Wednesday 29 February 2012

Spring has arrived today - Mid Week Quickie

So for me, there are three indicators that today is the day, all before we enter March (just), and all hinge on new life.

Firstly, if any of you follow me on twitter (@martind01) you will know that I saw my first fledgling of the year. Immediately outside my office in Birmingham, which is adjacent to the busiest of Birmingham's railway stations, a freshly fledged feral Pigeon was sat on the pavement with pedestrians walking round it. Probably confused, but indifferent to its surroundings, it was indeed an early sign of new life.

Coming home tonight, I also saw the first of the trees in blossom, and finally, with very active frogs in the pond, the first clump of spawn heralds the arrival of this years batch of frogs.

Listening last night, the chorus from the frogs was probably the loudest that I have heard, largely due to the sheer numbers involved.

After I have finished this blog tonight, I will pop down and have a look and listen.


Tuesday 28 February 2012

Night Life

The weather for this week looks slightly iffy with rain coming and going most days so Sunday night i set up in the hope for Fox, Opossum or Raccoon, Again i use 3 SB600 flashguns, 2 were placed in front of the camera and both to the right, 1 was placed higher than the other and then i had one at the back on the right to give some light in the background and give some depth to the image, The normal scenario is that the deer arrive around 6.30 and then the fox comes in around 6.45, If they are together the young deer tend to try to spook the fox by fake charging, sniffing or just being a pita, It was one of those nights where nothing was around by 7pm and it was deadly still, You think to yourself that its not going to happen, 7.30 comes and goes and nothing, I had seen a dog wandering in the woods during the day and guessed that the deer had fled, It was around 7.45 that i caught sight of an opossum at the far end of the garden but it crossed and kept going, Around 8pm and there was a rustle in the woods next to my house and a minute later a fox enters at the far end, Goes to each tree where i have put a few grains of food and steadily makes its way towards THE tree that i am focused on, I have 2 spot lights illuminating the garden and they give enough light to use AF so that i can recompose etc if i want to, I am using the D3s and 200-400 along with a 1.4x as i now do not have the pulling power of the D7000, I have the camera set to Q or quiet mode but the Q mode on the D3s is at least twice as loud as the D7000 and i wonder how the animals will react, I have also added diffusers to the front flashguns as the images posted before on forums had comments that the flash was a bit harsh, It was fair comment and i have diffusers by lumiquest that work pretty good, The fox came to the bait and i watched for a couple of minutes before making a tiny sound with my lips, the fox looked directly at the camera and bang, 1 image in the bag but the fox legged it back into the woodland, The noise of the camera i guess as it never did that with the D7000, A few minutes later it came back but now fed very nervously and soon ran off not returning, I didn't even try to take a shot the second time, I waited around hoping it would return and then the opossum came back into the garden and up to the bait, It didn't react to the first shot and a few minuted later i took a second and it to went and a few minutes later i called it a night, It was getting cold anyways and i do not like to stress the animals too much as i want them to be relaxed in the garden, Soon they will realize that the flash is harmless and stay, I did leave the flashguns in place and left them out there for a couple of hours incase the animals came back, It just a matter of them getting used to the flashguns being about,
You can see that the fox is dark on the left side so i will now have a flashgun on the left pointing back at the fox to light the side and give a rim effect, It all a matter of experimenting and i find it good fun as well


Monday 27 February 2012

Reminder - Focus on Imaging

As mentioned here a couple of weeks back, the UK's photo frenzy that is Focus on Imaging starts this coming Sunday at the NEC in Birmingham.

I had originally thought I would make a visit on the Sunday, but with family birthday celebrations to enjoy, I shall give it another miss this year. I certainly wouldn't use up a day's leave for it.

But if you are going, have fun and I hope you find some bargains.

Happy hunting


Sunday 26 February 2012

Cameras,Delays and the Garden

Like Martin my cameras have remained in their bags this week, Its been a strange week weather wise with the start of the week cold and with snow then hot and in the high 70,s and now its pretty chilly out there although its blue skies and cloudless, In the middle we had very strong winds and even a day with tornado warnings,
The D7000 has gone to new good home and have to admit i will miss it, Its been a long time since i was down to one body although being the D3s i wont complain,
Seems that there is some turmoil in Japan as Canons long awaited 1DX which was announced 5 months ago has been delayed for at least 2 months, Nikon's D4 has been put back 1 month and rumors have it that the D800 may also be delayed a month, Canon are saying its firmware and Nikon's could be shutter, Either way it may be prudent to hold back on the purchase until things get sorted,
Canons big guns should be shipping in May all being well and the 200-400 is rumored to be properly announced soon although the again rumored price of $11000 will have lots of flack if proved correct and i agree it would be a ridiculous price,
My garden has been a hive of activity with fox every night and normally 2 together, Deer every night and the number of up to 12 my garden if full of foot prints and the best of the week was watching 2 opossums eating together right by our window so its time to get the camera and flashguns back out,
The wildlife photographer of the year closed this week so good luck to everybody who entered, I stuck a couple in at the last minute so fingers crossed, I keep meaning to enter more competitions but end the year with just 1 or 2


Saturday 25 February 2012

Big Canon Lenses - Bad Luck

Need one? Well bad luck for the foreseeable future.

With none available in stock of the Mark 1 models (e.g my 500), and absolutely no sign of the marks 2's, even if you can afford the massively inflated prices, you are going to be struggling.

Twitter calls for secondhand ones confirm, a check through of a few suppliers and a glance over eBay confirms.

So with my PhD in Hindsight, I wish I had a large stock of 500's that I paid just £3800 for a few years back.

If you hear of any supply, please let us know so we can keep up our public service duties :-)

Back at home, the cameras have stayed in the bag as it has been a massive rugby day. So while the result was completely wrong from Twickenham for me, it was a great game and the new boys look good for the future.

