I’ve been spending a lot of time lately going through my image library and backlog of un-catalogued photographs. All this work is to prepare images for an upcoming project and nature festival in the Scottish borders, new submissions to a picture agency, and two competitions. Whilst wading through my pictures I got thinking about why I bother with photography competitions. I only enter a few per year, mainly because it’s such a time consuming (and costly) procedure. After picking images that you think is suitable for that competition and what the judges might be looking for, there’s the time involved in preparing and uploading images.
Mute swan at dusk. Not a competiton winner.
Competitions can be a useful indication on the quality of your work compared the others (though picking the right image is a big factor), and if you get some success is always an ego boost. However there are a lot of photo competitions out there now. It seems every nature or conservation organisation or outdoor event runs some sort of photography competition. While some mean well, a number of organisations do use competitions to boost their own image library. By taking part (sending in pictures, even if they don’t win) you can sometimes lose copyright or at least give them rights to use your work as they see fit. Looking in the terms and conditions is where usually I decide to continue or walk away. Lines like this are a clear image grab as far as I’m concerned: By submitting images to the photography competition you agree to grant (insert name of org. ) a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, right and world-wide licence to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, display and exercise all copyright and publicity rights.
Snowdrop. This hasn’t won any competitions either.
Some people have asked me about the techniques I use to get the very shallow focus on some of my photographs.
Certainly for some macro work I love large chunks of colour with only a small part in focus. I think what is out of focus in an image is just as important. In some cases I only have a few blades of grass or shoots in focus, leaving the rest of the image in a wash of colour and blurred streaks like brush strokes of a painting.
Moss stems with low sun back lighting
There are a number of ways to get a shallow depth of field like this. Using high magnification from a telephoto lens, getting close to the subject, and using extension tubes or a close up lens are all techniques I use, often all together at once. With these methods the depth of field can be down to only a few millimeters thick even with a lens aperture of F8 or F11, so getting the focus on the right spot can be tricky. Extension tubes sit between the camera and lens and allow the lens to focus much closer than it normally would. Close up lenses do the same but screw onto the front of the lens like a filter.
When looking through layers of undergrowth, I rarely need to move the camera much but rely on focusing through the layers of foliage, each turn of the focus ring picking out new parts and revealing a totally new composition. With the right lighting, and a decent covering of plants to crawl through, I can spend hours hardly moving more than a few metres.
Looking into a Harebell
A number of the images shown here also have a low evening sun back lighting the subject, giving a great orange glow and producing even more blur from the glare of the sun on the lens.
Moss stems in low sun
More moss stems with back lighting
We’ve had Pipistrelle Bats in the garden for many years and although I love watching them flying up and down on summer evenings, any photography attempts have been poor to say the least.
Just stepping out of the house to photograph mammals is a tempting prospect that I can’t miss, so this September I gave it another go. On average I only had less than an hour from them coming out to it getting too dark to see them in the air, so I didn’t want to waste any time getting more blurred smudges or empty black frames.
Normal flash settings are too slow to freeze the flying bat in the frame. The only flash units I have are a couple of old Nikon Speedlights that are not fully compatible on DSLRs. But since I only use them on manual settings I had an idea of what I could get away with. By setting the output level to 1/16th also changes the flash duration to about 1/87000 of a second. This should be fast enough to freeze the bats movement. The camera shutter speed is less important because its dark and will only expose what the flash hits so I left it on 1/250th sec. This proved to be a lot more successful.
The lens focus was on manual, and an aperture closed enough to get a reasonable depth of field but still get a decent exposure on the bat.
Keeping the bat in frame when pressing the shutter was hard, as they don’t half shift! But it got easier after a bit of practice and spending time watching how the bat flew.
Next step is to try and get some foliage or trees in the frame so the bats are placed in an environment more.
There are only three types of carnivorous plants native to the UK and last weekend I spent a day by Megget Reservoir in the Scottish Borders looking for two of them … the Sundew and Butterwort.
The area around Megget and Talla Reservoirs is a place I never get tired of visiting. Once you get away from the surprisingly busy single-track road running through the valley it can feel quite remote. The ground can be very boggy or rough, and this time of year has some great colours with the fire grass growing in the valley.
