Ophrys Photography

Wildlife photography by John Devries, Kent UK. Inspirational images from nature.
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News and Blog 2010

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Last updated 13th July

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NEWS/BLOG 2010 - Last updated 4th December


New book - Portfolio

I have just produced a new, large coffee table book called "Portfolio" which contains 80 high- quality pages of my favourite images. This is currently my flagship book and is a chunky 12" square (30cm x 30cm) and is consequently available in hardback only for the princely sum £58.95 (plus postage which is £3.99 in the UK). Printing costs are unfortunately very high and I make next to nothing out of this book but if you consider that three unmounted A4 prints would cost you £60 it is actually a bit of a bargain and it is a wonderful collectors item to own !

This book makes a special and unique gift, so why not treat someone (or even yourself) to a copy? You can preview a random 21 pages of the book as follows: (click on the Fullscreen symbol on the player below and then turn the pages of the book by clicking on them ). You can also get more information and also purchase if you click the "buy" button. 

Please allow time to load if you have a slow internet connection

Image of the month changes

You will notice that the images on "Image of the month" are at last both in landscape as well as the normal portrait format. They are also a bit bigger than they used to be as most people now have a Broadband connection. This enables me to better select images that are representative of my month's best rather than being forced to choose those of a portrait format. To enable this I have had to dig deep into my (paltry) web design knowledge to set up a new page template using Dreamweaver. I don't know why this wretched software is such a bear to use - I seem to have to fight it to get it to do what I want most of the time. So after much cursing and swearing on my part you can now enjoy the new format pictures that are both bigger and better - wahoo !


Although I have kingfishers locally in Kent and I even get the occasional one visiting my garden pond, they are never very reliable and are always very spooky (fly off at the first click of the Canon 1 series machine-gun shutter).

I was therefore very pleased to get an email from Mike Lane offering a days kingfisher photography with his partner in crime (and really nice guy) Peter Preece. The weather at the site (in Warwickshire) was threatening snow and alternated between gloomy and bright, also we were held up for 45 minutes while some jobsworths from the water authority took fish samples from our lake during the best light of the day. Despite this I managed to get some very nice shots that I was happy with but I was restricted in what I could get with the action shots as this requires good light for high shutterspeeds. The kingfisher (a male) was very obliging as he allowed us to change his fishing perch a few times to get some different looking images. To see the set, please see the kingfisher gallery.

I must confess that it has taken a while for me to start getting really good images from the 1DmkIV as I felt that they were often a little soft initially. However, I am now really starting to love the files coming out of this camera - they are awesome and certainly a match for those coming from my beloved 1DsmkII. Why is there such a steep learning curve with this camera ? All I can think is that it is ruthlessly unforgiving of sloppy technique, but it rewards you if you get everything absolutely right. I put this down to the high pixel density of the sensor (16mp on a 1.3x crop) and the huge 100% actual pixel images that it produces, which makes you examine images at great magnification on the computer screen. It will show you every bit of camera shake, support vibration, lens deficiencies, mirror slap or subject movement in gory detail. However, when you get it right, the detail and resolution produced can be breathtaking.I find that my eye can rest easy on the images produced from this camera in a way that is more reminiscent of a full frame sensor camera than a 1.6 crop one. I have not used a Canon 7D, but with even higher pixel density (18mp on a 1.6x sensor) than the 1DmkIV I would imagine that it must be even more unforgiving of lenses and anything less than perfect technique.

Three things that I have changed to tighten up my technique with the 1DmkIV when using long lenses are as follows:

1. When using a bean bag, I have replaced the light weight polystyrene beads with wild bird seed mix. This is heavier to carrry but far more absorbing of camera vibrations I think. I also always have some seed handy if I want to try to tempt a bird closer !
2. I have obtained a set of tripod spiked feet for my Gitzo tripod. These enable it to bed into firm mud or grass much better than the rubber feet that must be springier by comparison and thus theoritically will give a more rigid support. I can still put the rubber feet over the spikes for safety when travelling but I also use them when working off of rock or tarmac where they are quieter and should damp vibrations better than the hard points.
3. I pay more attention to my long lens technique - I press down firmly on the 500mm lens above the pivot point and ensure that when using the gimbal head I balance the lens and adjust the tension carefully. Finally, when squeezing the shutter button, I mental focus on my fingers doing the lightest of squeezes and try to relax my shoulders at teh same time. Every little helps as they say.

