Photographing water droplets
The weather has been wet and windy, so
I have been having a lot fun indoors taking pictures of
water droplets. This looks an awful lot harder than it
actually is. All you need is a flashgun, a macro lens
or short telephoto plus a dripping tap !
I have written a tutorial on this, so when you get a spare
moment why not have a go yourself ? You will find the
tutorial here : Photographing
In the meantime - here are some more of my
Adventures in Finland - close encounters of the bear kind
I spent a few days in Finland from the 22nd June
- I know, it's starting to become a habit, but I do love it there.
Such a civilised place, so clean, nice people, great food, but
best of all - it still has unspoilt wilderness and great wildlife.
Ok, so in June the mossies are bad, but nothing
that a few sprays of insecticide can't keep at bay, and the weather
varies from sunny and pleasantly warm to wet and cool, so it's
best to add on a few extra days to allow for rain-stops-play days.
As I went close to the longest day, it never got dark - just went
to late-evening light levels but no darker.
The main purpose of my visit was to photograph the wild brown
bears on the Finnish/Russian border, with a few bird opportunities
too with any luck. I went with Naturetrek, with Chris Gomershall
leading a photo group to save myself the logistical problems of
booking flights/accomodation/transport to the hides at the Martinselkosen
wild centre. The bears have been fed salmon here for eighteen
years, so come every night to collect their free handout.Don't
get the impression that these are not still 100% wild though -
they certainly are!
The comfortable accomodation at the
Wild Centre. You can just make out "Willy" the
reindeer who thinks he is a dog - and loafs around
the centre grounds and greets visitors as they arrive.
The first nights bear-watching was spent in a large public hide
which offers comfy reclining chairs (actually recycled car seats)
a few bunk beds, and a room with a chemical toilet. It is an 8
Km drive from the Wild Centre to the car-parking spot, and a futher
30 minute walk through mosquito-infested pine forest to the bear
hides. Once installed at 5pm we were locked in until 7:00 am.
Almost immediately after we entered the hides the show began -
and we were treated to a continuous performance from about 16
different bears which came and went until around 1:00 am when
things went quiet. During this time there were always between
3 and 8 bears in front of the hide at any one time.
In the above pictures, you can see (left) one of
a pair of cubs that put in an appearance - but shot up a tree
when a large male appeared (right).
The evening started off quite light as the day had been sunny,
so light levels for photography were good.However, the light was
harsh and caused the pine trees to cast dark shadows across the
bears.The qualtiy of the light improved as the sun became lower
in the sky, but then the light levels became very low for photography,
necessitating high ISO settings and low shutterspeeds at wide
apertures. The ideal lens for the bears was a 70-200 f2.8 zoom,
as they came amazingly close at times, and the "fast"
aperture of f2.8 was very useful as light levels plummetted. I
resorted to ISO 800 and shutterspeeds of around 1/40th second
at times, which resulted in some discards, but the bears would
pose nicely at times so this didn't matter too much.
For my second night I had pre-booked one of the small Pro- hides.
This proved to be quite an adventure. The hide measures around
8 feet long by 4 feet wide by about 5 feet tall. You crawl into
it, and most of the space is taken up by a platform bed with a
small footwell at the front in which to put your legs. There is
a pot in which you can relieve your bladder, but too small for
In the above picture, you can see a Pro hide. You will notice
a grey drainpipe is fitted into the roof - to take the occupants
scent away from the bears. The brown flaps you can see are opened
up at night, and are covers for the 4 lens holes - which are about
2 feet square and covered in fabric with a hole for your lens
to poke through.
The Pro hides enjoy more pristine backgrounds, are
a little less shaded and offer a lower viewpoint than the public
hide. As the lens is just 3 feet off the ground and the bears
are literally just outside the hide- you have a far more intimate
encounter with your subject !
I was locked into the hide just after 5:00 pm, given some food
and drink and left alone until 7:00 am - a nice wilderness experience.
Within minutes, bears started to appear and I was able to get
some decent shots in good light. At times I could have used a
wide angle lens - the 70-200 mm lens was too long at the short
end - the bears really come that close.
After around 2 hours, the skies greyed-over, the wind picked up
and it began to rain. The bears were obviously agitated as they
could not hear or smell properly. The wind continued to build
strength until it reached storm force, shaking the hide alarmingly
and the trees were almost bending almost in two. The wind was
roaring in the drainpipe chimney and at times blew the unoccupied
lens-hole fabric wide open despite being weighted-down with two
heavy beanbags - often leaving an unhindered view of any bear
which happened to be literally just outside ! On more than one
occasion I came face-to face with a bear, and could have stretched
out and touched my subject - had I had a death wish that is! I
kept telling myself that only one person had been killed by a
brown bear in Finland in the last 70 years - so I should be OK.
