Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Sunrises, Moon eclipse and a Deer…sort of

This is my favourite time of year for taking land and seascapes.  It’s getting darker later in the mornings so you can catch the ‘golden hour’ without having to get up at some ungodly hour and yet it’s still mild enough that when you do, your fingers aren't going numb when setting the camera’s controls and you can appreciate the moment in comfort.

The one thing I can’t completely plan for is the weather (even if the forecasting was remotely correct).  I wanted to get a typical red sky sunrise, with my first outing forecasting ‘light’ cloud which could give me a decent chance of ideal conditions.  As I approached the coast and the first signs of light appeared in the sky, I could see that it was in fact thick clouds with the exception of a small clear opening.  This was heading westward to where the sun would rise so I was hoping the timing would be just right and the rising sun would shine through this gap, lighting up the rest of the clouds.

Unfortunately, as I set up my camera it was clear it wasn’t going to arrive in time and it looked like the morning would be a dull event.  Fortunately the distant horizon must have been clear because as the sun started to rise the sky lit up a glowing red, followed by orange, the sun peaked over the horizon and, for barely a few minutes, it was gone, hidden under the blanket of clouds.


06:54 – for a few minutes there were various shades of red as if a great fire was in the distance


06:58 – followed by the horizon lit up by a glowing orange


07:01 – the sun appeared


07:04 – and then it was gone

As I walked up the beach I noticed that the now larger gap in the clouds, now looked like it might offer a picturesque image yet as rays of light started to shine through.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really have anywhere along this part of the beach that had an interesting foreground so couldn’t really get the kind of image I had hoped for.


The following week on every week day, there was clear skies but fog which gave some amazing light – but I was working so couldn’t take any photographs.  The weekend was forecast as cloudy but light cloud and the continued fog, so I ventured out in hopefulness again, in search of a spectacular mornings light.

But it wasn’t to be.  It was heavy cloud and not a sign of the promised fog.  No sun, no red or orange light in the sky, so I took what images I could under the circumstances but nothing of any real interest.  Monday, back to work and the sunrise was again, a spectacular sight!


In between the two weekends was an event many would have slept through.  The earth eclipsing the moon, giving it an eerie orange glow.  I hadn’t really planned anything for this so ended up taking these images from the back of my house, starting just after 2:00am for an hour.  I know when you take pictures of the moon you expose for its brightness which in this case was around 1/500th of a second.

As I said, I hadn’t planned on photographing this so didn’t know what to expect or researched any techniques.  As the moon slowly disappeared under the eclipse, is seemed from the naked eye that the moon was gone but through the lens I could still see the moons outline and shape which slowly turned a faint orange colour, slowly becoming brighter and with a slight white crescent.  Taking a picture of this proved to be difficult as now the moon needed a longer exposure, no longer being its typical bright white.  It’s very deceptive how quick the moon arks across the sky so even an exposure of a few seconds resulted in a slightly blurred image as the moon had moved during that time.  The other thing I hadn’t anticipated was the houses opposite and the moon not only moving high across the sky but dipping down.  I managed one photograph of it before the houses started to obstruct my view, so I couldn’t get a few practice shots off to get the best results.

It was very disappointing that I couldn’t see the event all the way through and see the moon return again to it’s full, brightness, but it was still an amazing thing to see, watching the moon be eclipsed and then turn orange.  It’s an event that’s not supposed to happen again until another 18 years I believe.


Prior to all the above events, a trip to the woods produced little luck.  Plenty of sightings but the above image being the only thing caught on camera and not really a ‘keeper’.

Whist the first morning rays hit the woodland floor, a small patch lit up along a path.  I set my lens on this spot, sat there looking through the viewfinder and thought to myself wouldn’t it be great if a Rod Deer just walked into this spot right now.  No sooner had I finished thinking that, then a Roe Deer ran right across that exact spot!  Even if I had been quick enough to take a photo, it was moving so fast it would have been blurred.  Why it ran across there instead of walking, I don’t know. It couldn’t have known of my presents as I would have been hidden from it and there was no wind for it to pick up my scent. 

It does seem typical of my luck in recent months when it comes to my photography – just not getting the breaks at the moment.

You can plan, be at the right place when you believe something might happen, research and gain knowledge about your subject, but at the end of the day luck can play a big part.  That special moment, the lighting just right, something you didn’t expect.  Having some good fortune helps.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

A Slow Summer

I don’t seem to be getting many breaks with my photography this summer.  I had planned a number of projects, starting with taking two weeks off in June to follow up a couple of those – a visit to the Farne Islands which I haven’t returned to for a couple of years, and something I’ve wanted to try out for a while, photographing the Milky Way, including a time elapse.  Unfortunately both of these required some decent weather particularly the latter of which clear night skies with little wind was a must.