So job done - adaptations to the 1DmkIV camera made, opinion of camera has now gone up several notches - it is a fantastic tool and I love it !


Staying out late

I was photographing hares in the late morning on the Isle of Sheppey (in North Kent) but the light was harsh and I decided to go home and return late afternoon to see if I could catch them waking up after an afternoon's snooze. After searching a known favourite area I found this chap having a wash and brush up.The light was getting low but it was nice and warm and all the harsh shadows had gone.

As the light began to fail, more hares started to appear. I noticed that a sunset was probably on the cards, so I thought I would stick around and see what happened. The bridge over to the Isle of Sheppey was my first target. I only had a 500mm lens with me, but this had to serve as my landscape lens for the evening.I purposely under-exposed by a stop and a half to override the meter to get a silhouette and nice saturated colours.

Next a marsh harrier came quite close hunting over the marsh land. I liked the backdrop of the industrial chimneys.

In the last failing minutes of light I noticed a pheasant which had clambered up into a hawthorn bush and was eating the berries. I manouvered the car back and forth to get the sun in the frame.I would have liked a shorter lens, but the 500mm was all I had.

The motto of this story is to not pack up and go home too soon. All this action occurred in the last few minutes of a day that had been pretty quiet up to that point. I celebrated with a Big Mac in the McDonalds on the way home !


Cornwall and the latest Canon Powershot camera.

I haven't been to Cornwall since I was a kid, so I was looking forward to visiting my artist friend Hilary Mayes who lives in Falmouth. Hilary has a gallery in St Ives. On the day that I visited it she was working on a fantastic portrait of a tiger. Although she had just started the image someone had already decided to buy it.

Hilary took us to try and find some choughs. We were initially unsuccessful but eventually located a pair foraging for worms in the grass at the Lizard. The choughs were reintroduced into Cornwall but apparently had died out again. This pair apparently arrived on their own (possibly from France) and have bred successfully. This original pair are not ringed, unlike the progeny which were ringed as chicks.There are reputedly about 24 choughs now in Cornwall.

I was able to capture a couple of flight shots. Here is one of them..

I took my little Canon G11 Powershot point-and-shoot with me on the trip which I use to do landscapes and macro. This little camera never ceases to amaze me. The image quality is great provided the ISO is kept to 400 or below and as long you can get close to your subject. Here are a couple of shots I took with it..

Grey seal in St Ives Harbour

Juvenile herring gull - St Ives

The minus of the camera I feel, is that there are too many buttons on the right hand side of the camera. I find it very difficult to press just one button without nudging another. The more I use the G11 I find that I am getting better at using it, I suppose I have to accept that a little camera will be abit fiddly to use. There is now a new G12, it has a few significant improvements over the G11, the main one being the hybrid optical image stabiliser which now permits handholding to a claimed 4 stops lower shutterspeed than without it.Also there is 720p HD video and the front of the camera has a new front dial. I would set this to control aperture which would remove some of my gripes about the back of the cameras fiddly controls.

The old G10 has a higher pixel count than the newer G11 and G12 but at the expense of noise at higher ISO's. There are some followers of the G10 that prefer the G10 due to the increased resolution provided ISO is kept low. As you ned to keep ISO low anyway, this may not be such a hardship.I have never used one, but a used G10 could be quite a bargain if you are on a tight budget.


New book

I have just completed a coffee table book of images called "A taste of Kenya" which is full of great safari pictures from Samburu, Nakuru and the Maasai Mara. The book includes lots of big cats , other mammals and also birds. The book is available in softback for £20.95 or hardback for £28.95 (plus postage which is £3.99 in the UK). These make great gifts, so why not treat someone (or even yourself) to a copy?

To find out more and see a full page by page preview click here: A taste of Kenya

Three new tutorials:

Telephoto lens comparison - Part 2 added 6th Sept 2010

Having acquired a 300mm f2.8 IS I wanted to see if this would offer me the option of travelling lighter by adding extenders instead of dragging the brilliant but heavy 500mm f4 along. Find out how these lenses plus the 400mm f5.6 and 100-400 f5.6 zoom compare in this new article (tutorial). Telephoto lens comparison.

