24 December 2009
Photographing birds in the snow is great fun, but actually shooting whilst snow is falling can be a real challenge. In order to protect my camera, I used a home-made sleeve on my lens, with a waterproof cover over the top. Even so, it can be tricky to keep everything dry. These shots were taken on a beanbag using a tree stump as support. The difficult part is getting sharp images: some were taken at ISO 200 but at times the light levels were so low that I had to push up to ISO 400, which I try to avoid. Still -sharpness should always be the foremost consideration. Shutter speeds were often around 1/250 although I have found it possible to get sharp images even down at 1/60 - but it reduces your hit rate a lot.. The beauty of many of these pictures was the blanket of snow acting as a giant reflector and bouncing light back to illuminate the underside of the birds. The other tip is - take a lot of pictures..! In just a couple of hours I shot over 150 images.. this is not unusual..!
Location is the key for so many wildlife shots, and these kingfisher images are certainly proof of that. My friend who works at my local RSPB reserve had told be about a pair of kingfishers that were regularly fishing from the beck - often along the same short stretch, providing incredibly close views. I was more than delighted when my first morning provided a number of kingfisher sightings at fairly close range, but not quite close enough to photograph. My second visit was similar, but you can't fail to be overjoyed at watching these birds - and the fact that they were so regular made it even more amazing. The kingfisher was never away for more than about 15 minutes, and every time it was back to one of the same perches... you could almost set your watch by them..!It was third time lucky for these pictures, when one beautiful frosty morning, this female kingfisher decided to perch on just about the only clear branch close enough to photograph. I saw her heading for the perch and was ready. The next few seconds were manic as I fired off exposures, bracketing and re-composing to make sure I didn't end up with the miss of the year!! She stood still... posed, turned around, posed again and then finally flew off. A stunning experience - whether with or without a camera.!
20 November 2009
On this particular morning there were 3 birds coming down to the food, and an old oak tree made a perfect vantage point for them. So for me, it was simply a case of throwing handfuls of nuts around the bottom of the tree and waiting for them to come in. Luckily, there are various tree stumps that make spot on supports for a camera and beanbag. It didn't take long before I got one jay perching in the oak - a classic portrait of a bird that is particularly fond of acorns and therefore has a true relationship with this tree..
18 October 2009
For the last few months I've been on the lookout for anything to do with Oak trees. Full tree portraits, leaves, tree bark and associated wildlife all make useful images that build up a portfolio of possibly our most important native tree. One particular old oak at my local farm was showing some good change in leaf colour and I spent an hour or so shooting various leaves. Also quite obvious was the multitude of little flattened spheres that were clustering on almost every single leaf. These are known as oak galls, caused by the eggs laid by insects - in this case most likely the gall wasp. They provide nutrition for the growing larvae, and eventually amass into rather large growths - in some cases bigger than the acorns.
It quickly became apparent that this was a very useful subject to photograph, but with the wind picking up I decided to pick a selection of leaves and take them home to shoot indoors. Once at home I used a technique that I've seldom tried... simply taping the leaf to the window and using soft backlighting to illuminate the branching veins and colours.
As is always the case with close up photography, the most demanding aspect is picking the composition. I tried a number of shots: some I concentrated on veins and colour, whilst for others I focussed my attention on the fascinating oak galls. This is quite a relaxing way to photograph, and taping to the window means quite comfortable shooting too. Using a shortish lens with a 31mm extension tube allowed me to fill the frame. A tripod and remote release was of course essential. Aperture wise I shot at around f11/f16 which maintained depth of field but also kept good optical quality for sharpness. I always feel that backlighting in this way is ideal for plant detail, as it brings out those amazing patterns so much better, due to its translucent nature.
13 September 2009
Hedgehogs are one of those creatures that I just haven't managed to photograph so far, so imagine my excitement when I was told of a local lady who had a whole family in her care. These animals were amongst a number that had been taken in by a wildlife refuge.. cleaned up and looked after - before eventually being returned to the wild. This provided an amazing opportunity for me to endulge in some 'easy' and enjoyable photography, and to get to experience such a beautiful animal close up. I was first introduced to 'Hogrid' - an impressive adult with serious bulk. Ready with the camera on the ground, we simply put him down and let him wander the garden.
One thing was for sure - hedgehogs can move pretty quickly when they want to, and I had to be quick to shoot before he got too close to my lens. After a few images of this veteran animal, I turned my attention to two of the younger hedgehogs which were happily mooching around, and managed some pleasing shots of them with the older hedgehog. Using a wide angle lens was quite interesting as I could put them in the garden setting..
Finally, the tiny ones came out - and five of them! These hedgehogs were smaller than I had imagined, but absolutely beautiful. It was fascinating to see so much detail, such as the colouration of their backs, and their tiny feet and claws. The youngsters were a delight to photograph and it was hard not to admit to their 'cute' factor.
