It’s that time of year again, the annual Red Deer Stag Rut, and as I missed it last year I didn’t want to miss it this year. I met up with Daniel Hannabuss, a photographer whose website I’d built a couple of years ago, but had never actually met in person. So it was good to finally meet up and go out taking shots together. We met up outside Richmond Gate at 6.30 and walked in to be greeted by some nice mist and a group of hinds with a large Stag to the left. The sun hadn’t yet come up, and after staying a little while we headed toward Pen Ponds.
I’m delighted to announce that I’ve just launched my Wild Surrey Kickstarter project. ‘Wild Surrey’ is a postcard box set, 10 high quality postcards beautifully presented in a maltese cross folding cover. The postcards feature wildlife photographed in and around Surrey, at nature reserves, national parks, lakes, canals and rivers. Species covered include Red Deer, Barn Owls, Great Crested Grebes and Waxwing.
My main aim is to highlight all the wonderful wildlife on our doorstep, in the hope that others can enjoy it too and share my passion. The more people that are passionate about wildlife, the more hope there is for its long term future.
I’m looking to raise £4,000 to cover printing and postage costs, so I’m looking for a set pledge of £12 from each backer in order to reach my target (£15 outside the UK). Everyone that makes a pledge will receive a copy of the postcard set. Transactions are handled through amazon payments, if the target is not reached then no money is taken from your account.
If you’d like to find out more, and purchase your copy of Wild Surrey, please visit Kickstarter and make a pledge here.
Unfortunately I didn’t reach the funding target, but I would like to thank all those of you that made a pledge. Your support was greatly appreciated. I’m sorry that we couldn’t achieve our goal and see it in print.
I’m proud to announce that my photo of the Mayfield Lavendar Field in Banstead has been chosen for the 2014 Surrey Life Calendar. The calendar is available free with the January edition of Surrey Life. The competition was judged by Photography Monthly and Turning Pro Editor Adam Scorey.
All the winning entries, along with a few extras, were displayed at the Denbies Vineyard Gallery, from January 20 to January 26. I went along on the Sunday to have a look and was pleasantly surprised to find that 4 of my images in total were selected for the Exhibition.
For more information please see the Surrey Life website here.
To see all the exhibited entries click here.
Congratulations to all the winning entries!
Ever since I saw Gail Johnson’s picture of a massive wave slamming the side of a lighthouse in the 2008 LPOTY I’ve been looking to shoot something similarly dramatic. So it may’ve been 5 years in the planning, but you can’t rush into these things! I wanted to be as sure as I could though, until conditions were just right. Newhaven isn’t exactly around the corner for me, but with hurricane force winds predicted overnight I don’t think conditions could’ve been any better than they were. Thankfully I didn’t have anything else planned so I made the (rather tedious) journey to the coast. Tedious due mainly to a massive tailback on the M3 that had me fighting my way across country to get back on track.
Two and a half hours later and I was finally in Newhaven. As I rounded the corner and the view opened up I soon realised it was worth it. Waves were crashing against the sea defence and lighthouse. I’d packed some plastic carrier bags to protect the camera from the sea spray, but as soon as I opened my camera bag they caught the wind and disappeared. Ah well, there went that idea. Holding on to the tripod legs was similarly fraught, so sheltering behind a wall seemed the best idea. Thankfully it wasn’t raining, which was one less thing to contend with, but unfortunately the light was a little flat. I started shooting at 400ISO but very soon had to push to 640 to cope with the worsening conditions. I was hoping for some late burst of dramatic last rays of sun but it never materialised.
I concentrated first on the west side of the defence, keen to get a frame filling shot of the lighthouse. Once I was sure I had a couple of good ones I then went to the east side, and here you could see and feel the full force of the wind. The power of the waves was incredible, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. But then I am from Surrey.
I got a few shots of the waves breaking on the defence, and then an RNLI Lifeboat came into view. A 14 year old boy had been swept out to sea. The lifeboat was swaying wildly from side to side and at times looked like it would get engulfed by the massive waves. But they soldiered on in their attempts to find the boy and at times seemed to get dangerously close to the sea defence. Soon after a helicopter arrived, not to mention several police cars and ambulance.
By this point the beach was swarming with onlookers and the emergency services, and we were moved off the beach. I heard later that they continued to search until 10 o’clock, before having to call it off. A very tragic ending that only serves to underline just how dangerous these conditions can be.
I’d been to Skomer 5 years ago, but it turned into something of a disaster. Our kids were both very small at the time, we had no food or drink, and after attempting to carry them for as long as we could it soon became apparent we were woefully under prepared. I managed a few minutes with the Puffins before I had to cut my losses, and so it was very much unfinished business. I was also keen to photograph the red kites again, and so combining the two over a weekend seemed like a very good idea. As good as the feeding station is at Bwlch Nant yr Arian, the one problem is that you can’t get quite close enough to the Kites to fill the frame, so I wanted to see if things were any better at Gigrin Farm. I booked a couple of places in the Gateway Hide and hoped for the best.