In the garden, the frogs are getting busier by the day. No spawn yet, but there were about thirty of them at it last night, which means the slugs are getting away with plant murder at the moment as the frogs are clearly very distracted from their usual duties.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend


Friday 24 February 2012

Nikon D7000

I mentioned last week that my D7000 is up for sale and it should be gone by the end of this week, Its been a great camera as i have mentioned on many occasions, Its just about everything that a serious amateur could wish for and has its place in the pro's bag, it has come in very handy as a back up although at some points its been my main camera and the D3s has been the back up, Its very easy to think that a $6000 will always be better than a $1400 camera but in normal use it will give the more expensive body a run for its money, The image quality is excellent, I have to admit that it took me a while to tweak my technique to suit the new body but you soon realize that everything is coming out sharp and that you have adapted to the body without too much pain or wasted time , I guess i will go through it all again when i get the new body, I have not done very much video with it but if you look at this link it will show just how good the D7000 is as an overall package, Lets not forget that the D7000 is a very small and light camera and sometimes this plays to your advantage, I have to say that in the 3.5 years that i have used Nikon their products have always impressed-no lemons yet and when i get my new body it will be my 5th in the 3.5 years-time to slow down and enjoy a long term relationship


Thursday 23 February 2012

Canon Guide to Error Messages

From my days on forums, there were often requests for information as to what various error messages meant. While browsing around various sites tonight, I cam across this handy guide published by Canon on what the various error massages actually mean.

I hope that this particular blog will never be of use to you, for the right reasons.


Pond Life '12 - Pt 1

I wasn't sure whether to make this one from the Frogblog series or open up this years Pond Life. In the end, I went for the latter as there were a couple of additions other than frogs to tell you about.

With Spring here now and temperatures elevated, activity has sprung to life with a bang.

In fact, on inspection tonight, there were three froggy couples busy, and as bold as brass in the middle of the pond, on the surface a threesome really didn't have a care about me shining a torch on them. How rude!!

But last nights inspection revealed more life. Five Smooth Newts were showing well, and tonight it was eight, so they have woken from their winter slumbers too.

In addition, it was great to see an active larva of a Broad Bodied Chaser moving around. With this being the fourth season of life, I am hoping for some emergence of these wonderful dragonfly's in May time, which I hope to bring you in pixel.

I will listen out later on this evening for the frog chorus as their nightly songs get under way.


Wednesday 22 February 2012

A picture paints a thousand words

Or so the record goes but its true that one picture can conveys so much whether its emotion,a lifestyle or the struggle for life, A year after being in Japan and i still haven't processed all the images, Yesterday i did some more of the eagle shots and a couple came to mind and took me back to the days we were there, The small fishing village where we stayed was called Ruasu which is pronounced Rowsh, A typical fishing village in the fact that its not very scenic, Drab is the word that comes to mind, You wouldn't go there unless you had to type of place, The weather was being unkind to us, When we were on the ice breaking boats it was cold and wet with some snow thrown in, The sea was frozen solid all the time we were on the boat but being an ice flow it would drift, So early morning when we are on the boat it was 3-4 feet thick and even the boat could not get through and in the afternoon it could be 3 miles out and then be back the next morning, How anything survives there is beyond me and yet there is plenty of wildlife, Deer, Fox, Eagles and ducks were fairly plentiful, If would walked out along the harbor wall there would always be a minimum of 30 white tailed and steller's eagles
A couple of images that i thought summed the place up were these

A young white tailed eagle sits on top of the ice flow, High points where the ice had crashed into each other were favorite perches, You could see the eagles miles out sitting on these, Nothing else around and no hope of a meal except from the boats with photographers on

That was the only day we had there where the boat could get out about 1/2 mile from the harbour due to the ice, One day we didnt make it out of the harbour and our trip was all of 600 meters and then a dead stop, Its the first time that i have seen a completely frozen sea, We had harbour walls all around so photographically it wasnt great but as i said there were a lot of eagles in and around the harbour and after a few fish were thrown over board there were well over 50 so a tremendous sight

Here is one of the few decent images from that morning, A mature white tailed eagle glided past the boat on the look out for a freeby, A privilege to be so close to some of natures most magnificent birds

The main reason for me to go back to Hokkaido is to go back to Rausu,It was the one place that we really struggled to get the eagle shots that we wanted, I know Pete is back in Hokkaido now so fingers crossed for you my friend


Tuesday 21 February 2012

In with the New, and in with the Old - a few reflections

Last week I was reflecting on how we have been 'marketed' by the popular technology manufacturers to become a throwaway society, and how that has infiltrated our world of photography in terms of the tools we use.

This thought process set my mind thinking about other parallels in my life both past and present about the gear/price/quality arms race.

Tonight's blog is a mix of on and off topic so if you don't want to stray off topic, then look away now. You will also have worked out by the end of this blog, that I haven't got any recent images to share as well.

For example, twenty years ago, I enjoyed competitive mountain bike racing a short couple of years after the sport started. The manufacturers then were launching new bikes every year, with better, lighter, must have kit that we couldn't do without, and prices spiralled inexorably upwards from what was heady prices of about £1000 for a hard frame bike to £3.5K plus for a competitive suspension bike. As bits of kit were designed to shave grammes off the weight, the price increase went up logarithmically by the gram.

We see it with cameras with the way the pricing structure transitions from entry level kit, regularly replaced on an annual cycle, transitioning through the pro kit with the associated massive price hike.

Lets say you want a 300mm focal length lens. Looking at Canon, you can start at a mere £170 for a 70-300 f 5.6 zoom., and go all the way up to £5.5K for the 300f2.8L.

Another great love of my life is my music, and the associated prices of hifi. I am not going to go there in this blog, but any of you that are into it will get where I am coming from.

So as we see the new technology coming on the market, and we tell you about it on here, we lust after that must have new camera body, or PC, or tablet or lens, it is worth reflecting whether it will make our life's more fulfilled (too philosophical Martin - move along now) or whether the quality is massively enhanced.

So where am I going with this tonight. Well two things really I guess have made me reflect.

At the weekend, Jacqui bought home a large bag of camera gear from her boss to see if it could be re homed anywhere.

