Friday, 27 May 2011

Same subject; different approach

Park Gate Down orchids

I was determined to get some shots before the wind got up too much as it had blighted my attempts to get any half-decent shots earlier in the week. I arrived at 7.15 to reasonably favourable conditions [overcast but still] and set about my task of experimenting with some different kit. It's all too easy to stick to the macro lens when photographic orchids but I wanted to push the envelope a little, so I left it at home!

I've included my shooting details to give an idea of what I was up to.

Monkey orchid

Most of the monkey orchids are just past their best but there are still a few coming up. I used a wide angle to give a sense of place and to show the relative sizes/growth of the plants.
EOS 1D MkIV; EF 16-35 f/2.8 at 21mm; 1/20s; f/16; ISO 200; 3-stop ND Grad
I next went to the other extreme and switched to a telephoto lens and, with the plants being very small, I could position securely with a bean bag (as even a low tripod would have been too tall). The minimum focal distance of the EF500 is 4.5m but by using a 36mm extension tube, I was able to get this down to ~2.6m. The two examples below were taken at a focal distance of ~2.8m. Focusing was effected manually via Live View (10x magnification).

Nice diffuse background whilst retaining good detail in the flower spike.
EOS 1D MkIV; EF 500 f/4; 36mm extension tube; 1/400s; f/6.3; ISO 400
I also wanted to go for a softer, more impressionistic effect. I shot this at f/9 and then applied some softer processing in Photoshop, which I find quite appealing.

EOS 1D MkIV; EF 500 f/4; 36mm extension tube; 1/400s; f/9; ISO 800
Fragrant orchid

Whilst the monkeys are getting towards the end of their flowering season, fragrant are just coming up to their peak time. They are taller, slimmer and more delicate than monkey and therefore far more susceptible to the effects of the wind. I located a few good specimens in the chalk pit near the entrance, where it is reasonably sheltered and took a number of shots with the 500mm and also the 70-200.

The 70-200 has a minimal focal distance of 1.2m so it's not possible to get as close as one can with a macro lens but it's still capable of reasonable shots.

EOS 1D MkIV; EF 70-200 f/2.8 at 150mm; 1/1600s; f/4; ISO 800
EOS 1D MkIV; EF 500 f/4; 36mm extension tube; 1/1250s; f/4; ISO400
EOS 1D MkIV; EF 70-200 f/2.8 at 200mm; 1/800s; f/5; ISO 800
I did take a few sets of images to do some focus stacking and when I've got a bit more time I'll post these for comparative purposes.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

East Kent tour

The best laid plans of mice and men

On Thursday I planned a day out to photography butterflies and,whilst it did not turn out that way, I did not come home with an empty memory card.

Temple Ewell

With light winds and slightly overcast conditions being forecast I headed first for Temple Ewell. My reference book gave a rather obscure location for the reserve car park and I did my best to program the sat-nav and, yes, I ended up at an old people's home (I'm not ready for one of those just yet). Having accosted a local and got proper directions I headed off the half-mile down the road where I drew up, somewhat relieved in the car park and re-programmed the Tomtom with the current location - sorted.

My impression of an oxeye daisy

I made my way up the path to the meadow areas which were awash with daisies. There were a few common blue around and a number of other butterflies that I failed to identify properly as they were extremely active and despite my best attempts failed to get any decent shots. In my defence I claim three mitigating circumstances: it was quite breezy there; before kneeling or laying down one had to check the ground carefully  - there was more dog sh!t than a Paris backstreet; when one did hit the deck the local ant population was on you like a rash.

I decided to cut my losses and try a different location - Park Gate Down. Luckily this site was already in the sat-nav so I was quickly on my way, albeit with my tail between my legs.

Park Gate Down

My visit here a few weeks ago coincided with the end of the early purple orchid display. These had well and truly expired by Thursday and I wasn't sure whether anything else would be showing. Luckily in the middle section of the reserve was a patch of about 30 monkey orchids. These were in various states of condition, not helped I'm sure by the very dry conditions we have had.

Photographically, the wind was a constant challenge; I used my two 50cm reflectors as wind shields but there was still too much movement of the plants for my liking. 

Monkey orchid. They ranged from ~10 to 20 cm in height
Getting in a bit closer
... and a bit closer still ....
As with Temple Ewell, the butterfly population was quite low but I did manage to get to this orange tip that posed for a few minutes.

