Thursday 28 June 2012

Quick Garden Update

Well you dont need me to tell you about the bizarre weather we are having in the UK this Spring and Summer(?).  Suffice to say it has played havoc with the wildlife in my garden. 

We had a good burst of Red Damselflies a while back, a few Blues and Azures and one beauty that was new to this garden was a Banded Demoiselle.  But not a sign of other other form of Dragonfly yet.

There was a good burst of butterflies in the early Spring on the one or two warm days, but virtually nothing since.  The weather has been so depressing I haven't even risked putting out the moth trap for risk of overnight heavy rain.

On the bird front, we are seeing quite a few fledglings, with our 'home' Blackbird on her second brood which we will see hatched very soon.  Juvenile Thrushes are now a daily sighting to although they are not nesting with us.

On the wildflower front, we have had the regular stuff from previous years coming up, with the pleasant addition of Ragged Robin around the pond edges and lots of lovely blue Vipers Bugloss.  There is no sign of my orchid this year, but again regular checks of my local wild patch has indicated they are all much later this year.

Once again, the Council have mown down the Bee Orchids I noticed this morning  - I despair of the incompetents that we have to pay for.

So when will my camera come out again? - goodness only knows but I need the weather to buck up, and I need to find some time as there have been a lot of other distractions that have been taking my time away, which I will share with you on my next blog.

Happy Summer


Monday 25 June 2012

Garden Wide

I forgot to mention in my blog that last week i decided to put a remote camera near to where i put some corn down for the deer, I have done this before a few years ago and the deer would not come anywhere near the bait as they didnt like the glass, This time i put the 14-24 on the D3s, I placed it on a beanbag next to a tree and put some camo netting over it, All you could see was the glass but the deer spotted it before coming out of the trees and over the period of an hour licked the air,stamped their feet and came closer and closer until one of the young bucks started to eat, Then they all came out and relaxed a little, I had the camera on silent mode and when the shutter went off they did little but raise their heads, I was just testing the water and think with some fine tuning and maybe the use of a different lens i could get some interesting results, the camera was triggered by a hahnel pro remote


Heat, Processing and Memories

Boy has it been hot this week with temperatures over 90 degrees and a couple of days hitting 97, Add to that its been very humid and the heat index has been said to be well over 100 degrees, Its too hot for me thats for sure, Leave the coolness of the air conditioned house and its like walking into a furnace, Last week and for the next few weeks i need to play catch up with processing images and getting submissions out to agencies, Its a must do, I have been putting it off but now must really buckle down and get some money in rather than have images and good images at that just sitting on the hard drives,
Its good to go back through your images as you find little gems that you had forgotten about and also some images invoke memories of good times when everything has come together, One image i reprocessed was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains one fall when the sun was setting, I was sitting on top of Clingmans dome along with many other people and the light was beautiful and just got better and better as the sun went down

I have shot the foxes in my garden on a few evenings and have managed some very nice images, There have been more and more deer coming as well, 8 one night and we had an added bonus of a 'Bambi' come with its mum on Friday evening, I grabbed the D800+600VR combo as it was by the door ready but it was really too much lens and the 200-400 would have been perfect, I got some record shots but nothing special, Its not been back since but mum comes so it cant be far, I have seen a few fawns around the area close to the road with its parents and one was dead the nest day, Its was one of those weeks where everything tried to get killed, I had deer, squirrel and even a black snake shoot out in the road in front of me, The snake was very lucky as i managed to swerve and get it between the wheels, I watched in the rear view mirror as it shot off across the road none the wiser, Its the first live snake i have seen here near my new home, A few dead ones but none alive,
The female fox now comes very very close to me, Infact she will come as close as where i place food, I invited a friend over on Saturday evening for dinner and the opportunity to shoot the fox and deer, Its always a concern incase nothing appears but that's wildlife, On this occasion things could not have gone better, I told her that the foxes will appear anywhere from 5.15pm and sure enough at 5.15 the male walked across the top of the garden, 10 minutes later and he came to feed, The deer the arrived and hung around the garden for some time and then the female fox and in good light, She came very close allowing just head shots with the 600VR,Once she had gone the deer continued to come and go, We hoped the fawn would turn up but that was not to be, We both got some good images and it was a good night with plenty of beer and wine thrown in,

