Greetings from Dartmoor in Devon England.
If you go to my “Workshops” tab on my home page you will see that my photography workshops are growing as I have now included a Red Deer rut workshop. For more information please click on this link http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/red-deer-rut-photography-workshop More photography workshops are being planned for beginners and intermediate photographers.
For the last few weeks the weather on Dartmoor has been a bit strange. I wake up in the morning and when I draw the curtains usually my view is looking across the valley to North Brentor church but for the past few weeks it has been thick fog, so thick you could not see the hedge across the road. Then about 9:30am it starts to clear and by 10:00am it is bright sunshine, blue skies with a few white fluffy clouds and this lasts for the rest of the day. This routine has been so regular that I even tell guests staying in our Acorn Lodge B&B www.acorn-lodge-dartmoor.co.uk not to worry because by 10:00am it will be sunny, and it is. They told me that I am better than the weatherperson on TV. The trouble is that there are two kinds of weatherperson on TV; the first being the old f**t in a suit with a bald head and the second is the sexy babe in a pretty dress, I wonder which one they think is me!!!!!!
I know I harp on about reconnoitring an area for wildlife and when you have an area you should keep going back to it regularly to see what the wildlife is up to. Well at the moment I have 4 very large areas on Dartmoor that I visit regularly and when I say regularly I mean every other day at the very least. I walk these areas sometimes with my camera, sometimes with just my binoculars and most of the time with my dog Murphy. Every time I go to these places I learn and see something that helps with my wildlife photography. One of the biggest things I have noticed is the coming and going of different bird species. In April and May these areas of Dartmoor are filled with Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Great Tits, Wrens, Cuckoos, Rooks, Crows, Jackdaws, Buzzards, Wheatears, Coal Tits, Pied Wagtails, Grey Wagtails, Dunnocks, Dippers, Herons, Magpies, Bullfinches, Kingfishers, Willow Warblers, various gulls, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, Pigeons, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Robins, Stonechats, Blackbirds, Thrushes, Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatches, Jays, Mistle Thrushes and Yellowhammers. It's quite a list and is one of the reasons why I am having my "Wild Birds of Dartmoor" photography workshops at this time, for details please click on this link http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/dartmoor-wild-bird-photography-workshop. Then in June even more birds appeared, Wheatear numbers rise, Linnets appear albeit only in pairs, House Martins and Swallows. In July the odd Whinchat appeared, a couple of Pied Flycatchers and quite a few Spotted Flycatchers. The biggest increase was in Linnet numbers especially when they all joined together to give me one of this year’s prize spectacles http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/7/the-weather-on-dartmoor-in-devon-natures-greatest-sights-and-acorn-lodge-b-b-dartmoor .
In August, Dartmoor is alive with birds but it can be a real struggle to see them because of the amount of vegetation and because of the number of humans on the moor. Just recently Redstarts have appeared in great numbers along with even more Spotted Flycatchers. One rarity I spotted was a Snipe hidden in the bracken which flew off in its usual zigzagging manner after I accidently disturbed it. Even when they are in the open their camouflage is superb.
Can you see it?
On Friday 2nd September, my birthday, the weather was as I described above so instead of going on the moor I decided to go for a walk along the river Tavy. Due to the overnight rain and the heavy mist the valley was quite damp. The path along the river is quite meandering and at times it takes you into a wood and away from the river before returning back to it. Likewise it also takes you into the riverside before you have to climb back onto the path. During this “diversion” I slipped on a couple of boulders and all I can say is that it is a good job I have got a bit of “padding” on my rear end. Whilst walking towards our stretch of the river Tavy I stumbled upon a Dipper. I was above it looking down, and the water was so clear, I could see the dipper hunting for food underwater so I sat for a while to watch it. In these situations Murphy is so good as he just sits there quietly taking it all in. The dipper appeared to be catching quite a lot of food, rising to a boulder above the waterline to eat before returning underwater to look for more.
After a few minutes watching I carried on my walk. As I got nearer our stretch I heard a very familiar high pitched whistle and a bright blue flash of a Kingfisher flew up river. In moments like this it reminds me of the old cartoon of the Road Runner, beep beep whoosh. That bird was blue as well but at least the kingfisher hasn’t got Wile E Coyote chasing after him. That’s a few times I have seen a kingfisher on this river so I have placed several branches in good photography locations and now I hope that it stops by on some of them.
