Friday, 10 December 2010

Now here's a thing

The first shot is the full frame, the second (when clicked on) a 100% crop. I think this illustrates the value of that fast glass - lower ISO = more retained detail for cropping. Not that I'm suggesting a fast 200mm lens replaces a slow 500mm lens, but it does make one lust after a fast 500!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Fast glass

Okay, so it costs an arm and a leg, or in my case a boat and an outboard, but fast glass makes a big difference to image making. My local camera shop let me try out a lens before making my mind up to buy. It only took a few shots to convince me. Back home on the PC and I saw images that, when converted to b&w had the look I used to get with my old Pentax ME and the 1.7 and 2.8 lenses I used to use with it. Deep joy!

'Pro' lenses come with other benefits too. They feel much more solid and smooth in the hand, rather like the way even 'consumer' lenses felt back in the seventies. The auto focus is fast and accurate. They are also sharp and contrasty. I didn't bother sharpening the photo below because the lettering was crisp enough straight out the camera when reduced. Click it to see it bigger and clearer as the blog messes photos up when shrinking them.

Used wide open, or nearly so, they also give that 'look' that sets top quality wildlife photos (for instance)  apart from those that are good but 'not quite'. I think it's called 'good bokeh' these days, but out of focus backgrounds are so smooth, and well out of focus. Not wild wildlife, but the pic below demonstrates how this helps isolate the subject and enhance its  apparent sharpness.

When it comes to lenses you really do get what you pay for. A pity you have to pay quite so much to get it.

PS - same story, different teller.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The great ISO con?

I'd have thought that the main reason for wanting a camera that takes clear shots at high ISO values would be to use it in low light. Well, it is for me.

So why is it that the camera review sites post pictures taken at high ISO values in good light? And the low light shots are taken at low ISO values and slow shutter speeds? If you're going to stick a camera on a tripod it defeats the point of being able to up the ISO to maintain a fast shutterspeed and hand-hold or freeze action.

I know my D90s can produce detailed shots at ISO 2000 when the light is good, but when light levels drop then the colours fade, noise creeps in and the detail goes.

This bull was at ISO 2000 and is detailed enough. But it was shot in good light.

Yet this low light shot of mallards on ice was taken at ISO 560 and took some work to make presentable at this size. At 100% the 'detail' is grainy. Same lens for both photos, albeit at different focal lengths.

Some 'real world' low light/high ISO sample pics would be beneficial to accompany the reviews to give a clearer picture (ooh, bad pun!) of how the high ISOs perform in dim light, methinks.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Light and space

Sitting at my PC the other day I was struck by a shadow cast on the wall by light reflected from my pond. Two shots were framed, one deleted. The one I saved seems to have captured the quality of the light well. The wallpaper needs a lick of paint though...

Out in the cold wintry sun this afternoon I took a road little travelled. A bleak and deserted area of my locality. Not the best of photos but I like the diagonal and the negative space of the sky to the right. An area to visit again.

At the other end of this winding and rutted lane I saw a pale bird drop to the ground. Stopping the car I saw a barn owl lift back into the air and continue hunting. Not having a fast 500 on me (cough) I made the best I could of the 70-300, one stop of under-exposure and a correction and crop on the PC. Far from the best owl pic in the world, but a reminder of watching it hunt successfully.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Out with the plastic

Having had time to use my latest lens acquisition a fair bit now my fears are confirmed. I want more 'fast glass'.

For someone who habitually hand-holds and tries to shoot at fast shutter speeds to eliminate camera-shake fast lenses give the advantage of keeping the ISO low. They also make for nicely softened backgrounds which give an added perception of sharpness to subjects. Mind you that 17-55 is pretty sharp wide open. In my book at any rate.

Using both the 17-55 and the 70-300 (a sluggish f4.5-5.6) pointed up the difference today as dusk approached and I was shooting under tree cover. Looks like I'm going shopping...

17-55 - 1/160s, f2.8, ISO560

70-300 - 1/100s, f5.3, ISO1600

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A bloke with a camera

As per a previous post I have been distracted when out looking for wildlife.

On returning home and idly surfing it struck me that there are probably hundreds of 'wildlife photographers' out there since digital made it so much easier. All 'togging' away at birds and stuff. But how many of them take photos of anything else? How many want to or would know how? Do they have blinkers on when out with their cameras and long lenses? Do they own any shorter lenses? I'm sure that some must, but it strikes me that this upsurge in 'wildlife photography' is no more than making a digital 'tick'. The way some rush to photograph rarities and get their record shots make me think this is just another brach of twitching.

