Photography Blog

Owls

Filed in Wildlife on Jan.05, 2010

Owls have long since been one of my most favorite family of birds to watch and photograph,and I travel all over the UK to see them,their pull is that strong for me.So yesterday I visited another new site away from the failing North-West Coast where I’d spent 2-3 weeks on the run up to Christmas waiting in the freezing conditions for Barn and Short-eared Owls to turn up.This year though on the marshland and estuaries of  this area their numbers have been very low and quiet alarming.I did capture some amazing red skies there though and the ever popular ‘cheeky chappy’ male Stonechats that kept me company during the long hours spent waiting.

Barn Owl Hunting

The images included in this article are from this new site and I really was lucky to see both Barn and Short-Eared Owls on my first visit there yesterday.The conditions were perfect with no wind or rain and dry, the only difficulty for the hunting owls was that the ground was frozen rock hard and the image above shows the small pools of which their prey live and feed in and around in were all frozen.I composed the above image to try a convey this scene,with the frozen small pools and the owl small in the frame,with the setting sun just adding that warmth and wonderful colour to the photo,at full size it looks amazing.

Barn Owl

Most of the images I captured from the day were shot in near darkness at ISO 1000.,the image above was from early morning and one of the few chances I had until later on in the evening.The winter frost can be seem behind the hunting Barn Owl as I captured it quartering on this patch of farmland.I just love watching these birds I nickname the ‘Ghost’ as they are so silent and appear from nowhere then in a flash are gone

Barn Owl

In near darkness this Barn Owl seen above,  turned up and started to hunt,I managed a few shots and then a Short-Eared Owl showed up seen below,it had awoken from the area they are roosting in,sat on this fence post,had a look at what I was ,then went off hunting.You wait all day and nothing shows up then within the space of 5 minutes both owls turned up.

Short-eared Owl

Beginners luck on my first day I think!.Looking forward to going back with the aim of getting some close up shots of both owls. I watched both owls hunt and the paths they used, where they mainly hunted giving me a better idea of where to go,stand etc, so hopefully I can get lucky again the next time I go.I did manage to capture a Short-Eared Owl flying past me with a vole,taken with a slow shutter speed.

Short eared owl

Barn Owl

The last image of a wonderful day,the Barn Owl was heading back to its roost and I didn’t see him again, this image captures that as it was ‘Goodnight from Him’ and ‘Goodnight from Me’ as the famous line goes from one of my favorite comedy double acts ‘The Two Ronnies’ I hope you have the luck I had when you are out and about looking for wildlife, if you are looking for Barn and Short eared Owls remember they don’t come out in rain only in extreme circumstances ie feeding young.They like very little wind,hunt over open farmland and rough grazing,and favour dawn and dusk,good luck.


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Birdwatching Walk

Filed in Events on Jan.03, 2010

With a dusting of snow and temperatures of minus-4 with the wind chill, the cold,winter weather didn’t dampen anyone’s spirit’s on the Birdwatching for Beginners Walk,at Carsington Water, Derbyshire today with a brillant turn out of over 25 people that braved the icy conditions as the winter sunshine shone down on us all.

Entrance

Carsington Water has been a very popular visitor attraction since the reservoir was opened by the Queen in May 1992,the reservoir is owned and operated by Severn Trent Water and is a centre for outdoor activities.Today I joined the rangers and Matt Merrit Editor from the Birdwatching Magazine as we took a trip around this beautiful reservoir,I was invited by Matt to take photographs for an article that will be in the March issue of the magazine.Introductions out of the way and we headed around the reservoir looking out for what ever birds would brave the conditions and show up,stopping off at various different places and making best use of the wardens knowledge of this area.

Birdwatchers

As you can see from the photograph above conditions where very clear and cold but we didn’t have a great deal of luck apart from the usually common species,but we did managed to find a Redshank feeding on the shoreline and a lone Lapwing against the snow,the images can be send below

Redshank

Redshank

lAPWING

Lapwing

Carsington Water run these walks on the first Sunday of every month and they also put on more advanced walks that specialise in certain species and are aimed at the more experienced birdwatcher.Myself and Matt had a great day and it was lovely to meet such nice people and I hope you all learned something. look out for the article which will be in the March issue of the Birdwatching Magazine and if you would like to join the next walk please contact Carsington Water 01629 540 696 and they will tell you all the details you need or alternatively drop me a line on my ‘Contact’  page and I will answer any queries you may have.

Carsington water


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Merry Christmas

Filed in Articles on Dec.24, 2009

Thank you all for your support during the last year,and I hope to have helped you in someway with regard to Wildlife Photography and seeing the beauty of the natural world.Just wanted to finish the year as I started with a photo of my all time favorite UK bird “The Dipper” fishing here on the river

Dipper Fishing

Makes a change from a Robin at this time of year I thought and this was taken yesturday and it was freezing. Next year I am hoping to photograph 12 months in the Life Of The Dipper, documenting the character and behavior of this fascinating bird during the different season’s,building a better picture and understanding of this bird through the medium of photography.