As photography was out of the question for the rest of the night,
I improvised some earplugs out of loo-paper, snuggled into my
sleeping bag and slept until morning - only occasionally waking
to the sound of bears just outside....
For pictures of bears, please click here:
My last afternoon and morning was spent doing birds. The weather
was not great, which unfortunately stopped any attempts of action
shots of a family of red-throated
divers. Nevertheless, I got some nice shots of the parents
in summer plumage with their not-so pretty chick
The next day brought sand martins, capercailllie
chicks (the female flew off of a nest as we were walking)
woodpeckers at nest sites - three good species photographed
in three hours before we rushed off to the airport. All in all
a fantastic trip, can't wait to return !
New tutorial: Macro lenses - choosing and using
I have been doing a fair bit of macro-photography recently,
following a great influx of new subjects as a result
of my purchase of a Mercury Vapour (MV) moth trap - see below
for more on moths.
This prompted me to write this new tutorial, as I became aware
that I select my macro lens according to what I am trying to do.
Canon make at least 5 macro lenses - this tutorial (hopefully)
helps you choose which one is right for you and illustrates the
strengths and weeknesses of each. I concentrate on the 50mm, 100mm
and 180mm macros as these are the ones I own and know best.
I also cover using extension tubes and tele-extenders in close-up
To read the new article please click here:
Macro lenses - choosing and using
Towards the end of last year I bought a mercury vapour
moth trap with the hope of starting to catch moths for photographic
purposes. My favourite species are the big showy hawkmoths and
I was really hoping to get one or two of those turn up when I
started running it in May this year.
On my first night, a lime hawk turned up soon after dark, so I
thought "wow", this is going to be really good. I let
the moth go as it is one of the commoner species and I didn't
want it fluttering around in the trap all night knocking all the
delicate scales off of it's wings.Unfortunately I am yet to catch
The next night brought a poplar hawk, and the following nights
saw: An eyed hawk, then a pine hawk, two more poplar hawks , two
more eyed hawks and a large elephant hawk in addition to various
other smaller species of moth.
Large elephant hawk
The trap has exceded all expectations and I have been able to
get some cracking shots of the moths when I open the trap at dawn
each day. I have to rise at 4:00 am because many moths sit around
the trap on the grass and bushes and these make easy pickings
for the birds which were very quick to notice the free breakfast
! So painful as it is to leave the comfort of my bed, it has to
The moth trap I use is a variant on the Robinson trap, but much
cheaper. The Robinson is around £350, but Paul Batty's excellent
traps are just as good and cost just £110. You need
to add a bit more if you want waterproof electrics, a rain shield,
and a light sensor to turn it on and off automatically, but it
is still excellent value.
I found that the best way to get good pictures of the
moths is to carefully get the moth off of the egg-box that
it sits on inside the trap, and get it onto a log, tree
trunk or leaf for pictures. I use a 100mm macro lens and
twin flashguns - mainly using an aperture set at f22 for
maximum depth of field. The big moths have curved bodies
and they often hold their wings up at interesting angles
which demands f22 - if everything is to be kept sharp from
antennae to wing tips. Particular attention has to be paid
to getting the camera parallel to the wings in all planes,
as it is so easy to get one wingtip sharp, and the other
blurred due to the tiny depth of field at this level of
I used two photo-techniques for my moths:
1. Set camera to manual and the maximum flash sync speed
(1/250th sec for 1Dmk2) and dial in an aperture of f22.
As the moth is on a leaf or log, the background is very
close to the subject, so there will be no tell-tale black
background (which is normal when flash is used as the only
light source). It is not essential to use a tripod as the
flash duration is around 1/50,000th of a second. That said,
I still use one as I like to ensure that everything is just
right before taking the picture - which can take some time.
I also like to use manual focus, as the camera doesn't know
what I want to focus on.
2.The other method is to set the camera to Av and an aperture
of f22 with the flashguns set to under-expose by 1.5 f-stops.
The camera will automatically set the shutterspeed - usually
around a very slow 1/20th second in order to expose the
picture correctly. The flash is only there to fill in shadows
and lower contrast, so it is imperative to use a tripod.
As the low shutter-speed is in the danger zone for vibration
from mirror slap, I also use mirror lock-up and a remote
cable release to fire the shutter. Neglect any step, and
you will get a less than 100% sharp picture.
To see my new moth images click here:
In April, Gail and I visited Romania for a 17 day
photo trip. The first half was spent in the Danube Delta
and Dobrogia for the spring bird migration and the second part
was sent in Transylvania in the Carpathian mountains
in hope of seeing spring plants, mountain birds and possibly
a glimpse of European brown bear - if we were really lucky.
