Feathers all stubby and brown!
(I am a swan! Whoopee!)
Feathers all stubby and brown!
(I am a swan! Whoopee!)
What’s was it that Joni Mitchell said about the spots on apples and leaving her with the birds and the bees? It’s not DDT now, but things have not changed much since 1970.
Bees are in trouble. The numbers declining steeply and it is becoming increasingly thought that the cause is the neonicotinoid insecticides, although the chemical companies that produce them deny it. Colony Collapse Disorder has led up to 50% of colonies being destroyed. This is bad news for us as the bees pollinate the crops we eat. The neonicotinoids are also now being linked to the decline in songbirds too.
Something a bit different from my usual posts. This is a photo of my old home town, Norwich, that I scanned from my Dad’s old photos. The original print was tiny and I have have enlarged it three times using onOne’s Perfect Resize,
If you are familiar with Norwich, this photo was taken from what is now WH Smiths on Gentleman’s Walk. the building on the left is now The Works book shop. This is looking across the market square and you can see the Guildhall on the right, as well as the building that is now Tesco Metro which, back at the turn of the 20th century was Chamberlain & Sons & Company. You can read about that on this blog.
Walking up Guildhall Hill is the Waterloo Tavern, long since gone.
There are lots of flags out in this picture and I wonder if there was something to celebrate.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent some of the time on the Farnes with the ISO wound up higher than I usually do. Higher ISOs mean higher shutter speeds are attainable. But the downside is more noise, Removing the noise from a photo can result in a softening of the image.
The other side of this is that when sharpening and reducing noise, we are looking at the image at 100%. Invariably, when we post images online they are far, far smaller than that and the pixel-peeping adjustments we made are not noticeable.
Although I got up close to these birds, my favourite shots are those where I have stood back or zoomed out a bit.
I have seen lots of photos like the one above with the frame filled by the puffin coming into land, they are great shots, technically perfect but a bit clichéd. For me, seeing where the bird is aiming to land makes it much more interesting and it isn’t the shot that as many photographers go for.
When the puffins came in with a catch the gulls would attack and try to steal their food. Just out of shot to the left is a great black backed gull that was homing in on this bird to take its catch.
On the trip around the Farnes I saw these ladies lazing on the beach.
If you look closely at the above photo you can see she is steaming in the early morning sun.
I’m not really sure what they see in this guy though.
Although I am partially deaf, I could not help overhearing what people were talking about on the Farne Islands. What took me aback was the number of people who were having problems with their camera gear, and it was invariably really expensive camera gear that they were having problems with. There were cameras not working and lenses not focusing. It must have been really disappointing for them to plan a trip and then not walk away with any shots. It seemed to be one particular brand that was having the problems, but my observation was not a scientific survey, so I won’t mention which make it was.
When I was there I put my camera away for a while just to take in the joy of being so close to such incredible wildlife. Wildlife photography for me goes hand in hand with conservation and education and I like a bit of time away from the lens to find out a bit about the birds that I photograph.
This handsome little gull is a kittywake. Although the number of most of the birds on the Farne Islands is on the increase, this one is declining rapidly and the colony barely seems to be breeding this year. Elsewhere there has been speculation that the drop in numbers of sand eels is affecting the populations of these birds, but there are plenty of sand eels around the Farnes, so there must be another explanation. It is now thought that the numbers of zooplankton on which the sand eels feed are declining, due to climate change. This means that the quality of the eels as a food has dropped, and this had adversely affected the kittywakes ability to breed.
This one was unimpressed with it’s food.
For the entire trip I kept the same lens on my DSLR. My trusty 70-300 mm zoom was perfect for the photography..
Some people seemed to me to have taken the wrong kit. I saw people with enormous lenses. They were using these to take photos of birds that were sitting on the ground a few feet from them. They must have broken their wallets and backs with these huge bits of kit. I wonder if they realised the opportunities they missed. There is no way you can pan a flying puffin with a lens like that is 10″ in diameter and needs a tripod to support it.
When a pair of territorial arctic tern are battling for aerial supremacy, then a smaller, lighter lens wins every time.
(I haven’t used selective colouring in this image. The only colour was in the legs and beak of that bird.)
And, when a bird is sitting six feet in front of you flapping its wings then perhaps you don’t need a huge lens.
