Twelve days into the new year, and I’m in trouble already….

Do you find that sometimes people take photography far too seriously?  I’m not talking about professionals, who just have to be more serious than us – but about people who don’t seem to ‘get’ the idea that you can relax and play with your cameras and images.

For example…. I took this image just before Christmas

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A friend and myself went to the local woods to shoot some macro – and he had with him a portable smoke machine – well, we had a rare old time, messing about, crawling in the undergrowth – letting the smoke off, and watching the way the breeze seemed to change direction between every shot we took.

We must have taken a lot of images – and were caught by the woodland warden / conservationist, who thought it was funny to see two aged photographers grovelling about in the undergrowth.  He asked what we were doing, and was interested in the effects we were trying to get.  He liked the images too.

Anyway – I posted this image on a social media site, and was heavily criticised by another photographer for putting artificial smoke (read fog) into the image.  At first I was accused of putting the ‘fog’ in during post production.  When I said that we used a smoke machine – I was told that it wasn’t natural, and we shouldn’t have done it.  I tried to explain that it wasn’t toxic – that there was no harm being done, and we were just having fun……  The same poster said and I quote “there’s no fun crawling around getting dirty, and you shouldn’t be using a smoke machine in a public place…..”

So that told me off then…..

I don’t think I approach photography as something trite, but I do enjoy trying new things.  I think the challenge for the commenter here is to find the balance between being stuffy and dour, and letting go to enjoy the hobby.

 

 

Light, and the Edit

Last night, I went out and was able to take some photographs of Tawny Owls.  Sat there, in the dark, unable to speak for fear of scaring them away, low whispers and pitch black in the hide, staring at the pole on which we hoped they’d land – before moving across the area where a couple of flash guns were set up, to land on the target.

I’d envisaged what I wanted – the subtle background of trees in the dusk – the owl in flight moving across the glade on silent wings – me with the remote clutched in my hot hands – staring at that first pole, as the light fell, and fell – a tiny light illuminating the top of that first pole so I’d be able to make out the owl as she landed. The strain of the eye – was that a landed owl, or was I imagining things?

The picture was in my mind – but the reality was twofold.

  1. The owl landed on the second pole straight away – took the bait and cleared off.
  2. The owl went straight for the food and didn’t land on anything.
  3. (OK, threefold then), the owl landed on the first pole, flew to the second as planned, but did it not in a straight line, but in a curve, and so was too small in the frame.

It’s so frustrating – nature at its very best, I love it.

Then the conversation later about how to tackle the low light, the bird, and the background.  One point of view was to keep everything as dark as possible, as tawny owls hunt at night (unlike barn owls which I see fairly frequently in daylight hours). On the other hand, they do hunt at dusk, so some background would be inevitable.

Shooting with flash (and that’s the only way to illuminate the bird), means the background is black anyway.  So what’s the answer.  Maybe a second light on the background permanently, so as to illuminate both things at the same time……… or

Two images, one of the background with a longer exposure, but still dim, and the second of the bird, in flight, or stationary on its post.

OK, well the downside to this is that I can’t use a composite image in a nature competition.  The rules generally say I can’t do this, so back to plan A.

The reality of things like this, is you have to take an image to please yourself, and not for the competition. If you like it, then that’s all there is to it – but in the meantime – here’s a couple of owl images that I like, and you can work out for yourselves how I did it…..

 

Garden Birds

This is just a short piece to talk about the setting up of a garden bird hide at my home.

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I had recently been to a hide out in the Lincolnshire Wolds, and having examined the set up there, decided that I’d have a go at home.  It’s taken a bit of sorting out, but the results are starting to come in.

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It took a while for the birds to decide that they ‘liked’ where I’d put the new feeder, and that they trusted the perches I was putting out for them.

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So far, I’ve had the usual suspects creeping in – Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Coal Tit, Starlings – and the usual crop of Wood Pigeons.  Collard Dove is around but not had them on the table yet.  I’ve seen other finches and I’d love it for Woodpeckers to arrive.  Most years I get a cuckoo in the garden – and it would be amazing to get a shot of one of those.

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Fingers crossed.

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All images were taken with the Fuji X-T3 and the 100-400 lens.  The latter two with a 1.4 extender @f8

The FujiFilm X-T3

Just over two years ago, I started to move over to the Fuji camera system.  At the time, it was with regret that I sold my beloved Canon 1D MK4, and some lens.  I bought the Fuji X-T2, and a 23mm f2 lens, and promptly went on holiday with it.

I could not believe the results from such a small camera – I’d done my research, and quizzed people who already used the Fuji system, and trusted those whom I had asked.  They had assured me I would be happy.

I’ve been a Canon girl my entire photographic life.  The first one I bought was the 350D, and after that a range of their cameras, and lens.  So a switch to a completely new system was a bit of a culture shock.

Once you get over the problem of sorting your way through a completely alien menu though – and realise that everything the Canon did, this does (and in some cases does it better), then you’re away.

