Robin Stanbridge Photography | Blog

Welcome to my Wildlife Photography Blog
 

Written from Dartmoor National Park, Devon in England. It includes Wildlife Photography Hints and Tips, Exploits of My Nature Photography, My Wildlife Sightings and what's happening on my own Devon Nature Reserve.
 

What Life throws at you, I'll fix it in Post Processing and Getting it right in Camera

June 11, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

First of all I must apologise to my regular readers of my blog. I have not posted a blog since March due to several events that life has thrown at me. One affected me, one my wife but the main one is that my little dog Murphy lost the use of his back legs whilst he was out for a walk. He ran to catch a ball when he suddenly stopped and started yelping. I took him to a vet straight away where they kept him in overnight. The next day I had to take him to a vet in Bristol where they carried out an MRI scan. The result showed that he had burst a disc in his spine and the fluid shot out and hit his spinal cord. This bruising and swelling of the spinal cord caused him to lose all feeling from the waist down. He stayed with these vets for a few days and then he was released back in our care. They informed us that Murphy had a 70% chance of walking again but had to rest and not jump about! (Have to tried to keep a terrier still!) Since then my wife and I have given him physiotherapy several times a day. He seems to make a slight improvement every day but it is going to be a long process. My wife and I take him for very short walks on the moor three times a day to keep his mind active and there is good movement in his legs. He is just about controlling his toilet functions and now, four weeks later, he has started wagging his tail. At the moment his right leg is the stronger one and is working well. His left leg is a few weeks behind. I can only describe is as “whilst his front legs walk his back legs ice skate”. We have now started taking him to a hydrotherapy pool that contains a treadmill. The water holds his weight whilst a lady moves his back legs along the treadmill. Whilst he is doing this he is getting fed slices of sausages which he enjoys!

MurphyMurphyMurphy

Digital photography has brought to the photography table a lot of plus points including: - Histograms, viewing your image as soon as you have taken it, no expensive processing, able to take hundreds of images rather than 36 at a time etc. But it has also brought with it a downside. Rather than spending time taking images you now have to spend a lot of time sat on your computer post processing your images.

I know you might have spent a lot of money on the latest piece of post-processing software and want to do lots of things with it. But when taking a photograph you must not think "I'll just fix it in post processing". If you do then you're not the only one and a lot of people do. After all, post-processing, has given us some really wonderful tools to work with and adjust or change our images to suit our mood or creativity. We can clean up quite a bit of noise albeit to the detriment of losing fine detail. We can fix a certain amount of underexposure and overexposure; just remember that if we really blow the highlights then we cannot bring back the detail. We can adjust white balance, add a colour cast, add an ND grad filter etc. In a sense software producers have made things too easy for us. So why is it a big deal to think “I’ll just fix it in post processing”? Well for some things it’s not. Adjusting a little bit of this or a little bit of that is pretty easy. But there are lots of reasons why it is bad practice to just let your post-processing act as your personal failsafe. The main reason is TIME, time is costly not just for photography but for everything you do. Would you rather be sat there on your computer or be out in the field taking images. For a wildlife photographer it is better being out there in the field because being sat indoors means missed photo opportunities. Likewise if you were a wedding photographer and you underexposed every single photo, in other words the brides dress is grey instead of white because you did not use the histogram, then you can't give the bride and groom any of those photos until after you have corrected them. That means a long time sitting in front of your computer, tweaking and adjusting every single photo, before you can finally save them and give them to them. If you had a lot of weddings to attend then the “post-"Getting your images right in camera", "camera's sensor", "colour tempreture", "color tempreture", processing time” would set you back and you might end up losing business.

Even though your new digital camera is a great piece of equipment is doesn’t always get it right. Post-processing isn’t a new thing. It’s just that photographers used to do it in a darkroom, and today they do it on a computer. I call it a downside but some people enjoy this part of the photography world but I personally find it a chore. If we were all the same the world would be a boring place. For those that think like me I reduce the time spent at my computer by doing a few things.

Getting your images right in the camera

Getting your images right in the camera is a combination of several things including your subject, your creativity and understanding the workings and settings of your camera.  As you examine your subject and the conditions of the scene you should consider what you want your image to look like. You should ask yourself what story you want your image to tell and also what emotion you want it to evoke.

 

The Subject

This starts with actually looking, and seeing what is going on all around you and not just through your viewfinder. Look and visualize the possibilities of images you would like to take. You could do this at your given location even if you haven’t got your camera with you. This is part of what I call reconnoitring the area. By taking time to looking around you might see something that interests or inspires you. It might arouse some emotion within you which compels you take a photograph of it. I know you might have gone to great lengths to get into the right position at the right location at the right time and you might only be there once so you want to get it right. It is always worth getting in position early to give yourself time to look around. You should already have some ideas about what you want to do with your photograph which should include how you want capture it, how you want to treat it in post-processing and where you want to show it. These considerations will improve how you approach taking photographs.

 

The Light

Light is the most critical component of an image. The camera’s sensor does not know the subject you are photographing is a bird or a fox, all it captures is the light. Knowing how the sensor works will impact on your photography by learning how to use it creatively. There are many light sources and each has a different characteristic (or colour temperature), which affects photographs. Natural light has many characteristics depending on the time of day. It can be warm around the golden hours at sunrise and sunset. It can be direct and provide hard edged shadows, such as at midday. You may be in the shade or shooting into the shade. Alternatively it may be diffused and softer such as when there is an overcast sky, haze, or even fog. Each of these conditions provides you with different shooting opportunities.

There are also many sources of artificial light both indoor and outdoor including incandescent, tungsten, halogen, fluorescent and LED  which add a range of colour casts to photographs.

The quality, intensity and brightness of the light hitting the sensor will influence your choice of shutter speed and ISO settings. The direction from which the light is coming from will determine whether your subject is lit from the front, side, back or is in the shade.

This leads to the exposure of the image. A good or “normal” exposure is one which has captured a well distributed range of light and is not over or under exposed. This is where histograms come in. This, in my mind, is the best thing about digital photography because you can check the exposure of your image straight after taking it, trust me it is well worth the few seconds it takes. If it is wrong then you can adjust the settings and take the image again.

Light will influence your composition of the image. Composition means how you build your image, what is included or excluded, and starts with understanding the subject, what the image consists of, how shapes within the image are related to each other, how the spaces are filled, or not, and the whole thing must have a kind of harmony.

During the framing of your subject through your camera’s viewfinder there are several things to think about which aids composition. How your photograph is organized, how the space is used, how the elements are to be linked, and how pleasing this is to you.

Think also about the composition rules (for more information on some composition rules, click on these links http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/3/ramblings-and-photographic-composition-for-a-wildlife-photographer-part-1 http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/3/photographic-composition-part-2 http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/3/photographic-composition-part-3 http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/4/photographic-composition-part-4 ), whether the image is better suited to a vertical or horizontal orientation, placement of the subject or subjects, use of space or negative space, the weight and size of the subject to create balance, the interaction between the foreground, middle ground and background helps create interest and all help guide the viewer’s eye through the image. Filling the frame to exclude unnecessary or distracting subjects or include more of the scene on each of the four sides of the frame to avoid cutting off any details on the edges. Photograph your image from different angles, such as above or below a subject, can create a unique point of view.

 

Knowing how a digital camera works

Knowing how your digital camera works and what happens when you change your settings means that you could set your camera up before you actually need to use it. Then when you get out there you might only have to adjust the settings a little bit due to weather conditions. The settings you choose can be used to impact the appearance of your photographs.

The three main camera settings, Aperture (f/stop), Shutter Speed and ISO will determine your exposure and there are numerous creative choices you can make with these settings. As stated above an exposure is best evaluated by using the camera’s histogram right after you have taken the image.

Using aperture as a creative choice means that you can have a great background bokeh with the subject sharp using a setting of f2.8 or f4. Then again you can have everything in focus using an aperture of f16 or f22. It is up to you and what image you want to produce.