In the bag was a complete set of the old Pentax 110 mini SLR system. I remember these at the time, never saw or held one, and never took an image. I think they suffered from a bit of sniffiness as the 110 film format was a strictly amateur point and shoot format But what a great little set and it took me down a nostalgic route. Maybe, if I could really have been bothered, I would have held on to it, and given it a try if I could have got hold of some film. But without the processing kit, I am not sure I wanted to return to that particular time of my life.

For those of your that have no clue what I am banging on about, have a look here. And even if you do, check it out and go down nostalgia lane anyway.

Anyway, we found the local rep of the Disabled Photographers Society, who are keen on film gear and passed it on to them.

But I will close on old technology that I have to say has not been beaten in quality terms by it more modern day replacements. Apple have a lot to answer for when it comes to the destruction of musical quality, and while I have a lot of compressed music, when I play through my quite reasonable hifi, I only ever heard flat compressed two dimensional sound.

Cd's are pretty good and have been my mainstay for over 15 years now. But I took a trip into our local hifi shop a couple of weeks ago and listened to some vinyl on a turntable. I needed one and so a new deck turned up last night along with a couple of the beautifully remastered recut vinyls from Pink Floyd.

Finally music had come back home and was resurrected. With a lot of time on trains today, listening to compressed music in my ears from my phone, it was clear that both formats have their place - convenience over quality. The same as using the little pocket point and shoot over a heavy pro body and 500 or 600 mm lens.

Let us know what old technology you are into, photographically or otherwise, and why it is 'better' for you.

Right I am off for some pancakes as it is Shrove Tuesday here in the UK, and all us tossers have a fun time, and to fire up some old vinyl, and look at some old 35mm slides.


Monday 20 February 2012

Winter arrives and then leaves

I am sitting in the Toyota dealership writing this as my car has a service so it will a quick one, Last night we had the first snow of the year and it arrived about 8.30 and continued for a couple of hours, It did settle but as it had been raining all day i had a feeling that it would not last long, The opposum arrived before the snow started and soon left, The fox did not come at all which was a first for over a week and the deer came twice, Once before the snow and again during the snow fall which was nice to see, Last week we had our first raccoon arrive and feed which was great and i hope that it soon comes back, One thing that stands out with the wildlife that comes into my garden is that they are in really great condition and amazingly clean, I have continued to photograph the fox and most nights its accompanied by its mate and before they leave they go around scent marking which drives my dog mad, So things garden wise are looking up, The bufflehead drake is still on the pond and we have had a small flock of waxwings in the community which is normally the sign of colder weather to come which again proved the case this week, The weather looks like it going to warm up and by the end of the week it could hit 70, One of my neighbors has a woodchuck that dens in her garden and last year she had young there so i will be checking that out soon, The cherry trees are in full bloom and i have a feeling that spring is not far away and thats my favorite wildlife time, I am planning a trip to the smoky mountains in April to shoot the spring flowers an waterfalls and hopefully i will have the new D800 in my hands-exciting times ahead


Sunday 19 February 2012

Smart Animals - Crows

We all think our pets are clever in their own way. Recently, I thought it was quite funny that my highly intelligent Burmese cat chose to watch the BBC programme on Smart Animals as part of his education, even interacting with the Jays on screen.

However, having watched the regular visiting Crows that come into our garden, it is clear that these too are highly intelligent and creative animals.

A few weeks ago as I was having breakfast, watching the garden, I watched a couple of Crows gathering up the various large bits of hard baguette that I had thrown out the night before, and carrying them across to the reflection pond and just dropping them into the water.

Once they had gathered up all of the lumps, they cleared off to some other part of Stratford.

Roughly 20 minutes later they came back, pull the bread out of the water and placed it at the side of the pond. Once they had retrieved all of the pieces, they then started to eat from the first piece they had pulled out, which had by now drained off a little.

They continued eating, working systematically in the order that they had pulled them out of the water.

But it was this mornings behaviour that confirmed their intelligence yet further.

The reflection pool had frozen over again after last nights sharp frost. As before they grabbed a large chunk of bread, took it to the pond, and then hammered and chipped away at the ice with their beaks until they reached water. I was amazed to watch them them rip off chunks of bread, dip them in the exposed water, place to one side and repeat the process until all the bread had been water treated. With the bread softened, they tucked into their baguette breakfast.

Truly smart animal behaviour that kept entertained while I nursed my whisky fuelled hangover from last night.


Saturday 18 February 2012


So i have made the decision to sell the D7000 and it wasn't easy, I have enjoyed the D7000 and looking back its given me some of my favorite images over the last year or so, I see lots of people on forums asking if the D800 will be a good wildlife camera, Generally the answer will be no, If you shoots birds in flight and nothing else then its a definite no, I shoot both birds and mammals and alot of my garden type shots are set ups, Like an outdoor studio so i feel for this type of photography it will be fine, If i need some extra reach like i had with the D7000 i can put it in DX mode and it goes from 36mp to around 15 and 6fps so basically the same as the D7000 although the viewfinder will not be as nice and will be masked, I hope not to have to use the DX mode but its there if i need it, I do shoot some landscapes and well as studio work so there it will shine, Later in the year the D400 should be announced and this should be an excellent body for wildlife, it will be faster fps wise and have the cropped sensor although there are rumors of it being full frame but its all rumors at the moment, nobody knows when it will arrive or what the specs will be, So you could wait and wait and then wait some more whilst people scramble to get the early batches, in reality you could be looking at early next year, So i will go for the D800 to use alongside the D3s, I have had a FF body with a cropped body for a few years now and it has suited me perfectly, Now i will go for 2 FF bodies so that may take some getting used to but by the end of the year the D400 should be a known entity and then i can re-evaluate what what and if i