And so it was that Colin and I set off at 7 in the morning from West Byfleet and headed for mid Wales. Despite a slight hiccup with the sat nav when Col decided to select the ‘non-motorway’ option we got there in very good time and waited for feeding. Once the action began it soon became apparent that the main problem would be not cropping off wings, they were that close. In hindsight I would’ve booked one of the higher, open top hides as I lost a few shots when trying to track them overhead. But after a couple of hours of full on action I was very happy with the shots I’d managed to get and my main problem was going to be freeing up space on my memory card for the Puffins.
We then made the journey down to the western tip of Wales to the campsite at West Hook Farm. If you’re looking to make the pilgrimage to Skomer then you couldn’t choose a better campsite to stay at, it’s literally a 5 minute walk to the ticket booking office, and the view out across the bay is beautiful. We were treated to a beautiful sunset before the night drew in. After a couple of beers I then had to try and get some sleep before getting up at 6 the next morning to stand in the queue for the landing pass and boat across. What sounded like a sleeping elephant next to me had other ideas though, so I can’t really say I had the best nights kip.
I did however make it to the queue by 7 the next morning, but even then around 20 people were in front of me! So if you’re planning on a Skomer trip get to the booking office as soon as you can to avoid disappointment. Whilst queuing I was joined by Euan and Mike, who’d come down from Cardigan for the day. With tickets in hand we made our way down to the boat, and on visiting the Gents came upon a couple of nesting pairs of swallows! I would’ve got my camera out but didn’t particularly want to get myself arrested over a ‘misunderstanding’!
So leaving the swallows to their own devices we boarded the first boat across at 10, which gave us 5 hours on the island before the boat back. Once on the island Colin and I headed straight for the Puffins, while Euan and Mike headed in a different direction.
Col and I then proceeded to spend the next 3 and a half hours with the Puffins before deciding we ought to perhaps venture further afield.
We bumped into Euan and Mike who had seen a Peregrine Falcon and Short Eared Owl on the other side of the island, so we thought we’d give it a go. Unfortunately we didn’t see either but I did get to photograph a Wheatear at close quarters so it was worth the soujourn. There were also a small colony of Grey Seals on a rocky outcrop, athough they were too far away to get any decent shots of.
Worth mentioning is the amazing colour across the island. The bluebells were out in full bloom, with carpets of bright pink campion fighting for attention. Absolutely stunning.
We made it back to the boat just in time, and after a cup of tea back at the campsite Euan and Mike made their way home. Colin and I stayed on the campsite for another night, dining out at the Lobster Pot in Marloes, and then attempting to get a good night’s sleep after an exhausting couple of days. The sleeping elephant put the kibosh on that of course. But feeling a little fresher than the night before we made the journey home, doing it in good time, and thankfully without hitting any traffic jams.
We’d really lucked out with the weather, two glorious days of sunshine. Whilst perfect for the kites I had hoped for slightly more overcast for the puffins to avoid burning out the highlights on their chests, but you can’t have everything!
* My alternative headline for this was ‘Tern, Tern, Tern. Tern, Tern, Tern’, a little play on the Travis song, but decided it was a little tenuous. Or maybe that should read tedious. Just like Travis.
But I digress. For anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time will know I have something of a soft spot for the Great Crested Grebe. I spent a good part of spring and summer a couple of years back photographing a couple of Grebe pairs at different locations nearby.
There were still a number of shots I had in my head that I still hadn’t come to fruition, and I’dalways intended to go back at some point and finish what I started. Whilst on the way back from somewhere I drove past this large pond and noticed a pair of Grebes. I stopped the car to take a closer look and was delighted to see that the female was carrying chicks on her back! This was one shot in particular that was still on my wish list.
I returned one evening after work and managed to get one semi decent shot, but with the light levels really low the quality wasn’t great, so I knew I’d have to give it another go. Time was of the essence as they don’t stay chicks for very long, so I returned at the weekend.
When I got there conditions were perfect, a mist had developed, and I realised that the nest was very close. The only problem of course was that it was partially obscured, so I couldn’t get a decent shot and they weren’t moving for toffee. (Maybe I should have tried offering them something else instead).
However, I then noticed that there was a second pair of Grebes further round with two chicks, and they had ventured about ten yards from the bank. So I made my way around the lake, more in hope than expectation, and had to negotiate a very marshy area that left me fearing for my camera, but I made it onto the platform at the edge of the lake and lucky for me they hadn’t moved. In fact they stayed right where they were and seemed perfectly at ease with my presence. It was a magical moment, the light and mist were just beautiful, not a hint of wind, and I got down low and snapped away for around ten minutes before they eventually swam away.
I thought I’d then return to the original pair and see if there was anything happening. When I got back the mother and chicks were still on the nest. I was lucky enough however to catch the male coming back with a fish in his mouth. It’s a shot I’ve tried several times before to get and failed, but thankfully this time I got it!