Using shutter speed as a creative choice means that you can have the subject and background frozen with a high shutter speed or you can blur some of it using a slower shutter speed.

ISO controls the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light. A high ISO means that you can select a high shutter speed with a large aperture e.g. f4, or you can use a low shutter speed with a small aperture e.g.f16. Remember the higher the ISO then the more noise is introduced in your image.

 

By me doing all the above means that I only spend a few minutes post processing my image. All I do in post processing is usually: - crop, dodge and burn, de-noise and then sharpen.

 

Conclusion

When you have confidence in yourself and a good working knowledge of things like lighting, composition, understanding the workings and settings of your camera, you’re going to end up taking better pictures. And though you can crop and tweak the levels and fix the white balance afterwards, what you can’t do is adjust the position of the sun or light, change your camera angle or spot that perfect moment. Having confidence in your gear and yourself isn’t just something that will help you achieve technically perfect images; it will also help you to create fundamentally better images. And I don’t care which post processing software you have, you can’t do any of that in post-processing.

 

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Cairngorms Wildlife, Snow, Campervans, new Canon lens and More Snow

March 03, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

I was on leave for the second week of February 2018 but I didn’t know quite what to do. The only thing I did know was that I was going away from the South West of England. Last year was not very good for my wife and I mainly due to two family members dying of cancer. It is a horrible disease and even though you know they are going to pass away it still hurts a lot when they go and we miss them a lot. This, along with the weather (it has been raining on every day I have had time to go out with my camera since August) and work, has put a stop to my photography. Usually I take in the region of about 12,000 images a year before I sort them out to about 2,000. Last year I only took just over 6,000 images, I hope I have got some good ones. As you know I intend to retire later this year and my wife and I are thinking of getting a campervan. As we have never used one, we did not know if it was our kind of thing. Therefore we decided to hire one out for a week. Our destination would be Scotland and we thought that if we can put up with living in a campervan in the harsh conditions that the Cairngorms can throw at us then we can put up with anything. I picked the Cairngorms in Scotland because I wanted snow, not the skimmed stuff that we have down here, snows one day and it’s gone the next, I wanted the full fat stuff that stays around for days. My aim of the holiday was to get my mojo back, start taking images again and photograph Crested tits and Red Squirrels. I had images in mind, which is a great way to be creative, and I hoped that these images in my mine would turn into reality. Like I say it is a great way to be creative with your wildlife photography. Think of an image or images that you would like to take of some wildlife and keep it locked in your mind until the said wildlife appears in your lens, then try to capture your unique image. There are lots of ways to think of an image but a good way is to examine other people’s wildlife images and try and combine two, three or more images into your one.

We went to O’connors Campers based at Okehampton to hire a VW California called “Blackberry”, don’t ask! We were dealt with by Zoe, a very pleasant lady who answered all my questions. We picked “Blackberry” because we wanted an automatic with cruise control. It also had a quiet heater that we could leave on overnight “IF” it was cold. On the day we picked up the campervan early because nobody had hired it the week before, I wonder why, and took it home to pack. As we did not know how cold it was going to be so we packed four sleeping bags and four blankets. At 12:00hrs we started on our journey. I had planned our journey so that about half way, Lancaster, we would have a stopover that way we did not have to rush up there. I set the cruise control to just over 60mph and left Dartmoor and the rain, I hoped, behind. As per usual the first part of the journey, which should have taken two hours, took over four but I had taken this into account and was not bothered. It rained for the whole journey up to Lancaster and we arrived there at about 21:00hrs enough time to arrange the bed for us and the bed for Murphy, well you didn’t think we would leave him behind did you? Our bed was is a seat during the day and then you pull it out to make the bed. There is another in the roof, when the roof is up, but we did not use it. I put the heater on but switched it off after about 20 minutes as it was too hot, even though it was on its lowest setting. In fact we hardly used the heater apart from when the roof was raised during the day, as the sides are cloth, and 20 minutes first thing in the morning. After a reasonable night’s sleep and a good breakfast we continued on our way. The weather was still raining but with another 300 miles to go we were hoping it would turn to snow. The journey to the Cairngorms was eventful as just after we passed Glasgow the rain did turn to snow. Just after Perth the snow that was falling made it very difficult to see and the road conditions reduced our speed to about 30 mph but we ploughed on or should that be “snow ploughed on”! We arrived in Grant town on Spey late afternoon all set for a photographic session in the morning the next day, if the snow let up. After another reasonable nights sleep I looked out of the window to see a cloudless sky, perfect. I drove to my first location to try for some Crested tits. Within a few minutes they arrived at my branch and away went my camera shutter. Cole tits, a Treecreeper, Chaffinches, Great tits, a Greater Spotted Woodpecker and a Wren also put in appearances and just had to be photographed, my mojo was back.

Crested TitCrested Tit

The next day, with similar weather, I stayed photographing the Crested tits hoping that a Red Squirrel would make an appearance. Throughout the morning the same birds as the previous day appeared but no Red Squirrel. In the afternoon we decided to go to an area we had seen Red Deer last year. When we arrived we saw 2 Kestrels and several Red Deer. The Kestrels were too far into the valley for me to photograph and the Red Deer were on too steep a slope for me to climb with my camera gear so we just watch them through our binoculars. At the end of the valley we parked up and took Murphy for a walk. During this walk Murphy played in the deep snow hunting for mice under the snow next to each tuft of grass and we looked for Mountain Hares. Looking for something white in a white background is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In the very strong wind I looked high and I looked low but all I could find was Donalds troosers! (Scottish people will know what I am talking about, check this link if you don’t https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yw0bLHTOb0 ) but no Mountain Hares. Having said that we had been looking at quite a large area and not seen a thing. We walked another ten spaces and all of a sudden we spotted a couple and then spotted three more. The sun seemed to pick them out of the snow and showed them to be a brighter white. As the sun was setting I decided that I would return tomorrow to try and photograph them.  

The following day we woke up to heavy snow falling from the sky. We stayed in the campervan for a couple of hours before deciding to go to the area that we saw the Mountain Hares. On the way there the snow stopped and the sun started to shine. We had a few slides in the slush with the campervan on the way but I just took it steady. When we got there my wife said that she would take Murphy for a walk while I went off with my camera. I walked to the same place as yesterday and spotted one straight away. I edged closer trying to keep down wind of it which was hard work as the wind, which was still very strong, was constantly changing directions. I don’t know much about Mountain Hares but I do know that if they are frightened they tend to run uphill. Keeping this in mind I edged closer to the Hare coming in from the side so that if it ran uphill I would try and get a running shot. At about 40 metres from the Hare the wind changed direction, it caught my scent, and it was off running uphill. I panned and took a few shots.

At the top of the ridge it stopped to have a final look at me before it disappeared over the top and out of my sight so I began to look for another. It did not take me long to find another which was sunk into the snow. For the next couple of hours I edged closer taking a few shots each time I planted my tripod. When I was about 10 metres from it I stopped as I was getting too close for my liking. Also I did not want to scare it away as it did look very comfortable in its snow hole. I stayed with this hare for another couple of hours and learnt another thing – they don’t do a lot! Every 15-20 minutes it would yawn, stretch or clean it paws but other than that it would just sit there. In wildlife photography it is bad enough to wait for your subject to arrive but when the subject is in front of you, then you still have to wait until it does something before you press the shutter release. This wait seemed to take an eternity mainly because you have to be ready for the action and it was absolutely freezing. My body and feet were fine but my hands were shutting down. After another hour the sun had dipped below the mountain so the light had gone and I packed up. In reality when the sun dipped below the mountain the wind got stronger and the temperature got even lower. On my walk back I was looking forward to switching on the heater in the campervan.

