This is the first time I have done an end of year round-up and I have to say, I rather enjoyed it. I like to think of myself as a fairly productive photographer but as the months and years roll by, often forget what I have taken in just 12 months.
So, hear they are and I do hope you enjoy my recap and, if you’ve never done something like this before, why not give it a try?! It’s sure to bring nack some wonderful memories and, perhaps, point out those subjects that you need another stab at.
Realising that many of you are photographers and that I often get emails requesting technical data, I have included this in the caption so hope you find this useful. However, as I have said previously, please don’t get too bogged down with gear and shutter speeds. Being out there, whatever the weather and with whatever equipment you own, is the key to witnessing and recording nature in all it’s forms.
I would like to say a big thank you to all of you that have taken the time to read my blog and, or, follow me on facebook. To my workshop and tour guests and, generally, for supporting my work over the last year. I look forward to meeting some of you, again, in 2013 as well as seeing new faces and wish you all a happy and fulfilling New Year.
Should you have time, do let me know in Comments which is your fasvourite!
Although photographed over a month ago, I have only just got round to processing these and thought that it would make a relatively interesting post to show them as a set as opposed to, more often than not, singling out a stand-out image.
My objective that morning was to find and photograph a dew laden dragonfly. Suitable conditions for these kind of images in the form of breathless, wet mornings don’t occur too often, here, on the North Kent marshes where the, seemingly, ever-present breeze has so often put pay to many a potential morning.
Having located a good specimin and set up my tripod, my eye was caught by a scene that was looking better and better as the sun rose. I was reluctant to move my tripod which was not only in position for photographing the dragonfly when the light picked up a little but was, also, in very deep mud! I picked up my camera and composed the image and since I was shooting into the light, I was confident I would have a sufficient shutter speed, aperture combination, enabling me to hand-hold the camera while at the same time provide adequate depth of field. While shooting, I was keeping a close-eye on the dragonfly, waiting for the light, having learnt over the years never to do so much that you take your eye off the ball, or dragonfly in this case!
I couldn’t decide which of the 3 I preferred most. Each having it’s own mood. Which is yours?
The sun, eventually, became too bright to continue and, anyway, it was now perfect for the dragonfly.
I was determined to photograph the dragonfly in such a way that it gave the viewer the feeling of being there, thereby resisting shooting portraits which do little to stir the soul or give any clues as to the habitat in which it was photographed. Here I was, on the marshes, the ground and surrounding spider’s webs, soaked with dew with the jewel like wings of the dragonfly sparkling in the morning sun. This is what I wanted to convey.
With some of the worst weather experienced in the UK for many a year, it seems an age since we had those still warm days of early spring. Here, in North Kent, it has been wet, wet, wet and windy! Not ideal conditions for plant and insect work, or for birds and mammals come to that. I have attempted to get out and shoot as and when I can as well as holding numerous workshops and sorting through 100′s of unedited images that have been lying idle on my hard drives. Here’s a round-up of my work over the last couple of months.
A sunrise workshop at Reculver was arranged at the last moment to coincide with low tide. Seven of us met in the car park at dawn and made our way down onto the beach where we photographed the sun rising against the sillhouted 13th century towers.
While shooting short-eared owls from a hide on the North Kent Marshes, this hare ran around a pond infront of me and came within 3m, sat and nibbled for a good few minutes. After which, it ran back around the pond again! It was as if it was checking me out and decided to snack when it got here!
The images above and below were taken on a breathless, chilly morning in April when marshland birds were noisily proclaiming territories and fighting off rivals, as was the case of the greylag geese, below.
Bluebells started to emerge in nearby woodlands and rather than wait until they were in full flower, I decided to capture an individual in bud. When they are that small and close to the ground, a nagging breeze becomes less of an issue.
A scene such as this of bluebells flowering in a beechwood lends itself perfectly to the panoramic format where a standard ratio would have included too much sky. A Nodal Ninja head was used and the five images stitched together using PtGui software.
It was a beautiful evening and with the weather as it was, there was no way I was going to leave until I had made the most out of the opportunity. An evening such as this may not be around for another year. I was right!
A wildflowers workshop was held in rather damp conditions but, as is so often the case with photographers, they used the conditions to their advantage, shooting raindrops on grass blades and cowslips.
We enjoyed a fabulous evening on my last Dungeness workshop, culminating in shooting silhouettes and me painting the boats with torchlight, well into the night.
My ongoing project (15 years thus far) to record the beauty of the North Kent Marshes, continues.
I spent a good few hours at a site not too far away shooting lady orchids. Aside from the usual portraits (which you simply cannot resist) I attempted to go for something a little different. Why pack up and go home, just because it gets dark?!
On Tuesday I’ll be joining fellow nature photographer, Marek Kosinski, in the Carpathian mountains of Southern Poland shooting all manner of subjects, the results of which I’ll be posting here.
Short-eared owls are one of my favourite birds and each winter, here, on the North Kent Marshes, we often get them in fairly high numbers. This is entirely dictated by, of course, their food supply being mainly short-tailed field voles. These small rodents have cyclical populations and in turn determine how many “shorties” will be present. On those years (approximately every 7-8) where vole numbers are at their peak, so too are the owls. This year, though not exceptional, was pretty good and a pair took up residence on an area of private rough grassland I had been photographing barn owls on that winter. The 2 rarely mixed. When the barn owls were hunting, shorties were absent and vice versa. Birds of prey are notoriously territorial (for good reason!) and so, I guess, it wasn’t that surprising. I’d spent a couple of months photographing barn owls, the results of which can be seen here, and so when the shorties began to stake claim on the area, I was keen to get some images.