We are still inundated with juveniles of several species of birds in our garden. I have never seen so many Goldfinches and Chaffinches all in one place, it’s great to see. We had a rare visit from a pair of Stock Doves the other day which was also nice to see. They are similar in size and plumage to pigeons but have an iridescent bottle green collar on the back of their neck. For the past couple of weeks we have had a warbler in our garden. I have viewed it several times but because it keeps on the move all the time I still have not been able to get a photo of it or identify it.
As I am writing this section of my blog the Great North run is being shown on TV. I have had the pleasure, if that is the right word to use, to run in this race three times raising a few thousand pounds for charity. On each run I was accompanied by a very good friend of mine and my wife joined us on the third run. My first run was the hardest because at about the half way point I started suffering greatly from a pain in my calf. My mate asked if I wanted to stop but I said no you keep in front and I will tag along, I did not want him to stop or to lose all the sponsor money. He kept looking back at me every now and then and I kept waving him on. At the end of the race the runners get split into the two finishes, he went left and I went right. We regrouped afterwards and he helped me hobble back to the bed and breakfast where I immediately started some first aid on my calf. When we got the results they stated that I had beaten him by a couple of seconds which could not have been right as he was ahead of me. He was fuming at this and I will always feel bad about this because it was wrong and if not for him I would never have finished the race and collected the sponsor money. Sorry I digress.
I have restarted the work on our Nature Reserve. This involved felling several trees, a job I find very hard to do. Not physically but mentally because it goes against the grain (excuse the pun). I love trees but they needed to be felled for the greater good. Even though they were between 20 and 30 foot tall they were not in the best of health because they were “hidden” under the canopy of bigger trees. They only had a few leaves at the very top and they were stopping growth on the bigger trees. I examined these trees as much as I could for wildlife before they were felled. Once these trees were felled you could see a difference with the amount of light being let in. These are the only ones I am felling on the easy flat part of the wood. Now the real hard work begins as apart from a few hazel trees that need coppicing there are about 15 to 20 Holly trees that need chopping down. The holly trees are the ones that are really sapping the light in the wood.
Well, my Isle of Mull holiday is over and what a fantastic holiday it was. We, my wife and I, stayed in one place, on the edge of a loch, and our only trip out was to Finnaphort as we had not visited that part of the island. My main goal for this trip was to see a Golden Eagle and this was achieved within the first couple of days. After this I could not stop seeing them, including seeing four at one time circling above us. On another occasion we were viewing three just playing in the high wind when just to our right appeared a male Hen Harrier, the cherry on top of a very nice cake, but don’t tell any gamekeepers.
The reason we stayed in one place is because I wanted to do what a great Landscape / Travel photographer, David Noton, states what everybody should do when taking photographs. He states you should “Work the subject”. I take this to mean that after you have taken an image, move your camera a little bit, even into portrait position, and take more images, move a bit more and take a few more. Unlike what most people do which is take one photo and then drive onto the next location. When you do this you will be surprised by which image you prefer when you processed them back home. This work ethic does not just relate to Landscape photography it can work with any genre of photography. Think about a studio photographer, he or she takes lots of photos from all angles and the picks the best afterwards. This is a bit hard for wildlife photography because you are not in control of the subject so I adapted it and instead of working the subject, I worked the location. When I say location I worked a quarter of the edge of a loch and I feel it paid off.
I was trying to photograph Otters and I knew they frequent the loch we stayed at so I concentrated all my efforts on a certain part of this location and when I located them I worked the area even harder. I walked and drove up and down the loch hoping to see one. On one occasion I was walking along the loch and I spotted an otter, that’s the easy bit especially in calm water, eating its catch about 50 metres out from the shore. It appeared to be coming ashore so I knelt behind a large boulder waiting for it. After a while nothing happened so I stood up to have a look where it was. Just at that moment it jumped on a boulder a few meters away from me. I immediately dropped to my knees to get my camera, focus and take the shot. As I did this the otter scent marked the top of the boulder and jumped off. I did manage to get an image but it was one of its backside and tail as it jumped off.