Not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth I thought I’d stick around a little longer. A Common Tern was circling the pond and diving for fish. I knew this was potentially a good opportunity, as he was being beautifully backlight by the early morning sun. When he dived again I shot off a burst of frames, but I couldn’t possibly have realised how lucky I’d be when I reviewed them. In one of the frames he’d turned upside down, with the water spiralling off his beak. A rare moment when everything comes together to deliver something totally unexpected.
I also saw a Kingfisher flying fast and low over the surface of the water. A real hidden gem of a pond, I’ll be sure to return here soon.
Having owned the 100-400mm zoom for a couple of years, I began to suffer from the ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome, that the 400mm prime might be the better option for me. What finally did it for me was reading Canon’s Forgotten 400. It was all I needed to hear, so I put the zoom up for sale on ebay, and as soon as that was gone I went out and bought the prime.
So what are the advantages of the prime over the zoom? The first thing you notice about the prime is how much lighter it feels than the zoom, which with my dodgy back is certainly a plus. Perhaps the greatest advantage however is the autofocus. It’s damn quick. One of the frustrating aspects of the zoom for me was it’s continual ‘hunting’ for focus. The prime is lightening quick, and I’ve captured many shots that with the zoom I’d have lost.
My one overriding concern however was the sharpness. I’d hoped that my success rate would improve with the prime, but I can’t really say that it has. The prime is undoubtedly a sharp lens, but I have to say there’s really very little difference between the two. Shots taken at distance were proving disappointing with my old zoom, and I laid the blame squarely on the lens. But I now think that environmental factors were far more to blame, as I still see the same happening with the prime. A common complaint I kept hearing about the zoom was it wasn’t sharp at full extension, but I never found this to be the case and have several shots to prove it. I’ve read elsewhere that there may be a variance from model to model in the quality of the optics, so I think it’s fair to say I had a good model.
I’m now of the opinion that it’s far better to increase the ISO and take a little noise on the chin. With my old 500D I wasn’t really willing to do this, but now I have a 7D I’m far more comfortable pushing the ISO to 800, or even a 1000. Doing this I’ve found sharpness has improved considerably. These days, I’ll always then reduce the noise on the background, leaving the subject untouched as the noise is always far less obvious and I don’t want to lose any of the detail where it counts. It has to be said that the 7D and 400mm Prime are a great combination, but that’s probably the subject of another blog article.
I wasn’t sure about the non-detachable lens hood at first, but actually it’s great. Far better than the frankly annoying lens hood on the zoom, which more often than not I would leave at home as it just gets in the way.
One of my rationale’s for buying the prime was that I was always using the zoom at 400mm anyway and so didn’t need the zoom. Now I don’t have the option it’s incredible how often I wish I still had it! I really miss that flexibility. Shooting the deer in Richmond Park was one such occasion; with the zoom I could just re-adjust (I never had a problem with the push pull mechanism), with the prime you find yourself continually having to take a few steps back, only to find you’re still not far enough back, and potentially missing the moment. This isn’t always the case of course, with birds you’re never quite close enough and then it’s not an issue.
The prime has a really poor close focusing distance. Inspired by the likes of Sandra Bartocha I was looking to get into a lot more close up photography, and the zoom, with a minimum focusing distance of 1.8m, was good for this. With the prime, with a minimum focusing distance of 3.5m, you just can’t get close enough. No contest! Just going to have to get a macro lens as well!
In summary, both are great lenses, I would say the prime may just pip the zoom for sharpness, but there’s not a lot in it. At the end of the day both are L Series lenses with excellent reputations. If you need the flexibility, then go for the zoom, you’ll still take some great, sharp shots. There have been occasions when due to the lack of flexibility and close focusing that I’ve considered selling up and getting the zoom back again, but for now at least I’m going to stick with it. The zoom is a great all-rounder that eradicates the need for a 70-200, and to a certain extent a macro. Two lenses which are now on my list – quite where they’re going to go in my camera bag I have no idea!
I feel I’ve had a bad run of luck lately. I went to Richmond Park in the snow to photograph the deer and saw not a single deer. I was down to Dorset and set the alarm to catch Corfe Castle shrouded in mist, but despite what looked like the right conditions the night before there was not an ounce of mist to be seen. I then went to the Old Pier at Swanage to find a bright red boat moored at the end of it, which thwarted any chance of getting the kind of shot I was after. Then to top it off we were heading back to Poole, the kids starving and with the promise of Macdonalds, when the most glorious sunset started to develop. I raced to the Quay as quick as I could to find something, ANYTHING, that would make a decent setting but just couldn’t get there quick enough and missed the best of the colour. Things weren’t going well.
So it wasn’t with a great deal of optimism that I set the alarm for 5 o’clock when mist and fog was forecast the next morning. Top of my list for 2013 was to capture a mist filled valley. Peter Hulance and Phil Selby had taken some great shots at Pewsey Vale, which looking on the map seemed within relatively easy reach. It was, I discovered, quite a tedious journey but I still managed to make it to Martinsell Hill within plenty of time. Thankfully, being February, sunrise was still at a reasonable hour (7.18) and I’d given myself plenty of time so as not to end up giving myself a coronary to get there.