1.keep the D800
2.Buy a D400
3.Keep or sell the D3s

I am hoping that the D400 will have good high ISO which for me is clean at 1600 and if it has and the MP is a good increase the D3s will go and i will be sorted for the next 4 years
Its easy to be seduced by pixels and the manufacturers have been playing the MP game for years but its getting to a stage where we dont or wont need more, Agencies like big files and that's the main reason for me looking at the D800
Nikon is being sensible and have obviously been reading forums, They have just released a Technical Guide to the D800 and it already has some people cancelling their pre-order, Basically when you read it and i hope that you will they are saying that

1,Its best to use live view for sharper images
2,Use a tripod
3.Use a faster shutter speed than normal
4.If you don't use good technique and the best lenses you wont get a good result

I expect to see a complete sell out followed shortly after by returns and moans and i guess that this is what Nikon are trying to prevent, I think that its one of those beware what you wish situations as alot of people wanted a high MP camera under $3000-now that's its here it could be their worst dream


Friday 17 February 2012

Frog Blog '12 Part 1. They are back and at it.....again

Almost 12 months ago, I blogged a very similar title, and although they are ten days earlier this year compared to last, it has surprised me given this image below last weekend.

The main pond ice had only just started to melt around the edges but was still very thick in the middle and it was only on Wednesday that the last traces had gone.

So last night, I took the torch up to the pond just to check on activity.

Well, sure enough there were a few single frogs scurrying about and a couple already paired up and getting amorous.

Fair play to them, given that the water temperature is not too much above freezing.

As we go into the four season with the pond, and an additional top feeder pond for them as well, I am excited to see the outcomes of this years activity and see if there is more than the 30 plus clumps of spawn that were present last year.

I will keep you informed in FrogBlog 2012.

Have a good weekend


Thursday 16 February 2012

Nikon D7000 for sale

I have ummed and arred for the last week or so but have decided to sell the D7000 with Nikon battery grip and pull the plug on a D800, The D7000 is and has been a great camera far exceeding my expectations, Its in great condition and is boxed and with all the bits that come with the camera as new,

$1050 plus P+P Cont USA only

Here are some images taken with it

If you are interested drop me a line at


Analasis of an image

When was the last time that you took one of your images and had a good long hard look to see what you have done and how it could be improved?

Take a look at this fox image for example taken with a D7000 with a 200-400 on a tripod and 3xSB600 flashguns providing ALL the light, 2 in-front and 1 behind

Firstly whats good about it
1.The exposure looks pretty good, The flash is even and there are no blown whites in the fur, The rear flash giving some light behind the fox to add some depth

2. Sharpness is good no doubt to the use of a tripod and the flash has helped Freeze any movement

3. Good point of view due to the low eye level set up

4. Good background for editorial use-dark header for script etc

So what could be improved?

1. Better eye contact

2. The front left flash needs to be moved as its caused a shadow from the tree onto the fox, This images could have been bettered by the use of just 2 flashguns or 3 if the 2 front were on the right, 1 high and 1 low along with the 1 at the rear

3, The leaves in the foreground, I placed these there to hide the food morcels and give a more woodland feel to the image, I think that there are too few and would be better with more in the background.

The image is usable but can easily be improved upon, In my first session the fox approached the tree to my left where i had put some food down and had approached the trees carefully and slowly and poked its head around to get some food, It looked great and its an image that i thought would look good, I should have waited a bit longer to get the eye contact better but thought that the shot that i wanted would happen sooner rather than later and theres always another time (i hope)

Its always good practice to have a good look at your work and see what can be improved, Surely that's why we put images up on forums for critique


Wednesday 15 February 2012

Apple Fan boyz .....get ready

It will soon be time to wet yourselves. March 3rd is the launch of the next generation of iPad, but if you are a serious techno geek then of course, this is seriously old news.

OK, I joke at your expense and its all good fun.

But on a serious note, the announcement did get me thinking about the techno culture that we now live in and how the marketeers, whether they are Apple, Blackberry, Samsung, Nikon or Canon, have a grip over how we act, think and behave when it comes to part with our money.

Certainly tablet and phone culturefeels like a 'throw away' technology, with the annual cycle of replacement/ renewal.

And while I have been anti Apple products, one could logically argue that if you do change over, from whatever your favourite brand /platform is and buy into another system, then if you dont like it, then, just wait 12 months (if you can) and the next one of your favourite brand will come along.

So is it such a hardship? Probably not.

While we are on tablets, not for medical reasons you understand, I still haven't found a great reason to photographically justify the expense of buying my Android OS Galaxy Tab 10.1 last year. Maybe, if I had to show portfolios to clients on a quick basis then it might have a use. But if that was my bag, I would probably use a larger screen laptop anyway.

Certainly, for storage and for processing for large files from the current breed of DSLR's, they are pretty pointless tools, in my opinion. Fine for P & S and Phone cameras but there is still a long way to go for 'proper stuff'

But for loads of other on line stuff, it is great and for most browsing, social media e.g. Twitter @martind01, and general on line stuff, it is the weapon of choice now. So I wouldn't want to be without it now in some version, or other.

Would welcome any feedback if anyone has tried out the Photoshop Touch version for Tablets.


