23 December 2012

Connecting with Nature...

Connecting With Nature: what does that really mean..? 

I try to keep my blog posts strictly to nature photography but for me, the importance of connecting to nature compels me write this post. I honestly believe we are not just born on this earth but we are in some way, part of it. I don't think it's any surprise that those individuals who appear to be more spiritual, intuitive and more caring.. often have a true love of the natural world. Nature is all around us and we are part of it. The deep love and fulfillment that I experience when being with Nature cannot be rivaled by anything else. The rush of energy, the satisfaction, the sheer joy... all caused by our natural world.

Settling down and taking your time is always the best way to enjoy Nature. Sure, you can have exciting views on a brief trip to some exotic wildlife rich location, but it isn't the same as spending time watching and waiting and getting to know your subject. This is when you really connect. You feel as if you are being let into Nature's world; it is now more than just a glimpse... it is a very real understanding of what you are watching... and ultimately - a true connection. This can be with the most common of subjects. It really doesn't matter..

Wildlife photographer David Slater has written some excellent articles on this this subject - and also the spiritual side of connecting to Nature. Read his thought provoking posts at David Slater's BLOG page  Much of David's experiences and his wonderful wildlife photographs come from spending time close to his home in the Forest of Dean.

Wishing all my readers much more than a Merry Christmas.. A peaceful and soulful season - hopefully with some wonderful wildlife sightings that will rival any Christmas present.!! 

All the best everyone.

www.naturephotographycourses.co.uk   www.paulmiguel.co.uk

16 December 2012

Waxwing feeding on apples

Waxwing feeding on apples by Paul Miguel
Waxwing feeding on apples, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.

Photographed on the outskirts of Fairburn Ings nature reserve in West Yorkshire. Have been chasing these buggers round for weeks so I am so happy to get this!!

14 December 2012

Photographing Short Eared Owls

For the past two years I've wanted some decent images of Short Eared Owls in the winter. Despite seven visits to the now well known Worlaby Carrs, I still had nothing to show for it. I did have some owl sightings, but never came close to getting anything with the camera. Now, finally, I have managed to put a big tick next to this species! With a heavy frost forecast a few days ago, I decided to take a chance. I knew that the area was prone to fog; in fact, on a previous visit I had travelled around fifty miles in glorious sunshine, only for the last ten to turn into a pea-souper of a fog. This time however was different. There was plenty of fog around but enough visibility. I also knew that there was likely to be a hoar frost, and as I arrived at Worlaby, I was greeted by the most wonderful thick hoar frost - everything coated in pure white.. stunning conditions for photography.
My aim was to capture images that would show the owls hunting in this harsh environment. I love this style of wildlife photography. They are well known to hunt in the day here, but usually later in the afternoon. However, with such harsh overnight conditions they were out by around 11.00am, treating a number of photographers to some really close up views.
For a while the light was wonderful. A bit of weak sun that lifted the shutter speeds whilst providing quality lighting. To get an accurate exposure I first used aperture priority - setting the exposure one whole stop above the camera's reading. Later I used manual in the same way. In these conditions I could get a fast shutter speed using my 300mm and 1.4 extender - up to 1/2000 second. When the light dropped I had to increase ISO - going up to 1000 at the most. There's always a trade off here with quality, but the light frost and clear backgrounds meant any camera noise would barely show up. The owls are actually pretty tough to photograph in flight. They are incredibly agile - and that's what makes them a challenge. They can float slowly one minute, then suddenly change direction the next, giving the autofocus a pretty hard time. It's with subjects like this, often in low light, that a good quality lens can really make a difference.

I started off by grabbing what I could (I had missed out on these birds so many times!!) and in fact captured one of the best images at my first attempt. From then on I was treated to plenty of fly-bys, some closer than others. The owls would fly low over the marsh, towards the cars, and sometimes across the road over to the open fields. They are such a joy to watch. I'm not sure how many there were, but I was aware of four at one time hunting fairly close together. There were even spats between birds, causing them to become quiet vocal which I think is pretty unusual. At one point I watched two having a right go at one another, talons out and everything. Another amazing sighting to add to the day..

