Friday, 5 December 2014

Marbled White Butterflies Part 2

Summer already seems like a distant memory so the second part of my two-part Marbled White post is long overdue. Back in October I posted part 1 here.

As I mentioned in part 1, in July I made 2 visits to Ryton Woods Meadows to photograph the Marbled White butterflies. The first visit provided lovely early morning light but the temperature rose so quickly that the butterflies were unapproachable by around 6:45 AM. The second visit was on a much cooler, grey day which resulted in more co-operative butterflies but less attractive light.

The following are probably the best images from the session.

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and finally, another image from the first, sunny, session that I don't think I'd processed when I posted part 1. It's a Burnet Moth next to the cocoon from which it had just emerged.








Friday, 21 November 2014

Wideangle Fungi

After a very poor start to this year's fungi season due to the dry weather, things did pick up a little in late October and early November. I therefore had a few photographic sessions in some local woodland taking a mix of wideangle and more traditional macro style images.

Most images will feature in future blog posts but here's one image that I've already processed. It was taken with my Tokina 35mm macro lens (one of my favourite lenses) early on a misty morning earlier this month. If I'm honest, it's an image that I'm really quite pleased with. I tend to be my own harshest critic at times but there's something about this image that I do like. I don't necessarily expect the fact that I like it to mean that others will too - I often find that my photographic tastes don't coincide with the tastes of others! - but the fact that I like it is enough for me. It's a slippery slope taking photos with other people's preferences in mind.


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Monday, 10 November 2014

Dragonflies in Flight

A trip to a local nature reserve in September gave me an opportunity to do something that I hadn't tried for several years; to photograph dragonflies in flight. It was a still, sunny morning with a hint of Autumn in the air and I noticed several Migrant Hawkers patrolling the reed beds at the margins of a small lake. Every now and then they would hover for a few seconds as they surveyed their habitat. It's this characteristic of Migrant Hawkers that generally makes them the easiest dragonfly to photograph in flight.

My weapon of choice was to be my 400mm lens with a couple of extension tubes fitted to allow closer focus. Dragonflies in flight are not an easy subject to photograph. They move quickly and often only hover for a second or two. So often I found I was just getting the point of focus on the dragonfly and about to squeeze the shutter when they disappeared from my viewfinder. Nevertheless, over the space of approximately an hour I managed quite a few shots where the subject was in focus and sufficiently large in the frame.


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It's worth noting that I returned to the site a few days later with a view to having another go photographing the dragonflies. However, on this occasion they didn't co-operate at all. There only seemed to be 1 or 2 individuals around, they seemed to be patrolling a much larger area (regularly disappearing from view for minutes at a time) and they weren't hovering at all. The conditions were broadly similar to those on the first occasion so it's not clear why the dragonflies were behaving so differently. As is so often the case with wildlife photography you do need a bit of luck for all of the elements to come together.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014

The winning entries in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 were announced last night at a star-studded event at the Natural History Museum attended by Sir David Attenborough and the Duchess of Cambridge no less(!). The overall winning image was 'The Last Great Picture' by Michael 'Nick' Nichols, below. It features a pride of lions, mostly sleeping, taken with an infra-red camera. I'll comment on this image shortly. The winning images can be found here.

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The Last Great Picture by Michael 'Nick' Nichols.


This time last year I wrote a blog post about the 2013 competition (here) and started a Facebook discussion (here), both of which seemed to resonate with many photographers. For those who don't want to wade though either discussion, my main grievances were the dominance of 'flagship' species (lions, tigers, polar bears, penguins etc) and the almost complete absence of insects and other invertebrates in both 2013 and 2012 competitions. Other photographers made similar points.  Whether as a direct result of these public discussions or not, two new categories were added to the 2014 competition - Amphibians and Reptiles, and Invertebrates.

So how have these changes affected the images in this year's competition? Well, I'm pleased to see that the presence of 'flagship' species amongst the 2014 winning images is notably reduced. The various category winners feature a mouse, herons, click beetle larvae, a green vine snake and so on and the competition is better for it in my opinion. Quite simply the winning images are more representative of the world's various animal taxa than they were in previous years. That has to be a good thing.

So what about the images themselves? I must admit I was a little underwhelmed at first. I think the overall winning image is 'nice', but that's about it. It's a pleasant image. It doesn't grab me and I find the wonky horizon somewhat distracting (not to mention surprising!). However, having dug a little deeper into the winning images I've found there are quite a few that I really do like. Here are a selection:


Glimpse of the Underworld by Christian Vizl

Little Squid by Fabien Michenet

I think the Little Squid image above is absolutely stunning. This image must have been very technically demanding but is creative, other-worldly and highly original.


Winter Hang-Out by Lukasz Bozycki


 The Great Arrival by Sergio Pucci


Night of the Deadly Lights by Ary Bassous 


Sailing By by Matthew Smith


The Enchanted Woodland by David Lloyd

and there are others too. All of these images are interesting, original and attractive. 

Inevitably there are other images that I'm less keen on and one or two that are rather formulaic. I won't single any out but I sometimes wonder whether the judges are as familiar with previous entries to this competition as I am :) 

So overall I think this year has been an improvement on last year's competition. The winning images are more varied in terms of subject matter and include a number that I consider to be of very high quality. Those positives are inevitably tempered slightly by the overall winning image which strikes me as a rather safe and conservative choice.

Finally, a couple of disclaimers:

Disclaimer 1: The above comments obviously represent my entirely subjective views. I simply speak as someone who has followed the WPOTY for many years and who holds the competition in great affection.

Disclaimer 2: By way of transparency, I should point out that I did enter this year's competition but, despite making the shortlist, I didn't make it into the winning images.



Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Marbled White Butterflies Part 1

Each summer I like to pay a visit to Ryton Wood Meadows, a Butterfly Conservation reserve that is especially good for Marbled White butterflies (note that the site is for members only).  I always enjoy photographing Marbled Whites and their absence from sites closer to home necessitates a one hour drive. This means an early start is required in order to arrive on site before the butterflies have warmed up too much.

This year I actually made 2 visits as the first, in early July, was on a particularly warm, sunny day and the butterflies were on the wing within around 45 minutes of my 6:00 AM arrival. On the plus side, the early morning sunshine provided very attractive light conditions during that short period. The second visit in mid July was on a much cooler, grey day. This meant more co-operative butterflies but less attractive light. Nothing's ever simple is it?!

The following were my favourite images from the first visit. The images from the second visit will form a later blog post.

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The first 4 images were taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Olympus 60mm macro lens:









This final image was taken with a Canon 60D and Tokina 35mm macro lens:



Friday, 10 October 2014

Wildlife Trusts Calendar 2015

I'm very pleased to have an image of mine included in the national Wildlife Trusts calendar 2015. My image is of a striking male Banded Demoiselle damselfly and represents the month of June.

The calendar features a selection of excellent images and is printed to a very high standard. It would make a great present for any wildlife lover and helps out a great cause too.




It can be purchased from Amazon or from Calendar Club.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Two Tone Pill Woodlouse

I recently found this Pill Woodlouse in my garden and wondered why its front and rear were different shades of grey. A bit of research revealed that woodlice shed their 'skin' in two halves. This individual had shed its rear but was yet to shed its front. You learn something new every day!


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