I was glad to see that there was a little nice mist hanging in the valley so I wasted no time in setting up and began shooting. Not long after I’d arrived another photographer turned up, and sure enough it was Peter Hulance himself. Together we enjoyed the drama that unfolded before us.
Peter and I had been flickr contacts for a while, and I was a big fan of his work, so it was nice to finally meet. Peter was very modest about his own achievements, and a thoroughly nice chap to boot! I’m quite sure we’ll bump into each other at Pewsley again.
And what a location it is. Breathtaking. As the sun rose and broke over the bank of cloud the mist increased and the colours were beautiful. It’s amazing how mist can transform a scene. Photographic heaven!
I returned home with that satisfying feeling of knowing I’d got some lovely shots, and thanked my lucky stars I’d made the effort. Special mornings like these restore your faith and enthusiasm.
Just before Christmas in the middle of the cold snap, I’d made the journey to Newlands Corner, hoping to get some landscapes covered in hoar frost. It looked great on the Hog’s Back and I figured with Newland’s Corner being so high up I would see more of the same. Sadly, when I got there it was disappointingly ice free. So I thought I’d have a little look by the feeders and get some snaps. The light wasn’t great, but I was delighted to see there was a Marsh Tit in the area. Their population has been in steady decline, and I’d certainly never seen one before, so a first for me. I also spied a very colourful Bullfinch, and behind the Visitor Centre I saw a couple of Tree Creepers. I resolved to return on a better day and try my luck.
I returned fully equipped with a couple of lichen and moss covered perches, as well as a plentiful supply of nuts. At first there was nothing but the usual Great and Blue Tits, but after a little while the Marsh Tit came in, and fortunately for me, wasn’t at all shy. More than can be said for the Nuthatch. Although I’ve photographed them a few times I’m still yet to get one I’m entirely happy with, but today I got perhaps my best yet.
Light levels still weren’t great, the clear skies that had been forecast didn’t really materialise, so I was pushing a high ISO with exposures between 1/200th anf 1/400th of a second. Having recently upgraded from the 500D to a 7D I feel I can get away with it a little more, but it’s not ideal. I’d still rather get a good sharp shot with a little noise though, than a noise free but blurred bird.
After having lured in the birds with the nuts, I then noticed that the Marsh Tit was feeding on the nuts on the ground right in front of me, so I returned to the car and got my mossy ground perch out, laid it down, and covered the area liberally with nuts! It worked a treat, not only did the Marsh Tit pose nicely on it, but the Nuthatch was becoming increasingly bold and landed right where I wanted him. Even the Jay got over it’s shyness and came right in.
I returned again in mid March, keen to get some more of the nuthatch. It was far brighter second time around, and with shutter speeds of around 1250th sec I was able to freeze the movement of the nuthatch completely.
The Marsh Tit was still around but not quite so bold this time, but a Pied Wagtail paid a visit, a nice bonus.
I promised myself no photos of Robins, Blue Tits and Great Tits, but the Robin looked so good I couldn’t resist.
I think I’ve finally got the nuthatch out of my system now, so I can move on!
Ever since Chris Packham plotted the Waxwing invasion on Autumnwatch a couple of years back I’ve been fascinated by these beautiful birds. If the berry crop fails in Scandanavia then they’ll make the pilgrimage across the North Sea and feed on our Rowan and Pyracantha. I didn’t think I’d be in with a chance of seeing them, but then around January/February my brother told me they were feeding off the apple tree outside his house! For whatever reason I was never able to get over to photograph them, but then not long after they turned up at the end of my garden. It was just a passing visit unfortunately, but I did manage to get a couple of shots a little later, in March, when I was photographing Grebes at Basingstoke Canal. They were high up in a tree, so the shots weren’t great, and ever since I’ve been keen to get some decent ones in the bag.
Last year there wasn’t much of an invasion, but this winter seems to be far better. Reports started showing up on the Surrey Bird Club site of them making an appearance in Ewell, then it was Woking, and then finally in Farnborough, at North Camp Station. It seemed too good to be true to have such an exotic looking bird in that most unlikely of wildlife havens that is ‘Norf Camp’.
The week they arrived the weather was, for the most part, pretty awful, but on the 30th the rain stopped, the sun came out, and I made the five minute journey to the station. When I got there around 30+ waxwings were feeding off the berries, but they very soon departed, and then the rain came in. With a little time on my hands I was prepared to wait this one out, along with around a dozen or so other photographers all with their long lenses and tripods. When I got talking to them it turned out a couple of them were photographers I was familiar with on flickr, namely Aaron Gee and Mark Slokey, so it was good to finally meet them.
The rain passed off, and not long after the waxwings returned, and this time they stuck around for an hour or so, perching high up on a tree on the opposite side of the road, before all flocking to the berry trees to feed. They spooked pretty easy, and all quickly returned to the safety of the opposite side, but the lure of the berries was too much for them, and every time they flew in they were greeted with the sound of a dozen shutters all firing off continuously!