The lighting conditions were at times - near perfect. Subtle light helped in stopping the action and also reduced contrast. The backgrounds were beautiful too - the distant tree-lines and dissipating fog that created a nice clear backdrop to set the birds against. When an owl approached, I did my best to follow it, sometimes using my beanbag, sometimes hand-holding. Straight line flights are always good, but probably my favourite opportunities came when an owl would hover above the frost covered grasses.

I stayed until 3.00pm when things seemed to quieten down - and the light was becoming poor. I really hope to get back to photograph these beauties. They are such magical birds and I absolutely love them..!

12 December 2012

Short Eared Owl hunting

Short Eared Owl hunting by Paul Miguel

Short Eared Owl hunting, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.
A post to follow on these birds soon. This, just one of a number of images taken today at Worlaby Carr. Short eared Owls were becoming a bogey subject of mine, driving me almost to despair.!! Seven trips to this location and no pictures to show for it. Today I've finally made up for it, with some lovely shots in absolutely stunning weather conditions.

29 November 2012

Jay at my Reflection Pool

Jay at Pond by Paul Miguel
Jay at Pond, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.
I've spent many, many hours on this site - trying to get everything perfect for photography. This morning was my first session in the hide and I was treated to two jays. It is a privilege to be so close to these wild birds. Only thing is they are literally hoovering up the peanuts so there's nothing left for the smaller birds!

24 November 2012

Close up of Mute Swan Dabbling

Mute Swan by Paul Miguel
Mute Swan, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.
I spend a couple of hours trying to get some intimate images of a family of mute swans dabbling at the edge of a lake. They were so relaxed that I was able to really get in close and concentrate on their behaviour. I love the bubbles in this one.

11 November 2012

Mute Swan Dabbling

Mute Swan by Paul Miguel
Mute Swan, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.
Photographed with a high shutter speed of around 1/1000 second. I got the aperture down a bit to increase depth of field, but with long lenses and fast shutter speeds you still need a bit of luck for the head to be in perfect focus. As is usually the case I was lying down for this one - with the frost melting underneath me..! Would like to work on this kind of image again if I have time.

06 November 2012

Tip of the Week: Photographing Waterfalls

Waterfalls can be very satisfying to photograph, and are great subject for landscape photography but they are not easy to do well. Very bright days almost always lead to average pictures. Much better to go with subtle light to achieve pleasing images. My technique of photographing waterfalls has always been to shoot on very overcast days - this works well as it reduces the contrast in the scene and avoids too much 'blow-out' where the whites of the water rapids occur.

These days I adopt a slightly different approach where possible, and that is to use a subtle variety of light. With the correct conditions you can shoot the surroundings of the waterfall in slightly brighter light, whilst the waterfall remains more in shadow. The effect only needs to be slight, but it can make a real difference. Variety of light on a scene will almost always get you better landscape photos: in the case of waterfalls it can work perfectly, as the lighter (sometimes almost pure white) waterfall remains more in shadow and will be better exposed. Think of shooting a landscape with an area of snow in the shade - you end up with variation in lighting but the snow still shows up well because it reflects more light even though its in shadow.

The two images below were all taken using this principle. In this case, at the cul-de-sac of Cotter Force in the Yorkshire Dales. The weak sun was gradually coming round over my right shoulder, so the autumn colours on the left were beginning to catch the light whilst the waterfall remained in the shadows.

 When getting up close to the water I think it less important for a variety of light, and I would generally prefer to use purely overcast conditions (or shade) to reduce the contrast and get a more even exposure.
 Waterfalls are often included on my landscape photography courses in the Yorkshire Dales. Working out in the field is the best way to learn in these situations and see how the light really affects the whole scene.

05 November 2012

Black Headed Gull Yawning

Black Headed Gull by Paul Miguel
Black Headed Gull, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.

A common subject - but doing something interesting. I shot towards the weak sun and used diffused fill-in-flash at about -1 EV. This brightened up the shadows and created perfect lighting. Photographed with a 300mm and 1.4 x extender; camera on a rock with a beanbag. Wellies too..!

29 October 2012

My partners first Novel: Tainted Love

I don't usually write posts unrelated to photography, but in this case I have too. My partner has just released her first book Tainted Love - available to download to kindle through Amazon. The pen name is Erin Cawood. The genre is Contemporary Romance, but both darker and edgier. Writing this book and getting it through the processes of editing etc. has been epic - and it seemed like she would never get there... But now, the book is finally published. There has already been excellent feedback from professional writers in America who applaud the writing style, so please have a look..