Mountain HareMountain Hare

This night we decided to eat out so we went to Aviemore to seek out a restaurant. I fancied pasta so we looked for an Italian restaurant that would allow Murphy in with us. We found one, La Taverna Restaurant, Pizzeria and Bar, but they did not allow dogs into the restaurant. They did takeaways so we each bought a meal. We then sat in the car park, in our warm campervan eating it looking out at the lights of the mountain ski resort, life just does not get any better than this!

The next day we were on the way back to Lancaster and the snow was falling again. Due to the amount of snow falling the journey to Perth was slow going as the long traffic cue snaked along behind the snow plough. This was great for my wife in the passenger seat because she was admiring the large amount of Red Deer on the side of the road, the A9. She stopped counting when she reached 300, all of them stags, and that was only on the left hand side. When you see that amount of deer I can understand that some people say they should be culled. If there were less deer then Scotland would have a lot more trees. Maybe we should bring back the Wolf in some areas, what do you think? Just the other side of Perth the snow was thinning out and in fact by the time we got to Glasgow it had turned to rain. This rain continued until we reached Lancaster. We parked up and slept just outside Lancaster again and made an early start for Dartmoor the next day.

If you have never been to Scotland for wildlife photography you are really missing out. The sad thing is that a lot of people are killing a lot of wildlife just to “protect” their game birds. Please don’t get me wrong this is not just happening in Scotland but all over England and Wales as well. I am sure there is more money to be made by tourism, to see the wildlife, then by shooting game birds.

Overall the holiday in a campervan was great. It was great parking and being near to where I was going to do my photography that day rather than having to wait to eat breakfast at a hotel or B&B at 7:30hrs then drive to the area and have to pack up early to get back for dinner. This loss of time would have curtailed my photography but with the campervan I had freedom of choice of when to start and when to finish. I will definitely purchase one when I retire. The only thing I will change is the layout inside the van. “Blackberry” had what they call a “rock and roll bed”. This bed was not wide enough for us as I woke up a lot of the time during the night with my nose touching the side of the van which 1, made it cold and 2, very claustrophobic. Other than that it was all plus points. One way of getting the van you want is by buying an ordinary panel van and getting the inside custom built. That way you can build it how you want it and not how the manufacture wants it.

Weather wise we seem to have brought the sun back to Dartmoor from Scotland which is a good thing as it can start drying up the moor ready for Spring.

As my regular readers of this blog will know that, at the beginning of each year, I pick a few species of wildlife that I try and concentrate my photography on. It does not always work because wildlife does its own thing but I like having goals to aim for. Crested tits were one of the species for this year. Two others have been nipped in the bud before I even started Dippers and Wrens. Last year I located a good, different, Dipper nest site, in a hollowed out branch of a tree, which I was going to return this year to photograph. I took several images last year but none of them, for one reason or another, turned out to my liking. I said I “was” going to return this year but Dartmoor National Park authorities have put paid to that. I used to park in a car park about half a mile away from the nest site which was great. Now the DNP authorities have closed it and put double yellow lines all down the road for some unknown reason and the nearest car park now is over 5 miles away! There is no path over the moor to my nest site so I would have to walk along a narrow winding road which is very steep downhill going and uphill coming back with all my camera equipment. The cars go very fast along this stretch so I will not be chancing it. One other downside of the DNP doing this is that there is no close car park for visitors to visit one of Devon Wildlife Trust nature reserves. The other wildlife subject I chose was a Wren. The particular Wren I was after nested in the stone wall a few metres from our gate to our nature reserve. I located the nest last year and I was going to concentrate on getting some good close ups of this Wren with food in its beak. But somebody in a vehicle must have hit is as it was flying across the road because I found its little body lying in the road not far from the nest. With luck another Wren will take its place but it might not be this year. My other wildlife species for this year are Cuckoo, Redstart, Cirl Bunting and Dartford Warbler. I know I got some good images of Redstarts last year but this just wetted my appetite and I want more. If I just get a good image of one of the other three, I will be happy and if I get more than one then I will be over the moon.

On Friday 16th February, the day after we got back home, I took Murphy for a walk along the lane which passes our nature reserve. As I reached our boundary I looked over the stone wall to see what was about and there standing about 30 metres away were 2 Roe Deer. They were happily munching the grass ignorant of the fact that I was quietly watching them. After about 5 minutes I quietly and slowly walked off, or so I thought. As soon as I started moving their heads popped up and they started watching me. I carried moving away and when I was some distance away from them they carried on eating. Being that close to Roe Deer without a camera finally made up my mind and when I got home I went on to the internet and ordered a “walk around” lens. I plumped for the new Canon 100-400mm zoom lens as I have been informed by several people that it is a really good lens. When it arrives I will pair it up with my Canon EOS 1D mk VI. The reason for this is that it is lighter than my Canon EOS 1DX and it has a 3x crop factor. The downside is that I cannot push the ISO up as high as I can with the 1DX which therefore does not give me high shutter speeds. With the 1D mk VI I will only set the ISO up to 800 whereas with the 1DX I will go a lot higher.

The next weekend I was out walking Murphy with my camera and the new lens which arrived during the week. I was itching to use it but do you think I could find any wildlife? The sun was shining but the birds were too far away from me to get a decent image but I enjoyed walking around with it as it was not too heavy. Now all I need is a bit of luck and my luck will improve as I will be out with my camera a lot more.,

OK, I’ll put my hands up, me wishing for some snow similar to the conditions in Scotland has well and truly bitten me in the backside. It seems that the county of Devon has come to a standstill due to the amount of white stuff that has fallen. I am stuck at home today, Friday 2nd March because there are large snow drifts outside our doors and just outside our drive gates. Murphy can only go for a walk in our field which he enjoys and then returns home to lie in front of the woodburner. The best thing about a complete blanket of snow is that my garden looks as good as next doors! All I want now is the cold but sunny days, not much to ask! I have been up in the loft to get my suit and I’ve been in the garage to get my skis, now all I need is for somebody to carry me up to the top of the hill, any volunteers?

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Tawny & Barn Owls on Dartmoor in Devon, A friend for our Collared Dove, Tweeting comments & the PAGB

February 03, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

In life it is funny that you never see something, or don’t acknowledge it, but then all of a sudden you see lots of them. This doesn’t just relate to wildlife but to everything. For instance when you want to buy a different car, you pick the model you want and then you see lots of that particular model every time you are on the road. Whether it is because it is on your mind and you notice them or something else at play I don’t know. Recently I have been seeing lots of owls; on my way to and from work, on my way to and from taking Murphy for a walk or just driving around the wonderful county of Devon. Tawny owls are the one's I have seen the most and it is lovely seeing them. But recently, on two occasions, I have seen a Barn owl the first was flying through some trees in front of my car and the second time was perched on a signpost very close to where I live. This viewing would have made a lovely photograph, especially if I had taken the image just as it took flight, except that it was 4:30am and apart from it being dark it was raining (What a surprise!). As I watched the owl, it took off, flew up hill and then turned left over the hedge and into some fields. This poo pooed the idea that Barn owls don’t fly, or hunt, whilst it’s raining. This was such a thrill for me as I think they are such superb birds and I cannot get enough of them. After the viewing I carried on my way to work remembering a viewing I had a few years ago in Cambridgeshire. I was informed that there was a rare “brown breasted” or “dark coloured” Barn owl seen at a reserve not far from where I used to live. So I packed my camera equipment into my car and made my way to the area. I wanted to get there a couple of hours before dusk so that I could set up my camera without rushing and then forgetting to do something which would entail me not getting the image I wanted. I was dressed in my camouflaged clothing rather than taken a hide so that I could be more mobile. When I arrived I drove / walked the area to set up my equipment in a spot that would give me several options. The setting sun was to my back as was a reed bed. The reed bed continued to my left ending with open fields. There were open fields to the right and to the front and at the end of the field to the front was a bit of woodland. Surrounding each of the open fields were large diches filled with grasses and weeds. They were so large that if I fell in one I would not be able to look over the top and I’m six foot, 182cm, tall. There were several wire fences all around which would be hard to omit from any image but that is wildlife photography, you cannot always get perfect areas for wildlife, they pick the area and you have got to do your best to rid your image of “eyesores”. This “ridding” process is done before you take an image, so think before you press the shutter release, and not afterwards in Photoshop! I waited until the light had gone and then packed up. I returned several times that week all to no avail. The following week was also a no show by the Barn owl. Then on the Friday of the third week I saw it. It was a “dot” on my left but there was no deigning it was a Barn owl with its familiar slow wing beat. It was flying from the open fields making its way straight for me. As soon as it got onto the reserve it flew down into one of the ditches and started hunting along them. I was standing a couple of metres away from a ditch and it flew along it looking down for food. I was so mesmerised by the encounter that I completely forgot to take any images. Once it flew by I let out my breadth which I did not realise I had been holding. I watched it fly further along the ditch and then started to return in my direction. I gathered myself and started taking images. It stayed on the reserve for a while but the light had gone and it was no good taking images. This would be the case for the next few days. It would fly in from the same direction, I would take images for about twenty minutes and then I would just watch it until it got too dark to see. After about two weeks of viewing it, it never returned. I treasure that encounter but I always wonder what happened to it.

