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"
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
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
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
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
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.
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:
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
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?
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
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:
LATE ADDITION ....ONE MORE BRILLIANT
USE FOR CONTENT AWARE FILL
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
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
Dark green fritillary normal
Aberration wimaini (?)
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
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:
Just before it wandered off to pupate it looked like this
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Every camera bag should have one ....Strobella
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 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.
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.
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
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
Available from : Strobella
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 preening
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
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
Pair of Greylag geese in flight
Spoonbill in flight
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
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
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 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
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
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 - 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.
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 ...
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
Brown hare 100% crop from
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
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
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 - 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
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.
|I am currently using my new hide to run 1:1 bird photography
workshops, so if you would like to book one, please contact