Tainted Love can be downloaded as an E-Book through this link at Amazon 

Let's hope she can sell thousands - and then maybe I'll come into some shiny new camera equipment...? Sounds good to me..!

www.naturephotographycourses.co.uk www.paulmiguel.co.uk

28 October 2012

Pink Footed Geese Flock in flight

I photographed these stunning pink footed geese on one of the coldest mornings of the year. Huge flocks regularly fly to their feeding grounds at dawn and return to roost at dusk. A clear sunrise with bits of cloud made for some wonderful light. Photographed at ISO 500, 1/1000 second at f 5.0 with a 300mm f4 lens.

19 October 2012

Roaring Red Deer Stag

Red Deer at Studley Royal by Paul Miguel
Red Deer at Studley Royal, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.

This stag was one of the best from today's photography workshop at Studley Royal. Everyone got a series of shots as he strutted his stuff and crossed the road. A truly beautiful animal.

14 October 2012

Backlit Deer Hinds

Backlit Deer Hinds by Paul Miguel
Backlit Deer Hinds, a photo by Paul Miguel on Flickr.

A simple backlit image of two deer hinds that posed perfectly for at least two seconds..! Taken on my red deer photography workshop at Studley Royal.

09 October 2012

07 October 2012

Juvenile Mute Swan in autumn

The trees at the edge of this lake have just started to change colour, reflected stunning colour in the water. This makes the perfect backdrop for portraits of the ducks and swans.

05 October 2012

Photographing Autumn Squirrels and Crows

It feels like a while since I did any decent wildlife photography. This morning I headed to the park to see if I could entice some robins and blackbirds down to the lawn. No joy... but I did come across some beautiful red autumn leaves where a couple of squirrels were scampering about.  Now I'm not generally that drawn to grey squirrels, but the surrounding colour was to good to ignore so I put out a bit of food down and captured some nice portraits - definitely autumnal shots.

I noticed a couple of carrion crows hanging about in the trees... not unusual - and they had clearly spotted the food. The next thing I knew there were two of them down on the ground amongst the leaves. Wonderful stuff! I've seldom had the opportunity to photograph these birds at such close range. You could say they were almost tame..! I spent a good half hour photographing the crows as they constantly ambled around searching through the leaf litter. The light was tricky - the sun kept going in and back out again. With this lighting and a dark bird I tend to stick to manual, so it meant I was constantly having to change shutter speeds - 1/100 in the shade; about 1/500 in the light. As often is the case, I much preferred the bird when it was in the shade. The red leaves were just perfect, creating lovely autumnal shots and completely natural images of a wild bird that was showing me bags of character.

To end my session with one of the crows, I was treated to some entertaining behaviour as the bird decided to try and get into the plastic bag that had now run out of food. The crow dragged, pecked and stamped on the poor bag whilst I fired away, capturing some fascinating behaviour and witnessing the intelligence of this wild bird.

28 August 2012

Photographing a Captive Merlin

I spent this evening photographing this young male merlin on the edge of Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire. Choosing this natural perch I was able to hide the jesses whilst the bird sitting down really helped too. This falcon is so relaxed - it's a real joy to work with. Thanks to Ben and Joe for letting me get some cracking portraits of what is my favourite bird of all time..!

 This first year male merlin is just one of the captive birds used on our bird of prey photographic workshops in Yorkshire. Hopefully by next summer he will be in his full adult plumage.

www.naturephotographycourses.co.uk  www.paulmiguel.co.uk

24 August 2012

Who's your Favourite Wildlife Photographer?

I'll let you in on a secret: I don't think I'm the best wildlife photographer in the country. I say that because up until recently I've been reluctant to mention other photographers too much - it's competition after all..   But the reality is, I've admired a number of nature photographers for many years, and some more recently.

I especially thank Neil Mcintyre and Niall Benvie, both who have given me plenty advice and have always been friendly and helpful. There's many other names out there, some more familiar than others: Danny Green, Mark Sisson, Mark Hamblin, Pete Cairns, Ben Hall, Ross Hoddinott, Mike Lane and Dave Kjaer.. I enjoy the work of all of them. For sheer quality, Guy Edwardes is one of my favourites... and for an individual who really inspires me - that would have to be Andrew Parkinson, a wildlife photographer who's really setting the bar in my opinion.