In a way, hedgehogs are a very forgotten animal - maybe because we rarely come across them anyway due to their nocturnal habits. It's hard to believe that this delicate, placid mammal is now under serious threat, but their numbers have plummeted. Those who get to hear their familiar bumbling and snuffling are indeed lucky to have such a visitor.
04 August 2009
The last couple of summers saw a combination of increased effort on my part, along with two of the wettest summers on record. That put pay to my aims to increase my butterfly and dragonfly portfolio.. This year it's been quite different, and finally my efforts have paid off. I've managed a number of butterflies which I desparately wanted, including the frustrating common blue. Dragonflies however, continue to taunt me. Here's a few successful images - a combination of persistence and timing helping to bag some butterfly shots.
Early morning searches for inactive butterflies has proved pretty fruitless. Therefore my technique for butterfly photography has been pretty standard, usually shooting an hour or two after sunrise and trying to photograph towards the light. My usual technique is to rate at ISO 200 and shoot handheld, often around 1/250 at f8, using my elbows as support whenever possible, and firing a series of shots to increase chances of pin-sharpness.No dragonflies this summer as yet, but a nice colourful image of a damselfly which was very obliging. The light was very harsh so I waited for the cloud to pass over the sun and then shot. Reduced light levels in this case meant shooting at ISO 400 and hand holding at shutter speeds down to 1/125 second - tough to keep it pin sharp but it's possible. A few butterfly species have been a little elusive, including orange tip, but I can't complain too much - it's been a fairly successful year.
08 July 2009
I have recently set up a group on Flickr: Yorkshire Wildlife and Landscape Photography for participants of workshops to share their images. This is a great way to show people how we do things, and what pictures are possible. Here are just a couple of my images from past bird of prey courses in North Yorkshire.
01 July 2009
It was two summers ago when I first witnessed a short eared owl on the local farm. Watching from the roadside, I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing, as this stunning bird methodically quartered the meadow in broad daylight. After this sighting, I never saw the bird again... until a couple of weeks back that is. Again the bird looked like it had been there for ever, as it repeatedly quartered the fields and flew around the hedgerows. A few evenings later, from the edge of the field, I was witnessing the same thing yet again, although on this occasion I was much closer. Camera in hand, I made my way slowly forward, keeping low in the grasses thinking, "there could be a grab-shot here." However, no sooner did I realise the bird was out of view, than a huge flying owl was virtually upon me. With purposefully direct flight, I watched the owl zip over my head, complete with hanging vole in tow. Instinct told me that I might be able to watch this bird at closer range. My 'roe deer' hide is situated at the edge of the buttercup meadow, and it was over this exact field that the owl was hunting. Knowing that owls can be creatures of habit, and thinking that this day might just happen to coincide with an abundance of voles for some reason, I headed for the hide...
In my hide I was now completely hidden, and perfectly situated at the field edge, should the owl return. Sure enough, my instincts were right, and within less than ten minutes the short-eared was back. It was clearly favouring this one buttercup meadow. I watched in amazement as the bird repeatedly quartered the meadow, covering almost every inch of ground. I was surprised to see just how agile the owl was, being able to change direction incredibly quickly and even do a good job of hovering at times. Every so often the bird would switch direction and disappear from view, as it dropped into the buttercups. The hit rate for this bird seemed impressive, and I watched it catch three voles in less than an hour, before making a bee-line across the hedgerow (surely a nest somewhere...)
This was a memorable experience to say the least. Photography wise I managed some pleasing flight shots - a little far away, but they did show the evironment well. That high impact flight shot with lovely back-lighting above the buttercups just didn't materialise... but the experience pretty much made up for it. This would have to go down as one of the the 'wildest' experiences I've ever had. To watch this wild bird of prey so intimately, and truly at ease, was indeed a privilege.
And what since that wild encounter..? Well, just like the previous years... the owl now seems to have completely vanished - just like it was never even there. I could be forgiven for thinking that I dreamt it... but this time I have the pictures to prove the owl is real!
18 May 2009
Photography wise I have just finished another article for Yorkshire Ridings on upland birds which will appear in the July issue. A recent walk that I led in a West Yorkshire woodland proved both enjoyable and productive, with a lot of interest in my work - and I captured some new images of bluebells and early purple orchid, along with general woodland scenes. I also photographed the lighting of a charcoal burn which the local wildlife group does every year in order to make use of felled trees. It was quite something to watch - if a little toxic!
A recent badger watch proved interesting. After 2 hours of waiting silently, it seemed that my badgers were once again proving awkward by not showing themselves. But to the right of me I could hear movements in the undergrowth - and it sounded like something of size. It was another half hour or so before I got a glimpse. After mentally going through every mammal I could think of, it suddenly became obvious what the scurrying animal was... a beautiful and tiny fox cub. Soon joined by another, the 2 cubs continued to make a racket as they ran around the undergrowth and scratted in the fallen leaves. This was a lovely sighting, but not as good as what happened a few minutes later... as I sat quietly in the faded light I could just make out one of the cubs in the distance along the path, and his next move was to come bounding straight towards me, perfectly happy as he literally ran past my boot!! Obviously these cubs don't know to be scared of me yet.. Hopefully they won't grow up to quickly, and I may be able to get some images by putting out food. The surroundings are beautiful at the moment, with bluebells and red campion making a great setting...