Maybe I'm being a bit snobby but photography for me is about making images, not illustrations which is what most wildlife photography (even the best) seems to be about. I was thinking about this just last night while leafing through the free booklet of pictures from the Wildlife Photographer of The Year competition. Only two or three from the selection stood out to me as being strong images that were more than illustrations or record shots. Photos that worked as images in their own right. Sure they are all fine examples of wildlife photography, but not of photography.

I then got to wondering if I could recall any photographs, or paintings, that were really memorable, strong images with visual impact that were about animals or birds. I couldn't think of many. Some famous paintings have animals in them (The Arnolfini Wedding has a terrier), Franics Bacon made a painting of a dog that sticks in my mind, and if you count carcasses then Rembrandt painted a fine ox. Likewise in photography there are well known images that feature animals, but aren't about animals although Kertesz's Landing Pigeon could be said to be about the feral bird, I suppose.

It's a fact that most wildlife photographs (especially those taken by amateurs) aren't about their subjects, but merely of them. The ones that are most interesting, which you can return to again and again (the trade mark of any successful image) contain more than just the animal posing against a plain or uncluttered background - which is how all the 'how to take good wildlife photograph' articles tell you to do it. The interesting, the satisfying, shots show behaviour, or interaction, or place the creature in it's habitat. The more you look at them the more they reveal - and I don't mean fine fur or feather detail. They are images about the subject, and if really successful they are about more than that.

I don't think this shot of starlings fulfils those criteria, but it has an abstract element of pattern to it, it's about perspective (all the birds are the same size but don't appear so in the image), it has a resonance with images of WWII bombing raids, and it's sort of about starlings flocking to roost. I hope it's a photograph first, and a wildlife photograph second. It's certainly not a pin-sharp starling on a twig with an out of focus background...

Monday, 22 November 2010

The loss of context

While I was deleting shot after substandard shot from a morning's photography I got to thinking about my old contact sheets from the days of film. When I look at them I can see how the images that were selected to print were arrived at. How one shot is subtly different to another similar shot. How some almost work. I can also see images that never stood a chance, but were tried nonetheless. Contact sheets are akin to sketch books, where things are tried out and used for future reference. They illustrate directly what was in an artists mind. That's why art historians, and students, study them. It's why artists keep them in the first place.

Any avid reader on photography will have come across contact sheets that contain iconic images. Images that are often viewed alone with no context at all but the caption or it's place in the photographer's oeuvre. Even when those images were made for documentary purposes as part of a set of shots.

Take, for example, Diane Arbus's famous photo of the boy with the toy hand-grenade. On face value it is one among many of her photos of 'freaks'. A young boy with spindly legs, grimacing,  tense arms by his sides and his braces in disarray. Clearly a deranged individual. Yet a look at the contact sheet reveals a different story. There we see a happy, well turned out, child enjoying a day in the park, happily posing for the camera like any well-balanced youngster would. Placed in the context of the contact sheet the iconic image takes on a new meaning. The image is the odd one out, not the boy.

Henri Cartier-Bresson made many many  incisive points about photography. "My contact sheets may be compared to the way you drive a nail in a plank. First you give several light taps to build up a rhythm and align the nail with the wood. Then, much more quickly, and with as few strokes as possible, you hit the nail forcefully on the head and drive it in." (

Leaving aside the long term future storage and retrieval of images, digital workflow and the 'need' to maximise file storage space has probably already robbed photo-historians of the light taps. Only the final hammer blows will remain.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

It's about the light

Since I stumbled upon this narrated slide-show the title of this post has been going round and round in my head whenever I put a camera to my eye. It's made an impact on me and got me thinking about the light far more than I used to.

Of course, photography is all about light. It's how the image is formed, but it is also what makes many images more compelling than others. You don't always need 'good' light to make strong images if the subject matter and/or formal elements suffice, but images that are predominantly about light do have a strong visual impact.

Close-ups of animals' eyes are a bit of a cliché, I've taken one of a horse in the field behind my house before. It's quite a nice image, but the one I took (of the same horse) yesterday evening is more striking. With the sun setting after a dull afternoon I wandered round the garden looking for a subject. The horse came to the fence, I saw the way the rosy sunlight caught it's head and did my best. If I'd nailed the focus on the eye on another shot it would have been a killer, but this one will have to do. ISO 6400, slight crop, noise reduction with Neat Image, light selective sharpening.