Talla Moss with fire grass
Talla Water with Nickies Knowe
Sundews are tiny, and quite easy to miss if you don’t know what to look for. They live in wet habitats where the acidic conditions limits the amount of nutrients they can take from the ground. These plants supplement their diet by catching and digesting insects. The round leaves have hair-like tendrils with glistening droplets that are very sticky to passing insects.
This plant was used to create a potion said to be the source of strength, virility and longevity which resulted in an alternative name for it – youthwort.
Round Leaf Sundews
Photographing small plants that grow in such wet conditions can be a challenge. Even after laying down on a waterproof sheet, I ended up getting soaked with muddy black knees and hands. It also took me sometime to find plants I could get a decent low angle at without submerging the camera in the mud.
Watching my camera bag slowly sinking into the boggy ground when I thought it was safe on a dry raised mound, and frequently catching my diffuser panel before the wind took it across the valley are all parts of the outdoor photography experience I enjoy.
Round Leaf Sundews
Round Leaf Sundew
Round Leaf Sundews
Butterwort is easier to spot due to its size and bright yellow-green leaves. They excrete a sticky fluid, which attracts unsuspecting insects and traps them by slowly curling around their prey. I’ve never seen them move like this even though I’ve watched insects sticking to the leaves, so it must happen very slowly.
It was thought to have magical properties and the juices from the leaves were rubbed onto cows’ udders in order to protect the milk from evil.
Sundews and Butterwort
The third Carnivorous plant found in the UK is the Bladderwort, which is found in deep, still fresh water. It has no roots, and instead catches insects in bladders under the water. I haven’t found any around the Scottish Borders yet, and can’t help thinking I’m going to be getting wet again trying.
The heather has come out well in the Scottish Borders this August, producing a great range of colours in the landscape.
I managed to get quite a range of images but thought I’d post some that are slightly more abstract here for now.
I’ll be making some from this series available as high quality prints in the coming weeks. If you are interested see my web page for details on ordering.
Here are some #wildflower #photos I’ve photographed recently. The Thistle, Harebell, Redshank and Rosebay Willow Herb.
I got to looking up some details on the Redshank as its one plant I’ve seen numerous times and always thought it looked like a little sweet or lollypop sticking out of the grass with its tiny red bead like flowers that hardly open. Like a lot of wild flowers it has some myths linked to it. The dark marks on its leaves, has over the years, been attributed to where either the Devil or the Virgin Mary touched it.
Harebells also has a fair bit of folklore. The flower of the fairies in England, it was thought patches of this flower were where fairies sheltered. In Scotland it was know as the bluebell or the Devils bell. Witches were thought to use its juice as part of their flying ointment and also to transform themselves into hares.
Rosebay Willow Herb
A native wildflower, Rosebay Willowherb is a pioneer species, as it’s often one of the first plants to colonise barren land. It was commonly seen growing on bomb sites during the Second World War where it got the name Fireweed or Bombweed.
The thistle has been Scotland’s national emblem for hundreds of years, since the reign of Alexander III (1249–1286). One legend goes that an army of invading Norsemen were attempting to attack a scottish camp when one barefoot Norseman stepped on a thistle. The resulting shout of pain alerted the Scots, who drove them away thus saving Scotland.
Here are the details of the August and September Outdoor Photography Workshops. Contact me if you have any questions, interested in the one to one course or want to book a date.
June and July is a great time to visit a breeding sea bird colony around the UK. It can be a major assault on the senses with the smell, noise and birds coming in from all angles, but its really a wonder of the natural world and cannot be missed.
The main colonies near to me in the Scottish Borders are Bass Rock and the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth, and St Abbs and the Farne Isles on the east coast. Any or all of these are worth a trip in June or July, though the Gannets of Bass Rock take longer to breed so can be visited other months as well.
I’ve covered Gannets before on my website, mainly concentrating on individual portraits. This time I wanted to show the spectacle of birds together on mass as they cling onto the cliff to raise their young, or fly around the rock face in groups.
Scottish sea cliffs
Feathers being blown over the side of Bass Rock
The Bass Rock Gannet colony
Gannets off a Scottish coast
Remote camera on Bass Rock
Puffins on the Isle of May
Guillemots and Razorbills on the Isle of May
A new start…..and first post to this blog