With plans to run a workshop here, I visited these areas once again, over 2 days, earlier in the month. I found some new locations too including church ruins which will be fantastic when painted with light at night. My attentions, however, were firmly fixed on Dungeness and so I spent a very pleasant few hours on this vast shingle bank from late afternoon to twilight. The subjects in question were the old, rotting fishing boats that, with their decaying hulls and nearby fisherman’s huts, make for great subjects to shoot.
And then sunset gave me innumerable photo opportunities. I would have liked more cloud cover to add more atmosphere and drama and I can imagine that even on the most uninspiring, grey days, strong images are more than possible, especially in black and white.
On another day I re-visited Romney Marsh. a wonderfully atmospheric location which I had the pleasure in being commissioned to shoot for Country Walking magazine. Please click on the link to read the article on my Publications page.
I’ll be running a short, late afternoon workshop at Dungeness for Rye and District Camera Club over the next few months and have plans to run others. Should you be interested, please register your interest by contacting me at either firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel: 07939 117570.
Given the weather in the south east over the last week, it’ll come as no surprise that I have done very little in the way of photography. I have moved the hide from the marsh harrier site to the barn owl place and attempted a different take on an image of a great-spotted woodpecker. So, I have been doing the laborious, but necessary, task of processing images for my agents and converting a number of my photographs of Prague to black and white. This is primarily for a forthcoming Prague prints gallery on my website.
Those of you that have visited my website will know that I have quite a substantial collection of images, taken in all seasons and weathers, of the city they call “the golden city” or “the city of a hundred spires.” Since the majority were taken 4-5 years ago on transparency I have had to scan them, then convert. I am no expert on Photoshop (and I hope will never be!) but a basic understanding of tweaking colours, levels, curves, and a bit of dodging and burning can really transform an image. Prague is such a colourful city and sometimes it’s sheer vibrancy can deflect from the beauty of the architecture and gives it a rather old-world, timeless feel. Indeed many of them could have been taken a hundred years ago and you would never know!
On the photographic side, over those years, my kit never changed. Nikon F5, 20mm, 28-105mm, 80-200mm, polarisers, ND grads, Velvia and Provia and a Manfrotto tripod. Everything was packed into a Lowepro backpack. Above all else, comfortable walking shoes! Prague is one cobbled street after another.
I know, I know. The Internet seems swamped these days with more images than ever of this charismatic little fella. But who can blame a photographer for wanting to photograph them?! They are extremely numerous and very approachable. Getting something different then, becomes increasingly difficult.
I have recently been accepted by a second picture library (I have been with my other, FLPA, for 10 years now) called Wildlife GmbH, in Germany and as a result, I am in the process of submitting material to them, one of which is of this puffin in flight.
Taken on Skomer a few years ago, I stayed for a couple of nights to photograph these and manx shearwaters. Manx shearwaters are incredible birds spending most of it’s life at sea, only returning to land at night to feed it’s young. Why at night? In nutshell, they are are very clumsy on land due to their legs being set far back towards their tale and so if they were to come ashore during the day, they would end up as dinner to gulls and the like. Anyway, back to the puffin. On my second day, fog rolled in along with strong winds. I fitted my flash-unit to attempt the flash-and-blur technique. If you pull it off it can be quite effective with the resulting image exhibiting both sharp and blurred elements giving the impression of movement. It’s relatively simple to do too. Select a slow shutter speed of say 1/30th sec. and your TTL flash-unit to -1. With the flash unit set to minus one stop the effect will be subtle though evident. Experimentation is the key here as the speed of the subject, it’s direction and distance will determine both shutter speed and flash output.
Back in April I posted a blog on photographing marsh harriers or rather my intention to do so. As I said back then, they are a truly iconic bird of the North Kent Marshes and incredibly wary. Even with fast, telephoto lenses I knew that in order for me to get decent images of them, I would need to work at a nest when their flight paths would be more predictable and there would be a chance I get parents bringing back prey items. A licence was obtained from Natural England in the winter which would allow me to photograph near the nest site. Marsh harriers of north Kent most frequently nest deep in reedbeds on a floating mass of aquatic vegetation often in water several feet deep making predation less likely but I wasn’t interested in getting that close which, no matter how carefully you introduce a hide, will stress the birds out.