Tuesday 14 February 2012

The Good, The Bad and the Frikkin Stupid

I looked out of the window around 6.30am this morning, Cold and crisp and above all very still, I grabbed my camera bag and headed out and down to Falls Lake which is about 3 miles from my house, I drive past it most mornings and there is one arm that has some fallen trees on the far bank, I always thought that it would make an interesting composition so i set out to get it, First mistake of the day was that i had not waled this stretch of bank before so when i got there i could not get to the area that i wanted, The clear areas had no foreground interest so i walked a bit further and found some old tree stumps in the edge, The light was getting bright quickly so i had to move fast, I quickly took some shots with a ND grad to try and balance the sky and ground and took a few images, Nothing to write home about, As i was leaving i walked past a tree that had been gnawed by a beaver so that was interesting and worth further investigation, I stopped at the small pond on our neighborhood and took some images of the thin ice that had formed during the night, It was at this time that i noticed mistake number 2, My ISO was still set at 3200 from the previous time that i had used the camera, I jumped up and down punching myself in the face and calling myself all the friggin idiots under the sun, Such a rooky mistake, I am glad the images were not great ones, Next to the small pond is a bigger pond and i did see a couple of Canada Geese on there and so went to see if anything else was there, It turned out that there were a couple of Hooded Mergansers which are beautiful birds, I did not have time to get any shots in and the sun was now up, I popped back later to see if they were still there-gone but replaced by a Bufllehead drake which again is a cracking looking bird, I hope its still around tomorrow, I decided to have a go at the foxes as they have become very timley-around 7pm and have fed very confidently the last couple of nights, I got the gear ready whilst watching the 3rd DVD of the Lord of the Rings extended version and charged the batteries in the 3 flashguns that i intended to use, I set the D7000 with 200-400 on the tripod up early and then had a play with the Flashguns, Everything was ready so back to the DVD and wait, 6pm and i am under the screened porch and soon after 6 deer enter the garden, They stay the whole time and at 6.50 the fox enters, The deer are very unsure of the fox and circle him and even sniffed him, He was unperturbed and carried on eating the few grains of food that i had put in various places, He then came to the main food spot where i had prefocused, I let him eat for a minute and as he looked my way-bang, First shot in the bag, I expected that to be that and for the fox to leg it but he quickly moved away and then returned, He seemed more anxious of the deer than the flash and a minute later i took another shot and the fox didnt even move-this was good and very unexpected, The next shot and the fox shot off through the trees and came back again, I managed 6 shots before he left and within a few minutes i had packed up and replenished the food incase a opossum came or the fox returned and came in, A short but good session and as i have said before the time looking through the windows every evening has paid off,

ISO 3200 Landscapes-DOH

The Beaver Tree
At the small pond

Grey Fox Success
I think the fox image would be perfect using the new Nikon D800 as there is a ton of detail in the coat and its for this type of image that i would like one, You dont need speed and you make your own light with the flashguns-This was at ISO 100, I have to say that the D7000 is a bloody quiet camera in quiet mode, Much more than the D3s in quiet mode which is why i used it


Monday 13 February 2012

Some record shots from the Weekend

As mentioned on my last blog, I said I would post some record images from my garden watching.

Really nothing special photographically, as they were just captures from the upstairs bedroom window into the wildlife garden of some of the common and rarer visitors to my garden patch.

No attempt was made to clone out food, or prepare for a formal shoot from the right angle of view or 'hide' the food.

Male Blackbird on one of the feeding stump tables

With the pond ice just starting to melt, the birds were keen to drink again after a few days of sub zero here in Stratford

Delightful Male Brambling. It has been back on Sunday and Monday

Two of the five Reed Buntings feeding from the ground. I usually get a lone single birds at this time of year, so five was very pleasing to see.

Good numbers of Chaffinch have returned from the countryside, and up to 20 are now a common sight again

A garden first - Redpoll. Single birds in on Saturday and Sunday, but Jac tells me we had four in today, as well as our male Blackcap that pops in from time to time.

If would be good to hear what rarer visitors the cold weather has been bringing to your gardens. Let us know via the comments if you wish.


Sunday 12 February 2012

Garden Watching

I have been sitting at the rear garden window now for weeks just watching, Seeing when (time) the animals are arriving and from where (direction), The watching and making mental notes is just as important as time behind the lens, It should also make my time behind the lens more efficient,, The deer come just after dark although we had very low temperatures last night and as expected they came early, One deer arrived about 30 mins before dark and huged the woodland where i had put some corn out, 30 mins after dark and there were 7 in total, The fox came earlier as well and entered the garden at 7pm and left about 10 minutes later but before he left he went to the far end and another fox joined him, So we have a pair now and the noises late at night that i had mentioned before where no doubt them mating, The cold air has bought sopme new birds in and yesterday we had a wood thrush which was a new one for me,
Last week we had some beautiful sunrises and as i took my wife to work we drove over Falls lake and the mist was rising and it was flat calm-stunning, I was going to go there early today as we knew the weather last night was going to be very cold but what i didn't know was the heavy wind that accompanied it and so it was a lay in for me as i wanted the lake to be like a mirror-maybe tomorrow
This last few days i have been working in making my blind/hide underneath my screened porch more permanent and more comfortable for me to be in for many hours at a time, So i removed the camo netting and have been putting up camo covered plywood with windows that i can raise to shoot through, I will have windows at normal height but also a couple at ground level for low level photography, Once its done it should be great as it will be warm and dry and most importantly draft proof,
There certainly is more to wildlife photography than just taking images that's for sure


Saturday 11 February 2012

Briefest of Quickies

OK, I am really strapped for time today so I will have to make it a super quickie, but a blog nevertheless.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a great days birding here. Well today's experience was much the same, except that it didn't involve getting in the car and driving out.

Firstly, the cold weather has been reaping benefits with incoming wildlife into the garden, and being the weekend meant I got to see it in daylight.

With Pied Wagtail for the first time in ages, I was also really thrilled to see the first male Brambling visit our feeders for a good long time. How fabulous it looked feasting up on seeds.

A quick walk in to town for some food shopping for tonight's dinner party (which is why this blog is a massive rush) it felt kind of ironic having bought four duck breasts from our butcher to enjoy seeing huge numbers of Tufted Duck on the River Avon. With the extremely low temperatures, the ducks have moved in from static water courses such as the larger lakes and ponds around to ice free water.

Back home, as I was sorting out bits for tonight, Jac gave me a shout to look in the garden at five Reed Buntings that were taken seeds from some of the ground food I had put down. What another delight. I have seen occasional lone males at this time of year, but never so many at one time.

With lots of other activity from Greenfinch, Chaffinch, various different Tits and Goldcrest, it was a great days birding from the warmth of my house. Update: Also had a lovely female Redpoll on the nyger seeds as well

Anyway, I have grabbed a few shots, which I will process and put up in the next blog.

Also I haven't forgotten the last Wildlife Garden post either David Schenck - will probably write that up tomorrow for posting later in the week.