Lens focal length comparisons

This one is a series of hopefully useful comparisons between lenses to illustrate the field of view obtained from a fixed distance and is relevant regardless of camera sensor size (crop factor). Want to compare long telephotos, wide angles, macros - it's all here.

Lens focal length comparisons.

Do high megapixel cameras produce softer images ?

Have you bought a recent high Mp camera such as a 5DmkII, 7D , 1DmkIV and thought that your photography has taken a step backwards ? Do you judge your image quality at 100% image size on the computer and get the impression that your images are softer or more blurred ? You are not alone - this one got me too. Read this tutorial for a simple explanation. Tutorial high megapixel sharpness.


Photoshop CS5 opinions - and tips on Content aware fill

I have continually updated my versions of Photoshop, not so much for the new features but because I am forced to in order to be able to continue to use Adobe Camera RAW with the latest cameras. To be honest, if I could open RAW files from my 1DmkIV with Photoshop CS2 - that is what I would still be using and I would have saved a lot of money. Adobe are not daft.

That said, I really like the latest RAW converter (ACR 6.1) in CS5. It produces slightly better conversions than its predecessors with lower noise. I like the fact that if you pull up a RAW that has been converted in a previous version of Photoshop a symbol of a triangle with an exclamation mark appears. If you click on this, the benefits of the latest converter are then automatically applied to the image - clever.

I also like the new ACR Noise reduction tab. It contains a few more sliders and they enable very good quality noise reduction with minimal smearing of detail. I have not used my usual Neat Image plug-in since getting CS5. The noise reduction in CS5 itself (Filter>Noise>Reduce noise) appears unchanged over CS4.

Adobe Bridge is looking more and more like Adobe Lightroom and I can see that the two programs will one day virtually merge in functionality. I wish that the slideshow preview gave you a sharpen/no sharpen option though and the the raw preview thumbnails would load faster. Until then I will continue to use my Breezebrowser Pro for culling images.

Photoshop CS5 itself has some interesting features. The most useful one looked to be "Content aware fill." This is claimed to fill a selected area by sampling the surrounding area and applying a very intelligent algorithm to fill in the selected area with background.

Take a look at this video - the tool looks brilliant. So I tried having a go at reproducing something similar. Here is a hyena in the Maasai Mara. I thought I would try out the content aware fill on a simple task first. You will notice I have highlighted my selected area in red in the image below. To use it, you have to do a rough selection with the lasso tool and then click edit>fill>content aware.

So how did it do ? Well at normal screen size it didn't look too bad, but lets take a closer look, here is a 100% crop of the twig I tried to remove:

Hmm, not very convincing is it ? In fact I thought that the old patch tool would do a better job, so I tried that on the same area and this is what I got...

Not perfect, but a couple of clicks with the healing brush or clone stamp tool would sort this out.

Bearing in mind that Adobe claim that the CA tool will fill in a large cut out (like the horse in the video link above) I was very skeptical, but I thought I would give it a try just in case it worked better on a big area.

Here is a shot of leopard ruined by tourist jeeps in the background. (They were too close and on the wrong side of the light). So could the CA tool remove the jeeps and fill the gap intelligently?

Er....no !

The only way I could get a decent result was to mask out the leopard and the entire bottom half of the image and then restrict Photoshop to sample from what was left. It then did a reasonable job but it is a little involved. The method is described here if you would like to try: Masking for CAF video

I tried the CA tool on a few other images with mixed success. Sometimes the patch tool did a better job, sometimes the Spot healing brush was fine, but sometimes the CA tool worked very well indeed. The best use I found for it was when adding canvas to the side of an image that had a fairly simple background.

I added 2cm of canvas to the left hand side of this image where I had just clipped the wingtip of the gannet.

I selected the extended white area and just beyond on the image side and did a content aware fill. It worked superbly well. I just had to remove the over-extended wing tip with the clone tool and cropped 2cm off of the right hand side to balance the image up again. This was very quick and highly effective.