I very very rarely shoot captive animals, I have only done it a few times in my life, I know some people like zoo type photography but for me it leaves me cold, The animals do not look like they do in the wild and i always feel very sorry seeing them locked up, I do have fond memories of shooting captive owls and falcons with friends in the UK and when i was asked if i wanted to shoot some Captive owls here in NC i had to think about it before saying yes, I am off to a guy in the Smoky Mountains this coming Saturday to shoot his collection with some people from the CNPA (Carolina Nature Photographers Association), It will be good to meet with some other like minded people and as the place is not open to the general public and only cost $10 it was a no brainer, Two things i hope for is that the birds are not wearing jessies or restraints and that there are some nice perches,
We had the small owls flitting around the garden the other night and i did manage to get a good look at one with the aid of a spot light but it was gone by the time the camera gear was ready, I really thought it was a Northern Saw-Whet owl as i could not see its ears which the Screech Owl has but on Sunday i purchased a couple of apps for my wifes ipad and could confirm that it was indeed a Northern Screech Owl by the call, I could also confirm that what i thought was a whip or will is infact a chuck widows will, Who names these birds? anyway I purchased two apps, One called Bird Tunes which does what it says and the other called Birds Eye which tells you of bird sightings in your area and gives maps of when and where they were seen, Both very good apps and not very expensive,

The above from my Canon days, A memorable weekend for sure


Monday 18 June 2012

The week that wasn't

I was in my garden this morning around 7am, Complete silence, Very eery and the sky looked very threatening, We have heavy rain and thunder for the next couple of days, Its exactly what we had last week, The rain on Monday and Tuesday was torrential, The foxes didn't like it and i didn't see one until Wednesday and even then it was a fleeting glance, I cant say that i blame them, I have seen the male in the garden very early in the morning but i am glad to say that the female keeps her routine of between 5.15pm and 8pm,One good thing about the amount of rain was that it bought a tortoise out into my garden so i grabbed various lenses from my 150mm macro to the 200-400 and 600 and took some images, I like the longer lenses for this type of work and they have a lovely diffused background, I used the beanbag and tried the lens on the deck as well as some handholding, After about 20 minutes of laying in the dirt the tortoise left and that was that, The deer seem to hang around the garden most of the day and go in and out of the woodland, One young male has a liking to my bird food and goes there before anywhere else, What with him and the squirrels the birds don't get much of a look in, I have managed a few decent deer images this week, I haven't shot much in the way of deer as i put food around the edges of the woodland and it doesn't make for a photogenic scene, i used to put food out on the grass but soon learned that its only a good idea if you want big bald patches, The garden has kept me very busy and i spent 2 long back aching days weeding and re mulching, I had 2.5 acres of mature garden in France and here i have only 1.5 acres but it takes 10 times longer to keep it in check due to the amount of flowers and bedding,
So not too much in the way of photography, It was national wildlife photography day on Friday which was started by NANPA (North American Nature Photographers Association) 7 years ago and they ask you to go out and shoot something and post it on their facebook page, Luckily the fox and weather co-operated and i put up and nice female fox image,
When i got my D800 i shot a couple of times in my studio, i set the lights up using a Sekonic hand held light meter and shoot in manual, I noticed that the images were a good 1-1.5 stops under exposed, I didnt take too much notice and adjusted the exposure by using the histogram, I then read of somebody on line having the same problem, I set the studio lights up in the usual fashion and shot side by side with the D3s, I am glad to say that both cameras had the same (correct) exposure with identical histograms and that the test images of me looked good, I can only think it could be 1 of 2 things, Either i had set something wrong like the ISO or there was an secret adjustment in the recent firmware update, Either way things seem to be how they should, one thing people go on about with the D800 is the greenish tint to the LCD screen and its something i noticed when i first got mine, I guess i am now used to it and it makes no difference to the actual image, I was only reminded of it when i did the studio tests and held the D3s and D800 next to each other to check the image and histogram, Although the D800 does look a small amount on the yellow/green side holding it next to the D3s makes the D3s image look cooler, Nikon say that the D800 is more true to life and they may be right, i think its a tad off but its just a preview and the images look great out of the camera.
Nikon announced 2 new lenses this week, A 18-300 DX lens and a 24-85 FF lens, The full frame lens being a cheaper lens for the soon to be announced D600 which already has leaked photos on line so it cant be far away, Rumored specs are 24mp and $1500, Now that would be something if correct and although it will be a base model with a low spec AF system and plasticy body for a landscape photographer it may be all you need as you dont need fast FPS (D600 rumored at 4FPS) and you dont really need lots of focus points and fancy AF system, Its the specs and price are true i would expect to see Canons 5D3 drop in price pretty quickly, If nothing else it will make a good back up body and a great travel camera