This was not going to put me off as I have bags of perseverance so as it was going up the loch I carried on walking in that direction. Soon I was joined by another wildlife photographer, Alan Heeley. As we walked along the loch I spotted it again catching more food. We made our way level to it and hid behind a boulder just in case it came on shore again; it didn’t so we walked on. We could not get in front of it because the wind direction would have been wrong so we tagged along slightly behind it. I then noticed that it was getting closer to the shore so once again we hid behind a boulder. I watched it as it got to the edge of the seaweed with a fish in its mouth. The seaweed on Mull is a brightly green/yellow/orange colour and contrasts well on the black boulders on the edge of the loch. The otter dived below the seaweed and as it did the several tiny fish jumped out of the water to keep away from the predator. It rose again a couple of feet from the shore but all you could see was its eyes and nose above the water, it reminded me of a crocodile. It looked around for danger and just at that moment a Robin started singing behind us, I really wanted to tell it to be quiet but maybe it helped calm the situation. As it stepped out of the water and started to eat the fish behind a small boulder, about 20 yards away, my heart started beating about 300 times a minute. I started some breathing exercises to calm myself, deep breath in and deep breath out. I wonder if Ross Hoddinott feels like this when he is taking an early morning walk around the Tamar lakes and he finds an award winning image just waiting to be photographed or David Noton when he finds a new landscape and the light he wants to photograph it in is just appearing, or any wildlife photographer when their subject appears? I could see it now and then and at times it shook the fish just like a dog with a rag so maybe it was a “dog” otter, (sorry, had to be said!) The otter started grooming itself behind the boulder and I was praying it would show itself. At one stage it went all quiet and we thought it had gone to sleep. Then all of a sudden it jumped up onto the largest boulder and looked around, machine gun fire went off as Alan and my camera’s motodrives went into action. It scent marked the top of the boulder whilst looking in our direction, jumped off and went back into the sea.
Both Alan and I had the biggest grin on our faces that we could manage. I didn’t stop there and carried on working the location for the rest of the week with more great results.
Dust spot removal
One of the biggest drawbacks with digital SLR photography is dust on your sensor. The bigger the sensors, full frame for instance, then the bigger the problem. The camera manufacturers have tried to help with this problem, like shaking the sensor when you switch the camera off, but in time dust will still stick to your sensor. You can do a few things to help lessen the amount of dust that gets on your sensor. The first is to switch off your camera before you change lenses. This stops your sensor being electrically charged and attracting the dust particles to it. The second is to always have a cover on the bayonet fixing of your lens and keep a lens attached to your camera. Third is to get everything ready so that the lens change can be made as quick as possible. Fourth, always have your camera bayonet opening pointing downwards whilst changing your lens. Fifth, try and protect your camera and lens by changing lenses in a less windy location or if this cannot be achieved then use a coat, something similar or your body as a shield. Sixth, think about what you are going to photograph and if possible change your lens at home before you go out to photograph your subject. Seventh, if you need to use two lenses all the time then think about buying another camera body, although this is a bit extreme.
In the end there is no getting around it and you will get dust on your sensor. When you do get dust spots on your sensor then the only way to get rid of them is to get the sensor cleaned. But if the dust spots are relatively small then you can remove them by using spot removal tools in software such as Lightroom or Photoshop. (This tip is for older versions of Lightroom – I am using 5.7, I do not know if it is similar in version 6.) Spotting, (excuse the pun), the spots can be a bit of a problem but there are a couple of ways Lightroom can help.
1, Increase the image in the Develop module to one to one. Then starting at the top, I always start at the top left because I read that way, work across the image, slowly to view it properly, getting to the other side before moving down half a screen and then moving back to the other side. I do this until I have viewed the whole image. When I discover a dust spot I remove it with the dust spot removal tool using the smallest radius possible.
Click on the 1:1 and the image will increase to help spot the dust spots.
2, Go down to the Detail tab in the Develop module. Hold down the Alt key on your computer, the screen will turn white, and move the amount slider very slowly and I have never gone above seven. Whilst doing this, view your image, and you will see the image turning black. Whilst it is turning black if you have any dust spots in your image these will remain as white blobs. Once you locate these spots then use the spot removal tool to eliminate them using number 1 method.
On a PC, hold down the Alt key and click on the Masking slider and the screen should turn white.
Moving the Masking slider whilst holding the Alt key down will start turning the image black but show up the dust spots.
These two methods are great if the spots are in a “clear”, unoccupied, part of your image. If the spots are in an intricate part of your image then you need to remove these, if you can, by cloning them out in Photoshop.
Any comments are greatly appreciated, just click on the comments link above or below. Happy hunting (with a camera).