New book - Wild Orchids of Somerset
Chris Gladman contacted me last year with a request for a few
images to include in his new book "The Wild Orchids of Somerset".
The book is now complete and has obviously been
a labour of love as it is jam packed full of photographs and useful
information on the County's very rich diversity of orchids. Half
the UK's species are to be found in Somerset apparently. The book
also includes quite a lot of site information as to where they
may be found.Also included are hybrids and abnormal forms - information
hard to find elsewhere. This book is a must for anyone interested
in orchids, and not just those living in Somerset. For orchidophiles
it is a no brainer.
To get a copy contact Chris Gladman on Tel: 07745
856652 or send an Email to:
The price is £12 plus £1.25 postage.
Photographing water voles
Its ages since I photographed water voles so I thought
a visit to a small stream in Sussex that I know was in order.
Unfortunately the site had suffered some flooding and many of
the vole's nesting holes appeared to be under water. To make matters
worse, people regularly feed the ducks along the footpath beside
the stream and they have become a real nuisance. As soon as a
vole appears they often try to see it off or cause disturbance
due to their boisterous antics.
By lunchtime I had only glimpsed one vole and the
light had failed, settling into the UK speciality - grey gloom.
After lunch I tried again despite the lack of light and spotted
a water vole munching away on some water weed. It was in a nice
open position so at last I was able to get some shots.
Voles are deceptively difficult to photograph. If you try photographing
them in bright light then wet fur looks awful and the light reflecting
off of it burns out easily. So a duller day is actually no bad
However, although they will sometimes sit on the
bank eating and pose for you, they are actually making very fast
micro-movements continually as their noses and whiskers twitch
and their little paws move like lightning. So despite apparently
just sitting there, you actually need a pretty high shutter speed.
As if that isn't enough, if you are getting reasonably frame-filling
shots, the voles are very rotund and you find that you have to
stop the lens down to a smaller aperture than you would first
think if you are to get more than just the focal point in focus.
Finally, as the vole was on the opposite side of the stream, I
found I could not get as close as I would have liked so I had
to use a 1.4x extender which robs another stop of light !
So there you have it:- Low light levels, a converter, a need for
high shutterspeed and some stopping down of the lens required
to archive sufficient depth of field. This is where the modern
digital SLR's earn their keep as they allow you to work at high
Iso without incurring a lot of horrible noise. My 1Dx is pretty
special at iso's that would have been unthinkable with even a
1DmkIV. So the above shot was taken at settings which were a compromise
between juggling all the factors mentioned above.
For those interested, I used a Canon 1Dx, 500mm
f4 plus 1.4x extender on a tripod with an aperture of f6.3, ISO
6400, + 1/3 exposure compensation (from the histogram) which yielded
a respectable 1/640th sec shutterspeed. The image quality and
lack of noise on the 1Dx is still unbelievable at this high ISO.
Take a look at this crop of the above image :
I have been running a moth trap most nights since June this year
in my new garden. It has been fascinating to see what species
are coming to the mercury vapour light. I have moved around 10
minutes drive from my previous house so a lot of the species I
am capturing are similar but with some new ones. I am not recording
every little brown job that turns up but I do like the showy varieties
and topping the list are the hawkmoths which are just as impressive
as any butterfly in my opinion.
So far I have recorded at least one large elephant hawk on most
nights, poplar hawk turns up pretty regularly too. I have also
had three privet hawks, which are really big and the same number
of eyed hawks.
Large elephant hawkmoth on its foodplant, willowherb
Privet hawkmoth - this was the species that got me interested
in moths as a kid.
The only small elephant hawk that I have previously photographed
was years ago when I was shooting film, so I have been very pleased
to catch a couple of these too to update my images. The only other
regular UK species that I would have expected to see is lime hawk,
but these are strangely absent. I am still longing to capture
one of the rare migrants such as Death's Head hawk or Oleander
- but these are not very likely (but never say never!)
Once I have caught the moths they are usually pretty tolerant
to being moved to a nice natural background for photographic purposes.
Once they have served their modelling career, the moths are placed
in a safe location away from birds or other predators (e.g my
cats) until nightfall when they fly away again. No moths are harmed
during the production of my images !