Initially, I would visit at all times of the day and weathers. It was soon apparent, however, that they were far more active from midday on and significantly less so in the morning so I decided to concentrate on that part of the day and shoot other subjects at first light instead. I used a combination of a semi-permanent wooden hide, dome hide and my 4×4 which really proved it’s worth during wet weather when access to the site would have been nye on impossible!
They would use certain parts of the field more than others for a period of time until, I guess, they exhausted the food source, and so, for the following 2 images, I set up a dome hide adjacent to a hawthorn. I’m not keen on using fabric hides in such exposed areas. It doesn’t matter how well you peg one of these down, they just act like a sail and if the guy ropes hold, the hide poles themselves, don’t! But, sometimes, there is no alternative. On occasion, I have used a hide framework made of dexion with a Fensman hide cover thrown over it which is far more stable. Ultimately, you simply can’t beat a solid wooden hide.
The two images below came as a result of slowly and at intervals, driving my 4×4 down the rough track where they were hunting. I stopped a good 100m from them but then the wind picked up, hail started to fall and the owls took cover. After about 45 minutes, the wind subsided and the sun shone, providing ideal hunting conditions for them.
My favourite image of this species to date taken moments after the above. It flew around my car and then towards me. The 300mm f2.8 fitted to my D300 had trouble keeping focus due to the background and so I did so manually until the last moment. Out of 6 shots this was the sharpest and the one with the nicest wing position.
I originally wrote this piece two years ago but, since many who read this were not following the blog back then, I thought this would interest you.
A little over 3 years ago, I fulfilled an ambition I had held for years, to photograph common buzzards in the wild, in Kent. Why? Well, up until 10 years ago they were quite a rare sight around these parts (North Downs) but over the years they have moved further and further east to a point that it’s now unusual not to see one while out on the hills. There are now close to a thousand pairs in Kent and I personally know of 3 nests which I am dying to work on over the coming years.
OK, so they are incredibly common in the west and north and hardly magnificent golden eagles but there is just something about them. The way they soar, their call…….. As I visited my woodland birds feeding station over the years or, indeed, sat in the hide photographing them, the desire would burn deeper and deeper to photograph this beautiful bird. I am privileged to have access to a lot of land within their territory and so, the previous October, decided to commit the following 4-5 months to this project. But everything, and I mean everything, had to be by the book. Birds of prey are notoriously shy and keen-eyed birds so, unlike a blue tit at a nut feeder, where you can come and go from your hide without them so much as batting an eyelid, with buzzards, in this part of the world, not a chance!
The following was then carried out.
* 5′ sq wooden hide erected (adjacent to a hedge to break up it’s outline) under cover of darkness, so buzzards didn’t associate it with humans.
* Stockpile of road-kill rabbits stored in freezer. Thanks Martina!
* Continue and wait for hard weather to commence photography.
* Hide left alone for several weeks.
* December. Once a week. Rabbit put down pre-dawn in front of hide. At night, if rabbit not devoured by birds, was taken and put up a tree to stop foxes taking it. Put back down following morning…….
In mid January we had hard frosts lasting a couple of weeks so I took the opportunity to get some shots. I entered the hide 2 hours before sunrise. 11 hours later one arrived and fed but the light was poor. It got terribly cold in the hide, very rarely going above freezing. I would, occasionally, ignite the stove for a few minutes, wrap a blanket around me and wear a balaclava. Winter, neoprene lined boots made by Le Chameau helped keep my feet warm (though they froze after 5 hours). I firmly believe in making yourself as comfortable as possible, since the more comfortable you are, the longer you will wait and the more likely you are of getting the shot. I tried, again, a few days later and this time one appeared in good light but something was missing….snow!
Then, at the end of January we had a substantial dumping with poor visibility, lasting for several days. I needed a break in the weather to entice the buzzard’s from where they had been sheltering from the terrible weather. I then had the forecast I’d been waiting for. A clear day, blue sky all the way. Perfect! This would surely tempt them out to look for food. I got everything ready the night before and woke at 3. With all the snow I knew it was going to be tough driving and there was no guarantee that I would even reach the hide. I gingerly made my way to the spot where I needed to park the car but first there was a hill to get up. I had a bit of a run-up but the Mondeo only made it half way. Four attempts later it got me to the top. I now have a 4×4! When I reached the hide, there was over 18 inches of snow. I staked the rabbit down (this is to avoid it being carried off), set everything up in the hide, took snacks out of wrappers (to avoid noise) and sat back, waiting for light and, finger’s crossed, buzzards.
Then, at about 10 o clock, one arrived and fed for over 30 minutes. It took my breath away to be this close (15m) and knowing that all the hard work had not been to avail. The low perspective was achieved by attaching a tripod head to a piece of MDF with tent pegs pushed into the ground with the lens protruding through a nurses-sleeve about 6 inches above the ground. I attached one-way mirror film to small perspex panels at eye-level so I could see clearly outside without being seen.
Several hours passed and then an immature bird turned up and, just like the one previous, spent around 30 minutes feeding, oblivious to the photographer who, at this point, was the happiest man on the planet! Several hours passed and then an immature bird turned up and, just like the one previous, spent around 30 minutes feeding, oblivious to the photographer who, at this point, was the happiest man on the planet!
The video, below, was taken using my point-and-shoot compact camera so please excuse the rather poor quality.
All images were taken using a Nikon D2x with 300mm f2.8 and 1.4x converter (sometimes without) with right-angle finder attached. I ached for days having spent several hours with my head between my legs peering through this!
Of all the projects I have undertaken, this has certainly been the toughest but without question the most satisfying. Hamilton Holt’s quote comes to mind….”Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Work, continuous work and hard work , is the only way to accomplish results that last.” But, why do they have to be so strenuous!
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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