(Click the pic to see it better on a darker background)

The image is about light, but it's about shape too, and colour (which is light dependent), and focus, and horses, and... Like all photographs it's about whatever the viewer reads into it. But if it hadn't been for the light I might not have taken the shot.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

I am not a wildlife photographer

Okay, so I'm doing the wildlife photographer pose in the above self-portrait, but even when I'm out trying to find wildlife photos I keep seeing other subjects and getting side-tracked.

This morning I set out hoping to catch the incoming tide driving waders within range. I think I got my location a bit out and there wasn't much happening. It was also hazy, making shots of flocks of small birds hard work. It was still good to be out in the cold of a November morning watching what was going on. There was certainly a variety out on the tideline - oystercatcher, sanderling, redshank, curlew and more, plus a bonus group of eider that I only identified when reviewing my batch of rubbish photos on the PC.

Pick of the bad bunch was a big crop of a little egret in flight - a first.

All was not wasted, however, as my eye was caught by a garden chair. After struggling to get the horizon level I framed one right, then did a B+W conversion by decomposing the RGB channels and mixing them to get the tones I wanted. It's easier to desaturate the image, but splitting the channels gives more control - it's a bit like using filters when shooting B+W film.

I'm definitely not a wildlife photographer, just a bloke with a camera.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A slippery slope

It all started when I bought my macro lens. I'd been well pleased with the cheap Sigma 70-300 for my dragonfly photography and for bird and landscape shots too. The images were sharp and clear. However the focusing was slow and the lens a bit clunky so I lashed out on the Sigma 150mm/f2.8. The very first time I tried it out there was a noticeable difference in the contrast of the images. A case of getting what you pay for. Build quality was improved too.

My next lens purchase was a Nikon 70-300 as the agricultural nature of the Sigma was getting me down. This time the images weren't as markedly improved, but the lens handled much better and was much more nicely built. Another case of buy cheap buy twice - or three times in the case of the cheap Siggy!

Then I made my big mistake. Walking into a camera shop to purchase a UV filter for the new 70-300 I looked in the secondhand cabinet and spotted a 17-55mm/f2.8 Nikkor. Unwisely, having a camera with me, I asked to try it. Apart from it being big and heavy compared to the 18-200 I had bought with the camera it was faster to focus and felt far more robust. Chimping a few pics snapped outside the shop it looked pretty good, but you can never really tell on the LCD screen. I handed the lens back and went home where I popped the pics up on the PC. Oh dear. They looked rather good at f2.8. After lunch I returned and handed over my debit card. Now I wish all my lenses were fast and equally well made.

Forsaking the geese for a while, having just an hour or so spare at dusk I've been trying to shoot starlings coming in to roost. I guess I was hoping for some shots of them in swirling misty clouds, but I've not seen that happening to the degree you see on the wildlife programmes. However I have got some ideas for capturing rather different images to the now clichéd ones. As roosting time is fairly predictable and short-lived I should be able to sneak out whenever there is suitable light. Fast lenses would help keep the ISO lower. Which is just the excuse I need to splash some cash!

My first attempts were against a nice sunset but the 150-500 was too long to get the masses of birds in the frame, and I wasn't in the best position.

 Early arrivals

Second time out I got better views but the 70-300 was still too long but the 10-24 I had on the second body was too short and I had to crop. The first wave of birds settled in the same reedbed I was using for cover. That's how close they came. They don't half make a racket before they get their heads down!

 The flocks merge

I swapped for the 150 macro (f2.8)  and grabbed a blurry, but atmospheric, shot of a small flock joining the roost.

Coming in to land

Third time lucky? They give rain for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Using what you've got

I had to catch the last post today but I slipped a camera in the car just in case. Not least because there promised to be a sunset again. Not having time to get organised for another swan shoot I took the body with the 17-55 on it intending to try some landscapes/skyscapes in the little time I would have available.

By the time I was out on the mere the sunset was well underway. A few attempts were made, but there was no point of interest in them despite trying some shots of the huge round bales, with and without various degrees of fill flash. So I gave up when the sun had finally sunk below the horizon.

A few pink-foots had flown over while I was there and I made a stab at them. There's something there to work with using this lens.