If you would like to watch some great video tutorials on new CS5 features click here: CS5

There is a video on content aware fill and content aware scale here: Content aware fill

Finally, the Spot healing brush is improved in CS5. I usually use this to spot out sensor dust spots, but the new one is good at removing telegraph wires quickly even against complex backgrounds. When using the tool, ensure that "content aware" is selected in the top toolbar. The method is described well here: Spot healing brush


Since writing this article I have discovered another brilliant use for the content aware tool. If you use the transform tool to straighten an image (Select>All then Edit > Free transform.) Then move the cursor to a corner (just outside the image itself) until it turns into a curved arrow. Use this to rotate the image by dragging it round until it appears straight and then click enter).

You will be left with a rotated image with four triangles of blank canvas that require filling- like the orchid below that I accidentally photographed on a slight slant. Click Select > Inverse and the four blank pieces will be selected rather than the image. Next you need to expand the selection just a little. Do this by Select>Modify>Expand and choose 10 pixels.

Now Edit>Fill>Content aware>Enter and you will end up with a very quick fill of the blank areas:
Use Ctrl + D to deselect the dotted lines. If the fill is not perfect you may have to tweak with the clone or healing brush tools, but I found it to be excellent on most occasions.

CS5 also has another way of rotating images where it crops the image instead of extending canvas. You do this as follows:

Analysis>Ruler then drag a line along part of an edge that you want to be level e.g. a horizon or plant stem etc. Then click the new "straighten" tab in the top toolbar. The image is straightened and cropped to exclude the white bits of canvas. This is useful if you don't need the whole image. If you want to combine these methods and get the benefit of the ruler tool but be left with the white bits of canvas to fill with content aware fill, hold down the Alt key while you click on Straighten. - Enjoy !


Very rare butterfly variant

My wildlife photography calendar in the UK tends to go something like: Winter - birds, Spring - migrant birds, early plants and butterflies, Summer - orchids, insects and nesting seabirds, Autumn - Fungi and the deer rut, Winter - seals, birds. Mammals and scenics are fitted in as the opportunity arises.

So in July I have once again been doing butterflies. I have been interested in butterflies for many years and as a child I had a collection (as it was not considered politically incorrect to do so in those days). It was also possible to buy set specimens from specialist shops such as L Hugh Newman's shop in Old Bexley and Watkins and Doncaster in Welling. I can recall seeing drawers full of each species of butterfly, including a few bizarre variants which had very dark markings or lacked markings such as the "eyes" on the "blind" peacock. There were orange tips where the left half was male (with orange wing tips) and the other half female - with black wingtips. (called bilateral gynandromorphs). These ""vars" or "aberrations" fascinated me as they were so rare, and they are the sort of thing I have always wanted to see but never have.

However, last year I saw two white admiral variants which lacked the normal white markings and this month I was delighted to find a fantastic aberration of the dark green fritillary.

The fritillaries are scarce butterflies at the best of times and are difficult to photograph as they are very wary of a human approach and are strong flyers. They were occasionally landing on greater knapweed flowers but a strong wind was adding to my problems. Over a couple of days I obtained some reasonable if not spectacular shots, but could not believe my eyes when I saw an incredible dark butterfly perch up and start feeding. It then took off and had me running to keep up with it. Miraculously I managed to keep my eye on it and pop off a few hasty shots. So here they are. I have included some "normals" for comparison.......

Dark green fritillary normal - upper

Aberration wimaini (?) - upper

Normal - underside

Aberration wimani (?) - under. Sod's law said my flash battery had to run out on this shot - so no fill-flash like the normal underside shot above. Ho hum.

I have referred to A.D.A Russwurm's "Aberrations of British butterflies" and the butterfly appears to closely resemble "Aberration wimani" on the upperside recorded near Canterbury in 1906 ! The underside is a bit different, but I guess that is the nature of aberrants. This discovery really made my day. In fact I think this was the most exciting thing that I have seen in 2010 !