Enjoy your weekend.

I am off to eat Duck!!


Update: Well a quick apology for the shocking number of typos and to David for getting his name wrong, again. I have been back and proof read and hopefully put (most) things right now.

Friday 10 February 2012

Garden update

My neighbor called again late yesterday to tell me she had counted over 120 vultures in the tree in her garden, I popped around and sure enough there were enough to make the tree sway when they started to squabble, There are 2 types of vulture here-Black and Turkey and she has both there, I don't know why they have chosen this community to roost in but they are quite impressive in size if not looks,
My garden has been quiet of late mammal wise, Most nights we have deer and opossum but latley we have nights with nothing which is very disappointing to say the least, I decided to change my feeding pattern by dotting the garden perimeter with very small amounts of dog food in the hope that whatever passes will bump into some food and then spend time looking for more, The other night the opossum went from place to place looking and spending a lot of time in the garden and last night we finally had a grey fox come in and feed twice as the first time the deer surrounded it and then chased it off, I have to say that i am over the moon that the fox has finally come here and has fed, I think that the colder nights here of late has made it look further a field but hopefully it will return knowing that there is an easy meal, A week or so ago i did hear a disturbance in the woodland that backs onto my house and think it may have been foxes mating, I really do hope that was the case and will continue to search for any fresh digging in the hope of fox cub images in the spring
The colder nights have also bought some more wintering birds down and the feeders are now quite active with some new species for my garden including goldfinch,jay,junco and siskin to name but a few, I also changed my bird feed in the last week and made my own blend of sunflower seed both in husk and out along with some peanuts and the birds really seem to like the blend, The woodpeckers are also very active and i have to fill the holes in the 'pecker' branch twice a day


Nikon D800-The extras

Whilst the new D800 looks the absolute business it will come at a cost-not just the camera but all the peripherals like much much bigger CF and SD cards, A spare battery-its the same as the D7000 which is good but its not a D3s battery so you will need a spare, Then theres the hidden extras like storage, At over 100MB for an 8bit tiff or over 200MB if you keep your tiffs as 16bit those hard drives are going to fill quickly and although people say that storage is cheap its not as cheap as it was this time last year due to the floods in Thailand, Hows your PC/Mac performance? yes those files will SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW you workflow down unless you have a super fast PC/Mac, Lucky for me i upgraded to the fastest processors etc last year and added a couple of 3TB drives so for me the cost would just be the camera, Having a camera with such a high pixel rate will show any limitations in lenses and to get the very best out of this beast you better use Nikons finest lenses or even lenses like Zeiss if you really want to show the finest detail, Again i stocked up with Nikons finest 3 years ago and boy am i glad that i did as prices have sky rocketed since, So $3000 sounds like a bargain for the camera but some will have to upgrade the lenses and PC/Mac and all of a sudden its not such a bargain, I think that the D800 could be a game changer though, $6000 for the D4 is a lot of money whatever way you look at it, I think by the end of the year it would be prudent to get a D800 and the D400 instead of just 1 D4, The D400 whatever and whenever it arrives will probably have around 24mp and have the speed for birds and fast moving mammals and the D800 will cover everything else and you will have change out of the $6000 that the D4 costs, It certainly is exciting times to be a photographer whatever camp you are in, By Nikon announcing the D800 now it should? keep Canon on its toes for when the 5D3 arrives as well as the 7D2 or whatever it will be called
Time to start saving


Thursday 9 February 2012

Did April Fools Day come early this year?

So two days ago, Canon announced the 24-70f2.8L11 lens as Dave blogged here on Tuesday. I thought OK that looks nice and then yesterday I saw the price. £2299!!!!! FFS I believe is the saying, against the lens it is replacing currently at £995. And they didn't even bother with adding IS on the new one although I cant say I have ever missed it on my mark 1.

Still maybe the bizarre pricing will help push up the second hand prices when the mark 1 is no longer on stock. Might come in useful for the system switch over ;-)

I think I have worked out the meaning of the mark 2 designation on the Canon lens updates. It simply means that the price is doubled. Just compare the prices of the mythical 500 and 600 mark 11 primes as well - doubled!!

Anyway, I thank them for yet more comedy gold with their pricing. Good luck on that one boys.

Dave also picked up the lack of supply too here, and I did back in early January with this one.

Really what is the point of launching products that take so long to come to market?

All in all, I really thought April Fools day had arrived 53 days early

Anyway, the D800 looks good doesn't it. Think I might just be having a trundle along to Focus this year and take a peek.

Looks like the sort of thing I would use to replace the 5Dmk2 with when the time is right.