Orange tip resting on large leaf
Denge Wood

After a spot of lunch I decided to move on to another new location for me - Denge Wood. This is a delightful spot and I managed to track down another orchid first for me - greater butterfly orchid. Unlike the bold vibrant colours of lady and monkey orchids, this species is pale and delicate. I only saw this lone example, which was close to the edge of one of the paths and, being tall (30cm) and delicate it was also a challenge to photograph with the breeze (although it was more sheltered than the open spaces of Temple Ewell and Park Gate Down).

Greater butterfly orchid - delicate with pastel colours

Individual flower close-up

Monday, 16 May 2011

Butterflies in North West Devon

Just back from a week in North Devon with my wife, chilling out, walking and doing some photography. My pre-visit research indicated that it would be a good area for butterflies and orchids, although we were probably there a couple of weeks too early for the full splendour of either.

I visited Volehouse Moor twice in search of marsh fritillary to no avail but did manage to photograph some of the more common species. The weather was pretty good all week except for the wind, which was rarely below 20mph, making close-up work very tricky.

Volehouse Moor

Common blue

My first encounter was a small flash of blue in the long grass on a more sheltered side of the reserve. I tracked it for about 10 minutes, with it flying away just as I got near every time. Eventually it settled low down in some vegetation (I'm not sure if it was tired out or just took pitty on me). The first thing I noticed was that its undersides were a beautiful speckled brown and white, in contrast to the pale blue upper wing. The second thing I noticed was how small it was - about the size of a postage stamp. I managed to get in closer and closer with my 100mm macro lens and amazingly it obliged, allowing me to get perpendicular to its body plane and shoot at a number of different apertures.

[click any image to see at 1024px resolution]

Male common blue. 1/160s; f/5.6; ISO 800
I was keen to get some shots of it with its wings open but this individual failed to oblige - he'd given me a good run and I was happy with what I got. About an hour later I located another one further up the field that was feeding on a buttercup. He was swaying in the wind but I manged a few half-decent shots. Some were taken with a 50D/70-200 f/2.8 II combination and a 12mm extension tube (to allow me to get in a bit closer than the 1.5m minimum focal distance). With this rig I could photograph from a bit further away than with the macro lens but image quality is not as good.

70-200; 1/250s; f/6.3 ISO 400

100mm macro; 1/400s; f/8; ISO 800
Green-veined white

Also at Volehouse was a medium sized white butterfly that grabbed my attention. I did not know what it was so had to check it out when I got back. The underside was the biggest aid to its identification although I failed to photograph that aspect.

70-200; 1/500th; f/9; ISO 400
Small copper

Small copper; just a record shot as the grass head swayed in the wind
 Small pearl-dordered fritillary

I also visited Marsland reserve where I saw a few speckled woods and a small pearl-bordered fritillary. Both  were too active to photograph effectively about 20 minutes to get these two record shots.

Speckled wood; 100mm macro; 1/125s; f5.6; ISO 400

Small pearl-bordered fritillary; 100mm macro; 1/800s; f/5.6; ISO 400
I got a real buzz from seeing and photographing these fabulous creatures and look forward to getting out locally in East Kent to get some of the specialties native to this area.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Lady orchids at Yockletts

First attempts

I have visited the site a couple of times in the last week, the first time being the Royal Wedding day (well, what else was there to do) and then yesterday. It has been my first time photographing wild orchids so I start some way down the learning curve.

One thing that I learned fairly quickly is that it is quite different to bird photography in that you have much more control of your subjects; there are a number of individuals in different lighting to choose from and they don't move (or fly away!). That said, they are still a real challenge to capture nicely...

Single flower spike
The major challenges are:
  • accurate focusing to get the entire plant in focus whilst at the same time choosing an aperture that diffuses the background
  • finding a specimen that is in good even light (high contrast is bad)
  • avoiding any wind movement (it's amazing how much they move even when the air appears to be still)
  • keeping the camera rock solid on a tripod or bean bag
  • slowing down (in stark contrast to bird photography where you need to think and work quickly) and concentrating constantly on composition and technique
Two flower spikes (these are a bit past their best but don't often see two together)
All images are taken with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro (the older, non-IS model) on either a 50D or 1D Mk IV (I wanted to see how the different sensor sizes/field of view worked).