Just to show luck doesn't always follow me around, I have been trying for the last four years to obtain some images of the fabulous purple emperor butterfly. I once shot some video of an incredibly obliging male that had landed on the ground on a small bit of horse dung. It fed for about half an hour while I filmed it at point blank range. I went back to the same site in Surrey yet again this year but to no avail. However, there is usually something to make the day worthwhile and I had a lot of fun photographing three other scarce species that share the wood with the emperor - the white admiral (now well past its best), some superb second brood wood whites (see July image of the month) and my favourite frit - the silver washed. Here is a fabulous male in a great wings open pose :

Male silver-washed fritillary, Nr Chidingfold, Surrey

I was shooting in Av mode at f16 to get sufficient depth of field. To get a decent shutterspeed of 1/320th sec I had to use 800 ISO even in bright light.
I was shooting off of a monopod (to eliminate up and down movement) rather than a tripod which would have been too slow and ungainly for such a flighty subject.
I did not use fill flash as the subject was lit adequately by the available light.


Caterpillars, butterflies and hawkmoths

I noticed an egg of the orange tip butterfly on a hedge garlic plant last month. I was interested in
watching it to see if a caterpillar hatched from it. The caterpillar did indeed emerge and started eating the fresh seed cases at the top of the plant just below the flowers, but it did not eat the leaves themselves.

After it had grown and shed its skin a couple of times it looked like this:

young orange tip caterpillar

Just before it wandered off to pupate it looked like this :

 orange tip caterpillar

Unfortunately it disappeared after this so I don't know if a bird ate it or whether it pupated successfully and will emerge as a beautiful orange tip butterfly next May.

Next up was a strange looking spiny orange caterpillar that had me reaching for a book on caterpillars of British butterflies.It had a splodge of white which looked like a bird dropping had landed on it ! Presumably this is part of its camouflage. It turned out to be a comma butterfly.

comma caterpillar

At the end of May I wanted to photograph pearl-bordered fritillaries .I had a few good sites for
them but was shocked to discover that they appear to have died out from Kent and are to be found in just a few sites in Sussex.The wood I ended up in was a re-introduction site, but after a lot of fruitless legwork I ended up at a fantastic ride where there were numerous males plus females egg-laying on their foodplant (dog violet) - see below.

woodland ride

They were not the easiest of subjects as they never seemed to land for more than a couple of seconds, but I did get this beauty as it landed on a bugle plant to feed on nectar.

pearl bordered fritillary

Finally, I ran my moth trap again a few times this year in the garden in the hope of catching hawkmoths. I was delighted to have a couple of big poplar hawks but even more pleased when a lovely fresh limehawk turned up. This is a species that I hadn't yet photographed so I keen to get some shots under my belt.Both were taken at night by getting the moth to cling to a stick and I then transferred it onto two different supports. The first was a lichen-covered tree trunk and the second was the leaf of a plum tree. I used a MT24-ex twin flash fitted with Stofen diffusers and 100mm macro on the Canon 1DmkIV for both shots. I hope this illustrates how you can work a subject to get very different shots of the same subject.

In the first shot, as the background was close to the moth, the light from the flashes could reach it easily and gives the impression that the picture was taken in daylight. To further create the illusion I used the right hand flash head at four times the power of the left one (easily done by setting the twinflash to a 1:4 ratio). If you look carefully you will notice that the moth is casting a subtle shadow under the left wing. The stronger flashgun is mimicking the sun in daylight coming from the right and above. If the flashguns had been at 1:1 ratio the shadows would have been underneath the moth and the image would have looked flatter and less 3-dimensional.

lime hawk

In the second shot the leaf was close, but the background behind was far too distant for the flash to reach - so appears black. This high contrast background is very striking and gives the impression that the shot was taken at night - as it actually was.

lime hawkmoth


Every camera bag should have one ....Strobella flash diffuser

This month I have been testing out a new inexpensive flash diffuser called the Strobella.
It is a miniature nylon umbrella that attaches to your flashgun via an adjustable velcro strap which is shaped to accept the round handle of the umbrella.

My first impressions were that the build quality was very good. It appears to be very sturdy when opening and closing it. I had the brolly attached to my Canon Speedlight 580ex II flashgun in seconds and my initial concerns as to whether the autofocus assist light would still function proved to be unfounded.

strobella flashgun
Strobella attached to Speedlight 580ex II

Naked direct flash produces harsh shadows so some form of softening is usually required. The head of a flashgun provides a small intense light source and it is usually preferable to have a large diffuse source. Studio portrait photographers use large umbrellas and softboxes to overcome these problems, but these accessories take up a lot of space and weight and are not very appropriate to wildlife and macro photography in the field.The Strobella is virtually weightless and folds up very small, so can be fitted into a camera bag with ease.