Dipper

So what ever you are doing over the Christmas period I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.And lastly a big Thank You to Andrew and the team at RapidWeb for a brilliant website!


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Winter Sunshine

Filed in Articles on Dec.19, 2009

Over the last couple of days during the countries cold spell the winter sunshine has been amazing on the North-West coast. While waiting for Barn/Short-eared Owls last night to come out to hunt the colours of the sky were just breathtaking. I managed to capture this with the image below in near darkness.

Winter Sunshibe

I was trying out the Nikon D3S at low light and all these shots were at iso 2000 in almost near darkness.The sharpness/clarity of the camera is amazing,the feel of it in your hand is brilliant,and at 14 bit Un-compressed Neff (Raw) file size the frame rate is 9 fps, has a buffer capacity of 35 shots in FX (36×24) mode,In Dx (24×16) mode the frame rate goes to 11 fps and buffer capacity increases to 52.

The images I captured of a lone Kestrel frantically hunting in the very last rays of sunshine,composed small in the frame to include as much of the sky can be seen below.

Kestrel At Dawn

Lone Kestrel

I was praying a Short-eared Owl or Barn Owl would just come out to hunt but it was’nt to be,the colours of the sky more than made up for it though.Winter sunshine and it’s colours are really beautiful to see,coming about when a cold front meets a warm front resulting in these magic colours and cloud shapes.So when you have finished photographing or walking at the end of the day just hang on that little bit more to see if the sky changes colour as the sun is setting and you too maybe treated to the sight I witnessed last night.


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Beginners Birdwatching Walk

Filed in Events on Dec.16, 2009

On Sunday 3rd of January 2010, Carsington Water and Birdwatching Magazine are organising a Birdwatching For Beginners Walk  at Carsington Water in Derbyshire.It is a free two-hour walk around the area and lake with the intention of getting beginners young and old into Birdwatching.The magazine is doing a feature of this long-running and very successful event which takes place every month and the magazine has asked me if I would like to come along and take some photograph’s for them,and of the event and surrounding birdlife.Also I will be on hand to offer any advice regarding birdwatching,equipment etc.As a youngster I was a member of the YOC -Young Ornithologist’s Club,which is now called RSPB Wildlife Explorers  I gained so much by going birdwatching,also it introduced me to wildlife at a young age which was great,I went to different reserves and saw different places all learning about birds and their behaviours. It’s very good events like this are still happening today, and a brilliant way for people to reconnect with nature.

Birdwatching

Birdwatching for Beginners Walk, Carsington Water, Derbyshire, starts at 10am,so come prepared for a great start to your 2010 bird count, Volunteer Ranger’s will be on hand and pointing out any winter visitors and other birds that make their home on this beautiful stretch of water.Over the two hours there the idea is to help and talk to the absolute beginners and to see what they get out of it and how their knowledge changes over that couple of hours with the help and advice that is on offer,I will be also showing a few tips I’ve learned and passing them on and taking photo’s of any birds we see over the time we are there.

Birdwatching

It’s a great way to shake of the christmas and new year blues and to learn more about wildlife,so if you are interested or your children are then come along on the day or telephone Carsington Water on 01629 540 696 and ask about this brillant event,you also get the chance to meet the Birdwatching Team that will be there along with myself.I hope to see you all there and if you have any other questions or information then drop me a line on my Contact form

Little EgretBirdwatching

Timetable For The Day

9.45 – 10.00  People on course checked in.
10.00           Introduction, housekeeping and walk plans
10.05           10 minutes on a bird topic(s)
10.15           Walk to and round Stones Island
11.15           Arrive back at Visitor Centre, to pick up quick coffees; Loo stop etc
11.20           To Ranger Base to view feeder and Bullfinch (not guaranteed!)
11.30           At Shiningford Creek for viewing  followed by reminders of next walk.
11.45           To Wildlife Centre to join Date with nature team
Noon           Disperse……………. people can stay as long as they like

Above is the timetable for this walk and it should be a great morning for your interest the satellite navigation code is DE6 1ST or below is the full postal address

Carsington Water,Ashbourne,Derbyshire,DE6 1ST.

See you all on the day.



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Red Grouse

Filed in Workshops on Dec.09, 2009

Spent a lovely day yesterday on a One To One with Gary Copeland,Derbyshire in the Peak District looking for Red Grouse,after a slight walk to one of 3 places I visit regularly we got into place and waited for this very shy bird to show up.The heaths and moors of the peak district are an eerie exposure of peat covered moorland sitting about 600m (2000 ft) above sea level. Large wind carved eroded rocks sit among vast plateaus and rock formations supporting a healthy population of Red Grouse. These iconic moorland birds make their home on these moors and are reliant on their camouflaged plumage to blend in to this habitat.The image below shows where we were and gives you an ideal of this habitat.