Brown Breasted Barn OwlBrown Breasted Barn Owl

The Tawny owls seem to be everywhere and I’ve seen them even when walking Murphy. Bridget, my wife, was “dived bombed”, which actually hit her head, by one in our wood last year. Although we used to see and hear them nearly every day at our last house in Bedfordshire they seem to appear bigger down in Devon. I have had several encounters with them flying over the bonnet of my car and their wingspan seemed to cover the windscreen. According to the RSPB their wingspan is between 94cm and 104cm so maybe in Bedfordshire they were only juveniles I saw. About twenty years ago, when I lived in Hampshire, I was driving up a steep hill on my way to work when a Tawny owl flew out of a tree, downwards, and hit the side of my car. I immediately stopped, got out and walked over to where it lay. It was on its back stretching its neck up looking at me. I picked it up, examined it, put it in a box I had in my boot and then took it to the Weyhill hawk conservancy ( https://www.hawk-conservancy.org/ ), which is located just outside Andover. I dropped it off there and was informed that they would look after it for a couple of weeks and then, if everything was alright, I could return to take it and let it go in the area I “bumped" into it. I kept my fingers crossed and received a phone call later that day informing me that it was OK except it was a bit light in weight. Over the next two weeks they kept an eye on it and fed it well. I went and collected it and it appeared to be a bit livelier scratching around in the box. I took it to a wood which was situated at the top of the hill of our meeting place. I walked to a track within the wood, put the box on the floor and with the open end away from me I opened the box. For a few seconds nothing happened then I heard some scraping and it flew out. It flew along the track and then doubled back and settled in a tree a few metres away. It stayed there viewing its surroundings for a few minutes before flying off over my head and went deeper into the wood. For the next couple of weeks I went back to the wood to see if I could see it again but to no avail. This Tawny owl encounter made me feel good because I saved a beautiful bird and I got a very close encounter.

The image below was taken using a captive bird. If you look close enough you can see the Jessie's.

Tawny owlTawny owlTawny owl

 A bit of really good news is that our Collared Dove has got a partner at last. If you remember a few months ago a Sparrowhawk swooped down, attacked, and killed one of the Collared Doves that used to “live” in our garden. The other Collared Dove did look a bit sad sat on the telephone wire all by itself. But it is sad no longer as it has a partner that follows it around our garden and cuddles up to it on the telephone wire. I hope they “get together” and have some little ones.

On Sunday 14th January I went for a walk, with Murphy, along the leat. I spotted the Dipper on its usual rock. This rock has been underwater for the last few weeks due to the amount of rain we have had. It was nice to see and reminded me that after the next couple of weeks I will be down here regularly trying to take images of it. One image I am after is a decent flight shot. This is going to be hard to achieve to get a high enough shutter speed due to the lack of light in the area but I will try. Other shots I am after are the adults feeding a juvenile. I was close to getting this type of shot last year but the juvenile fledged the nest when I was at work and when I returned to the area it had moved too far down river into a privately owned area.

Whilst walking along the leat Murphy suddenly stood still and started staring at something. That something turned out to be three Roe deer which were about forty metres away from me. The leat is quite high up in that area and I was looking down on these Roe deer. I was surprised by the number because I only usually see one on its own most of the year or two together during the rut. Although they knew we were there they did not seem too bothered and just kept mooching around. They only moved off in the opposite direction when I called Murphy to carry on with our walk.

On the way back home I spotted a male Sparrowhawk that was hunting in the same manner as a female Sparrowhawk my wife and I had seen back in September http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2017/10/a-sixth-sense-elephant-hawk-moth-david-clapp-anna-curnow-wildlife-photography-clothing . This one was flying very fast just above the verges next to the bottom of the stone walls either side of the road. This, I would think, is a very good hunting method if you wanted to catch small birds. Both my wife and I drive very slowly through these lanes because there are always birds; Robins, Dunnocks, Sparrows, Chaffinches, Wrens, Blackbirds, Thrushes, Bullfinches etc. mooching around looking for food on these verges. The Sparrowhawk is trying to scare one of these birds to fly off so it would catch it or sneak up on it to pounce on it. Either way it would catch itself a meal. I do not know if this male is with the female we saw a couple of months ago, either its mate or a juvenile,  but it’s in the same area and it hunts the same way so logic says it is.

Yesterday when I drove out of my drive and before I got to the first corner I spotted the Barn owl perched on top of the hedge just down the road from our house. According to the RSPB Barn owls are between 33cm and 39cm long but this bird was no bigger than about 20-25cm so I presume it might be a juvenile. I would love to know where this bird is living. I know there is a Tawny owl living in the barn just up the road but I can’t imagine a Barn owl would live in the same barn so it must live in one of the other numerous barns surrounding the area. It must be close because I am seeing this Barn owl every few days on my way to work now. IF the sun ever appears I will walk the fields, as I have permission from the farmer, looking for it.

This week Charlie Hamilton James, a great wildlife photographer and wildlife film maker, Tweeted a comment which I don’t agree with. The Tweet stated “I’ve never understood the landscaper photographers obsession with tripods. Shooting wide angle lenses usually set to infinity with the ability to shoot decent ISO these days kind of rules them out for most things.” I totally agree that carrying a tripod, either for wildlife or landscape photography, is an absolute pain because it is heavy. Also if you want to change positions quickly they can get caught up with the vegetation. I especially find tripods a nightmare with macro photography. I cannot tell you how many times I have hit, with a tripod leg, the plant that had the subject on it, whilst trying to get the right composition. So there are downsides with a tripod but, I think, they are outweighed by the upsides. The upsides are 1) You don’t have to hold your camera and lens all the time when you get to your favoured position. With landscape photography you set up the shot, get the composition you want and then wait for the right light. With wildlife photography you set up your camera and wait for the wildlife to appear. Also this stops a lot of movement which could scare the wildlife. 2) You can use lower shutter speeds, in other words long exposures to be much more creative with your image. 3) To stop camera shake when your finger presses the shutter release you can use a cable release instead. 4) You can use lower ISO’s in low light which will give you a less noisier image. I know that cameras nowadays are great for handling noise at higher ISO’s but there is still more noise at high ISO’s than low ISO’s. 5) You can use filters to lighten or darken certain areas of the image and keep it set until the right light appears. 6) You need a tripod for HDR landscapes. I know some images don’t look too good, in other words “real” but it a process that some photographers like doing, we are all different so let them do it. But the best thing about using a tripod, especially for landscape photographers, is 7) it slows you down and you can concentrate fully on the image you want to take. So with these in mind Charlie I think you are wrong but we are all entitled to our own opinions.