The week leading up to the start of my holiday was perfect.  Warm weather, clear skies, then my time off.  A drop in temperature, cloudy, unsettled weather and windy.  No chance of a night shoot and even the visit to the Farnes was continually postponed as every time I prepared to go, the forecast changed to rain.  The last chance of a night shoot was the final Friday of my time off and even that then changed to forecasted over cast last minute!  Of course the very week I went back to work, was back to being perfect, sunny warm weather.

Since then the weather has been a mixed bag though remained warm but photo opportunities seem to be few and I have been going through a bit of a slump.  Below are the best of what I have taken.

Roe Deer;  Woodland wildlife

The Roe Deer above was taken just before I went on holiday.  Since then the weather has warmed up and added rain has meant mosquitoes are out in force now and a visit here now would mean being eaten alive by the little vampires!


The warm weather and rain has also dramatically increased the length of grass.  The week before my holiday the grass at the location was short.  Two weeks later and it was over waist high in places.  I paid a number of visits to a place I will often see Foxes and on each occasion I new they were there due to the noise the Magpies were making but only caught a few glimpses of them due to the ‘jungle’ of grass.  On one occasion a Fox went pass me with metres but I didn’t even bother trying to track it with my camera as I wouldn’t have even have got a focus lock on it.  Most of the time though there could have been one there and I wouldn’t have even known due to the undergrowth.

I don’t know if the long grass was an advantage or disadvantage for the number of Rabbits about.  Obviously it was a food supply but whether it made them less easier to find by the Foxes in the same area, I don’t know.  I never saw a situation where both could be seen at the same time.

Jesmond Dene; Waterfall; Long Exposure

A few other visits around, including Jesmond Dene and the river Derwent produced mediocre results for landscape opportunities.  I also hoped to catch some Kingfisher images but didn’t even catch sight of one, which is unusual.

St Marys Lighthouse; Coast
Seascape; Long Exposure
Seascape; Long Exposure

A visit to the coast at this time of year can be a nice walk but the harsh light leaves little photo opportunities unless you get up very early for a sunrise on these short summer days.

The first image is an example of harsh light on a bright day but the clouds help make for an interesting shot.  For the final two images I did get up quite early in the morning, unfortunately the tide was still low which, although I was expecting, what I wasn’t expecting was just how slippery the rocks were and didn’t want to risk walking the distance to the tidal edge and so had to wait for the tide to come to me, by which time the best of the light was lost.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Sometimes You’re Lucky, Sometimes You're Not…

A couple of visits to a local wood in the last six weeks had shown success in numerous Fox sightings but little in the way of photo opportunities, so I thought I’d give it another go.  At first there seemed little happening, no Foxes and not even the usual plentiful deer's. The lack of anything made me turn off a little and less observant when, then of course it happened – I walked upon a Fox.  I don’t know if it was lying in the shade or had just come out of some undergrowth but we both got a shock as we were only metres away from each other when I saw it shoot away.  I was kicking myself for not paying attention to my surroundings though it was well camouflaged in its brown/grey coat against the dark surroundings.

A little further trekking and I came across  a part of the woodland that had been cleared and replanted.  Not somewhere I was expecting to see anything out in the open but to my right a Fox was casually trotting along.  I tried to track it in my lens but couldn’t focus properly due to most of it being hidden behind the various logs.  As it was moving away from me I resigned myself to another lost opportunity when suddenly it made a ninety degree change in direction and sprinted almost in my direction, jumping the logs like a horse in a steeple race.  It stopped, looked back and I could then see why it did this. There was someone sitting on a log, back to us, photographing something in the trees and seemingly oblivious to what was happening behind him.


Above – leaping the felled logs, I wasn’t able to get a focus lock for a decent shot.  Below – Looking back I could see the reason for its actions.


The Fox hadn’t seen me but continued it’s original journey away from me.  Later I met up with the same guy and he said that the Fox returned and came so close by that he was able to get some good images of it.  Typical, I’m trying to be stealthy and not get seen and can’t get a photo chance, he’s out in plain sight and the Fox comes up to him!  Clearly I’ve been doing this all wrong.  Minutes later and another sighting, though only very brief.


Later on, coming out of the woods into an open patch I could see a Fox.  It wasn’t moving in any direction in particular but I decided to back up to a position I thought I could photograph it perfectly if it decided to follow the path.  I’d no sooner set my camera up and looked through the viewfinder when the Fox appeared, stopped, looked briefly at me and decided it didn’t like what is saw and went back.  Another Fox rear end for my photo collection!