Peak District

Female Red Grouse

The image above is of the hard to capture/see female who looked in stunning condition,perched on these large rocks that litter this beautiful landscape, the weather was good to us in the morning but in the afternoon the weather changed and at 570m ( Altitude-meter in my watch) above sea level you get a real sense of the environment  as you look to the sky and see the changing weather approaching.Neverless Gary and myself had a great day and I was pleased  for gary as he managed some lovely images and learned alot about the Grouse,approach,what to look for etc.

Red Grouse

I managed to capture a male Red Grouse up on a stone wall walking up and down, like something of the famous ‘Red Grouse Whisky’ advert where he is seen posing and performing,very funny to watch,seen below in this image

Red Grouse

The Red Grouse is one of those beautiful birds that live a quiet and shy life,a very jumpy bird I have found over time and the secret is just simply to get into place with as little disturbance to the bird as possible and wearing camouflage clothing,make sure the wind is blowing towards you as this will take your scent away and just wait for them to show up,they often fly around alot and take some time to settle.I run Red Grouse In The Peaks workshops, where throughout the year I have certain dates where I take up to four people to the best site at that time of year or like Gary I can do a One To One at one of these site’s also. It’s all designed to get the best images for the client as I can and a better understanding of your chosen subject using my proven fieldcraft techniques and other simply tips I teach and showing people the beauty of nature.

Male Red Grouse

And the male turned up just before we left and posed for us and I managed this portrait of this beautiful bird, a great day was had by all,thank you for your company Gary and a Merry Christmas.


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Short-eared Owls

Filed in Projects on Dec.05, 2009

I have been photographing Short-eared Owls over the last couple of weeks at one of my sites on the North-West Coast of the UK where they migrant to in the winter months, it’s pre-dominantly a stronghold for Short-eared Owls during the non-breeding season and this time of year.Most Short-eared Owls are upland,pasture and moorland hunters,but during the colder months in these areas their prey becomes scarce so the birds move to areas where their food of voles,rodents and other small mammals is more abundant, hence why they are said to migrate during this period when really its just about surviving the colder months.

SEO

They favour coastal,marshland,reedbeds and rough grazing habitat during the winter months,often coming down to lower altitudes from their upland/moorland summer habitats. With the weather being so wet over the last few weeks the opportunities to see them, let alone photograph these most beautiful of the owl family have been very slim on the ground but I managed to capture some images.But over the next 2 months I hope to get some beautiful shots of these owls hunting like I did last year with the image below.

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I love their faces with their ‘Disc-Like’ shape to it and those ‘Fierce’ looking eyes that for me make these a beautiful looking bird.They are one of the few owls that regularly hunt and appear in broad daylight,often visible at long range,listen out for the males call, a deep, booming sound – ‘boo-boo-boo-boo’  when you are looking for them.During this time of year they are very tollerate of other birds/owls and most of the time can be seen hunting together over the marshland here where numbers of 15,20+ have been counted in the past in this area alone,with one communal roost with a maximum of 28 owls in it.

SEO

I will keep my blog updated on my progress in capturing these birds ,weather permitting,but in the meantime when you go and visit marshland,coastal reedbeds etc just look out for these birds especially at this time of year and listen out for their calls and remember their eye sight is amazing so wear muted,camoflaged clothing to ensure you give yourself the best chance of seeing these beautiful birds and try to stay as still as possible.Good luck and if you would like any futher help and advice on these birds please contact me and I’ll do my best.

SEO

SEO


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Wildlife Photography- My Tips

Filed in Advice On Wildlife, Photography Tips on Nov.30, 2009

 
Nature and wildlife photography is challenging but extremely rewarding,the creative side of things is a great challenge but also a lot of fun. If you like animals and learning about their characteristics and habitats then this photography is for you.Do your homework first!,taking the time to learn about the animal or subject is likely to pay off for you in creating opportunities for some great shots. Learning about an animal’s behaviour and routine will allow you to plan the best time for you to capture them. I tell people that learning about your subject is by far the most important discipline in wildlife photography far more important than the make of camera or equipment you use.With the weather in your favour you can capture nature in stunning light at dawn and dusk.
 