More birds to follow…
Yesterday I had one of the best days of my life. My enjoy-o-meter was registering up in the red and it exceeded my expectations, which were quite high. Earlier in the week I had booked a trip out to the Farne Islands, off the Northumbrian coast and not far from where I have lived for the last 9 years. Apart from being very scenically beautiful, the Farnes are home to tens of thousands of seas birds, including puffin, razorbill, shag, kittywake, guillemot and arctic tern. The day combined several of the things I really enjoy in life: going to sea, photography, seeing birds and a fantastic landscape. So, my next few posts will be from my trip.
Photography at sea is like shooting in the snow and I usually add a stop or more of exposure compensation. This may seem counter intuitive as the scene is so bright you may think that you would want to decrease the exposure. But, bright light fools the sensor into under-exposing the image. For birds on the water or in the air I used spot and centre-weighted metering.
Not every wildlife shot has to be a close-up showing the finest detail of every feather. I do especially like wildlife photos of animals in the context of their environment. For me a good wildlife shot can be as much about the landscape as it is the animal I am photographing. Not everyone agrees with me about this and wildlife photography competitions invariably award the prizes to the close-up, finely detailed images. But I see as much merit in a well composed image where the wildlife is part of the landscape.
I also like to see photos that show their behaviour and not when they are just standing or floating there. Although I did get some close-up shots of the shags around the island, I was equally pleased with this more distant shot.
Behind the shag are four puffins, much more of those in another post, and further back razorbill and guillemot of which I’ll also post more pictures later.
I did get much closer to the shags on land.
One of the National Trust wardens on the Inner Farne told me that shags were her absolute favourite bird on the island because of their character. The male shags during the breeding season will walk around with stick and offer them to their prospective mates. Earlier in the year she watched a young male trying out this courtship technique only to be chased off by the other males. Finally, a female saw him and thought ‘Ooh, there’s a nice stick,’ She walked provocatively up to him and accepted it, a sure sign that his luck was in. Once she had claimed the stick, she ran back to her nest and her partner chased him away.
One of the great things about spending an entire day on a photo-shoot is that I can take my time and play with the camera’s settings, experimenting with settings that work in different situations. I tried out higher ISOs to get some really fast shutter speeds or get an acceptable speed where the light was lower or the aperture smaller. Out of habit I often keep to my camera’s native ISO of 200, and so wanted to push the boundaries a bit. I have used higher ISOs for black and white portraits but not really used it out in the field, having stuck to the ‘safe’ native ISO.
Olympus E-5, ISO400, 190mm, f/7.1, 1/400
For these two shops I just increased the ISO by one stop to ISO 400, which then enabled me to decrease the aperture size slightly as I wanted the entire bird and it’s young in focus, and not just shoot wide open so only the eyes of the mother were sharp.
This last photo was shot at ISO640. I can notice the grain appearing in the photo when I look at the full sized raw image, but the picture is still perfectly usable.
Those little chicks under the mother look dead, but I am sure they are just sleeping.
I promised my Aussie friend, Ron, a black and white photo in this post. Ron has a real passion for black and white photography just as he secretly yearns for the weather and dramatic skies of England that are in such contrast to the boring blue skies of Brisbane. I thought I would have to let him down as when I took the shot it was the bold colours of the flowers that stood out. It was only when I started working on the shots that I realised this one in particular would lend itself to black and white. Ron will agree how important shape and form are to black and white photography, how light and shade are everything and how colour can be a distraction. This was taken just after a rain shower and the shot is about the beads of rain on the pelargonium. Removing the colour brings out the smoothness of the drops against the textures of the petals. I used the dynamic contrast adjustment in Perfect Effects just on the petals to boost those textures and then converted to monochrome using Perfect B&W.
I am typing this listening to a mixture of music from singer/songwriters playing on the television. Sometimes I think that I was born a too late as my musical tastes date back to a time before I was old enough to remember. Then I realise it’s an amazing technological age in which we live where we can travel back in time and see performers, now old or even dead, at the prime of their performing careers.
I could easily sit back with a glass of wine, watch the sun sink and listen to Joni Mitchell, Clifford T Ward, Don McLean, Paul Simon, Sandy Denny and Johnnie Nash who were performing for us this evening.