I’m certainly not in the school of thought that you should only post a blog if you have something specific to say or a technique to write about. Sometimes it’s just nice to see for yourself what you have taken over a period (as a set) and to show others, as opposed to randomly posting images on such social media as fecebook – as much as I enjoy doing so! It’s also important to remember, I think, that not everybody uses FB, so here’s a selection of my favourites from the last 6 weeks.
With a new workshop in mind, I spent an evening capturing sunset over Camber Sands. I hadn’t been there for years and had quite forgotten what a wonderful location it is for landscape photography.
A tip-off from a warden friend of mine led me to this wonderful plant which had flowered for the first time in 20 years at this reserve. Situated just a few metres from a seldom used footpath and keen not to give away its location, I would leave the path 20 or so metres before-hand so as not to leave a “path” leading directly to it that might otherwise have drawn attention to certain members of the public! In addition, I would shoot only at sunrise and sunset when no-one was around. Very covert! All the images, below, were taken in a single morning at sunrise where I had a window of just 10 minutes as the sun appeared between trees producing this golden light. A stunning flower and fingers crossed that it’ll be flowering there next year!
Kent’s largest area of acid heathland is situated just 35 minutes from me and it’s an area I have been working on (on and off) for the last 20 years. Aside from being the only location in Kent where you can see the Keeled skimmer dragonfly, it’s also home to an array of amazing plant life, including this – the common or round-leaved sundew.
Sundews are remarkable plants that, due to the lack of nutrients in its acidic habitat, digests insects that become trapped on the dew-like droplets on its tendrils. They’re also incredibly beautiful!
Until recently, the last couple of weeks have given us ideal conditions in which to shoot insects with clear nights and breathless mornings, coating everything in dew. I found this Common emerald damselfly on the Kent Marshes first thing in the morning.
After securing a number of portraits, I went for something a little different to give the viewer a sense of what I was experiencing – the sun penetrating the tangle of reeds and clubrush.
Having found a good location, I returned the following few mornings utilising the conditions as you just never know when it might turn!
The image below was taken at 6am which even though was around 45 minutes after sunrise, a thick mist had prolonged the sunrise and kept everything dew-laden for quite some time.
I’ve been assistant warden of a local nature reserve for over 20 years now, and remember vividly the first time I went out searching and photographing glow worms many, many years ago. There’s only a small stretch of pathway that they can, fairly reliably, be found each spring and summer and this year, once again, they didn’t let me down! On one of my visits I was very lucky to witness and capture a pair mating. Males, as you can see, are significantly smaller and look an, almost, entirely different species!
Portraits of our wildlife are all well and good but, in my book, nothing beats recording behaviour! Aesthetics go out the window when your working in the pitch dark on a subject that’s an inch long and continually moving in and around leaves and twigs. It was, I think, worth the 8 (I counted) mozzie bites!
Last week I spent the evening stood in a reedbed photographing my 2nd favourite bird (1st being the lapwing!), marsh harriers. This individual looks to be a fledgling which I didn’t quite expect to fly so close! I was well camouflaged and it passed by several times so close that I could hear the wind move through its wings. Priceless!
On the same evening and as the light dropped, I could see clouds forming in the west and so, thinking a decent sunset may be on the cards, I ventured to a nearby warren to try my luck at silhouettes. After 45 mins this inquisitive individual ran straight up to me and posed – quite nicely!
I’m not going to beat around the bush, in my humble opinion, THE most useful function to be added to a digital camera for landscape and close-up photography, is Live View! Notice, I said digital camera. Such things as depth of field preview and mirror lock-up have been around for years but LV is an entirely digital add-on. Before LV, focusing, even with sophisticated AF lenses, was troublesome. AF’s wonderful for action but when shooting close-up where the focus on small areas has to be bang-on, I would never rely purely on autofocus. Why? Well, take this scenario, illustrated with the image, below, of a dew laden wood anemone photographed at sunrise. I wanted to shoot it with the lens wide-open (f2.8) to limit the depth of field and create something a little different to the standard “anemone with petals open” shot. It was imperative that the very front lip of the petal was to be sharp and no-where else. Not halfway up the flower but right at the front! With the lens on AF, it may get me close but I couldn’t be sure. You can always check the image after the shot to check, can’t you? To a degree, yes, but not with any certainty. With LV, I can magnify the image on the monitor and focus with confidence.