Folded Strobella

So far so good then, but how well does it work ?

When I use flash as the primary light source I usually shoot in Manual at the aperture of my choice .with the flash set to ETTL at the maximum flash sync speed of the camera (1/300sec on the Canon 1D mkIV). When doing this I found that the image was under-exposed by 2 stops. This indicates that the strobella soaks up about 2 stops of light. This is quite normal for flash diffusers though, so adding 2 stops of flash compensation corrected things, but you will need to ensure that your flashgun is powerful enough to accommodate this loss.

Here are a couple of images of a moth orchid flower, the first is with bare flash and the second is with the Strobella fitted.

moth orchid
Orchid with bare flash - look at the areas marked with an asterisk and compare them with the next image with the Strobella fitted.

Orchid with Strobella fitted

It is very apparent the the Strobella has softened the shadows beautifully. To finish this image I would use the Shadow/highlight tool in Photoshop to bring out the maximum detail in the upper petals.

I will continue to experiment with the Strobella, but my initial impressions are that it is an essential gadget to keep in your camera bag at all times. It is well made, takes up little space, is light as a feather and is pretty inexpensive (6.9 Euros plus shipping - 3 Euros EU countries and 4.5 non-EU countries. Strongly recommended.

Available from : Strobella

And more....

Finally I wanted to try the Strobella in a fill-flash situation. With a modern ETTL flashgun to do all the calculations for you it is very easy. Use Aperture priority and expose as per a normal non-flash exposure. Then set the FEC (Flash exposure compensation) on the camera to underexpose the flash - otherwise the image will look obviously flashed - not good. In the example below, a mandarin duck was under the shade of a tree and without a little blast of flash (under-exposed by 2.5 stops) the colours would have been muted and there would be no catchlight in the eye. The Strobella provided even lighting and made the colours pop. The shape of the umbrella is reminiscent of a lens iris and the shape of its reflection in the eye is pretty natural and not obviously that of a flashgun. So, another thumbs up for the Strobella.

mandarin duck
Mandarin duck preening

mandarin duck closeup
Catchlight detail

Day trip to France

Living in Kent, it is easy to get across to France quickly and cheaply on the car ferry. My friend Andy Vidler kindly arranged everything and we set off with another couple of mates for Calais at 5:30am.

After a hearty Full English breakfast on board we went up on deck and amused ourselves by taking flight shots of the kittiwakes and herring gulls that followed the boat. After 1.25hr we were arriving in Calais in nice orange morning light.

Calais at dawn

Although France is only just over 20 miles from the UK, it always amazes me how different it is. Apart from the language, currency differences, architecture and driving on the other side of the road, the motorways and towns are just so much quieter than Britain. The wildlife is also different and for such a short journey we were able to photograph species that can be difficult in the UK.

Our first stop was a chilly Crecy forest which was alive with the sound of spring birdsong. We saw a couple of red squirrels, numerous roe deer and found signs of wild boar and black woodpecker activity.Not a bad start !

After a stop along the road at Le Crotoy for nesting gulls, we eventually arrived at the Parc du Marquenterre where we spent most of our time. This is a great location with walks and hides and provided us with opportunities to photograph storks, egrets and spoonbills as they built their nests. I enjoyed the opportunity to put the Canon 1DmkIV through its paces on the flight shots. The following images were taken with the mkIV and 400mm f5.6 lens.

stork in flight
Stork in flight

greylag geese
Pair of Greylag geese in flight

Spoonbill in flight

common crane
Common crane calling

Other species we photographed included avocets that came quite close while feeding in the shallow pools, whooper swans, greylag geese, willow warbler and an obliging barnacle goose that flew in.

We caught the 9:30pm ferry back to Dover which was delayed about 30 minutes, and after a delicious curry and a cheesecake on board ship, we drove back home. We arrived back tired but contented after a long but very productive day. The cost of the ferry including the car and four passengers was £24 - so this was amazing value at £6 per head plus a little diesel for the car and a bit of fuel for ourselves. I'm sure we will return again next year.