Last year, Fuji brought out the X-T3 – and whilst I’m not one for upgrading for the sake of it – I decided that I’d go for it.  I had Canon stuff still to sell, and it sold really easily.  So with an upgrade trade in price from Fuji, and a great price for the X-T2 from the local camera shop, and cashback on a new lens, also from Fuji – the deal was done.

So, how am I getting on?

Well, it’s about image quality, and to be honest it is stunning.  I’ve worked this camera much harder than the X-T2, shooting sport and wildlife.  I’ve also had it in the studio, and shot some portraits.

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There’s a massive amount of detail.

With the X-T3 there are even larger files (the downside is I need more storage), and you do need a fair amount of processing power to move these through quickly. Detail and quality are excellent, and the ever increasing range of Fuji Lens, gives the shooter more and more options.

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This hare was on the other side of a field.  Taken with the 100-400 lens, and cropped in.  I’ve not lost any detail, and the image is still tack sharp.

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Catching small birds means getting the shutter speed up, but using the electronic shutter means I can access a much faster frame rate, and get exactly the shot I want.  Plus it’s a silent shutter.  No more spooking the birds.

_DSF1819I’ve read a lot about ‘worms’ within the xTrans sensor that the Fuji has.  I’ve also read that Adobe Lightroom makes the problem worse.  To be honest I just can’t see it.   I have sharpened the Fuji files in Lightroom, in the same way I did with the Canon.  There’s no difference.  They sharpen up just great – and a bit is always needed as I shoot in RAW.

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The end result is what matters, and it seems to me that whatever I do with this camera, the results are going to be brilliant.

So to those who are ‘sitting on the fence’, don’t wait any longer.  I can thoroughly recommend the Fuji system – and in case you’re wondering – no, I’m not getting paid for this – it’s just my thoughts and my impressions of a system.

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Enjoy your photography, whatever you use………

I’m waiting to be discovered….

I’m getting older.  I’m 61 – and fortunately in reasonably good health.  I think I’m a reasonable photographer, maybe a tad better than average, but I’ve certainly not been discovered.

I have spent my photographic life producing work in complete obscurity – well near complete anyway.  The people who have seen my work are mostly clients, then camera club folks, then the people that I can bore on a semi-regular basis.

Though this might not be ideal, I am at least, on a par with probably 99% of the photographers that I know, and that is a comfort.  There must be billions of people who own cameras, and even more billions of photographs are uploaded to the internet every day.  Goodness knows how many get uploaded just to Facebook, without thinking of Flickr, or 500px, or any of the other social media channels.  So I suppose I’m in good company.

I don’t suppose for one minute that I’m ever going to be famous.  I suspect that the photographers that I know now, who are well known, in my circles are not going to be internationally famous either.  So why do we continue? – well, I think it’s because we like to have an audience of sorts, even if it’s of our own compatriots.

Photography is expensive, it can be demanding, we push ourselves to make the best images we can, and sometimes we are rewarded with applause from our friends, or maybe a competition win or two, and this is where there is potential for it all to go wrong.  We win something – we achieve a qualification, therefore we are good, and so we should, maybe, be fighting off the adulation from our doors….  NOPE – that didn’t happen either.

Success in competition or accreditation is satisfying.  Success in the outside world is rare, and is for the few, but I’m not suicidal yet…..

Fame in the real world is not just about skill, craftsmanship and the ability to produce brilliant images (I see that every time I look at images on 500px), it’s also about chance, luck, and being in the right place at the right time.

Why for example is Ansel Adams (my hero by the way) so famous..?  Well I looked it up on Google – and here’s the theory.. He was born in 1902 in San Francisco, California. He rose to prominence as a photographer of the American West, particularly Yosemite National Park, using his work to promote conservation of wilderness areas – and there we might have it – Conservation of Wilderness areas.   He was there, producing images of the wilderness at the time conservation became a big issue in the 1970’s which is when he rose to prominence. His work fitted the situation exactly, and his hard work over previous decades was given credence because he lived and worked there, and because he had a huge catalogue of work already complete.

I’ve been to Yosemite, wondered at the majesty of Half Dome – decided to stand on the bridge that Ansel Adams stood on and get ‘that’ picture of the sunset.  Me with the 40 odd other people jostling for position, on what amounted to a small bridge.  No – you need to live your own creative life, and not try to live it through the eyes of a hero…

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We have no control over who likes our work and who doesn’t – we have more control over who sees our work, but we can’t make them buy it.  (It’s great when someone does though) – we cannot have any idea what will happen to our work in the future, and we have no idea if anything we have produced will influence future generations.

All we can say for certain is that our work will still be visible after we have gone, the internet will see to that, and I personally have no idea if my work will  influence anyone in years to come.  Enjoy it whilst you can…… you do not know what tomorrow may bring.

 

 

Bird Photography

It’s been a while since I got out and sat in a bird hide – but finally I’ve been able to manage a half day – well actually not even a full half day – really just a few hours.

Bluetit-1Having said that – it was frustrating to travel down to my favourite hide, as the Christmas traffic was terrible.   Arriving though was a great relief, and the pools and hides were as fantastic as I remember them – it seems a long time, but in reality it’s only been about 2 months.  The birds were co-operative, and it was good to watch as well as photograph them.