When I lived on the Bedfordshire / Cambridgeshire border I was a member of the St Neots and district camera club. It was a great camera club with the right ratio of speakers / competitions / practical evening’s and on top of that my wife and I made a lot of friends a few of which I still keep in touch with today. When we first went there we were greeted with a very friendly atmosphere which settled us down as we were very nervous due to it being quite a big club (about 90+ members). For the first few competitions we sat and watched other people’s work being judged. I made notes on what the judge said so that I would not make the same mistake on my photographs when I entered the competitions. In the first competition I entered, my images were absolutely slated by the judge but I took notes on what he said. I corrected the “errors” on some new images and entered these in the next competition. Once again these images were slated by the judge for different “errors”. On this occasion I started to get a bit miffed as the same sort of “errors” were being done by other photographer’s images and these were not being picked up by the judge. It was on this occasion I started to befriend a chap, Hugh Spence http://hughspence.me.uk/ , who would turn out to be a big influence on my photography. He was trying to calm me down because let’s face it nobody likes their work slated especially when others are not for similar errors. Read this for a good view on judges http://hughspence.me.uk/judging.html He was telling me that all judges were different and would pick on different errors. If the judge liked portraits then landscapes were out and if they liked landscapes then portraits were out. It does not mean that it is a bad image it’s just  that “THEY” don’t like it. I collected my images and went home cursing all judges (my view of judges has not changed only mellowed a bit). After the next competition I entered, more slating, Hugh spoke to me about my photography and started giving me tips. One of the biggest things I learnt at this club was that photography alone would not win things, in this digital world; you had to learn about post processing which I did by reading and spending hours on my computer “doing”. The next year, taking everything into account, I entered all the competitions and won the league 2 title which promoted me into league 1, the top league. It was about this time Hugh told me about the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (PAGB) http://www.thepagb.org.uk/ . The Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (PAGB) is a membership organisation that co-ordinates activities for photographic Clubs in England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland (including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man). It does this through 15 geographical Federations.

The PAGB has strong links with similar organisations. In the UK, it has cross-representation with the Royal Photographic Society. It liaises throughout the world via its membership of FIAP (The International Federation of Photographic Art).

The PAGB organises photographic events for its Federations and Clubs. It offers services such as Recorded Lectures and its own photographic Distinctions, known as Awards for Photographic Merit.

APM Awards

The Awards for Photographic Merit (APM) are open only to members of Clubs affiliated to the PAGB through their Federations and are at three levels

•Credit (CPAGB) – Blue badge and certificate

 Standard: Good Club Photography

•Distinction (DPAGB) – Red badge and certificate

 Standard: Open Exhibition Photography

•Master (MPAGB) – Yellow badge and certificate

 Standard: Highest Standard of UK Amateur Photography

The awards are held for life without any annual fee, unlike the Royal Photographic Society, and holders are entitled to use the designated letters after their name.

I liked the idea of getting an award as it gave you letters after your name and it shows to others that you are a bit more professional about your photography. In this world where people are not allowed to say "FAIL, BAD, RUBBISH" etc. so that you won't hurt somebody's feelings (a thing I do not understand), I wanted to prove to myself that my images were good and attaining an award would say this. (I will write a blog on giving feedback at a later date) At this time Hugh was going after the CPAGB which he attained.

During my first year in the top league my images were again knocked by several judges and I ended up mid table which I was pleased with. At this time it was Hugh that kept me going and he stated that I should enter for the CPAGB award. I went and viewed an awards competition just to give me an idea of what level of photography was required. That year I was out and about taking photographs a lot and as luck would have it, great for wildlife photography, I took several really good images. To enter for the CPAGB you need 10 good images and I actually had a few more than this so I entered the competition. Before I sent the images off to the PAGB I entered some of the images in the clubs competitions to see how they fared. As it happened I won the projected images league with 9’s and 10’s for the six competitions and I came third in the prints league. I was hoping that the judges would be kind, which they were, and I got my CPAGB with well over the 200 points mark. Two years later Hugh convinced me to enter for the DPAGB which was a big step up from the CPAGB. For this award you needed 15 images and I had to pick from 35 images I thought were good enough. Once again I used the clubs competitions to see if my images were any good and once again I won the projected images and came second in the prints. I also received top marks on some external club competitions so I was keeping my fingers crossed for the DPAGB. As the award got nearer I started getting doubts and once again it was Hugh that kept me going. On the day I got my DPAGB, just, but that’s all that mattered to me. You can see my DPAGB entries using this link http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/p210853256 . A lot of this award should go to the large amount of "nagging" I got from Hugh. If he had not kept on at me I would have given up as I did not think my images were good enough.

Recently Hugh has been after other awards AFIAP (Artiste) which he attained in 2016 and EFIAP (Excellence) which he got last year (WELL DONE). Both of which are distinctions related to the Fédération Internationale de l'Art Photographique https://www.fiap.net/distinctions.php  Attaining these awards takes a lot of time, money, effort and very good photography. Hugh is the ideal type of person to be at a camera club as he is very knowledgeable on the subject and he is willing to help other people with their photography. Not all camera clubs have a person like Hugh but if they do then being a member of that club is an enjoyable experience.

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Man Flu, Rain, No Shows But Still Got, or Made, a Bit of Luck by being Out and About

December 31, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

I hope you all had a great Christmas and will have a Happy New year.

Well November 2017 has been just been as poor for me, wildlife photography wise, as the last few months. I got up at 5am on Sunday 5th to get into a position I had previously chosen whilst it was still dark. I was after Redwings and Fieldfare, two birds I do not have a great deal of images of. Last year there were several hundred in the area I was going to but this year they have not turned up yet. I say not turned up yet, they have, but not in the same large numbers. On Saturday morning I visited the area and had seen seven Fieldfare and three Redwings. Mind you just one of each would suffice my photography needs. The weather forecast stated that it would be a dry sunny day with a few showers later in the afternoon so I decided to go to the area, sit in my pop up dome hide and see what turns up. Although the dome hide is a bit more cumbersome to carry, the hide and a chair, rather than my single chairhide which fits in a backpack, I prefer it because you can change positions or move about whilst in the hide and the hide does not move. With the single chairhide every time you move the whole hide moves and this movement does disturb the wildlife.

On my journey to the area I saw two Foxes. The first one stood on the other side of the road and watched me. I stopped my car, wound down the window and “spoke” to the Fox (I know, I’m mad!). It moved away and jumped up onto the stone wall at the side of the road. It then just laid on top of the wall, its tail dangling down road side of the wall, listening and watching me. It stayed there until I decided to drive off and then it jumped down behind the wall, what a lovely encounter. The second encounter was totally different. The Fox was crossing the road in front of me and appeared not to know which direction to go in. It “dillied” and “dallied” in the middle of the road with its tail swishing this way and that finally deciding to go back the way it had come. I arrived at the area at about 5:45am with a clear sky; the stars and moon were shining brightly. I changed into my gear, loaded up my equipment and started walking. The position I had chosen was about half a mile away across open moorland. Once this moorland was crossed, the land then descends into a valley which contains lots of trees with berries on, which the birds like, a stream and lots of bushes which is good for the hide to blend in. I arrived at my chosen location only to find four single person tents! I immediately made up my mind to move to a location further up the hill. As soon as I started the assent it started raining but the rain also contained hailstones. I huddled under a tree which did not give me much protection because it had no leaves on it. When it had stopped raining I carried on with my assent. I got to my second position, which was in the open, and started putting up my dome hide. It then started getting very windy and half way through it started raining again but this time there was no cover. I carried on with the task and found to my horror that I had forgot to pack the metal pegs that would have held the hide down. I tried to find some stones in amongst the heather but, as it was still dark, this was like searching for a needle in a hay stack. Then a strong gust of wind took my hide and snapped one of the two metal support poles. I decided then that I was just going to sit on the ground with the hide material draped over me – bad idea as the wind kept on trying to blow the hide into the valley. I then made up my mind that when it stopped raining I would pack up and go home, which I did - two hours wasted getting cold, wet and totally “fed up”. An hour after I had got home there was a blue sky, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. It stayed like that until lunch time so I decided to go out with my camera again but to an area that was closer to my address. This time I was just going to wear my waterproof camouflaged clothing and not bother with a hide. When I got there I noticed fifteen Fieldfare and eight Redwings in a couple of trees. I made my way slowly towards them and settled myself in a shadow under a tree to wait until they get closer. Just as I did this the sky darkened and it started to rain and hail. It came down so heavy that you could not see the tree I was pointing my camera at even though it was only a few metres away. This time I did not give up, I persevered with the conditions trying to force myself to have a bit of luck. After about fifteen minutes the rain finally did stop and the sun started shining again. The light at this time was really good but there were no birds in sight. Then two Redwings landed in the tree next to the one my camera was pointing at, it was next to it but slightly further away. I started edging closer to the second tree taking photos each time I stopped. I was not happy with the composition because the tree’s branches were blocking some of the bird. That’s one of the problems on Dartmoor, because of the weather, that we receive, the trees near the open moorland are stunted but have lots of small branches and are quite thick in the middle of the tree. Wildlife photographers usually wait until the bird is on one of the outer branches as this is better compositionally but “my” birds were sticking to the middle of the tree. As I was making my way closer a Robin decided to show up on the tree closest to me so I took some images of that. Below are images that I took and I’m sorry for the state of one of them but I just wanted to show my wife that I had seen a Redwing and I took an image of it!.