You can see more pictures of the species mentioned
above in the hawkmoth album on my
27th June - Trick-bits diffusers
for Canon MT-24EX twinflash - Review
Canon's Twinflash setup for macro is very good but
the light it produces is a little harsh, particularly when photographing
shiny subjects such as beetles etc. Shadows can also be a problem
as these can be pretty ugly if too black. What is required is
a decent set of diffusers that softens the light without robbing
too much of it in the process as this would effectively reduce
the output of the flashguns. I have tried various makes over the
years that worked well for a while such as Stofen (kept falling
off and I ended up losing them), Gary Fong - good but no means
of attachment as this is a non-standard application. I glued these
on with a hot glue gun and it may be coincidence but the flashguns
packed up shortly after !
While photographing Large Blue butterflies in Gloucestershire
I spotted someone using a rather nifty looking set of diffusers
and had to find out what they were. I was told that they are obtainable
on Ebay for £30 if you just search under the MT-24EX. So
I duly tracked them down and purchased a set. They arrived promptly
and I set to work assembling them.
The diffusers mounted onto the MT-24 EX on a 180mm f3.5 macro
lens. Camera is a 5DIII .
Unfortunately there were no instructions but it
was not hard to figure out how to put them together. I began by
peeling off the metalised plastic self-adhesive foil that is tailored
to fit the inside of the diffuser cups. These are helpfully numbered
in order of assembly but are rather fiddly to stick on without
getting stuck to your finger or the cup before you are ready.
Fortunately the adhesive allows you to peel it off and try again
(as I did a few times!).
Next I used nail scissors to trim off the excess. Fitting the
diffusers to the guns is also a bit of a fiddle as they are a
tight fit. However, once in place this is a virtue as they won't
come off accidentally. Finally, after peeling off the protective
film from the white diffusers themselves, I placed them over the
ends of the cups where they are held on with two white plastic
Picture above shows how the foil has been stuck on and the
inside of the cups fitted to the flashguns. You can see that the
guns are effectively now a considerably larger light source than
before - which is good. The foil must help cut down on the inevitable
light-loss through the diffusers which are fitted next.
My bit of effort and fiddling was now rewarded
with some very professional and pleasing looking flashguns. They
are made of polycarbonate and should therefore be very tough.
I couldn't wait to give then a try.
First of all I thought I would just handhold the
camera/flash setup and pop off some shots of a strawberry (before
I ate it !) . I tried the flashguns at different ratios from 1:1
through 1:2, 1:4 and 1:8. The guns were angled as per the picture
above. I did the test with (Diff) and without the diffusers fitted
(Bare) and these were the results..
You can see that the diffused shadows are much softer
throughout when the diffusers are used and the lighting on the
fruit is a bit softer too. I haven't done a comparison of the
flashgun ratios before and I usually use a ratio of 1:2. However
on the basis of these tests I am going to try 1:4 and 1:8 a bit
more from now on as they give really nice modeling with subtle
I noticed that the diffusers do change the white balance of the
standard flashguns, making them a bit warmer in colour. This is
not an issue if you shoot RAW (as I would recommend) but if you
shoot Jpeg then I would switch from auto white balance (AWB) to
the SUN (*) setting which gives more accurate colour.
If you would like to get your own diffusers they are obtainable
off of Ebay or direct over the telephone from Ian McConnachie
on 01629 734626. Ian runs a small vacuum forming business and
he has a great interest in photography, but Macro is a passion
of his. He is able to take credit card payments from his normal
everyday business which is www.trick-bits.com
Ian is planning on providing fitting instructions in the near
future and has put a Youtube video up which explains the fitting
clearly and in detail here.
I will finish with a couple of images that I took with the diffusers
Small emerald moth (100mm macro lens on Canon 1Dx) f16 and 1/250th
sec manual mode.
Diffused MT-24 EX at ratio of 1:4. Note the nice gentle shadows.
Would you think that this image had been taken with flash as the
sole light source ?
Foot and part of the leg of a buff tip moth. MPE65 macro on
Canon 1Dx. 4x magnification. F8, 1/250th sec manual mode. Diffused
MT-24 EX at ratio of 1:2. Note the really nice modeling that the
I am really impressed with these diffusers and would recommend
them to anyone using the MT-24 EX. They are now a permanent part
of my macro setup.
23rd June 2014 - Rare Butterflies
May and June are such active months for me as it
is peak time for butterflies and orchids.
I was determined to photograph Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary
this year as I always seem to miss them due to bad timing. Last
year I found Pearl Bordered in a Sussex woodland but Small Pearl
still was eluding my lens.
