Sunday, 25 March 2007

On the joy of fleeting moments

Long Tailed Tit

It's hard to define favourite things - there is just too much choice - but long-tailed tits do have a special place in my heart. They are such cheeky looking birds - I always enjoy my encounters with them. Today was particularly satisfying...

This is one of a pair I encountered this afternoon industriously collecting nesting materials. For the most part they stayed deep in the trees, and when they did venture out it was seldom in sunlight. So I was delighted when this bird settled here. It waited just long enough for me to squeeze off two shots - the second sadly has just a blur of wing...

Countdown to Falklands trip: 258 days

Sunday, 18 March 2007

On photographic firsts

One of the great thrills of wildlife photography is getting a picture of a bird or animal you've not taken before. Last friday I managed two such.

The first was a goldfinch. Having spent an hour in a hide hoping in vain for a kingfisher (but seeing almost nothing!), I emerged to find the area behind the hide alive with goldfinches and long-tailed tits. It seems to be common that all the action happens behind the hide - I saw my first pair of Merlins under similar circumstances.

The goldfinches were a bit of tease; choosing to stay largely in the shadow, hiding behind branches and staying high up - which made for awkward angles with my ballhead. After half an hour or so, however, I managed the following.


The second was a little grebe. I've seen them before, but not under conditions that allowed a shot. They were also playful, prefering to stay in the rushes, and emerge only briefly. My early shots were all disappointing. However, a little patience yielded a halfway decent shot (with the hope of more to come in future) and they were most amusing birds to watch.

Little Grebe

With a lot more species still to shoot here's hoping I have a lot more days like this one!

Countdown to Falklands trip: 265 days

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

On lens envy

This weekend saw the happy confluence of good light and - that rare and precious commodity a free weekend - so I took the opportunity to head out with my camera. The morning passed amiably enough at Church Woods RSPB reserve near Slough. It had it's fair share of small birds, but they were being shy and opportunities were not forthcoming. Telling myself that the day was after all just reconnaissance - a useful cop-out for a zero image day - I headed on into the Chilterns.

Finally I found myself once more at Ibstone and was, once again, blown away by the numbers and sheer beauty of the Red Kites. I spent a happy couple of hours in their presence, before returning to my car, where I found two fellow photographers. These guys had all the gear. Both had Nikon full-frame bodies mounted on top-end Gitzo legs with Wimberley gimbal heads. As for lenses, one had a 600mm f/4 and the other a 400mm f/2.8 - big, black with front elements the size of dinner plates! I felt a flare of lens envy. Either one of those lenses alone represents more investment than my total camera set-up, and having spent the afternoon attempting had-held flight-shots I coveted the extra shutter-speed such lenses would have given.

Red Kite

When I got my pictures home though, I was not displeased with what I'd taken. I recalled an article from Luminous Landscape. My 400mm lens may be two stops slower, but at less than a quarter of the weight I definitely had the edge on them in terms of mobility that day.

Countdown to Falklands trip: 270 days to go

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

On film vs digital

On Sunday I went along to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the Natural History Museum. This has become something of an annual pilgrimage for me. It is always a beautiful and inspirational collection and this year was no exception. There are some stunning pictures on display.

Two things, however, did surprise me. The first was the number of winners which were on film. Out of just over two-hundred images, I counted just eight. Hardly surprising? Perhaps - but just two years ago the ratio was almost entirely the opposite way round. It seems in two short years, digital has all but seen off film in the realms of Wildlife Photography.

So what of the result? I'm not entirely sure. The pictures were stunning, there is no doubt of that. Yet somehow, I felt that the general standard had dropped, by the tiniest amount. The effect of film? Me becoming inoculated to high-quality wildlife photography? Just a minor blip? I don't know.

What I do know is that two years ago I was inspired by the vibrant colours of Fujichrome Velvia to buy some. Two years later most of it is still my fridge. Digital is just too darn convenient, and even the ultra-vibrant colour of Velvia cannot lure me away from it.

The second surprise was the number of shots from taken on the Falklands. I forget now exactly how many there were - five or six I would guess. The numbers are not that important, it was more the inspiration to me. Those images sum up some of what I hope to see later this year. In the meantime, as the rainy weekends continue and wildlife photography seems far away, I have to content myself with mocking up the following in my bedroom. Okay - it's not quite Andy Rouse, but what the heck. I had fun!


Countdown to Falklands trip: 276 days to go