Rainy day Tortoise
 National Wildlife Photography Day Fox
 A curious deer that walked towards me giving a decent background, the small ray of sunlight coming through the trees catching its chin and whiskers,The D800 always amazes and when you zoom in you can clearly see the tick around the eye and my house in its reflection
Sunflower seed loving deer
Canons big guns telephotos are starting to hit the shelves after huge delays but it seems from a few people on forums that have managed to get one that the wait was worth it even if the costs are very high and they sound awesome, It would be nice to have some weight removed from the 600 and with the new Canon 600 weighing the same as the old 500 that sounds like heaven, I will interested to see some reviews and tests in the coming weeks/months to see how they compare with the older lenses in both IQ and AF speed.


Thursday 14 June 2012

A few interesting bits for sale

Ok apologies for the lack of blogs from me lately.


Terrible weather (in case you hadn't noticed) so camera just hasn't been out of the bag/cupboard/house.

Too much work on at the moment - lots of bids/long hours etc.

Getting motorcycle touring logistics sorted for later this year

However, I will bring a garden update on my very local wildlife at the next shout.

Having had a clearout of a lot of my gear a while back, I have a few other bits for sale now that are a bit more specialist wildlife gear that may be of interest to our readers.

They are on eBay now and have just two days to run.

So if they appeal get over there, check it out, bid and grab a bargain.

The gear is as follows;

Wimberley Sidekick - probably one of the best tools for use with the 500 lenses and lower in conjunction with an Arca Swiss or other ball head.  Light and very adaptable

Wimberley P40 Foot plate (for Canon 500 amongst other lenses)

Wimberley P30 Foot Plate (for Canon 300f2.8 among other lenses)

Kirk Flash Extender (for Canon 580EX or EX11 flash head)  These are also known as Better Beamers

Naturescapes Skimmer Pod (for use with a ball head and low level to skim across mud/sand/water etc)

Plus a little Manfrotto 484RC2 head - OK for little cameras or remotely mounting flashheads on stands



Monday 11 June 2012

 Its been an interesting week, I have managed to get out to some new places and also meet some new people, I am a member of the Carolina Nature Photographers Association, Its one of the biggest groups for Nature Photographers in the States, I have been a member for a couple of years or more but have only ever been to one meeting, Its something i need to change so last week i went to a meeting which was very good and around 50+ people turned up, I went to a shoot with some of them at a local Eco Station called Prairie Ridge which is not that far from me, Its a nice area with a pond that could be good in the winter,There were a lot of dragonflies around the pond and i spent 20 minutes trying to get a shot of one in flight, I used the D3s and 200-400 but a 300 or 400 prime would have been preferable especially weight wise,
Not great and a sizeable crop
Lots of wild flowers and an area with bird feeders, I didnt do much shooting but instead had a good look around for the future, There were around 10-12 people present which was good for a mid week meet and after a couple of hours shooting we went off for something to eat and a chat, A nice relaxed morning, A couple of the guys told me of a park with some nesting owls so i will check that out this week and hope that they are still there and that i can find them,
I ordered and received a L bracket for the D800/Grip combo, I bought it from Kirk Enterprises and its a thing of beauty-art in aluminum and will make it so that i can now use the D800 with wides for landscapes etc,