A week in Northern Cyprus

When the British winter gloom and cold weather goes on and on, I love to escape to the Mediterranean to go searching for spring flowers - particularly orchids. This year we decided to combine our annual holiday with a bit of botanising and migratory bird-spotting in Northern Cyprus.

giant fennel

Giant fennel in the landscape.

The weather during the daytime was a very pleasant 21- 25c most days, mostly sunny but with some cloud. The towns are surprisingly busy and I couldn't believe how many speed cameras there are on all the main roads. Speed limits appear ridiculously low, I hardly went over 40mph the whole week!

So what was the wildlife like ? Well, in a word - very disappointing (ok that was two words). Orchid-wise there were actually less species to be found than I anticipated and a mild winter had resulted in most species flowering 2-4 weeks earlier than usual. March had no rain at all, which meant that those species hanging on had drought to contend with too. I had to work hard to find any ophrys orchids, but one of the few we found hanging on was the endemic Ophrys Kotschyi (Cyprus bee orchid) that I really wanted to see.
ophrys kotschyi

Ophrys Kotschyi

The above two images were taken with my little Canon G11 compact camera. I find that this is surprisingly good for macro shots as it has great image quality, image stabilisation - which aids hand-holding, and finally, the small densely-packed sensor yields huge depth of field. This has two big benefits for photographing flowers:

Firstly, it is not difficult to get both the lip of orchid and the sepals behind it in focus and secondly as the above image was taken at a very wide aperture of f4, I still had very good shutterspeed available to freeze camera shake and motion blur. There is no such thing as a free lunch and digital noise and loss of resolution starts to become an issue over ISO 200, so I always shoot at 100-200 ISO. This is not a problem as the wide aperture lets in a lot of light and the camera has very effective image stabilisation. I would have had to use f16-f22 with a digital SLR to get anything like the same depth of field and I would have to mount the camera on a tripod and use mirror lockup plus cable release as the shutterspeeds would be down to about 1/20th sec. It is a luxury to travel light with just a little camera and no tripod for a change.

Another interesting orchid which flowers later in the year is Orchis coriophora (The bug orchid). This was found in good numbers growing in coastal and mountainous regions.
orchis coriophera

Orchis coriophera - shot taken with Canon 1DmkIV plus
100mm f2.8 macro lens and tripod

Another interesting plant to be found is the endemic black tulip - Tulipa cypria. It is not black as the name suggests, but wine red. Apparently the name comes from the black markings inside the petals. Misleading, but very beautiful, particularly when growing through the fennel leaves as this one was.

tulipa cypria

Backlit Tulipa cypria

Birdwise things didn't go too well. The spring migration should be well under way by the end of March but birds were distinctive by their absence. I visited numerous sites recommended in Steve Cale's book on the birds of Northern Cyprus but found precious little. A late migration then it seems. Ho hum.

One of the very few birds I found to photograph was corn bunting. Here is a male singing his heart out from a twiggy bush ...

corn bunting
Not the best of photo trips then, but we had a relaxing time, ate good food, and we saw lots of sunshine - so it was mission accomplished I guess.


Canon 1DmkIV update - comparisons with the 5DmkII.

When a friend brought his 5DmkII around to my house I was very keen to perform some side-by-side image quality and ISO tests. I have added these to my review and you can see the results below:

1DmkIV early impressions

Canon 1DmkIV early impressions

I have been testing my new Canon 1DmkIV this month. The main issues for me were to determine whether the new camera focuses better than the mkIII, whether it has improved noise performance as claimed and finally, whether the image quality has been retained despite cramming an extra 60% pixels onto the 1.3x sensor.

To read about my tests and conclusions click here: 1DmkIV early impressions

brown hare
Brown hare 100% crop from 1DmkIV

To see the latest hare images, please click here: Hare


February is such a tough month for wildlife (or landscape) photography in the UK as the weather is so grey for day after day. Photography is all about light and how it falls on the subject -but dull days provide very flat, low contrast lighting, colours lack vibrancy and and shutterspeeds are inevitably low - which makes action shots very difficult.