Wednesday 8 February 2012

D800 and Neighbors

Big floods across Japan over the last couple of days-not from a tsunami or anything like that-its from Canon users crying after reading about the D800-lol, I have read just about everything from specs to forum (both Canon and Nikon) users and the consensus seems to be that Nikon really have pulled one out of the bag, The surprising thing being the 2 model line up and most people seem to be going for the 'e' model without an AA filter although there does seem to be some 2nd guessing after Nikon put some images out showing moire which you will get in certain instances without the filter.I would not pull the trigger until the 2 bodies are shot side by side but i do see it being very very popular and Amazon has already closed its doors to preorders, 36mp is way to many for 99.9% of people but there are those that print big and also agency's cant seem to get enough pixels,I mentioned before it being 2 cameras in one in that you can either have the 36mp full frame at 4fps or you can have 16mp in DX mode with a boost to 6fps which is basically the same as the D7000, I see some people bemoan the slow frame rate but 6 fps is good enough for alot if not most of situations, I would see it as the perfect backup camera for my D3s, All is not rosey for me though, Nikon have taken on the Canon CF and SD cards which i dislike, I would have preferred 2CF slots and the battery grip is slated to sell for over $600 which is ridiculous, How can the D700 grip be $200+ and is basically the same, I use a grip always and this would really bump the price of the kit up, The battery is the same as the D7000 which is good as i have spares of these and if you like to carry a compact type camera with you the same battery also fits the Nikon 1, I see that Nikons shares went up 13% after the announcement and i can see why, Its going to be huge, I also think it will be a huge pain in the butt for Nikon as inexperienced users will upgrade to it and i have already read of a long time pro thats used it saying that it will show any flaws that you have, Lots of pixels will need plenty of shutter speed or a good tripod or both and i think there will be a lot of complainers within hours of it hitting the streets just as there was with the D7000 which i still rate highly, I did dowload some of the D800 images on the Nikon site and 2 stood out, See images 1 and 6 here and take a look at the hands and nose of the colored girl-amazing detail
Just over a week ago i had a phone call from one of my new neighbors saying that she has lots of wildlife in her garden and in particular the vultures had started to use one of the trees as a roost or meeting place and early morning are when they meet there before flying off and returning late afternoon, Today is the first time that either i have had time or the weather has been good, Frost and a crisp morning sees me on her deck with about 35+ vultures in the trees, She told me that there are sometimes 70, The sun was behind so it was a silhouette shot which was fine as its different and i can return and get some normal type shots when i want, She is very lucky in that she gets fox,opossum and raccoon as well as the vultures and even though she is only a 30 second drive down the road my garden is fox free which i hope will not be for long, I set up and used my D3s and 70-200 on the tripod and had the D7000 with 200-400 in-case one flew by, When i left there i drove down the road and there was a turkey vulture sunning its self on a tree in another garden so i put the 600 on the D7000 and took a few shots from the car, The session was a quick one and most of the time i was talking to my neighbor, The birds were not doing much and the shooting angle was quite restrictive, I decided on a birdscape type image as opposed to a close up as the sky seems as much a part of the scene as the birds but i have now been given free rein of the garden so i can come and go as i please which is nice


Tuesday 7 February 2012

Canon 24-70 II Announced

Canon slipped a new lens in yesterday, The 24-70 F2.8 MK2, BH are taking preorders at $2299 which is about $400 more than Nikon's offering
Details here

Nikon D800/800E announced

As i mentioned in the last blog the Nikon D800 has now been announced and it looks like one hell of a camera and the big surprise is the cost at under $3000 it looks to be the bargain of the century, Congrats to Nikon and i cant wait to see some real life images and reviews
more here

Monday 6 February 2012

Japan 1 year on

Its about a year ago that i went to Japan and on the 2nd day there we went to the CP+ trade show to have a look at all the new goodies that the people who take all our money are going to produce, On that note Canon showed their 200-400 prototype-So that's a year Canon and still no signs of it hitting the shops, Just incase you think its some kind of Japanese mythology here a shot i took of it

Anyway talking of Japan and its wonderful winter wildlife i recently received a mail from a blog reader in Sweden called Jens and it seems that he is going to Hokkaido after reading the blog and getting inspiration from it-kinda makes it all worthwhile, The CP+ show this year will be a big event for Nikon as it seems that the new D800 will be announced,The rumours or leaks have been coming thick and fast for weeks now so it seems that the 36mp 4fps body will soon be around and i must say that it looks very interesting especially as recent leaks state that with the battery grip it will do 6fps which is the same as the D7000 and in DX crop mode gives the same 16mp as the D7000 so basically 2 cameras in one, I will look at this with interest and if all is well i may pull the plug on one towards the end of the year although by that time the D400 should have risen from the flames so who knows, What i do know is that Nikon have had 2 major disasters in the last 12 months and yet have somehow come through it all and are offering superb new cameras whereas Canon seem to show what may happen at sometime in the future-hats off to Nikon
Here are a couple of snaps from the CP+ show which although quite a small show was nicely laid out and had plenty of interesting accessories that i had never seen before


Sunday 5 February 2012

Establishing your own wildlife garden - Part 2. Implementation

In Part 1, I talked about the planning process and how critical it is at the start to put a lot of effort into the planing.

In this second part, I will share with you how I implemented the plan, and modified as I went.

I started with a large area of heavily overgrown and very fertile soil - not the best for wildflowers - poor soil is actually much better.

A concrete path, masses of blackberry bushes, brambles, roses, invasive shrubs a couple of small lawns, and four dry stone walls were all surplus to my plan.

It was a daunting task. Access to the area with a mechanical digger was going to be tricky to impossible so it was to be a labour of love, graft, blood, sweat, tears, and bad backs.

I started in the the late May after return from a trip to Mull and so the process began. A hour or so after work before supper, a few hours at weekends. Dig, pick axe through untold numbers of heavy roots. Lots of 'Round Up' down to kill the weeds.

Working systematically, I dug down a couple of foot, cleared roots and burned them off. As I worked from one side, I banked up the soil to create the topography that I was working my plan on, which gave me clearing space to work.

Now, would I have preferred to use a little Bobcat digger? Possibly, but it did mean that root clearance was far more efficient when done by hand. I know if I had used a mechanical digger, I would still be killing off stuff as we go into the fourth growing season. So the hard graft at the start was worth it.

It did mean that progress wasn't very fast, but I had until September until I needed to get seed down.

Large loads of Oak slab wood was delivered and edges were set down as shuttering.

In the area of my raised pond that would act as the feeder pond to the stony stream feeding the main pond, slab wood and posts were constructed to form a sort of terracing so I can build height quickly to overcome the natural slip angle of soil, thus avoiding subsidence.

Concrete paths were bashed using sledge hammers, and the rubble back filled in the raised pond area to save having to get rid of it, and avoid the need for additional soil.

Not wanting a level plot, but having contours meant I had to think carefully about how I distributed the soil to get the banks with the amount of earth available to use.

As the digging continued, progress at times felt impossibly slow, but after about six weeks, I had a couple of weeks of summer leave, and things accelerated.

On the areas I had prepared, weeds started to come up, so these were continually killed off. The local cats loved the fact that they had this massive litter tray that I had lovingly prepared for them....bastards!!

By the end of August, all the main prep was done, mounds and hills built, tree stumps embedded as feeder tables.