So who's your favourite wildlife photographer, and why..? Why not stick a comment at the bottom and let me know..

Thanks for reading.

22 August 2012

Landscape Photography at Malham Cove

I love photographing wildlife. But I also enjoy my landscapes too... and it's actually been fairly lucrative in terms of image sales. Malham Cove is undeniably one of my favourite places in the Yorkshire Dales, but it's anything but easy to photograph well. Here is a diary from a day spent at Malham Cove a couple of weeks ago...

"This weather is just stunning. A few clouds around but that's o.k.; I'm confident it's going to stay clear enough with plenty of blue skies. It was 50/50 whether to trust the forecast today, but I'm glad I did. Perfect weather! Only thing is, it's crawling with people - they're absolutely everywhere..! Guess I can't expect much else - it is a Sunday in July after all... The base of the cove is so difficult to photograph well. I've taken countless pictures here, and seen some absolute crackers too. But I know that I never quite do it justice, so today I'm taking my time; I'm here with plenty of it before the light starts to soften, so let's get scouting...
I stop at each vantage point, checking the compositions, assessing the light; thinking who will buy these images. Must remember to really nail a Dalesman front cover one... oh, and try to use that stream as a really strong foreground. I carry on towards the base of the cliff. I 've now selected about three main spots from which to shoot from. There's still loads of people about. Oh, god.. maybe they're just never going to leave.! Not to worry - I can still hide them to some extent... and then maybe clone a few out if I have to..?? The light starts to drop and I begin taking pictures. I know it's not perfect light yet, but if it does cloud over more later then at least I'll have something in the bag. It's a form of safety net really. I've arrived with around four hours of shooting time; it seems a lot, but it's amazing how much time you need when the extra elements of people and changable weather are factored in. With these extra difficulties - double, or even triple the time you think you will need!

I'm finding some nice shots - they look like decent compositions - but still, I'm just not completely happy. Once again I feel there's something missing - and  I don't quite know what. I think it's just that this place is a really tough one, where everything needs to be perfect. I carry on, knowing that I'm doing the best I can and hope that instinct tells me where to make those little tweeks. The light is quite good - I'm getting cracking blue skies above the cove, but the moving cloud is also changing the light and casting variable degrees of shadow. I experiment with this... firing the shutter as the sun disappears and reappears again. I'm really pleased with the results..!

I'm now into the golden period of light, and I'm re-visiting the compositions I did earlier. Nothing wrong with that; I've been guilty in the past of not paying enough attention to detail at this location, so it's definitely worth it. I'm taking great care over the exposure, and my focusing point too... must get as much as I can from this camera and lens. The people are actually beginning to drift off - finally!! It's great to have this place to yourself. There's a few couples around and a family, but not enough to cause me problems. I'm now shooting in wonderful light - beautiful clarity, and blue skies too. Just stunning!

As the sun begins to drop below the hillside, the cove gradually becomes shadow. This is great - I love shooting in this type of 'half and half' light. I carry on shooting with a polariser as normal, then, as the shadow increases, I add a graduated ND filter to even up the contrast. I notice a shot I've never really seen before, a little up the hill. How have I not spotted this before..?? From this spot I can use some rocks in the foreground - and the overall effect is great - a classic image of Malham Cove. The light continues to drop and I realise I'm not going to improve on anything now. Back to the car to gulp down a sandwich and then it's off to the top of the cove for sunset.
I arrive on top of the cove at about 8.30pm, looking at the wonderful view of the valley below. I can't believe it - there's actually someone else up here too! Must be as crazy as me I reckon. We acknowledge each other but never really speak, content to create our own images as the sun sets. By 9pm, the sky is now a classic twilight hue, with lovely pinks above the limestone pavement. I take a few shots, moaning once again that something's just not right...

The pics look o.k. but nothing special. It starts to get darker. It's time to go home. I return to the car at 9.30pm, knowing that the 10.30 ETA I've given my girlfriend is not really going to be true."

It was an exhausting but enjoyable day and at least I felt I'd done the best I could on this session. But, anyone who tells you Malham Cove is easy to photograph, is lying... or just not doing it that well.!!