Although the blue skies didn’t return I wasn’t too bothered, I was very happy to get to photograph them at such close quarters. It was sod’s law that the next day, New Year’s Eve, it was a clear day with blue skies, but unfortunately I had a prior engagement. I was still tempted to make a quick diversion, but decided my marriage was more important! Still, at least I’ll have something to aim for next year…
If 2011 was a great year then 2012 has been out of this world! The highlight was of course receiving the Runner-Up Award in the Landscape Photographer of the Year Classic View, a long held dream that finally came true. My main aim was just to get in the book, so to receive a runner-up, and then Judges Choice from Charlie Waite, was just incredible. The awards evening was very special, and I got to shake hands with Charlie. A couple of weeks later Joe Cornish visited my neck of the woods to do a talk, so in the space of a month I saw two ‘Galactico’s’ of photography! It’s fair to say Joe has been a huge influence on me over the years so it was great to finally see him.
I was also shortlisted in the British Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards with a couple of images, but sadly neither made the final cut. It would’ve been fantastic to have got into both books, but not to be. I’ll keep trying though!
Just to round the year out one of my images appeared on BBC’s The One Show, on the 13th December. Matt Baker and Alex Jones had John Craven in the studio and so asked for viewers to send in images for John to judge. Not one to miss an opportunity I sent a couple in and to my astonishment they displayed my ‘Stag Breath’ shot!
Then as a final send off for the year Hampshire County Magazine used one of my shots from Longstock on the cover of their magazine, January 2013 edition. In mid December. Never quite understood that.
Goals in 2012
Looking back at some of the goals I’d set myself at the end of last year, I have managed to get through quite a few of them. I finally managed to get a couple of decent shots of the Long Tailed Tits in the garden, and an extra bonus was the arrival of the Redwings for a couple of days. They’d been visitors at our old house for a couple of winters but I hadn’t managed to get any decent shots, so it was great to finally get some. The Blackcap still eludes me though! Further afield, I made a few trips down to Papercourt Meadows to shoot the Short Eared Owls, and although I got one semi decent shot, I don’t really feel I’ve done them justice yet. I was hoping to get down to Papercourt again this winter, but so far it appears they haven’t visited, but you never know.
I also managed to get some decent shots of a few species on my wanted list, namely Lapwings, Little Grebes, Swallows and Grey Wagtail. I entered the Grey Wagtail shot in the local White Lion Walk photography competition, where it made it to the final, but no cigar on this occasion! This year I discovered the delights of Wisley Gardens, and whilst there was lucky enough to photograph a family of Little Grebes with their 4 chicks very late in the season. Having barely a sighting of a Little Grebe last year, this year they appeared to be just about everywhere I went! Wisley is also great for seeing Goldcrest, another that I hope to tick off the list in 2013.
Last year I spent a lot of time photographing the Great Crested Grebes. This year I decided to concentrate on heathland birds. Surrey is famed for it’s precious heathland habitat, and in my quest to highlight local wildlife it seemed the natural choice. The Dartford Warbler was high on my wanted list, but in the three or four visits I made to Thursley Common it eluded me. Photographing heathland birds was a lot harder than I’d anticipated. Getting close enough was perhaps the biggest problem. I spent 3 or 4 hours attempting to photograph Stonechats, but just couldn’t get close enough. I did manage to photograph a number of new (for me) species, namely Whitethroat, Linnet, Reed Bunting and Whinchat. However, the highlight for me was seeing and photographing Redstart, really quite stunning birds, another high on my wanted list, and a bird that until this year I didn’t even know were found this far south. Now I know where to find them I’ll be back next year to give it a proper go. Another highlight was the Hobby, Thursley is great in May/June for seeing them as they feed on the abundant dragonflies. Seeing them pluck the dragonflies out of the air and eating them in mid flight is highly recommended!
I had planned to visit Gigrin Farm for the Red Kites. I didn’t make it Gigrin, but was lucky enough to get to the Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre near Aberystwyth whilst holidaying in Wales to see the Red Kites there. It had to be one of the highlights of the year for me, absolutely amazing to see so many Red Kites all in one place. Stunning birds in a stunning setting, I can’t urge anyone enough to go there and experience it for themselves. Didn’t make Skomer though for the Puffins, so it’s on my list still for next year!
Come late September/early October I once again made a couple of visits to Richmond Park for the Stag rut and once again got some shots that I’m really happy with. A couple made Flickr Explore, and then subsequently one made it onto the Flickr Blog. My page hits then went through the roof, I had over 4,000 hits on one day in particular, it just went quite mad! I’ve since had a Spanish online publication contact me about running a feature on how I came to make the shot, so I’ll post up a link when it goes live.
My Surrey/Hampshire project went well, there were basically 4 shots on my wanted list – rapeseed field, lavender field, poppy field and vineyard. The only one I didn’t manage out of those 4 was the poppy field, so next year I’m determined to nail it. I’d also been keen to get back down to Lepe and Longstock, and managed to tick both of those off the list.