RedwingRedwingRedwing

RobinRobinRobin

The Redwings stayed for about half an hour but continued to feed in the middle of the tree before flying off. I was close enough, the wildlife was there, the light was good but the composition was not, never mind I will be back next weekend. A pre-requisite for real wildlife photography is perseverance. At times it really pushes you to the limit but as I have said the rewards, when you finally get some, are well worth the effort.

The following Friday I was back out to my first chosen location. The tents had gone so I set up my dome hide in my favoured position. Once it was up I settled in and waited for the light to come and the “action” to start. The weather was cold, clear but still windy. This time the wind was no problem as I was positioned in the bottom of the valley. The area I was facing contained two trees full of berries. They were quite thick in the middle but had a few branches on the edges which were very photogenic if the birds, Redwings and Fieldfare, perched on them. The light came after about an hour of waiting and it was superb but the trees contained no subject matter. Finally after about three hours one Redwing arrived and perched in the middle of the tree. This time I was not going to take any images until the bird was perched on one of the branches on the edge. The Redwing ate several red berries but stayed within the thick part of the tree. It stayed for about twenty minutes before flying off. During this time I could hear several Fieldfare in the distance behind me. I stayed for about three hours after the bird had flown. During this time not one bird landed on the trees I was viewing so I packed up for the day. It did not deter me and I would be back on Sunday as Saturday’s weather was supposed to be really wet and windy. On my way back home I spoke to “him” upstairs and stated that I would not give up. I do have a lot of perseverance because I wanted an image of a Fieldfare and one of a Redwing. The image in my mind was of them eating the red berries with a blurred background. The berry would be in their beak or they had just thrown the berry in the air and they were just about to catch it like Waxwings do. On my way home I just passed a field that contained several Fieldfare last year so I stopped to view the area but as it was clear I continued with my drive home. Just over the hill from this field I noticed several Starlings feeding in a field so I decided to stop and take some images of them. Whilst photographing the Starlings about fifty Fieldfare and a few Redwings arrived and started feeding in the bushes not far from me. The light was coming from the side rather than frontal lighting that I wanted but beggars can’t be choosers and I was as happy as could be. Although most of the birds were sat in the middle of the bush and obscured with other branches there were one or two that were perching on the edges which were just what I wanted. I’ve said it before that you need perseverance and if you do have it then it brings you luck. The more often you are out and about with your camera the luckier you will be. Below are a couple of images I took.

FieldfareFieldfareFieldfare

RedwingRedwingRedwing

On Saturday 24th November I got up at about 7:30am. Yes I know it was a bit late for me but I had a late night last night because I went to the theatre with my wife and never got back home until about 11:30pm and therefore got into bed until gone 12am. Usually I’m in bed by 9:30pm at the latest. When I drew back the curtains the light was fantastic, everything had a pink tinge to it and I immediately thought SNOW! I looked across the valley to North Brentor and saw that the church, and the hill it was on, was white. I looked to the right and all the highest peaks I could see on Dartmoor were white. I looked out my other window on the opposite side of the room, behind my house, and Cox tor was white. Great I thought, I’ll change, get my camera and go out. I looked out again at North Brentor and noticed that the church had disappeared. When I say disappeared, it was still there, but a bank of “dark cloud” had hidden it. This “dark cloud” was moving across the valley towards us obscuring everything as it came closer. Within a few minutes the pink tinge had disappeared and down came the snow, hail and rain. It was so thick that you could not see the hedge across the road. It lasted for about ten minutes before it subsided, leaving hail stones and snow where it had passed. Behind this dark cloud was the good old grey day. I thought the photographers that had been up early will have got some great images of snow covered landscapes. The pink tinge reminded me of a certain wildlife photographer’s images I see on Facebook. The photographers name is Bethany Ogden ( https://www.facebook.com/bethany.ogdon?fref=ts ) and the light she captures in her photographs, especially her safari ones, is to die for. I have the pleasure of being a Facebook friend of hers so I can see her images every time she posts them. In this country the pink tinge usually indicates snow but in Africa, where Bethany goes, I presume it must be the sand, soil or dust in the air that is enhanced by the light and it turns pink. Whatever it is it makes the image superb and stand out for the norm. This is the same as Anna Curnow’s ( http://www.asc-photography.com/ ) images of Dartmoor and to me it proves that great light turns good images into great images.

Next year I am looking forward to retirement from my present job. My intention is to concentrate on my wildlife photography and to teach on more photography workshops, if people book them with me. With my retirement comes a small, and I mean very small, pot of cash and I wanted to spend some of it on a wildlife photography holiday. Years ago I saw a program on television which showed a wildlife photographer, with his camera and lens on his tripod standing in a river. They were photographing wild bears chasing and catching wild salmon only a few metres away. There was also a scene of two men sat on a tree trunk, which was horizontal in a river, eating their sandwiches whilst a wild bear was walking past, looking at them, only a metre or so away. These scenes have stayed in my mind ever since and they really appeal to me. I would love to attend a wildlife photography holiday in Alaska and be the photographer that is standing in the river with a wild bear rushing past, chasing wild salmon. My wife does not like the idea as she does not want to be attacked, or eaten, but this does not bother me as long as the bear is not shot because it eats me! I have been looking into this kind of holiday but there are a lot advertised on the internet and they are all different except for one thing – they are all expensive and I will only be able to afford to do it once. Most of them do not include the air fare to and from Alaska. Some of them state that you should book into a hotel just outside the airport a day or two before and a day or two after the holiday just in case of bad weather and this is not included in the price either. Most of them were for ten or seven days but when I delved a bit deeper some were only five days but cost the same as the seven! One five day workshop schedule stated that the first and last days were travelling days so you only got three actual photography days. I know there is a lot to pay for like the float plane to take you back and forth but only three days photography! Maybe the price has something to do with having 4 or 5 professionals showing you what to do! If you booked this workshop you are really limiting yourself weather and wildlife wise due to only being there three days. I know some of the seven day ones have five days of photography but they also include doing something photographic wise on the other two days rather than just travelling. Obviously as I have never been on one of these workshops I can only comment by reading the information on their websites. You normally get what you pay for but I would love to hear your experiences from anybody that has been on a wild bear in Alaska photography workshop or holiday. I have a Facebook friend, Lisa Langell ( https://www.facebook.com/lisalangell?fref=ts ) (http://www.langellphotography.com/  ), who runs wildlife photography holidays in America and I will be getting in touch with her to find out more about them and if they are the right one for me.