 As I headed back down the lane I realised there were more geese in the stubble than I'd thought, and  quite close to the car - for pink-foots! I slowed down, stopped and watched. A jogger came towards me and the geese got restless. All of a sudden the majority of them burst skywards as only geese can do in a honking flurry of wings. Two shots were taken in the gloom and this letterbox crop was the best and works better at a large enough size to see the geese on the ground in slightly more detail.

Again it gives me ideas to use this lens again. If I can get in the right position with geese in the right location and the right light I might be able to work something out.

The lesson here is that you can work with what you've got in terms of lenses to make images. In fact I think, and may have mentioned it before, that restricting yourself to one lens for a while can help you see in a different way. Even better if it's a non-zoom. The same goes for trying a long lens for landscape or, as in this case, a very short one for wildlife. Have a look at Eric Weight's site for more on this sort of thinking.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Trial and error

The level of ignorance exhibited by some enthusiats in most hobbies manifests itself on the internet. On a photography forum some goon asked where the skill was in taking lots of shots in the hope one will work well. Henri Cartier-Bresson, no mug with a Leica, reckoned he took one good photo a year if he was lucky. I bet he didn't take just the one. In fact when you read up on him and see the shots he took before and after one of his iconic images you'll see some pretty ordinary stuff. Photography is, and always has been, about making selections. from selecting what to shoot to the final crop. Selecting one frame from many is one of the steps along the way.

If you don't take lots of shots, trying lots of different approaches to the various elements - framing, point of view, exposure and so forth - you will keep on taking the same old photos time and again. Tom Hogan extols the benefits of 'playing' on his site today. A telling phrase being to "Examine the results and see if there isn't something potentially useful in what you just discovered." Making selections again.

Making rubbish images, or images that nearly work, is all part of the creative process. Painters do it all the time. If they aren't making preparatory sketches they are scraping paint off canvas and starting again. No image emerges fully formed and perfect without a few mishaps along the way. Omlettes and eggs spring to mind.

And so it is that I'm trying to pull off a couple of images that satisfy me about the winter migrants that have moved in locally. I don't want the pin sharp close up, I want to give some feeling of place and time of year setting the birds in context and, if I'm lucky, creating an atmosphere. So far all I have managed are what I think of as photographic sketches. I don't have particular images in mind that I am trying to capture, but I know what elements will be involved.

The two species are pink-footed geese and whooper swans. With the geese I want to put across the huge flocks that fill the skies, the watchfulness of the birds on the ground, the openness of the landscape and the chill of the air. For the swans I have a more specific image in mind, a group flying to roost against a setting wintry sun.

These are two of my better sketches so far.

Having too many distant birds in the sky adds clutter and they become cyphers. Too few and they don't put across the sheer number of birds. Getting flocks in the frame with no birds chopped in two is a major problem!

When dealing with smaller groups of birds in flight you still have problems with composition. Each one needs space around it. Each one must be in an pose expressing motion. And you don't want stray birds of other species in the shot either, unless they add something to the overall image. The sky has to make a complimentary background too. When making images with paint you can move elements around to suit. When working with a camera you have to wait for things to move into place of their own accord. Sure is tricky - and frustrating!

Luckily the swans are flying to roost at an easily accessible spot a few minutes from home at the moment, so an hour at dusk when the sky might be suitable is an easy option. If I take enough shots one might turn out well enough eventually.

Monday, 18 October 2010


"If you consider a Automatic 'P&S' to be a a camera to use for a pro or to do a job with other than back up... If that is so, then it is a SAD SAD out look.

Anything on auto does not Warrent the 'PRO' title. Give my Gran a Point and shoot and hey presto!!!!!!
You need skill in use of equipement and more Skill in compasition and people skills.

Please !!!!!

Had to laugh at those who use I-Phone for shots. What is the world coming to????

It just dilutes and de values the 'REAL' photographer!!!

Angry? Yes I am!!!! Tired of wanna be's play acting , under cutting and cheaperning this Fantastic and superb industry that is Photography." - LINK

When I read stuff like that it makes me love the internet! It sounds remarkably like a journeyman painter of the 19th Century moaning about the advent of photography and the imminent demise of his craft!

Many industries have grown out of amateurs and hobbyists selling their creations as a sideline and expanding the operation to eventually make a living wage. There is high irony in the concept of the photography industry being undermined by amateurs for it was started by amateurs setting themselves up to make family portraits available to the masses and not just those in a financial position to engage the services of the aforementioned journeyman painters! 