Four sightings and nothing to show for it, I decided to turn my attention to the trusty old Roe Deer.  I’d already seen a couple of them and decided to sit quietly somewhere and wait.  It wasn’t long before the first was spotted, in the distance moving in my direction but then decided to change and move away into the undergrowth.  I was just getting up when behind me another deer, a little closer.  It hadn’t seen me and amazingly, it started to run in my direction, followed by another.  It ran straight to a holly bush less than ten metres in front of me.  I had my netting over me and had a clear view of either side of the holly bush and waited in anticipation of what was going to be a great image. 

A minute later, five, ten.  Where could they have gone?  I quietly got up and cautiously approached the bush looking around and, nothing.  They’d vanished!  They should have continued in their general direction but instead must have exactly tracked in the opposite direct, keeping the holly bush between them and me. Sneaky.  They couldn’t have seen me and there was no wind to blow my scent around.  Just plain bad luck…again!

I decided to stick it out a bit longer, though the mosquitoes where by now, feasting on me, somehow even getting under (or through) my clothing.  Another deer in the distance, same place as the original one and very slowly working its way in my general direction.  It stopped behind some trees so I took the opportunity to move closer, unfortunately I had to stop in an open space though still had my netting over me.  Very slowly it mover around me, never approaching an open spot where I could get a clear photo opportunity of it.  Eventually when it did it had it’s head down as it browsed in the ferns.

I’ve been using my camera in silent mode now for shooting mammals such as deer.  Having in normal mode has the advantage of the shutter sound stopping the animal in its tracks, giving me the chance to photograph them while motionless.  The down side is another photograph taken and the noise starts becoming more alarming to the animal.  Roe Deer, although quite timid animals are also curious and will often stop and stare at something they’re not quite sure of. 

While this male deer moved with it’s head down in the ferns, I tried clicking my fingers.  A sound that had a similar impact of the shutter but I only had to do it once and could then take photos on silent mode without much disturbance.


The image above wasn’t the best – too dark and still too many plants in the way, so I continued to follow it moving around me.  Eventually it go closer and closer until it came to another reasonably open space and better light.   To track it I had to twist my body as I couldn’t move completely as I was still in the open and even under my ‘mobile hide’ the movement would have been obvious, so I was very uncomfortable, and the effects of numerous mosquito bites were taking it’s toll.  I had noticed while moving towards me it regularly stopped to have a scratch and it wasn’t until I got the images home and up onto the computer screen that I noticed all of the mosquitos around it.  Looks like I wasn’t the only one struggling.


Below – an enlargement of part of the photograph above, showing the mosquitos around the deer's head.


Just before it went behind a tree and out of sight, I clicked my fingers again and got it’s attention.  It stopped and stared at this green blob in the middle of the woodland floor, which couldn’t help but move due to a combination of biting insects and cramp.  The final touch was getting a text message on my mobile – forgot to switch it off!  Now, clicking fingers or even shutter sounds could be construed as something ‘natural’ sounding with a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but a music tune playing?  The deer wasn’t having any of this and beat a hasty retreat, barking as it went.


I decided it just wasn’t going to be my day and decided to call time. 


At this time of the year the woodland floor is covered in ferns making Roe Deer hard to see and Foxes, almost impossible.  Above is an example of what is seen from our height and the ferns are not fully grown yet.  Below is take at the kind of height a Fox would experience.  Not surprising they can be hard to see unless using a path or crossing an open space.  The advantage is that with all this cover they are more likely to come out in daylight hours, though at this time of year they also have cubs to feed.


Sunday, 24 May 2015

Brief Encounters

Encounter 1

It’s amazing what a difference five or ten minutes can make.  I had planned to to leave home a little earlier this morning to one of my favourite woodland spots, only to be delayed.  As I approached along the busy road that ran besides the woods, I saw a Roe Deer dodging the traffic to cross, presumably to get to the woodlands.  Once across it then went back, again dodging the traffic.  Then went back again only to return once again to the woodland side.  As I was walking towards it one way I could see a cyclist coming the other and I guessed between us we were blocking the only opening between the hedges that stood between it and the fields and woods.  Clearly it was getting distressed, so I turned around and went back, passed one of the openings it could take.  By the time I turned around it was gone.  I guessed it managed to find its way. 