30 April 2009
My first craft fair at Ripley went well, and I met a number of people who were interested in my work (must take more business cards next time!). I was pleased with the number of visitors - a steady flow during the day, and a really nice bunch of people exhibiting too... Next fair is Sunday June 14th - same venue - www.yorkshirefairs.co.uk/dates.asp .
On another subect, I recently took some images at a train station; for a nature article believe it or not.. Although I wasn't stopped by anyone on this particular day, it reminded me of the problems that photographers can face. I remember one day a few years ago, photographing a building in the centre of Leeds and being asked to move on by a security guard. Things have gone a little too far I think, so just bear this in mind. If it's possible to work without a tripod it can make a big difference - that three legged companion seems to make people immediately suspicious. Of course if you were a terrorist, I doubt you'd be taking pictures in broad daylight with a tripod, but there you go...
22 April 2009
This image shows a somewhat lucky encounter with roe deer on a morning of thick fog.
This was a truly wild encounter and one that will stay in my mind for ever. At around 7am I entered this meadow, and through the fog, the unmistakable shapes of 3 roe deer suddenly appeared. With little option, I ducked down and stayed low whilst slipping on my camouflage hood and positioning my beanbag and rucksack. Slowly, one of the does got closer and closer, picking her way through the wild grasses, until eventually she reached a little clearing. Forced to to use manual, I focussed quickly and fired the shutter, managing just 2 shots. She looked in my direction - paused... then turned round and trotted off. The combination of the long grasses and thick fog make this quite a special image. It also makes me think how some of the best wildlife images are truly wild ones - uncontrived, completely natural... and a snapshot in time from a wild animal amidst its natural landscape.
As I write this, I am about to check the wind directions for the next couple of days. A westerly wind and I will be in my new hide - downwind of the deer, and in a spot that should see them walking straight towards me. Fingers crossed! If that doesn't work, then there's still the recent addition to the farm that may be 'photographable'. A beautiful short eared owl that seems to have taken to quartering the meadow - even in broad daylight...
13 March 2009
This is one of those images I never get bored of.. and I've learnt something new - long tailed tits actually have a yellow eyelid - something you'd never see unless you photographed them up close.
The woodpecker has been a real star too - or should I say woodpeckers, seeing as there have been both male and female down to the food. One of them has slight reddish feather on the top of the head, so I'm thinking this might be one of this year's youngsters in its first winter.This is one of the first images I got from the hide -
Time to tail of the food soon, although I may try putting out some nesting material in place of the food for some behavioural shots... With a project as satisfying as this, it's certainly difficult to tear yourself away..!!
Next few week should see more trips to the dales, and hopefully some new frog/toad images - fingers crossed...
29 January 2009
I'm also getting nuthatches, jays and woodpeckers - although not as regularly. The jays are interesting... I see them skulking in the distance before they float to a perch to check things out. Once on the ground they seem quite bold as they happily hoover up the fallen peanuts. On top of that was a cracking sighting of a male sparrowhawk as he rushed through the woodland clearing - he's obviously spotted the potential for his own feeding station..!
Another cold snap is forecast, so fingers crossed for some good light..
07 January 2009
Taking the usual road through Wharfedale, my eye was taken by a large bird flying behing an oak tree... A buzzard perhaps, I thought. Only when I cleared the next bend did I get a decent view - and then I realised that big bird of prey was a red kite, amazingly joined by two more as they floated at tree height, no doubt waiting to return to a dead pheasant that lay in the road; it's definitely cold! My photogenic destination today was Littondale - a spot above Litton by the footpath, with beautiful views looking back down along the valley. The scene was perfect. Thick frost coated the ground... the distant hills showed a dusting of snow... and a wonderful combination of light and shadow playing on the hillsides. A walk further on and the snow was thicker; providing a classic image of gate, stone wall and distant hill tops from a high vantage point. A good morning's work, and even though it didn't feel terribly cold... it was still time for a hot lunch.
My afternoon was rewarding too. Reached from Storiths, there is a cracking viewpoint to photograph Bolton Priory, and during the afternoon it becomes almost backlit. The surrounding trees are great too, with lovely side-lighting striking the green winter branches. I was happy with my exposures, and the gravestones surrounding the priory added an interesting dimension, as they gave a contrast of frost-free in the sunshine, and cold white in the shadows. It was now 3.00pm and the sun already near the horizon. Time to think about returning home.
How many more of these winter days to come I wonder? Roll on February....