The fact is that since the invention of the small, cheap, portable camera photography has democratised image making. Anyone with a Box Brownie (I have one somewhere!) was in a position to take an iconic image just as anyone with a camera-phone today has.

The only difference is that there are more people with camera-phones than there were with Box Brownies, and they have them on their person more of the time. So the chances of a truly globaly recognised image being taken with a camera-phone are increasing daily. The image may not score highly on technical merit, or even compositional style, but it has every chance of becoming as iconic as the Zapruder footage.

Today's point-and-shoot pocket cameras, and the better camera-phones, are as capable of turning out better exposed and focused results with less input from the operator than has ever been the case. The processing done by the chips becomes more and more 'intelligent' with each generation of camera. They may never come to read the photographer's mind, but they do a darned good job of making images that look the way we see them.

Photography is an industry, but it is also an art form, and increasingly importantly a means of self expression and communication. It has always been far more complex a medium than other visual media , not least because it has always had the potential for mass distribution, to an even great extent than art print techniques have (all of which degrade the image as more are reproduced). Photographic prints on paper were/are easily carried and displayed. Reproduction in newspapers, magazines and books enhance distribution. Now digitised images and the wonderweb take the distribution beyond the originator's control and to an almost infinite audience. And anyone can set the train in motion with a simple press of a shutter button.

The only difference between a happy snapper and a pro is that the pro has to turn out images that please other people.

With that in mind, here's a recent image I like (for reasons I'm unsure of). If you don't like it, tough!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Indian summer

It's amazing the things you see. Out for a wander with the camera I saw a kestrel go down on the ground and start squabbling with another one when a pair of pheasant's emerge from the grass and the hen joins in the fight!

The pheasant gave up but the kestrels carried on until one won out.

The next time I was out and about I found some late dragonflies that a mate had spotted the week before. There were plenty of common darters around, many paired up and some were seen ovipositing. I managed to creep up on one pair coupled on the ground in a 'wheel'. Unfortunately the sun was behind them and I wasn't able to get around to benefit from its light. Still, the camera's built in flash made a reasonable job of a fill light.

I also tracked one of the migrant hawkers that were on the wing to its landing place where I was able to get in close, in an awkward position on a sloping ditch bank, and spend some time getting shots. Some of which I am pleased with.

Undeterred by wandering round with lenses of varying longish focal lengths I have been trying a few landscapes in the autumn sun. I'm not sure this one really came off, but the contrast of light between near and far was what caught my eye. It also shows man's impact on the landscape, which is something that interests me.

Winter Hill from Bretherton Eyes

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Wagtail tales

On Sunday I wanted to get out and play with my returned lens. Although the sun was shining in the afternoon there wasn't much to be seen on the marsh - apart from a distant and lost cockatiel! Giving up I headed for the local nature reserve to look for tufties. They'd gone, as had the sun.

Back to the car and the key fell apart as I unlocked the door. Then the car wouldn't start. Thinking this was a problem that has sorted itself out after a rest of a few minutes I took another stroll round the pit with the camera as the sun was shining again. Part way round the path I remembered that the chip had fallen out of the key once before, causing the car not to start. I checked the key and the chip was missing. When I got back to the car again I scrabbled around looking for the little bit of black plastic among the equally black shale on the ground.

After a good few minutes and a thorough search I called the AA. I'd have fifty minutes to wait so I had another look for the chip. In no time at all I found it! A quick call back to the AA and I was on my way to the litter pit, which was uneventful. Just a lone swan on one of the small ponds was worth photographing.

Heading out to the river I stopped off at a favourite spot and had a wander along a footpath through a field. Although I saw a kestrel there wasn't much else around. Walking back past the car I saw some pied wagtails in another field and tried creeping up on them. Very flighty birds in my experience, although they will come close they don't like people approaching them. I sat and waited but they worked their way away from me. A flock of starlings made for some interesting attempts at backlit group flight shots, but I didn't pull them off. Next port of call was the mere.

There was precious little to be seen in the way of wildlife until the geese started to rise up in the distance. I thought I might be able to find some where I could get some closer shots of them and set off along the single track road. Passing a farmstead I spotted two pied wagtails, very close to the road, in a field that was being ploughed. Stopping the car I grabbed some shots of what looked like a young wagtail, then got the car closer. The bird stayed put, although the other one had flown off. The field was somewhat higher than the road, so shooting through the open window gave me an apparently low level view.