Because of the high cost of going to Alaska I have also been looking at going on a wildlife photography safari in Africa. Bethany Ogden (mentioned above) goes with Wild Eye ( http://www.wild-eye.co.za/ ) for her photography safari workshop, a company that appears to be quite good. Photography safaris in Africa appear to be a little bit cheaper so I might be able to afford to go twice. They are not my “dream” wildlife photography holiday but I would rather go to two separate safari locations in Africa than only one in Alaska. One of the things that bothers me is that, and I’m not boasting or bragging here, I don’t really need a “workshop” and all that a workshop entails. Some workshops include a Lightroom workflow presentation, a Landscape photography day and other “time fillers” which you are paying for and I don’t want. I don’t want to waste time and money, because you are paying for it, to be told what settings I should be using, what ISO I should be on, what auto focus setting I should set or what lens I should have on, I know that information. If you want that kind of workshop and information then great, go for it, I have no problem with that, but I don’t. All I want is a guide to put me into a location, not with hundreds of other cars with other photographers all taking the same image, where the wildlife is and then look after my welfare to stop me getting attacked or eaten. Therefore I might go down the route of just getting a good guide, rather than a workshop unless there are photography workshops that just do what I require. This is why I am starting to research this now, a year or eighteen months, before I want to go. It is no good rushing into this kind of thing because if you get it wrong then it will be a very costly mistake. As I have said earlier if you have been on a safari I would love to hear how you got on and what the workshop was like. I will expand the differences between a safari guide and a safari workshop in another blog.

Since writing all the above I have been struck down by man flu. Once I had got over it I had to go to work for a week in Hampshire before breaking up for a Christmas break. During this week I again caught another cold, sorry man flu, and I am just starting to get over it! Talk about hitting a man when he is down. Because of all this I have not been able to post this blog on my website and I am sorry for this. I have also not been out with my camera for the whole of December. 2017 has not been a very good year for me and photography. I normally take about 12,000 images a year and then edit them down to about 2,000. This year I have taken only 6,700 images and most of them are wedding and holiday images. I hope I have got some good wildlife ones and I just hope 2018 is a better year.

I got up early this morning, 28th December; the clock said 6:30am. It was still dark outside but the sky was clear. I could see that it was frosty so even though my nose was still running and head was still fuzzy, bloody colds, I was going to take Murphy out and enjoy the scenery, so I had breakfast and went out. The car was frozen solid so I decided to walk along the road and the bridle path to the moor. Once on the moor the scenery was stunning. All the bracken was edged with a white rim of frost. The sun was not up yet but the sky was blue, I love these kinds of mornings. I live half way up a hill which gives me a great view down into and across the valley. I stood on the moor viewing my surroundings letting Murphy mooch around and do his own thing. I could see some low lying mist in the valley slowly dissipating as the sun and heat started to rise. I could see a few signs of human life in the shape of smoke rising out of the tops of a few chimneys. A few houses and farms dotted around surrounded by small hedge lined fields which I love about Devon. In the distance I could see vehicles moving on the A386, is this road ever quiet? Across the valley is North Brentor Church standing on its own tor like a sentinel guarding the valley below. The only sound I could hear was water in the stream gurgling and whooshing its way down the hill. My eye caught movement deep in the hedge in front of me. It was a Wren, burring away, looking for its breakfast. We recently had a very bad day on Dartmoor, wind wise, and our climbing rose had been blown off the top of our lounge window. A lot of birds loved this bush which gave them warmth, food in the shape of insects and shelter. When I put it back up I found a dead Wren which had obviously been in it when it came down. A real shame because they are such lovely birds and work so hard at collecting food. As I have stated in other blogs their voice is so loud it hurts your ears if you are close to them when they are singing. I picked the bird up and studied it. There were no marks on it but I was surprised how long its bill was. Although a Wren is small, it weighs about 10g and is about 9cm long, it is not as small as a Goldcrest or Firecrest. I dug a little hole and buried it in it thinking nature can be cruel at times. The Wren just wanted some shelter and it was this shelter that killed it.

WrenWrenWren

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New Wildlife Photography location Dartmoor, Dippers, How we see & Improve our Night Vision.

November 11, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Greetings from a Wildlife Photographer on Dartmoor in Devon

Today, 8th October 2017, I was up early. Well not really early because it was only 6:00hrs. Looking out of my bedroom window revealed thick fog, but I was still going out with Murphy. I drove to a part of Dartmoor that I don’t know really well but it is only a couple of miles away from my home in Peter Tavy and I’ve wanted to visit, and explore, it for a while. When I got there some of the fog had started to rise and the sun was peaking underneath. This low golden light created some stunning shadows, with the fog acting as a canvas, created by the trees, stone walls and bushes. The Land of Dartmoor was a golden misty haze looking towards the sun very similar to a photograph that I had seen taken by David Clapp called “There is Hope II” (http://www.davidclapp.co.uk/portfolio/view/latest ). As the fog kept lifting I just kept walking, to explore the area, without really concentrating where I was going. Not really a good idea in fog and on an unknown area of Dartmoor but I was going to stay out for quite a while walking and chilling. I love being out early in the morning either with my camera, with Murphy, or with both. This time of year “early” is about 6:00hrs but in the spring “early” is about 4:30hrs. I love the solitude, with only nature, and no human, as my companion. I have witnessed so many wonderful things involving wildlife during this time of day and also the light is great for photography. In fact sometimes it is the best light of the day. I cannot tell you how many times I have been out this early and the weather changes just as I get back home. Being out early as the sun is rising on a cold frosty day is magic, you just cannot beat it. I know that the light at dusk can be a special time as well but usually there are other people around. As you can tell I am a morning person. OK getting up at 4:00hrs to some people is the middle on the night but you know what I mean. Wildlife tends to act differently at this time in the morning. Maybe it’s because they are tired as it is nearly their bedtime, for nocturnal wildlife, or because there aren’t a large amount of humans around, I don’t know but they seemed more relaxed. I have witnessed the look of amazement in their eyes when they notice me at this time in the morning. If I keep still they look at me but normally go back to what they were doing. Apart from Foxes, they normally run a little distance, turn around to see what I am doing, and if I stay still then they go back to what they were doing but in the other direction.

During this walk I located a reservoir, Wheal Jewell, and walked around it as it had a very good path. I was a bit disappointed that there was no wildlife actually on the reservoir water but there were a lot of birds surrounding it. A lot of this area of Dartmoor is open grassland and, in my view, not very exciting landscape wise. I say not very exciting because I like looking at trees, bushes and walls mainly because there is more wildlife to be seen. Surrounding the reservoir were lots of gorse bushes and they were inundated with spider’s webs. They were, because the misty fog left dew on them, really easy to see. This has given me the idea of returning to this location with my macro lens to photograph them. There were so many beautiful webs with the spider stretched out in the middle of them as if on a medieval rack. As there was no wind to move the webs a slow shutter speed could have been used with a high f-stop to get enough depth of field to get the whole spider sharp. There is usually less wind at this time of the morning and it builds up as the morning goes on so it is a good time to get these types of images. Also the dew helps make the image and lets the web stand out but this will disappear as the day warms up.