Instead, I opted for positioning a 4 sq.ft. wooden hide, approximately150m from the nest, making sure the parents returned, then left it for a week to give them plenty of time to get really used to it. I then moved it closer at 20m intervals over the following week or so until I was around 50m away. This was done once myself and photographer friend, Phil, were happy that the young had hatched. How did we know the young had hatched? Well, during incubation the male brings food to the vicinity of the nest whereby the female, who does the majority of the incubating, then flies up and catches the food which the male drops, known as an aerial food pass. When both parents were bringing food back on a semi regular basis, we knew the eggs had hatched. This is very important since there is a much stronger bond between parents and young as opposed to when they have eggs.
With the hide being 50m from the marsh harrier’s nest, this may seem like it is still an awfully long way away but in such an open area it literally feels as though you are on top of it! Also, if I work too closely, when the birds are flying around the adjacent reedbeds, I would have to tilt the camera up further than if I were working from a greater distance. The marsh harrier pictures you see here are from the first few sessions. Time of day and wind direction played a vital role. Photography was only possible first thing in the morning and late afternoon when the sun was low in the sky so as to illuminate the underside of the bird. And, if the wind direction was blowing from the nest site to me, the birds would fly away away from me as such large birds prefer to fly into the wind giving them greater maneuverability so as to accurately land on or near the nest. I wanted side or head-on shots so needed the wind to be opposite to this. As you can imagine, this often limited hide sessions to just a few visits each week. Thank goodness the young remain in the nest for around 40 days! In the next installment, pictures of parents with prey.
With the wet weather we are currently experiencing, mushrooms in my local wood are quite literally popping up everywhere. The wood still wears the coat of summer but on the floor, it is most definitely autumn. I took a walk in my local wood this afternoon as a means of escaping the endless hours of processing images and sorting pictures for a forthcoming exhibition. On the wetter, lower slopes were all manner of species including boletus, puffball, milkcap, funnel, magpie inkcap. sulphur tuft and the most conspicuous of all, the slender parasol.
Upon noticing this marvellous ‘troop’ I went straight home, grabbed my camera bag and returned to photograph them. If I were to leave them for another day they would have gone over or even kicked over. I then spent the next hour photographing the fungi from various angles, concentrating on using a wide-angle to exaggerate their size and in the case of the image below, trying to achieve something a little different to the norm. If you are interested in attending a mushroom photography workshop, please click here as I am running two in October at a favourite haunt.
Standing close to 8 inches high with a cap the size of small dinner plate they are tough to resist for both the photographer and the forager for they are simply delicious! Over the last couple of years I’ve become a bit of an anorak when it comes to mycology brought on by me spending countless hours in the field photographing mushrooms from September to November. Identifying them in preparation for the agent invariably means I end up reading about them and finding out if they are edible or not. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t walk around a wood picking every edible fungus but if there are good numbers of funnel or slender parasol in a ‘troop’ I will pick one or two. Carefully picking a mushroom causes no harm since you are simply picking the fruiting body. The part that really matters is underground, the mycelium. Leave this intact and it will grow again. It’s a little like taking backberries or apples. To state the obvious, you should NEVER consume a mushroom unless you are 100% it is edible. If you are ever in any doubt, leave well alone. Many folk are surprised to learn that there are a number of species found in our woods that can kill.
I’ll be blunt here, by and large, the British are useless at identifying wild food, edible mushrooms in paerticular which I think is a bit of a shame. In mainland Europe it’s a family pastime to go out mushroom and berry picking. Children go out with their parents, learn from them then pass on their knowledge to their children. Even if you have no intention on picking them and all you want to do is look or take pictures, consider taking a pocket guide along. You will be surprised at how it can give focus to an afternoon stroll and with it a deeper understanding of the natural world.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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