The light was poor, it was getting late, so I deliberately underexposed in order to keep the shutter speed high and the ISO low. It seemed to work.

Monday was a day of work, apart from shooting the coal tits in the garden, which I also did this morning. The restless little birds are getting to be an obsession. But given good light I reckon I'll get some decent shots.

Work beckoned, but when I was making my evening meal I was distracted by a bobbing, yellow and grey bird on the rockpile by my pond. A grey wagtail was looking to get a drink. The silly bird could have flitted over to the small pool I made as a bird bath and got a drink easily, but it wouldn't leave the rocks! I might make a step down to the water by he rocks for any other daft birds to take advantage of. The only photos I managed were taken through the window, and it was overcast so the detail isn't fantastic. A nice first for the garden though, and probably a result of having the pond.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The fat lady has yet to sing

With warm sunshine forecast to disappear in mid afternoon I left it a bit late to head north in search, obtusely, of southern hawkers. My delay was caused by a family of coal tits hanging around in the garden visiting my hemp-filled seed feeder and one of them discovering the niger seeds I'd placed in a teasel head that I had stuck in the ground hoping to get goldfinches in a picturesque pose.

First off I took my camera in the garage while I did some work, and when the coal tit landed on the teasel I stopped work and did my best with the lens available.

With the work finished and the coal tits still around and not disturbed by me moving around the garden I set up the tripod and remote release, pre-focussing the 70-300VR on the seed feeder. Not all the shots were in focus - the feeder swings as the birds alight. A couple were both in focus and showing the bird with its head out of the feeder! For a first and brief effort I was quite happy with the results.

Setting off around ten I would be at the dragonfly site well before lunchtime if all went to plan. It didn't. I hit a traffic jam and after a u-turn and following an alternative route I hit another. I hadn't even reached the motorway. When I did I was lucky not to turn down the slip road, which was solid like the motorway. Not being too far away from, and heading in the right direction to, a disused quarry I went there for a mooch.

The hoped for peregrines weren't in evidence. Not visually. There were some raptor-like calls echoing round the cliffs, but nothing I could pinpoint. The usual jackdaws were there in numbers, and the pair of ravens. On the water were three or four dabchicks among the coots and mallards. Standing high on the cliff looking down into the clear water it was fun to see the little grebes diving and swimming out of sight in their search for food. So high above them was I that even at 300 the lens was pretty useless to capture these small birds. A longer lens and a polariser might get some interesting results on a sunny day though.

Other bird life seen were jays, and heard were numerous tits in the birch scrub. There were plenty of toadstools around, most having been chomped by slugs or well past their best. I spent a few minutes trying to get a decent pic of a small clump, but a tripod would have been beneficial even with flash. Fungi are more difficult than birds to photograph!

Given the location it seemed a good idea to take the short drive to the hills and the hilltop quarry where the black darters live while the sun was still shining and warm enough to let me leave the sweatshirt in the car.

The recent rain had changed things up there. The small pool wasn't so small, and it was hard to get around with leaky boots on my feet! There were a fair few black darters around, but all in the rushes that had been dry last time I was there, and not as many as earlier. The big pool was a different matter. Far fewer darters, a couple of emerald damsels, and some hawkers. There were at least two common hawkers laying eggs in the marginal rushes. A tricky place to try and photograph them from dry land. A pair of waders would allow a better angle, but being in the water might prove more likely to spook the hawkers. They are spooky enough.

My first efforts were with the 70-300VR, but I wasn't happy with them, and at one stage a hawker came far too close for me to focus on it. The Sigma 70-300 would have been okay. You can't have everything.

It was fascinating watching the dragonfly at such close quarters, twisting its abdomen into all sorts of shapes as it sought out stems to insert its eggs into. Once they are in that mode they become more approachable, but sudden movements make them fly off.

I switched to the macro lens and flash set up, hoping I could get another chance at a real close look. I wasn't quite so fortunate, but I did get some shots where the hawker wasn't partially obscured by juncus. I also got a very wet foot as I inched close enough. A small price to pay.

Activity slowed and I called it quits. On my way home the sky began to turn grey and the rain wasn't far behind. More rain and cooler temperatures are supposed to set in. The fat lady may sing this week after all.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Last chance dragons?