The workshops with Doug Chinnery went very well. First up was a Camera to Computer Workshop in Weston-Super-Mare in February, and second was a Long Exposure Workshop in Brighton in June. I’d long wanted to get some shots of the West Pier there, and I think they were my most successful from the day. More recently I revisited Brighton in the hope of capturing the Starling Murmurations. They didn’t really put on much of a show unfortunately, but the sunset was stunning, so it was far from a wasted trip. With the winnings from LPOTY I was able to sell my 500D and finally upgrade to a 7D, courtesy of ebay, and Brighton was it’s first outing. Although I’m still getting used to it, I’m excited about the opportunities it opens up.
Aims for 2013
Seeing some of the winning entries from LPOTY I’ve been inspired to get out and do more landscapes. I loved Alex Nail’s shot of Pen-y-Fan, so I’m determined to get up a mountain or two and attempt to capture some dramatic mountain scenes. Inspired by the work of Paul Keene and Omer Ahmed I’m keen to get out and shoot some frosty and snowy scenes. I’m also yet to witness a cloud inversion so I think I might be making a trip or two to the South Downs in hope. I loved Simon Park’s storm shot, even if he did keep me off the top spot(!), and would love to get some extreme weather shots if the opportunity arises.
On the wildlife front I feel I need to broaden my scope and capture a few more species. I would love to shoot the Mountain Hares in the Peak District, but I’m not sure funds will allow it. I think a trip to the east coast might be on the cards to see the seals though. Maybe even otters too, although I need to put in some research. Returning to more familiar subjects, the Short Eared and Barn Owls are still very much a priority, and I’m sure I’ll also return to my favourites, the deer at Richmond Park. I’d love to get some shots in the snow if I can to round out my portfolio. Whatever happens I’ll look forward to what 2013 brings and can’t wait to get out with the camera to experience something new.
Thanks to anyone who’s passed by this year, I hope you all have a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I’m extremely proud to announce that my Beech Wood Panorama has received Runner Up in the Classic View of this years Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards. I also received ‘Judges Choice’ from lead judge Charlie Waite. It’s a dream come true for me, something I’ve been working towards for a long time, and at the moment it feels quite surreal. To receive Charlie Waite’s vote makes it all the more special, and whilst I’d be taking photos regardless, it’s always nice to receive such recognition.
I originally received a Highly Commended, but due to the winner being disqualified, I’ve effectively been moved up. This also means I now receive £500 prize money, which is another nice bonus.
I attended the Private Viewing at the National Theatre on the 12th November. It was a great evening, and very inspiring to see all the winning entries up on the wall. I was relieved to see my print looked great, printed out at a metre and a half wide! Unfortunately it printed out a little dark in the book, but thankfully at the exhibition it was far truer to the original.
Amateur Photographer magazine published a number of the winning entries in the November 6th edition, and I was lucky enough to get my shot featured in the Highly Commended section. It also appeared as the lead shot in the Royal Photographic Society magazine feature on the awards. Altogether it’s been a great experience and is all the encouragement I need to continue what I’m doing.
For anyone interested in having this shot hanging on their wall you can now purchase a quality canvas print here.
First there was the annual membership to the Royal Horticultural Society. Then there was the wearing of green Dunlop wellies without a care. I even started noticing the flowers on roundabouts. Middle age was well and truly here. As if I was in any doubt, the final nail in the coffin was travelling down this weekend to Poole on a Stag Do that was actually a two day birding extravaganza, or to give it it’s proper title ‘Boo’s Big Birding Bonanza’. Ryan had finally decided to tie the knot, and rather than a booze fuelled weekend in Serbia taking in strip joints he instead elected to indulge his passion for birds, along with Euan, Mike, John and myself. Just Mad.
As we drove down on Friday afternoon, the heavens opened and it didn’t look too promising at all, but we hoped that the forecast for sun on the Saturday would hold true. Ryan had booked a great bungalow at Bestwall Park near Wareham, overlooking a lake that backed on to the estuary. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for accommodation in the area, it couldn’t be better positioned, especially if you’re into your birds. Every morning, or at least every morning we were there, a barn owl would fly across the lake bang on 7 o’clock. Walking around the lake we saw a buzzard, a kingfisher, black tailed godwits and a large number of smaller birds. In the evening all the starlings gather on the masts of the boats that are moored there. On the lake itself are many coots, with both Great Crested and Little Grebes to keep the coots honest. We even found a snake under a heavy pipe just outside the back door. You can find out more about the bungalow here.
By Saturday morning the rain had stopped and after a big fry up we headed to Poole and got on the boat across to Brownsea Island. The weather very soon cleared up and for the rest of the day the sun was out. Our first stop were the hides overlooking the lagoon, and I was hoping to get some more shots of the Avocets. I wasn’t disappointed, there were a number of them feeding very close to the hide and I was able to get a few nice ones. The others had by this time moved onto the main hide that juts out into the lagoon, and I could see a little egret feeding very close to it, so I hot footed it over and managed to get a number of the egret before it flew off.