The following weekend I went down to the leat to photograph Dippers. For those that don’t know a leat is a manmade waterway that takes water to a house, a village a town or a city for humans use; drinking, cooking, washing etc

I arrived about 9am after doing my “chores” feeding and mucking out horse, walking Murphy etc. Once I set up my camera and mats I laid there and waited for the birds to appear. I know the Dippers are in the area because I have seen them regularly. The only niggle in my mind was that I had only seen them very early in the morning from about 6:30am to about 8am and then they seem to disappear either up or down river, so at a 9am start I was hoping and keeping my fingers crossed they would show up. I laid there on my stomach for just over four hours before my back and neck said that they had had enough. The problem is that when your body has had enough and starts to ache you start to fidget and move. This is no good for wildlife photography as the wildlife will notice this movement and you will scare it away. With this in mind and because I had not seen any wildlife during this time I packed up. I would return to the same spot the next day but earlier. The next day I got up at 5am and left for the leat. It had rained quite a bit during the last 24 hrs but it had stopped as I was putting my camera equipment into the car. When I arrived, and exited the car at the leat, the noise of the water was incredible. Before I got my camera equipment out of the car I took my torch to see the state of the river. I looked at the water from over a bridge and it had risen considerably. I walked around the other side of the river to the leat and saw that the water had risen by sixteen inches or 41cm overnight. I could tell this because there is a water measure in the leat (http://www.stillwater-associates.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Measurement-of-Reservoir-Water-Levels.pdf ). The level of the water in July was at 8 and yesterday was at 10 on the measure and it was now at 14. If it rises by one more it would flow over the edges of the leat.

Whilst we have been living on Dartmoor in Devon we have enticed, by feeding and growing insect loving plants, quite a number of birds to our garden. Over the last two years we enticed a pair of Collared Doves. These would sit next to each other, cooing and cuddling, on the telegraph wire, occasionally coming down for some food. Today we arrived home from shopping in Tavistock and just as I got out of the car one of the Doves flew over me. Just then there was a blur and a really loud thump. Feathers started falling all around us and the Sparrowhawk flew just over the road with his talons buried deeply into the Collared Dove. By the speed of the Sparrowhawk and the loud sound as it hit, the Dove must have been killed instantly. Nature in the raw, but it’s sad to see just one Collared Dove on the wire now. I’ll keep my fingers crossed it will find another mate soon.

This wildlife photography caper can be really frustrating at times. Yesterday, Friday 27th, I was up at 4:30am to go down to photograph the Dippers. I looked out of the window and the stars were shining which, fingers crossed, meant that the sun would be shining at dawn rather than this think fog we have had for quite a while. I got ready, had breakfast, put my camera equipment in the car and drove to the leat. I examined, by torchlight, the stones I was going to be looking at and there was no issue with the amount of water as before. I switched off the torch and closed my eyes for a few minutes so that I can let them get accustomed to the dark when I open them. This is a technique that I learnt years ago and it is one that works.

Geek time.

How do we see in the dark?

Our vision range in varying light conditions comes from three parts of our eye:

  1. The Pupil: The eye is very similar to a camera and a lens. The camera’s lens aperture is very similar to the pupil because it too expands and contracts to let in more or less light. It gets very small in bright light to block the amount of light reaching the retina at the back of the eye and it will open wide in the darkness to let in more light to reach the retina.

The eye on the left is seeing in bright light and the eye on the right is seeing in low light or darkness.

 

  1. Cone and Rod Cells: Our eyes have two types of cells to help us see, Cones and Rods. The Cone cells recognise fine detail and colour but need bright light in order to work. Rod cells, on the other hand, can only see in black and white and only recognise big shapes, but remain sensitive in very low light.

     

  2. Photopigments: rod and cone cells contain light-sensitive chemicals called photopigments. When exposed to light, photopigments go through a chemical reaction that converts light into electrical activity that our brains understand.  The chemical Rhodopsin is the photopigment used by the rods and this is the key to night vision.

How do I utilise your rod cells?

Your rod cells can take up to 45 minutes to adapt to a change of light. The quicker you turn off bright lights, torches etc. the sooner your eyes start to adapt. Closing your eyes for a few minutes will speed up this process. (If you don’t believe me try this at home. When you go to bed, turn off your lights and look around your room. Now close your eyes and relax for a few minutes. Now open your eyes and look around your room, you will be amazed how much more you can now see.)

Your ability to see in the dark depends on some things that may be out of your control, your age, an eye injury etc.

In order to see objects better in the dark use your peripheral vision and don't look directly at the object you want to see. Try to focus your gaze on the side of any object you think is there, or just off-centre of the direction you are going as you move forward through a dark area. This allows your peripheral vision to help detect movement and object shape much better than trying to look at something directly. Using your peripheral vision involves more rod cells being utilised which is key to night vision.

This image shows the area where there are more rods on the back of your eye. The first image shows why we need to let in more light so that the light hits the rods.

Geek time over.

I set my self up, got into a comfortable position, and waited. It was 5:30am, the stars were still out and I could just make out my surroundings in the dark. All of a sudden there was an almighty splash just in front of me. My immediate thought was that some of my camera equipment had fallen in the river but just as quickly dismissed it because it would not have made such a splash. I looked around me to see if there was anybody about. As I waited I saw a white shape launch itself out of the water and land back in the river making a loud splash, it could only have been a fish. I have seen quite a few fish in this river, Trout and Salmon. This happened several times during the next couple of hours and the later and lighter it got I could see they were quite sizable fish. There were a few flies and insects about how on earth could the fish see them, if this is what they were after. Once I knew what was happening I relaxed and watched the show. At about 6:30am the wildlife along the river bank and in trees started to stir. The first bird I heard was a Tawney owl hooting away to my right. Then a Pheasant started “Crowing” which they do all year round. During the next half hour there were a lot of bird sounds including two Herons “squawking” as they flew overhead on their way to their feeding grounds even though it was still quite dark. I hope the “feeding grounds” were not somebody’s prize Koi carp in their pond. At 7am I looked above and noticed clouds forming and coming over from a north-west direction. I was hoping the sun would rise and the Dippers appear before the dark clouds covered the sky. At 7:30am not one, not two but three Dippers appeared. It looked like two adults and a juvenile as one was much smaller than the other two. They were all perched on one of the stones I was looking at and would have made a great image. I viewed them through my camera but my settings were 2 seconds, f4 with an ISO of 3200. I looked up and the sky was covered in dark clouds. I thanked him upstairs and just watched the Dippers for about 45 minutes. They stretched, washed and even had a “sing song” together which sounded like a lot of bubble blowing, cheeps, clicks and whistling, in fact it sounded like short-wave radio. During this time the light did slightly improve, 0.5 seconds, f4 at ISO 3200 but even with these settings I was not going to take an image. Just after 8:15am they all flew off down river. I waited until 10am but they did not return. My assumption about the Dipper’s timings I mentioned earlier was correct.

DipperDipper

On Saturday whilst I was taking Murphy for a walk on Dartmoor I spotted a tree full of bird activity. I’ve been waiting since the beginning of the month for Redwings and Fieldfare to appear and now right at the end of the month they were here. There were about 50 Fieldfare and 4 Redwings in the tree. The tree, which was next to a stone wall, was full of red berries, as were most of the trees on Dartmoor. They were flying from the tree to the field next to the tree and back again. I quickly examined the area surrounding the tree and was happy to see some quite close cover in the form of gorse bushes. This meant I could get close enough to get some good images. Therefore I hurried home, collected my camera equipment and dashed back to the area. I came in from another direction which was better for the wind direction, for the light and for the use of the cover, all good things that would allow me to get closer and a good image. On arrival I examined the tree and saw not a single bird. I examined the other trees with my binoculars and again saw not a single bird. I drove around looking at several places but apart from Starlings I did not find any Redwings or Fieldfare. I felt immediately deflated because since June, when I accidently knocked my camera over and it had to be sent away to be repaired, I haven’t had much luck. Normally September, October and November are the months I take a great deal of photographs but at the moment my total of images for the first two months is 22! It’s not that I haven’t put the effort in but mostly it is down to the really bad weather we have had on Dartmoor this year. From the end of August up until now the majority of the days have been thick fog or very misty rain. Yes we have had some great fine days but every one of these days have been when I was at work. It’s at times like these that I really appreciate the images I have taken over the years. Real wildlife photography is not easy but it is satisfying when you get a good image. I’m now keeping my fingers crossed that November will be a great month.

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