This morning I was photographing my friendly robin, singing his head off again, when a coal tit landed on a feeder, grabbed a seed and flew off to deal with it in the hedge. This rarely happens when I'm in the garden so I stationed myself as close to the feeder as I dare and focused on it. It needed a heavy crop, but I managed a half decent pic (within the limits of the crop) of this frustrating little bird.

A fleeting glimpse...

I hadn't gone looking for dragonflies this afternoon and was surprised to see a few common darters, including a tandem ovipositing pair, and a brown hawker at the litter pit. Because I wasn't expecting them I hadn't taken the macro lens, so it was a good chance to try out the 70-300 on them. It proved less than ideal on the darters, not too bad on the hawker which landed on the grass. What did I say about the browns settling high up? Shooting without flash the depth of field wasn't great, but it was okay.

 Tatty wings are to be expected in late September

With a few dragonflies on the wing I set off for the dragonfly pond, only for the sun to dim. A solitary male common darter was spotted. So I took a photo of a toadstool which had an appealing colour and texture before leaving for home.

If the sun shines tomorrow I might go take a last look for southern hawkers. Then again, I might not.

Monday, 20 September 2010

New toy and pond progress

I got to really like the Sigma 70-300, at first for close up stuff and then finding it useful for wandering round with. As value for money it is hard to fault, but once the macro lens was purchased it's limitations in that department were shown up, and it's 'agricultural' operation grated compared to my Nikon zoom - the lack of stabilisation was also a problem for Mr Wobbly-Hands. So I bit the bullet and got myself the Nikon version. It's great! Not had the weather or the time to put it to much use, but my resident robin posed the other morning.

Slight crop

A rainy Sunday saw me scratching my head for subjects, until it went dark and I took a couple of snails into the garage for a studio shoot. Using the macro lens, flash bracket and flash with a Lumiquest Mini Softbox I got some reasonable results. A better 'set' than a big rotting log is required!

Today was supposed to be fine, but it was showery. I just managed to gather some clay to provide a substrate to plant water plants in the pond in a dry spell. When the rain drifted away I added the clay to the pond and pressed some plant roots into it to add to the few I had planted in upturned turf sods. Once they all take hold it will start to look a bit more naturalised and the greenery will cover the exposed pond liner.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The kindness of strangers

The interweb is a great place to find information. Some of it hidden away like the file name of a photo that revealed the location of some apparently obliging dragonflies. On Sunday I went to look for the pool and found it easily enough. The guy with the camera on a tripod pointing at a plant was a give away. Two others were pointing their cameras at vegetation too. The pond was so small there wasn't much space for me! I soon spotted something, got my camera from the car and set about staking a male ruddy darter - the first I'd ever seen. Quite obliging it was. In short order it had my macro lens in its face.

Although that was something I had hoped to see and photograph what I really wanted to get a shot of was a southern hawker. The ones I'd seen elsewhere were not in the habit of settling. I was assured they did so at this location. When the sun was shining and really quite warm they were hawking round the pond, inspecting the human intruders into their domain and chasing each other. When a cloud passed in front of the sun they disappeared. The original couple with cameras were replaced by another pair, and one of them soon spotted a resting hawker. Obviously more attuned to their habits than I. Southern hawkers perch closer to the ground than I had expected. Brown hawkers seem to perch higher, head high or above and I expected the southern hawkers to do likewise, but they were all alighting around knee level. Eyes down for a full viewfinder.

After he had taken a few shots of the first hawker to be spotted the original photographer on the scene let me have a go. The insect was completely unperturbed by our attentions.

After this yet another photographer arrived. Making it three grey-bearded men poking camera lenses in the faces of insects. Only one of them being daft enough to lay on the damp ground exposing his bare arms to the nettles...

One of the blokes pointed out some shield bugs. There were a lot of them about, and different species too. When you get a real macro view of them they are intriguing little bugs well worth seeking out with a camera.

There being only so many ways to photograph a perching southern hawker, and with my mission achieved, I headed on over to the nearby nature reserve where I fully intended to cough up the fee to use their hides. However, hardly had I crossed the car park towards the visitor centre than my Tourettes kicked in and I began mumbling obscenities to myself. There's something about clean walking boots, spotting scopes and Berghaus jackets that raises my bile. I availed myself of the toilet facilities, thumbed through a few books in the shop so I could choose which to buy off Amazon, and left.

Rather than hang around I took a very scenic route home, stopping off in a pay-and-display (without paying or displaying) to listen to the final overs of the one day cricket international. Then it was home to stick my pics on the screen and see what I'd got.