The latest generation of cameras are getting increasingly better at providing low-noise images at high ISO whilst retaining good subject detail. The latest Nikon 12Mp D3s appears to be the high ISO king these days with the 21Mp Canon 5DmkII and 16Mp 1DmkIV lagging behind by around one stop. You can't beat the laws of physics - so you have a choice of lowest possible noise at high ISO with lower pixel density (lower effective telephoto reach) with the Nikon or slightly more noise with more pixel density with the Canons. Up to 1600 ISO, I prefer the image quality and higher resolution of the Canons - this reverses over 1600 ISO. You can draw your own conclusions in the excellent Imaging Resources Camera Comparometer . Be sure to select the largest versions of the test images at equivalent ISO. I find that the label of the Fidler's Elbow beer bottle in the still life to be a very good indicator.

I am very particular about image quality and I don't like using over 800 ISO in low light situations with my Canon 1DmkIII or 1DsmkII. I will use up to 1600 ISO if the light is brighter (for example if I am trying to achieve a very high shutterspeed to freeze the motion of small birds. The new 1DmkIV appears to deliver a very usable 1600 ISO setting in poor light so I am very interested in this camera. Higher ISO settings may be fine for newspaper reporters but not for fine fine art images.

Despite the obscene UK price, I have ordered a 1DmkIV as it has a 60% increase in pixels, more advanced autofocus, improved noise performance and high-resolution rear screen which enables image-sharpness to be assessed on the back of the camera. I am not interested in the HD video facility that comes with the camera and will probably never use it.
I have found a very useful website with a very well-described outline of adjusting the numerous autofocus settings on the mark IV. Wildlife Shooters Guide to Using the Canon 1D Mark IV Auto Focus . I look forward to trying these settings myself when I get my camera. The article is by Les Zigurski and his previous mark III settings guide was very useful in my opinion.

1DMkIII For sale (Now sold)

Provided that I like the new mkIV, my mint 1DmkIII will soon be coming up for sale - please contact me if interested. My copy was purchased from Jacobs in London and is a post sub-mirror fix camera and has been returned to Canon Professional Services for all the adjustments and firmware updates. As you can tell from all the action images I have posted (such as the bird images in January News below), my copy focuses superbly well. The price will be a very reasonable £1600 plus postage/insurance.

What about the Canon 7D ?

It is annoying that the early adopters of cameras often appear to be more interested in the camera itself than going out taking good images with it. Only recently have I started seeing any images from the 7D that are not either soft or riddled in low-iso noise. The comments about autofocus have ranged from "better than a mkIII" to "mine won't focus". It is hard to know what to believe. Certainly packing 18Mp on a small 1.6x crop sensor appears to be a recipe for disaster, but with the advanced gapless microlens technology and advanced twin processors it may not necessarily be bad. If you use the Imaging Resources comparator the image quality seems very good. These recent pictures from the 7D also look excellent. Foxes.
I like the huge reach advantage that the dense sensor should provide, the promise of advanced autofocus and and I like the light weight of the body compared to the 1 series brick. Guess I will have to hire one to find out when the weather improves - role on spring !

backlit reeds
Backlit reeds - Lee valley park, Feb 2010



Birds in snow

Happy new year to everyone !

Snow before Christmas is very unusual in the South east of Britain, and this year it was pretty heavy in Kent where I live. Combine this with daytime sunshine and you have a photographer's dream.

My investment in a permanent garden photography hide and in feeding the birds with a wide variety of seeds, nuts and apples has paid off. I have had some wonderful days photographing birds such as fieldfares which are normally too shy to come to my bait. I gave myself a challenge of trying to get some action shots of them as they scrapped with the gang of blackbirds that had already claimed the apples as theirs.


Other birds putting in an appearance included a single redwing, but that was soon chased off by the blackbirds. A a couple of male yellowhammers also put in an appearance and I managed to take this shot as one fluttered across the snow.


All the images were taken with my Canon 1DmkIII and 500mm f4 lens. Photographing small birds like this is very demanding on the autofocus system, and the mark 3 performed brilliantly. It is unrealistic to expect the AF to keep up with every sudden fast movement that these birds make, so you can expect a high discard rate.

The great-spotted woodpeckers and goldfinches are very reliably appearing at the moment and I have placed a birch trunk and a teasel baited with niger seed very close to the hide to get super close-ups of them.

great-spotted woodpecker


I am currently using my new hide to run 1:1 bird photography workshops, so if you would like to book one, please contact me.