Encounter 2

Ten minutes into the woods, walking along one of the paths between the now, finally growing undergrowth and I saw a Fox about fifteen metres in front following along the path in the same direction.  I don’t know if it had seen me and turned around or simply joined the path and was on it’s way, but I soon lost sight of it.

Encounter 3

Barely another ten minutes went by and another Roe Deer.  It definitely saw me first as by the time I had seen it, it was already off, barking an alarm call.

Encounter 4

Another fifteen minutes and yet another Roe, on the same path as me but coming towards me just from behind some trees.  This time I saw it first, so crouched down and got my camera and monopod in position.  By the time I was looking through the view finder I was expecting the Deer to have legged it as it had been barely twenty metres away.  Instead I could see this blurred image coming towards me and as the camera focused, I got the view below.  No sooner had I managed to take one photograph, it was off.  I was lucky to get that.  At 1/250th with a 500mm lens at f4.5 I was surprised to get a half decent image.  The f4.5 depth of field has barely left the head in focus.

Roe Deer

Soon after I reached my destination.  A location I like to sit and photograph Roe Deer on their way to their day time hold ups deeper within the woods.  I positioned myself, back against a tree, overlooking a couple of paths with an open view should a Roe cross.  Unfortunately it is the time of year when the Mosquitoes are out in force and although I had put on some repellent on, I hadn't tucked my shirt into the back of my trousers and they found another part of me to feast on much to my discomfort.

Encounter 5

After around 30 minutes without a sight of a Deer, I heard a rustling sound to my left and behind and as I turned my head, I saw a Fox trotting past me within metres, briefing turning it’s head to look at me as if to say ‘morning and continued on it’s merry way, totally indifferent to my presence.  Before I new it, it was in the grass in front of me and all I could see was glimpses of its reddish brown back strolling off into the distance and it was gone!


Encounter 6

I didn’t stay long after this and ended up going in the same direction as the Fox.  After a bit of wondering around I came across a male Pheasant which was clearly camera shy as it quickly moved behind a tree, only to every now and then, poke his head out to check on me.  I grabbed a few photos and moved on.  Clearly I wasn’t going to sneak up on this wily old bird.


Encounter 7

I decided time was getting late – at least with the chances of now seeing anything – so walked back the way I came and as I got to the spot I had previously sat, another two Roe Deer.  The nearest was staring at me as they do when they are trying to work out what you are.  I should have just stood motionless until it, hopefully decided I wasn’t a threat and carried on.  Unfortunately I crouched down which was enough for it to decide to go a different route.  Had I stayed put originally 30 minutes previously, both of them would have crossed the open area I had my lens trained on!

Encounter 8

As I continued my walk back, another pair of Roes in the distance but no chance of getting a photo due to the various foliage in the way, nor was there much of a chance of sneaking up on them due to the leaves and twigs on the woodland floor making it impossible even for a Ninja to be stealthy.  They did a bit of a u-turn but the best I could see was the example below.


Encounter 9 (Kind of)

After the Deer moved out of sight, I saw this little chap below scurrying along the ground.  I’ve managed to take plenty of photos of Grey Squirrels, but in this particular area it was disappointing to see one as it was one of the last strong holds of the Red Squirrels, of which it has been a few years since I last saw one, so perhaps this will now be a common sight.


I wonder what would have happened if I had left in the morning when I had planned, or arrived even later.  I would have missed all the above events, maybe seen nothing, maybe seen a completely different set of opportunities.  That’s the thing about looking and photographing wildlife.  You never know what if any, chances are going to come your way.


One final thing.  It’s nice to see that spring is really finally here.  Normally the growth you see below would be at this stage at the beginning of the month and in another couple of weeks these ferns will be waist high and seeing any Deer never mind Foxes, will be very difficult.


Sunday, 17 May 2015

Monday, 11 May 2015

Messing with Seascapes

It’s been a quiet year so far for photography.  Already it’s May and we’ve barely had two weeks of decent weather – and that fell during the week days and not at the week end!

I’ve been out only twice in the last month both times I wanted to experiment with taking seascapes and on the first occasion, as the forecast was for cloudy, misty weather, I thought it would make for some atmospheric images.  Up on location at the crack of dawn – blue skies and barely any clouds never mind any mist.  Not what I was hoping for but I thought I may as well made the most of it.

One thing I wanted to work on was to bracket my images – one over exposed, one under and one ‘correctly’ exposed.  I wanted to experiment with merging these images to create an image with more dynamic range without, hopefully, looking like HDR which I think looks awful for most landscapes.  Not sure how successful I was.  With the third image I also tried to give it a ‘film’ look with a more muted colours.  Other variations included long exposures and black and white conversion.