The close up below was taken with the aid of a 20mm extension tube to allow me to get in tight.

Close-up; I've not met too many ladies that look like this - thankfully!
This single spike was in a very sheltered, low light and contrast position
Getting a taste for more

Having spent quite some time photographic birds over the winter, it's been great to try something different. I've still got some way to go to get images that I'm really happy with but I'm enjoying the challenge and will be honing my skills over the next few months.

I'm off to Devon next week so may be able to get a couple of half-days in there too.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

High and dry at Elmley

I always try to get up to Elmley late April and do a bit of 'kerb-crawling' along the track. The temperature being very high for the time of year and the ground extremely dry, with water levels in the scrapes leading up to the farm quite a bit lower than previous years; a testament to how little rainfall there has been recently.

As well as low water levels, the bird count appeared to be down on previous years (of course one day is not wholly representative). I only had the morning out so did not walk down to the first hide, which is a favourite of mine in the afternoons when the sun swings round to the west.

I did not necessarily expect to see any rarities so to that end I was not too disappointed when I didn't. However it was great to be out on such a beautiful morning with a chance to take a few pictures being a bonus.

Coot were busy with nest building.

A number of lapwing were already hunkered down on their nests while others were feeding.

This pheasant was quite happy being only a few feet from the car, giving me the opportunity for a few portrait shots.

Redhsank were one species where the numbers were noticeable down on previous years. This one was a little disgruntled to have been woken up as I cruised by.

This linnet was collecting dandelion seeds.

I saw at least 8 individual yellow wagtails, all but one of them male.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Yockletts Bank

Yockletts Bank (Kent Wildlife Trust) by Martin Washford

[Click on any image to view at higher resolution]

Yockletts is a woodland park, consisting of beech, hazel, holly and other deciduous trees. Sprint erupts with a carpet of wood anemone.

Carpet of wood anemone

Wood anemone close-up
The anemone then give way to the familiar carpet of bluebell, in between which, a number of other spring flowers can be seen, including lesser celandine

Lesser celendine
Emerging cowslip
Twayblades are making an appearance too
Yockletts is famous for its variety of orchids, the twayblade being the first, followed by early purple.

Pussy willow [taken with 65mm macro lens]


Whilst walking back to the car I heard a noise that sounded like a swarm of bees. On checking this out I could only locate 3 or 4 'bee-like' individuals. Once home, I checked out the images in detail and found them to be bee-flies. When flying they are much louder than common or bumble bees.

Bee-fly feeding on primrose
Bee-fly resting

A few brimstone were there too.

Downy pigeon feather caught in leaves

Wild clematis left over from last year

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

West Country Hirundines - a tale from left-field

Just back from a four-day photographic break in Rock, Cornwall with friends Philip and Anthony. Whilst there we set up the 'Wonky Horizons Group' - the sort of thing you do after a few beers.

The trip was not a birding one but just general photography and relaxation. We were blessed with fantastic weather and our cottage looked out over the Camel estuary to Padstow and the shore could be accessed down a small flight of steps from our garden - bliss!

Heron on Camel Estuary whilst waiting for 'ferry' back to Rock
I was very excited to see a group of eight house martins fly over on Saturday afternoon - my first hirundines of the year.

Mute swans in early morning mist (Sunday 27th)

I have just blown half my annual bonus on one of the new 70-200 f/2.8 Canon lenses so it was an opportunity to put it through its paces. It's a little heavier than I had anticipated but image quality is excellent and the IS appears to be very good.

One very interesting thing we observed in Padstein was that the local turnstones have adapted to feeding on scraps of food on the concrete of the harbour front and associated walkways. Like the gulls, they don't seem to be too bothered about people as long as there is a chance of a quick snack. I think it will be a long time however until we are knee-deep in curlew on the quay.

Grab-shot with my 24-105 lens
Now I'm back in Kent I'm looking forward to getting out with my camera and snapping some birds again but my wife's car is in for MOT today and she has taken mine to work. I'll just have to put on a long playlist and sort through some more images!

I have to go into work on Weds. as my boss is coming over from Zurich. It will probably be the last chance I get to see him before I leave on 22nd April - PANIC!