Avocet
 
  
Dusk
 
 
Don’t forget that patience really is a virtue when it comes to wildlife photography. Don’t expect to go outdoors and immediately find the creature of your choice,don’t expect it to stand still for you.,quite often the photographer has to wait in a un- comfortable spot for some time until there are signs of life. Animals cannot be forced to appear, or to stay for your pictures. All you can do is work with the situation when it is presented to you and be as fast and efficient as possible.When using a telephoto lens, use a higher shutter speed even if you are outdoors,a longer lens requires a decent shutter speed in order to get a sharp image and you may only have one opportunity. Also to help the sharpness of the image, choose a decent ISO, at least 400 since you will be dealing with a moving image.I teach people when and where possible to always use  Aperture priority– F4,F5.6,F8,F11 are the key ones to use.Focus on the eye of the subject every time,birds in flight focus on the centre of the body between the wings @F8
 
Buzzard
   

 Time of day

Although there are times where you may want to try night time wildlife photography,the chances are you will mostly be working in the day.Each situation is different but it is better to avoid the bright afternoon sun (unless it is a cloudy day) and the bright sun can affect how the camera interprets the image,animals may also hide away when it is too hot, looking for shade. As the sun goes down, you can also be treated to amazing light but you must remember to use a tripod because low light will result in camera shake without proper support. Different creatures may be accessible at different times of the day so bear this in mind

Composition

There are no hard and fast rules on composition although the general consensus is –get close.Check the background to make sure that it is interesting but not fighting for attention from the main subject,small distractions make a big difference to photographs and if you are trying to use the images for sale or a competition, you will definitely need to check there are no unwanted items in the picture. One of the most popular ‘rules’ in photography is the Rule Of Thirds,It is also popular amongst artists, It works like this:
Imaginary lines are drawn dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, You place important elements of your composition,”the subject” where these lines intersect, the diagram below shows you these 

Grid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Compositon of the subject should be placed on one of the four inter-sections as shown in the diagram      

Shown here perfectly with this Brown Hare running towards me and right on one of these inter-sections

Hare 

 Most of us will have Wildlife around where we live or have some kind of park where wildlife is rife. This doesn’t mean that they are any easier to shoot though! the key is being very patient and quiet, and remember to use a long lens.To begin with you may want to visit a zoo or bird sanctuary where the animals are tame or you can set up a bird table and put plenty of seeds on it and place the table close to where you want to shoot. If you sit there quietly waiting, sooner or later nature will appear. A 500mm lens is ideal if you want to crop out most of the background and frame the subject tightly. These lenses are very expensive so there is nothing from stopping you from using the lens you have and cropping the image down afterwards (although you will lose some quality).Morning or afternoon light is ideal for wildlife photography,It is bright but not harsh, morning light can have a beautiful,warmth to it that adds a dramatic effect,and animals can be stunning  in this light – if you are shooting in your garden then you will probably attract some standard animals and birds, In this case, remember to be very observant,don’t just shoot mindlessly, look at what the animal/bird is doing that is interesting,is it drinking or eating?

Water droplets are nice to capture, so make sure you put out clean,fresh water for them. Photographing the birds landing and take off in your garden is brillant, capturing the movement of the wings looks stunning when done right,and looks so dramatic and beautiful.If you are trying to capture a bird in flight, you want to use the continous servo auto-focus feature on your camera since it will be too fast for you to focus on manually, combined with this function, where the camera will take photographs one after the other, you are more likely to get a good shot. If you take the time to study the birds behaviour and patterns then you may be able to accurately predict the place where the bird will fly to, so you could pre-focus on that spot and wait for the bird to pass through the next time.

Red Deer

And where possible try to get as  level with the subjects eye(s) to give you a more level point of view and I feel making for a much better and balanced image as shown above

Summary

All in all, shooting wildlife and nature is both an extremely rewarding but a difficult task. The pictures you see in magazines and in adverts are not shot on a magic whim,they are most likely the result of many hours of investment,someone had to wait for the right weather conditions in the right spot possibly for days in order to capture the best shot. Patience is absolutely the key to getting good pictures of any type of creature.Don’t forget to select the best tools you can afford. If you are focusing on animals you may want to buy a telephoto lens first, If you are interested in plants and insect you may want a macro lens, It is always useful to have a standard lens, something that covers the 50mm mark, whether it is fixed focal or zoom, with a standard lens you can always choose a macro lens or less expensive alternatives such as an extension tube, which can work for macro or long distance work.

You will be spending alot of time outdoors and probably quite a lot of time low down, you should think about buying items like a roll mat, foldable chair, or some waterproof fabric you can place on the ground before you spend time with your knees in the grass, have little comforts too; wear comfortable clothing and footwear, carry some hot water with you for a cuppa,it warms you up from the inside and can lift your spirits if its really cold, and wear a hat if it is sunny and hot, keep warm if it is the winter the more comfortable you are, the longer you will be able to stay out and take more photographs,and the more photographs you take, the more chance there is that you will have a great shot and you will be getting better.Patience and luck is the key!  I hope these few tips have helped you in some way and please feel free to contact me should you have any other queries.

 


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