And here’s how I did it while photographing this chalkhill blue butterfly. There were numerous factors which forced me to use a relatively wide aperture. The proximity of the background and the nagging breeze. Chalkhill blues are tiny so, once again, it was essential that the focus was very accurate. Unlike the shot of the anemone where, due to the depth of the image, I didn’t have to parallel the camera to the flower, in this instance, I simply had to get the camera back completely square on both the vertical and horizontal axis, if I was to be certain of edge to edge sharpness.
After much jigging around of the tripod, I composed the image and got the camera as parallel as I could. I then activated LV.
Using the + (magnify function), as if you were magnifying the image when reviewing, I zoomed all the way as far as it would go and then, using the scroll wheel, moved the magnified area to the head of the butterfly. With the lens on MF I carefully focused on the eye. When this was done, I scrolled to the tip of the wing.
If the wing required a focus adjustment, I knew the camera wasn’t quite parallel so, depending on whether the wing tip was closer to or further from the plane of focus, I would adjust the tripod accordingly. This exercise was repeated on all parts of the butterfly until I was happy it was pin sharp throughout. Now, if the conditions were perfect….still, background several metres away, I could have used a smaller aperture of, say, f16 and allowed a little for parts of the wing to be fractionally out of alignment since there was every chance the depth of field would have taken care of it. But, with such a wide aperture, you just can’t take those kind of risks. Once you are done with LV, de-activate it and, if you have it, use mirror lock-up. If you take a picture with a slow shutter speed of around 1/15 sec with LV activated, there is every chance your image will have signs of vibration, resulting in a soft image. There are few disciplines in photography more technically demanding than close-up. Technique, technique, technique. A photographer with inferior equipment using a solid tripod, utilising LV focus, mirror lock-up and a cable release will invariably produce superior results than a photographer with the most up to date gear using a sloppy technique.
LV for landscape work can be equally useful. For the most part, AF works perfectly well on focusing on a specific spot that you want to be sharp. But, when light levels are low and the subject you want to focus on lacks contrast (AF lenses require contrast or an edge to lock-on), autofocus struggles! So, all you need to do is the same as above. Turn off AF and activate LV, magnify the image, scroll down to the part of the scene you want to focus on and do so manually. De-activate LV and use mirror-lock up. Simple! Below are a few more examples where I used Live View to be sure of accurate focusing.
Last Thursday, along with my partner Martina, I headed up to London to attend the private viewing at the SW1 Gallery showing the winning and commended entries of the CIWEM- Environmental Photographer of the Year competition. Situated on the Roof garden within Cardinal Walk, the gallery is situated just a stone’s throw from Victoria station. It really is an amazing venue. Light and airy and very minimalistic. Perfect for exhibitions!
My image of a female glow worm, glowing was awarded a Highly Commended in the The Natural World category. With over 10,000 entries from 105 countries, it is one of the biggest of it’s kind. There were some stunning images. My personal favourite was Item with fungi by Kerekes M. Istvan. Click here to see the commended and winning entries.
Last week, I received some rather good news. My image, below, of a female glow worm, glowing has just been awarded Highly Commended in the Environmental Photographer of the Year and will appear in the exhibition at the SW1 Gallery in London. It’s the first time I have entered this competition and, with over 10,000 entries from 105 countries, I’m pretty chuffed!
She was photographed at a local nature reserve, here in North Kent, where I have been an assistant warden since it’s conception in 1990. They only appear along one particular path which we have aptly named, and not terribly creatively, The Glow Worm Path! So, I spent a number of evenings this summer looking and “trying” to photograph them. They are extremely small and especially tricky to do justice to as you want to illustrate the glow while at the same time, provide just enough illumination to show what she looks like as she has the most beautiful pink markings.
After spotting one in a favourable spot (i.e. not in a thicket!) I then, over the next 30 minutes set up the camera and experimented with shutter speed times and flash output and angles. This is the one I preferred the most as it was as much about the shape of the leaf and lighting as it was about the insect. I hope you like it too.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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