The final activity was to build the ponds. I put three in at the first pass. A reflection pool, purely for photographic purposes. Making a rocky mound, I set down some reinforcement mesh, and made a mix of hypertufa, comprising of cement, sand and peat to give it a rustic feel. It was tricky getting it dead level, and it took a number of fine tweaks subsequently with skims of cement.

The second pond was a separate small plastic pre-formed liner placed at the top of the garden near the pear tree. My thinking was to give wither frogs, toads or newts a separate place to go to get away from whatever because the dominant species if it need to.

The main pond was marked out with white sand trail to define the edges, and the digging began. The spoil was moved to create the mound for the final pod that I built a couple of years later to feed the stream to feed the main pond.

The main pond was essentially configured in two parts. The area by the path shelved from nothing to about 8 to 10 inches deep. This shallow area is a great area for birds to get in and bath. It is also very popular with the tadpoles as the water here heats up quickly in the sun.

The other half of the pond was built as a deep sump, about three feet deep. This is to give the overwintering amphibians, and damsel / dragon larva plenty of ice free water during the depths of winter.

Side shelves to a depth of about 1 foot were also made to provide for marginal planting.

The pond was lined with a heavy butyl rubber and the 'beach' was covered with slate stone to cover the rubber liner.

A trip to a local water garden centre resulted in the purchase of a number of native UK species.

With these placed, the pond was filled.

It was now the first week of September. Time to order the seeds.

In the third part of this series, I will take you through the planting and first year growing season. I will even get some pictures for you. I have been through my archives and have struggled to find any pics of the build process.


Saturday 4 February 2012

California Day 8-The Big Sur

The last day in California and it coincided with my wife's birthday, I asked where she wanted to go and luckily enough she said she would like lunch along the Big Sur stretch of coastline, The Big Sur runs from Monterey south and consists of rugged coastline dotted with beaches and state parks, Very Very Scenic and a photo opportunity at every turn, The weather was beautiful with blue cloudless skies and 70+ degree temperatures, Although i wasn't expecting to shoot i did have a trunk full of camera gear just in-case, There is one place in particular where you have a good chance to see the Californian Condor but it was not today and the skies remained empty of this huge bird, We did get good views of just about every other raptor, When we stopped at the condor area i spent some time looking at the sea lions playing in the sea below and when i looked up i noticed a spout from a whale and then another and another, During the few hours there we must have seen well in excess of 30 whales which you could clearly see through the binoculars, I would think they were humpbacks or greys or both, We had lunch way down the coastline in fact we were close to the end of the road as the landslide was still there, If you are ever near Monterey then this is a must place to visit
Here are a few snaps that i took on the way back

At certain times of year the hillsides explode with wildflowers and the images i have seen have been stunning, Hopefully that will coincide with my next trip there


Friday 3 February 2012

British Wildlife Photography Awards 2012

Just a quickie for today due to a combination of workload and social commitments after hours.

I note that the call for entries for this years British Wildlife Photography Awards has been published. Your chance for fame, fortune and unbelievable prizes. OK so maybe that is pushing it a bit, but it looks like a good gig if that is your sort of thing.

Not one that I have gone for previously, but might well give it a serious look. I'll let you know only if successful :-)

Have a great weekend, maybe a good opportunity to get out with the cameras with the cold weather presenting some different opportunities

I'll be back on Sunday with the next part of the Wildlife Gardening series.


Thursday 2 February 2012

California Day 7-Seals and Fog

I had a long day planned so i was up at 4am and a 3.5 hour drive south to a place called San Simeon, Its down past the Big Sur,but the Big Sur was closed due to a land slide so i drove inland and then across the mountains to get there which should of been quicker but i had over 80 miles of thick fog and alot of it was driving blind, I arrived to find thick fog along the coast and set up on the board walk and waited and waited, There was a lot of bull seals, Probably around 3000+ and all at my feet, I was hoping to get at eye level and although the boardwalk was quite low i was still elevated-see here for a snap to give an idea

So 2 big problems-fog and being elevated, there are ways to get around this, Firstly with the elevation its best to use your longest lens and shoot distant subjects, This will 'ease' the angle and although being higher you can get results like this

The fog is a different subject and although you can use it to get some 'atmosphere' mostly it can be a pain in the arse and ruin an image, Most of the images i took early were a waste but as the fog lifted it became more workable, Here is an image straight out of the camera

You can see that the fog has made the image flat and lacking any contrast but by adjusting the 'levels' in photoshop and adding a small amount of curves you can get a useable image

There was a lot of action from the start and males would drift in and out of the sea and then try and mate with the nearest female which often caused a bigger male to make chase, I was hoping to get some good fight images of equal sized males but it never happened so something to aim for another day, There was a huge amount of pups around of all sizes and they were still being born whilst i was there, You could tell when a pup was born as the gulls would go mad and flock in for the afterbirth etc

A big Bull comes through the surf, They are a real fish out of water on land and takes a huge amount of effort to move let alone fight

Most of the females were non receptive to the males and they would flick sand at them with their flippers and bark and bite them, If a male wanted to mate he would simply slam his 5000lb bulk down on them and beat them into submission,Here 2 females are telling the bull where to go, One of my favorites of the session

Another big Bull displays as it comes to shore

I have to say that they are very impressive creatures and one thing that you dont get from photos is the noise that they make,
I did notice that once the males came in from the sea they would crash out at the edge of the waves and then lift their tails and wait for another wave to help them 'surf' in

As soon as a Bull hit the shore it would display

As i left the car park i noticed something moving in the field opposite and it turned out to be a coyote, This is a big crop just for ID

And then a mile down the road i again caught something out of the corner of my eye, I turned around and had a look through the binoculars and could not believe my eyes-a bobcat in broad daylight, A long way off but brilliant to watch-a huge crop and the 600 was handheld from the car here so no apologies for the IQ

I think it was a male-lol

At the end of the day i had driven for 8 hours and had around 6 hours shooting so after a quick snack i hit the sack