Our time in the Delta was spent with Atu travel - a sister company
of Ibis tours, which specialises
in small or individually tailored bird tours. We spent most of
our time on a boat cruising the backwaters of the Delta with our
guide Florin Palade. Florin really knew his birds, and we were
soon seeing fantastic species such as pypmy cormorant, black and
Florin Palade rowing us back from a heron colony
Typical scene in the Danube Delta
The number of species in the Delta itself were good, but it was
the sheer numbers of birds such as squacco herons, little and
great white egrets, night herons, spoonbills and waders etc that
makes it so special. We expected to see large numbers of white
(and the rare Dalmation) pelican, hoopoos, bee-eaters and rollers,
but we were too early for most of these.
Spoonbill in flight
On our last day with Atu we spent a day with Romania's leading
bird photographer - Daniel Petrescu. Daniel is a great character,
and helped us find and photograph some species such as Ortolan
bunting, White pelican (at last - thank goodness, I thought we
were never going to get a photo) and we were challenged to photograph
collared pratincoles as they wheeled around catching insects at
about the same speed as a swift ! An hour in Daniel's small portable
hide brought great images of Sousliks - a type of very cute ground
squirrel, which can be seen as my image
of the month this month.
We had a great time in the Delta, with excelent guiding, great
company and excellent food. Many thanks to all at Atu and Ibis
After picking up a hire car from the horribly congested streets
of Bucharest, our second week was spent in beautiful Transylvania
- famed for it's cheeses, sausages and Dracula's castle !
Traditional house and haystacks - Moeciu de Jus, Brasov
We stayed at the Pension
Elena in Zarnesti . We had really fallen on our feet again
with this accomodation, there is such a wonderful friendly family
atmosphere, with comfortable accomodation in good-sized rooms
and Elena's cooking is just superb. The proprieter - Gigi Popa
was able to recommend walks in the mountains with good chances
of seeing some of our target species. Gigi and Elena's daughter,
Beatrice runs the Transylvanian
Eco Travel company, so any prospective guests with wildlife
interests are well served.
Gigi very kindly put us in contact with Bogdan
Costescu - the chief ranger of the Piatra Cralului National
Park. Bogdan took us on a one-day itinerary from Zarnesti. Little
did we know at this point, that this day would transpire to be
the highlight of an already excellent trip.....
The weather was not kind to us, we had light snow for much of
our time walking up to the ridge, but we enjoyed looking at some
of the early flowers and birds, such as Ring ouzel which was abundant
at a shepherd's hut. We were very pleased to be accompanied on
this walk as mountains can be unpredictable places in such conditions.
We were shown signs of bear, red deer and wild boar activity on
our way, as these animals had left tell-tale signs such as clawmarks
on a tree, soil disturbance and prints in the mud near drinking
places. We were also shown a wallcreeper nest and the site where
the final scenes in the film "Cold Mountain" were produced.
After lunch at the Curmatura chalet, we walked back down to Bogdan's
car, and we set off to a bear hide deep in the forest in the hope
of seeing and photographing wild bears! Apparently there is about
a 75% chance of seeing them. Near the hide we met up with another
local ranger who brought food to tempt the bears (a sack of maize
kernels). We quickly and silently entered the hide at around 17:30
and waited in hope for a bear to pay a visit. At around 19:45
we were both astonished and delighted to see not a bear, but a
lynx appear, which casually crossed the clearing, stopping twice
to spraymark it's territory before disappearing off into the forest.
We could not believe our luck - sightings of lynx can be a once
in a lifetime experience !
As if that was not enough, we were also treated to two good sightings
of brown bears before the light failed and we headed for home.
What a day - fantastic!
We had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed both the things we
saw, and the company of our excellent Romanian guides - thank
you so much to all the people I have mentioned who made our Romanian
trip so enjoyable and successful - I highly recommend their services
to anyone interested in being guided in Romania.
You will see many images of species I photographed in Romania
as I gradually sort though the hundreds of images I took and add
them to the website.
After returning from Romania, I settled down to photographing
hares at a fantastic site I have discovered thanks to a friend
and fellow photographer - Andy Vidler. There are many new images
of these wonderful creatures in the
I aim to add to these images over the coming months as I gradually
learn the hares' habits and hopefully gradually work my way into
their private world !
I was aware of the fact that I had turned into a bit of a "bird
photographer" of late, so I thought it time to try another
type of subject. I had an opportunity to photograph adders in
the wild in Kent this month, so I have some new shots of this
wonderful creatures. I was fortunate to be accompanied by a friend
- Brett Lewis who is an experienced herpetologist, and he kindly
handled the snakes for me in order to get them into photogenic
positions. Usually the only sight one gets of an adder is the
tail disappearing into a bush - so I am very grateful to Brett.
These are such malligned creatures, despite being caught and
handled, not one of the twelve or so snakes we caught attempted
to strike or bite. They are placid creatures that just want to
be left in peace.