I was most impressed by the Great Spotted Woodpecker, a youngster turned up a couple of times whilst I was there, and didn’t even immediately fly off when I came out of the hide.  He was full of confidence, and so handsome.

DSED8263There are around 140,000 breeding pairs of woodpeckers in the UK, though I don’t see them very often, and this one was a delight.

The cold of the day, and the knowledge that I had an appointment in the evening, and ‘work’ to do eventually made me leave, though reluctantly.  Hoping to return between Christmas and the New Year.  Already I can’t wait….

The Damselfly

In my last post I talked about Dragonflies, and in this one, I want to talk about their smaller counterparts, the Damselfly, but first the differences between the two..

Dragonflies have eyes that touch, or nearly touch at the top of the head, they are stocky, and have different sized wing pairs.  When they perch, the wings are held open.

Damselflies have eyes that are clearly separated, one on each side of the head, they are long and slender, and have evenly sized wings, which are held close when they perch, as can be seen in the image below.

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Blue Tailed Damselfly Perching

Damselflies are carnivorous insects that live and breed near a wide variety of freshwater habitats. They lay their eggs in water, and the immature damselflies spend the first several months or years as aquatic predators. These immature damselflies, called nymphs, have external gills that allow them to extract oxygen from the water. After undergoing metamorphosis, new adult damselflies fly away from the water for a brief period of several days to several weeks, after which they return to breed. Both adult and immature damselflies are predators whose diet consists primarily of insects. (Corbet, 1999; Silsby, 2001)

Damselfly eating an aphid
Damselfly eating an aphid

The mating behaviour of the damselfly is quite unique.  Males have two sets of genitalia.  To mate, the male must grasp the female behind the head, and curl his abdomen into a circle.  In this position the male and female are said to be ‘in tandem’ – if the female is receptive, she will curl her abdomen forward to join the tip of her abdomen with the male’s second set of genitilia, sperm is then transferred from one to another.  This position, called ‘the wheel’.  After mating, the female will lay eggs usually below the water line, often guarded by the male

Mating Damselfly
Mating Damselfly

The average Damselfly, probably only lives between 3 to 4 weeks as an adult, but the damselfly nymphs can spend months in this early stage, depending on food source, temperatures and so on.

Damselfly do need a minimum temperature at which to fly – in the early mornings, they can be seen spreading their wings to dry out the morning dew, and warm up.

Damselfly in morning dew
Damselfly in morning dew

Damselfly and Dragonfly populations are good indicators of environmental quality and population levels are a good indicator of the health of the area.

They are the most ancient of insects, with evidence of them being found as fossils some millions of years ago.

A Summer of Dragons

This week I was out walking with the dogs, and noticed a good number of Damsel and Dragonflies.  By Friday I had a bit of time, and decided to go hunting Dragons…. The majority I saw were Brown Hawkers…

Brown HawkerThe Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) is a large dragonfly about 73 millimetres (2.9 in) long. It is a distinctive species and is easily recognised, even in flight, by its brown body and bronze wings. At rest, blue spots on the second and third segments of the male’s abdomen can be noticed; these are absent in female.

It is widespread in England but commonest in the South East; local in Ireland and rare in Scotland. It is found on well-vegetated ponds, lakes and canals. It patrols a regular hunting territory around margins which is vigorously defended against intruders.

The flight time is mainly July to September. The nymph has stripes on the side of the thorax and distinct banding on the legs. (Text from Wikipedia)

Brown HawkerYou can get more information from the British Dragonfly Society
http://www.british-dragonflies.org.uk/

Martin Mere, and the Ruff

It’s been a while since I got out to shoot birds, and nothing else… this last weekend we made a trip out to Martin Mere – we’ve not been there for a long time, and it was good to meet up with some friends, including some I’d spoken to on Facebook, but never actually met.  Although the day was a bit overcast, the light was nice in the morning.
We spent a good part of the morning in the SwanLink hide, and the Ruff showed particularly well.

The ruff is a medium-sized wading bird. It has a long neck, a small head, a rather short slightly droopy bill and medium-long orange or reddish leg. In flight it shows a faint wing-stripe and oval white patches either side of the tail. It breeds in a very few lowland sites in eastern England, and it appears that numbers are dropping. It is a migrant but in the UK some birds are present all year round. Many young birds from Scandinavia visit the UK in late summer, then migrating on to Africa.

Overview – Information from RSPB

Latin name

Philomachus pugnax

Family

Sandpipers and allies (Scolopacidae)

Where to see them

Best looked for on passage in spring and autumn in suitable habitat, particularly on the east and south coasts of the UK. Some birds overwinter, generally near the coast. Try some of the RSPB coastal wetland reserves, where there are lagoons, such as Titchwell, Norfolk.

When to see them

All year round

What they eat

Insects, larvae, frogs, small fish, seeds

Population

Europe UK breeding* UK wintering* UK passage*
37 males 800 birds