We then made our way to the feeders at the Villa to try and get some shots of the Red Squirrels. The Nuthatches were making good use of the feeders, and I was concentrating so hard on them, that I didn’t notice the Red Squirrel two yards in front of me scaling the tree!
After an hour or so of crouching at the base of the tree I decided it was time to try a couple of other locations so moved on out of the DWT reserve and headed up the trail to see if I could have any success at the spot where I’d photographed them the year before. As I reached the brow of the hill it looked perfect, there was still some colourful heather, all I needed was a squirrel to sit on the brow of the hill and I’d have the perfect shot. And then a squirrel did indeed appear, just where I wanted him. Did I get him? Errr, no. A slight panic ensued where I tried to get him in frame and focus, but by the time I had he’d seen me and was gone. Damn. Despite waiting another half hour or so, he never came back and I had to admit defeat.
As I followed the trail round I came to the opening where there was still some heather in bloom. A peahen and her two chicks were there and promptly raced up to me. A benny hill style chase then ensued as I continually tried to get far enough back to photograph them whilst they continually tried to hunt me down looking for food.
After all that I felt it was finally time for a visit to the Cafe, so off I went and had a very nice
cheese and chutney sandwich and cappuccino. Whilst on the phone to Euan I spotted another squirrel that had scaled the wall and was heading toward the feeder. I quickly cut Euan short and lay on the grass for the next 15 minutes waiting for the squirrel to come back down off the feeder and across the grass. This was one hungry squirrel, he just stayed in the tree, and once more had to admit defeat and meet up with the others to get the ferry back.
I couldn’t complain though as I’d got some great shots and was more than happy. That night we went into Wareham to the Quay Inn and had a good meal, and got treated to Wareham’s finest in the shape of ‘Professional Singer/Songwriter’ Martin Pitt. At least that’s what the promotional poster said. After he’d crucified Phil Collins ‘In the Air Tonight’ we felt compelled to leave and fortunately made it back in time for Match of the Day. The moon was large in the sky and almost orange, so I couldn’t resist getting the camera out when I got back. There was also a beautiful mist over the lake and I began to get excited about what tomorrow might hold. As I walked back inside I banged straight into the glass pane that I thought was the open door and clattered my head hard! One too many methinks!
The next morning the need to wee was all consuming and when I got up I could see the most beautiful sunrise with a heavy mist over the lake. I quickly threw some clothes on and headed out to capture it. Amazing.
Euan and I then headed round the lake and managed to creep along so as not to disturb the Black Tailed Godwits feeding in the morning light.
After another fry up and clearing out the bungalow we headed to RSPB Arne. It was pretty quiet and there wasn’t a lot to see, most the action was by the feeders at the car par, with Nuthatches, Chaffinches, Great Tits, Blue Tits and a Woodpecker all making an appearance.
After doing a circuit on the right hand side of the reserve we then made our way to the hide, on the way bumping into Simon King carrying a large camera over his shoulder. There wasn’t much to see from the hide so I headed over to the right where there was a herd of Sika Deer. I managed to get pretty close, and although initially they were wary they soon decided I wasn’t a threat and ignored me.
On the way back we came across a lone young Stag who seemed pretty chilled with our presence. His demeanour changed when a large Stag ran up behind him, leaped over a barbed wire fence and headed straight for another Stag that was moving in on his harem. He soon saw him off and calm was restored.
After what must’ve been 5 or so hours on our feet we made it back to the car park. By now I was completely spent and promptly had a nap in the car on the way home.
A great weekend had by all, many thanks to Ryan for organising it all, and I’ll look forward to next years visit! Now where’s that Argos catalogue, I need to buy myself a nose hair trimmer.
After my success last year I couldn’t wait for the annual deer rut to come round again. Just as with last year I thought I’d go up a week or two early to try my luck, especially with a bright, clear morning forecast. With the sun set to rise at 6.45 I set the alarm for 5 o’clock and headed out. I didn’t have to go far for my first wildlife experience of the day. As I walked to the car something shuffled behind the car on the opposite side of the road. I assumed it must be a fox but as it emerged the other side it was in fact a badger! Quite possibly the first I’d seen that wasn’t lying dead on the side of a road. I had no idea there were badgers in my culdesac, now I’m dying to know where the set is. Possibly in number 22’s front drive, who knows.
When I arrived it seemed that the hoped for mist wouldn’t materialise, but as I headed for the pond there was a nice layer of mist hanging over that was beginning to spread.
As the sun rose the pond looked absolutely beautiful so I swapped lenses and got a few as the sun broke through the mist. I was in a real dilemna, there were many opportunities at the pond, but the great light wouldn’t last for long and I was here to photograph the deer.
So after grabbing a couple of shots of Swans and Geese I headed in the direction of the bellowing. As things weren’t in full swing there wasn’t too much to go after, but as a stag emerged from the mist behind the pond myself and 2 or 3 other photographers all descended on it, which sent it packing in the direction of away. This wasn’t going to be easy.
