F8 and at ISO 400 i set it to 1/1600@ F8, To break that down we start at ISO 200 with 1/200@F16 which is equal to 1/400@F11 and 1/800@F8 and the same at ISO 400 except the shutter speed doubles, So if you are out in bright sunlight and with the sun on your back then use the settings above or those that correspond to it and the exposures should be good


Tuesday 11 May 2010

Great weekend for Bluebells

Back in this post, I mentioned that the weekend past would be about the best for Bluebells.....and it was, at least here in Warwickshire.

Saturday was cold wet and windy, but Sunday dawned brightly - perhaps too brightly at times.   But a beautiful English Bluebell wood nevertheless.

Anyway, no particular story today, just a load of images for you.  All taken with the 'new' old 5D and either the Canon 24-70f2.8L or the 300f4 IS L + 1.4EFTC.  I really did miss the Live View feature that my newer 1Dmk111 and 7D have for the closer shots

Finally the walk out after a a couple of miles of bluebells, with the first Cuckoo of the year calling to us.

It was good to bump into a few old friends from Stratford Photo Group, and to chat to another couple of photographers who turned out to be neighbours from just up the road.  It was good to meet and chat


Monday 10 May 2010

An Early Birthday

Lately i have shot on land and below water but its been a long time since i shot 'on' the water and as its coming up to my birthday (in a couple of weeks) i went and bought a Kayak, Something i haven't shot from for a couple of years when i shot sea otters in California, Now when i said i bought it i should say that my wife bought it for me as an early present, along with the car rack,garage holder,dry sacks,paddle and life jackets-so who's a lucky boy then, We have a lot of lakes around my area and i watch the herons and ospreys nesting out of trees in the lake far away from the waters edge-well now i will be able to reach them, I said before that i was going away this week but have just found out that the roads to Clingmans Dome are stll shut for repair so this is now put on hold for a month or so, Now that leaves me free this week to get some processing done and give the kayak its maiden voyage, I think the D300 and 70-300VR that i recently purchased will be a great combo for this purpose


Sunday 9 May 2010

Gear Reviews - Op-Tech Camera Straps

Shortly after I bought my first Canon 1D - the Mark2N, I was walking round with the old (short lived) 100-400IS L on it and was very aware of the weight of the gear round my neck.  I bumped into another photographer who had the same gear but who was using a completely different strap.  So asking about it he mentioned that these straps had the great effect of spreading the load and making the weight feel significantly less.

We swapped cameras for a minute, and he was quite right.

So I promptly went out and bought myself one and have loved it ever since, using them on body after body.  So when I took delivery of the recent 7D and 5D, I quickly ordered another couple.

The latest versions have 'Quick loops' which make it easier to put them on.  They come in different colours - I have green on all of mine to help with the camo.

So these come with my recommendation to help spread the light on your gear, and making it feel much lighter.

For US and international readers

For UK readers (with or without quick loops)


Saturday 8 May 2010

Wildlife Photography on a tight budget

Not everybody can afford to buy the very latest and best photographic equipment and we all have to start somewhere so is it possible to get quality wildlife images on a tight budget?and the answer is yes, I have just purchased a Dslr kit for my wife, It consists of  Nikon D5000 with a 18-55 VR  and 70-300VR lenses along with a Nikon bag and a very good Nikon DVD that runs through all of the cameras features, The whole kit cost under $1100, Now you can get the 55-200 lens and save even more money but i know that the 70-300VR is an excellent lens and when you buy it with the kit it costs under $400 which is a bargain, Today i thought i would go down to my local lake and just take the D5000 and 70-300VR and see what is possible with just the basics, Firstly when you get the camera you realise just how small it is-its tiny-no really tiny,and very light so perfect for people with small hands and those who dont want to have to lug a heavy camera around, So perfect for hikers, The 70-300 is as long as my 24-70F2.8 and half the weight, The camera has a swivel/tilt screen so can make getting low down shots easier on the back and for its pixel size the screen is very clear, The body doesnt have a screen on the top plate and has few buttons so most adjustments are done on the screen which is quick to use and intuative, The sensor is basically the same as in my D300 and there are 11 focus points that seem well placed, I arrived late at the lake as i had a meeting early on and the sun was already high and the light harsh-not the easiest of things for the camera to deal with, I tried some of the presets and the metering handled it very well then i shot a mix of AV and Manual, My wife will use the camera basically as a point and shoot and for those who dont want to know the complexities of photography you will still get good images, It also has 720p video for those who want it,
The lake is very popular with joggers/cyclists and mums taking their kids to feed the ducks so the birds are very used to people and relaxed enough not to fly off, This is also the case for the herons, A great place to learn your craft and the functions of your camera
When i arrived i noticed a heron in a shady area and took a couple of shots, It then grabbed a fish and i took a few more shots

And a crop of above

Some mothers were feeding the ducks and geese on the board walk and a couple of Mallards flew up and stood on the handrail allowing for some shots

And a crop of the above

There was another heron in the main lake that approached the board walk and allowed for plenty of shooting possibilities, Now the sun was behind the heron so not ideal but you can still get some reasonable images if you time it right

The heron flew off but after a few minutes came back, I tracked it in and the 4 Frames Per Second proved adequate to get wings in a good position, All of the shots of the heron flying in were sharp so the AF works well

and a crop of the above

I have to say that overall i am very impressed with the D5000, For what i asked of it today i handled the situation very well, All the images were handheld, One thing that was a problem for me was that my big hands kept hitting the dial on the back that changes the focus point but maybe with an added grip that would help sort that or at least ease it, As its my wifes camera and she just wants a small light body the grip wont happen, She may find it difficult to get the 70-300 back as its a cracker and will find its way onto my D300 for handheld flight shots, I wish i had it in Florida
Dont take the images above too much on photographic merit, The images were all shot in about 2 hrs and it was just a test for the camera/lens, All the images are full frame unless specified and shot in RAW with the normal processing in Photoshop