The females fox has been coming into the garden earlier and earlier, One night she caught me by surprise, I had just put some food out when i turned around and there she was, 5.15pm, Her circle or fear or acceptance has decreased somewhat and last night i was laid flat out using the beanbag on the ground when she came within 8 feet of me, I had put some food there and wanted to know if she would approach that close or not, She was skittish and quickly backed off a couple of time but she will learn to relax over time, I used the 200-400 and nearly filled the frame with her face, Its a great honor to be accepted by a wild animal and not something to be taken lightly, The male fox has only shown twice in the last week for some reason and i have watched opossum in the garden a few nights during the last week but still without young, One of the problems with shooting in your garden is trying to come up with different images in a confines space, I have been putting the bait where there is a natural looking background but have started to also include some human elements as well, I have 2 garden frogs and thought it would be a fun image to get the fox with them-well its not happened and the foxes steer well clear of the frogs which is strange
On Saturday i went out with my wife and dog to the Sarah Duke gardens or Duke gardens as its commonly known in Durham, I have always wanted to go and never for one reason or another made it but thus weekend i went and its one impressive place and a bonus is that its free apart from parking, The gardens are laid out beautifully and extremely photogenic, There is a large pond with wildfowl on it, Mainly mallards but also pin tail and i believe wood ducks are present, I only had a 24-70 with me but the birds are easy to get near so i will pop back and take the 200-400, A word if you go there is to take food and drink as the small cafe is very expensive, Well worth a full day or more,
Not a great image of a Northern Pintail but it was taken with a 24-70 and its only a small crop


Monday 4 June 2012

A good week for the foxes

I have managed to shoot the foxes every night except 2 for the last 7 nights, It was only bad weather that stopped me shooting the other 2 as we had the aftermath of tropical storm Beryl, I think it was Wednesday night that we had Tornado warnings and extreme rain, I watched the very dark clouds overhead looking very threatening but i don't think any tornado's touched down until near the coast, its that time of year here in NC, I have my gear set up around 5.30 and watch from my house until the fox or foxes arrive then go out, The fox stop and watch as i sneek into position and then carry on as if i am not there, I have never had semi tame foxes to myself, Some neighbors semi habituated them long before i arrived here, Its something i have never really agreed with and have always shot totally wild foxes that would run even if they could just smell you so this is something totally different, Saying that if i move or make a noise they are ready to run but if i stay still they will just keep an eye on me and carry on, The food is obviously more important to them and the cubs than i am, The male is far more skittish than the female who has walked as close as 15 feet from me, A couple of nights i have laid out flat or as flat as my stomach will allow for a better point of view and used the beanbag for camera support, Its by far the best way of getting super sharp images and better than any tripod, The foxes come out anywhere between 6.15pm and 8pm or as i say ISO 400 and ISO 1600, I sometimes use the D3s as its the better camera in low light but i do really try to use the D800 purely for the file sizes although i dont like to shoot over ISO 800 due to grain or noise starting to show, Its a good stop below the D3s for noise but the file sizes keep me reaching for it first, Shutter speeds average 1/100 shooting wide open at F4 and using the 600 lens means that good technique and waiting for the fox to be totally still is the way to go and be prepared to bin a lot of images due to slight movement in the head, Saying that i have been taking around 100 images a night so at the end of the week still have a lot of keepers.
I had mentioned to my wife that the deer and fox look tick free but the female clearly had a huge tick under her chin and on close inspection of one of the shots of her she has a lot of smaller ticks around her eyes, We take ticks off of our dog every night so any animals that live in the woodland must be covered,

You may also notice that i have over cooked the exposure a small amount and there is a small blown out area near the mouth, Its something to keep in mind when shooting foxes and shooting to the right, Around the nose area is very easy to blow out,
One night i set my D3s up on a tripod so that it shot over my head to give you a view of me shooting the fox, The wide angle makes the distance between myself and the fox look bigger than it is and is actually around 20-25 feet
The wildlife high light of the week for me was sitting in my screened porch late last night (Sunday) i could hear a commotion in the nearby tree and saw a bird fly out of it, The noise was nothing i could identify and then another bird flew out and landed just above my head on the guttering, A third bird flew and then the bird above me followed it, They were very small owls, About 10 minutes later i took my dog out into the front garden and could again hear the owls nearby, I looked up into the tree and could seem them clearly but as silhouettes, I checked my bird guide and would say that they were  Northern Saw-Whet Owls by there call, I am guessing it was an adult and 2 young or both adults and 1 young, Either way great to have around the house, Strangest birds in the garden this week were 2 belted kingfishers which flew around the garden before landing on my neighbors roof and then flying off, Last night we also listened to a distant Barred Owl and for the last couple of weeks have had a Whip Poor Will calling in the woodland behind my house which looks like a night-jar and extremely difficult to see