I knew that it had become extinct in my own county of Kent, so
considered Surrey but alas it is also extinct there too now it
seems. So how about Sussex - there are lots of sites for them
in my notes, but depressingly they now seem to be reduced to one
Sussex Trust site. Despite numerous visits I drew a blank again.
I met the warden on my last visit and he told me that the butterfly
had a bad year last year followed by our wet spring. Could this
lovely butterfly also have disappeared from Sussex ? This is too
depressing to contemplate and I will have to try again next year.
In the meantime I had to expand my search radius and contacted
an old college mate Bob Kemp who lives in Shropshire. (I can hear
him saying "not so much of the old " ) He took me to
a couple of sites which fortunately came up trumps. The trouble
was that the weather was very hot and the SPB's were hyperactive
and would not settle. On the next day, we did a dawn raid on the
Wyre Forest (Shropshire and Worcester borders) and managed to
get a few warming up before the sun got going. After about 11am
they were hyperactive again and never settled. Definitely a case
of the early bird gets the worm.
Small pearl bordered fritillary - Shropshire
Bob also told me of a site for large blue in Gloucestershire.
A week after my visit to Shropshire I headed off to a wonderful
location near the Wiltshire border not far from Swindon.
Large blue is extinct in the UK but was re-introduced into several
sites. I have been to a place in Somerset in the past but it is
a requirement to book a visit months in advance (and it gets booked
up quickly I am informed). So this new site was too good to resist.
I visited with fellow photographer, Andy Vidler
on the 22nd June. We arrived at the site at around 10:30am and
could see large blue fans already all over the bank. Within a
short time we were seeing large blues and trailing around after
them waiting for them to settle on thyme flowers.
I often had to pinch myself as I couldn't believe what I was seeing
- large blues in the UK - happy days !
Large blue underside
emerged Large blue upperside - a bit strange looking, will have
to investigate this as it might be a variation (var)
Finally I visited a well known site near Canterbury
in Kent for the very rare heath fritillary. This is usually a
very accomodating species but due to hot weather it was also pretty
lively. However, unlike the large blue it is quite happy to show
its beautiful upper side.
May 2014 - Google and getting back
Thank you for those dedicated followers of this
website who have commented on my rather protracted absence in
web content for the past few months. You and the many people who
still take the time to write to tell me how much they appreciate
my work and also to thank me for my efforts in producing the Tips
and Tutorials section are the reason I am starting things up again.
Many people obviously find the articles and tutorials both interesting
and valuable. They represent the benefit of many years of knowledge
and experience , trial and error and experimentation and are provided
free of charge - unlike some websites that I could mention.
There have been a couple of reasons for the lack of input. Firstly,
I moved house in March 2013 and I have had a lot of DIY projects
to keep me occupied both inside the house and in my new 3 acre
garden. This has included building a carport, digging out ditches,
putting up my bird hide and so on. Not to mention planting a new
area of 450 native trees that will one day provide nesting sites
for birds. This has both taken up time that I would normally have
spent working on the website but also has limited my photo excursion
However, if I'm honest, my main reason is that my motivation for
keeping the website up to date waned drastically when Google changed
its Search Engine Optimisation algorithm. Apologies if that sounds
like gobbledygook to you, but what it means in effect is Google
has changed the way it ranks websites and overnight Ophrys Photography
slipped from being on page 1 of Google to page 4 when you search
for "Wildlife Photography."
This has had a devastating effect on my business and web traffic.
Nobody looks beyond about page 2 usually do they ? So if you are
an SEO whiz and have any ideas as to how to get my site back to
page 1 where it resided for about seven years, I would love to
hear from you !
Image of the month.
If you take a look at the Image of the month for
2013 and 2014 you will now see that there are no gaps - lots of
new images - so I am up to date with that section (hoorah!).
I am fortunate that I have quite a bit of wildlife in the new
garden, which is in a rural part of Kent. I was really chuffed
to watch a barn owl hunting tonight over my buttercup meadow,
and have pheasants and a squirrel regularly visiting the feeders
right outside my hall window. Foxes were hunted around my last
house but my new neighbours appear far more tolerant I'm pleased
to say. My next door neighbour informed me that she had seen five
fox cubs at the end of my land and she thinks there is a den there.
They are so cute....
I have been able to get some shots of them but they are very shy
compared to town foxes, so not so easy.
You are not getting my bunny !