To see some images of them please visit my new "Reptiles"
I have been looking to reduce the weight of my super-telephoto
set-up, as it is both a bear to lug around and I have been missing
shots as I can't carry the gear on the tripod on my shoulder.
Learn how I have reduced the weight of my set-up by 21% with no
loss in peformance. Equipment II
- update. There is also news of an exciting new wildlife camera
- the EOS 1D mk III.
Also my thoughts on Gimbal style heads.
New free images!
I have added eight brand new free images that you can download
to use as wallpaper on your computer desktop. These are now available
in three screen resolutions to exactly match the size of your
You can find them here : Free
Finland - Owls and waxwings
A trip was planned for January to hopefully photograph golden
eagles in the snow in a remote part of central Finland. Flights
and accomodation were booked, but I was forced to cancel at the
eleventh hour as there was no snow! Finland experienced it's first
"black Christmas" in over 100 years and the weather
had continued mild throughout January. I rearranged for late February/early
March following a week snow and temperatures as low as -34c. The
lowest I experienced was -17c on one day which felt quite cold
enough to me!
Typical Finnish road in February. Note
grey cloud that lasted for the whole of my trip !
Getting up at 4:30 am each day for three days, I had to be installed
in the eagle hide long before dawn as the eagles are very wary
and must remain totally unaware of human presence. Similarly at
the end of the day, I could not leave the hide until after dark
- a very long day !
Just as the light began to break, the calls of nearby ravens
were heard, and this is the signal to remain totally silent and
to keep away from the small viewing window in case seen. After
a while the ravens came down onto the snow in front of the hide,
and this is usually a sign to the eagles that it is safe to come
Although I had numerous sightings of the magnificent eagles,
they didn't come down to the bait (a dead hare) that had been
laid for them. The birds had been coming down almost daily onto
the snow just a few metres from the hide for several weeks before
my visit, but not for me! I spent three long days in vain. Such
is wildlife photography - it is certainly not always very glamorous!
The rest of my week was dogged by heavy, snowcloud-filled skies,
barely sub-zero temperatures and lots of light snow - not condusive
to good photographic opportunities! Even the birds had the hump
- owls remaining nocturnal as there were plenty of voles around
in the forest, and the smal bird feeders that usually buzz with
activity were very quiet.
The highlights of the week were an obliging hawkowl, and a group
of waxwings which came down onto the snow to feed on some lovely
bright red berries on my last morning - the one bright day of
Here are links to galleries containing the new images
Oh well - looks like another visit is called for
next year, just hope my luggage makes the Helsinki to Heathrow
connection next time!
New tutorial on working at high ISO added -
not to be missed !!!
I feel that I had a really exciting breakthrough when I discovered
my technique on working at high ISO.
This has transformed my photography, and I no longer fear using
ISO settings as high as 1250 - as noise is not really an issue
if you follow my advice. Imagine being able to shoot at high shutter
speed in low light - or to freeze birds in flight or to generally
elimate motion blur or camera shake !
Before reading the working at high ISO
tutorial, please first read last months tutorial on exposing
to the right - as it will make much better sense.
Six new tutorials added! :
Composition part 1
Composition part 2
Evaluating images on your computer
Adjusting levels and understanding histograms
"Exposing to the right"
Photographing the moon
I had this crazy idea that I would
like to push my equipment to the limits to get a good close-up
shot of the moon. I couldn't believe how fascinating the results
were going to turn out to be- so I put a quick tutorial together
to show how I got the results I did. check out this link :
Photographing the moon.
On 24th January we had a light sprinkle of snow, which gave some
opportunity to obtain some nice images of some common birds in
The snowy pictures can be found under blue
robin and goldfinch.
I always get a buzz from seeing my images published, but
I am particularly pleased with the latest Digital Photographer
magazine (January edition - Issue 52) which has a 10 page feature
section on wildlife "Photo Safari" in Britain which
was derived from Josie Reevley's interview with me. It features
six of my favourite images including three which go over two pages.
All images were shot with the 1Dmk II - an eight megapixel camera.
I think that the double page spreads that the article includes,
illustrate the point that you really don't need more than this
to reproduce to A3 in a high-quality magazine. Some snobby photo
agencies that insist on 50Mb files (which can only come from scanned
film or a 1Dsmk2 16.7 megapixel camera) please note!
The grey winter days are continuing and
are really not good for photography, so I am using this opportunity
to continue updating the image galleries into the new improved
Porta gallery format. You will notice lots of new images if you
search through the following galleries:
seals at Donna Nook
Image of the month
Red squirrel from Formby and albino grey
Grey seals from Donna Nook
I am also using the time to plan some of
this year's trips abroad. As the January light here in Britain
is currently driving me nuts, I have booked my first trip away
in mid January. I'm not disclosing where yet - you will just have
to wait and see! Suffice it to say that there will be lots of
great photo opportunities I hope.