The shot I’d had in my mind of a Stag emerging from the mist, bathed in the rich, golden first light had by this time, along with the mist, evaporated. Undeterred I solderied on hoping to catch something that might compensate. I’d failed last year to get a single decent shot of a fallow deer so it was quite nice to get the shot below.
By now the best of the light was gone and I headed home. I actually felt a little disappointed on the way home, but reviewing the shots I actually think the morning was quite a success.
There was, of course, still that niggle that I hadn’t got what I was after, so I returned the following weekend. The forecast for the Sunday was for a clear start clouding over soon after, so there was a small window of opportunity, and despite a tiring Saturday wandering around Peppa Pig World (not on my own I might point out) I knew I had to give it a go.
The sunrise was beautiful, and although there was absolutely no mist to speak of there was at least going to be some sun. I met a young photographer by the name of Yusuf Akhtar, and together we headed down the hill and turned right toward the clearing to the right of the pond. A large stag with an impressive bellow was in full view. As we tried to get in front of it it continued onward and it felt for a while as if it was going to be fruitless. Eventually however, he came to rest amongst a small group of younger Stags. It must have been the local Stag hangout. I was then able to get the Stag in front of me with the fast rising Sun behind, and he duly obliged with a few more impressive bellows.
Bingo! It was quite an adrenaline rush knowing I had the image in my head playing out before me, so I was very relieved to find I’d got it, and got it sharp. The first of the two images in particular has been very successful. Both made Flickr Explore, and then the first was featured in the Flickr Blog, which saw it’s hits go through the roof. It’s currently had over 4,000 views, by far my most successful image to date.
I must confess that when I suggested North Wales as a possible holiday destination it wasn’t entirely with the kids’ sole interests at heart. Clare, long since used to my not so hidden agenda, and with a certain sense of resignation, duly obliged and booked a week in a log cabin in Bronaber, on the southern tip of Snowdonia National Park. I’d been to this part of the world before (see here), but I was keen this time to see some of the fantastic wildlife on offer too. Here are some of the photographic highlights. I could bore you with tales of our trips to the beach but I’m not sure you want to hear it.
Glaslyn Osprey Project
Inspired by Iolo Williams Wild Wales series I was keen to see the Ospreys, so first on the agenda was a trip to the Glaslyn Osprey Project. Although we did get to see them through a very powerful scope, there wasn’t really the opportunity to photograph them up close. Talking to one of the volunteers there, they may well lose their funding next year, so I’d urge anyone to pay them a visit and register your support.
Perhaps the most striking feature of this lake is the whacking great nuclear power station positioned down one end. Thankfully it’s a very big lake and so from the south end you can’t see it at all. I ventured out the first evening when the conditions looked promising, and as it was a mile from our cabin it didn’t take long to get there. It was still a bit of a panic getting set up in time though but I managed to get it in the bag just before the sun disappeared behind the hill.
I then returned a couple of nights later and pointed the camera in the opposite direction. The tree and stone wall were too good to ignore and the great light didn’t hurt either. I then headed out into the mountains and found the view below in time for sunset.
No holiday is complete for me without a boat trip, and so with the promise of puffins and seals we headed to Beaumaris in Anglesey to hop aboard the Puffin Island cruise. Being August however, all the puffins had gone but there were at least a few seals on show, not to mention quite a few cormorant, and I even spotted a couple of sandwich tern. Beaumaris itself is very pretty and well worth a visit, definitely worth the journey.
The Red Kites of Ceredigion
Nine miles east of Aberystwyth on the A44, in the bottom of a beautiful valley, sits the Bwlch Nant yr Arian Visitor Centre. Every day, at 3pm, they feed the Red Kites. I’d long been fascinated by these beautiful birds, and although I’d dragged the family off the beach and made them sit in a hot, sweaty car for almost 2 panic stricken hours behind a tractor that wouldn’t go over 30 on a road that allowed for no overtaking, I only felt a slight twinge of guilt. We just made it just in time and I rushed down the hill to a beautiful lake where on the opposite bank they were laying out the food. Around 100 or so kites were circling up above, and then one by one began swooping down to pick up the meat. It was absolutely awesome, a real spectacle, and one I won’t forget for a while. It took a while to get in the groove, it was sod’s law that despite clear skies all day, the moment I got the camera out the clouds came in. I had to resort to ISO 800 to freeze the action, not ideal, but you can at least sort out the noise later, but with blurred, noise free shots, you’re kind of left with nothing.
I have to say I can’t speak highly enough of this visitor centre. Aside from a very reasonable £1.50 for parking it’s free to get in, it’s an absolutely stunning setting and there’s even an adventure playground for the kids while you disappear off. On top of that they have a large feeder up by the cafe where you’ll see a number of species including chaffinch, greenfinch, siskin, coal tits, nuthatch and even redpoll.
A great end to a great week, it certainly won’t be too long before I return here again.