I got out of the house for an hour this afternoon and used part of that time to take a stroll around Stansted Mountfitchet. My plan was to explore some of the corners of the village I’ve never walked around before, but the weather had other ideas. By the time I found this shot of some ivy clinging onto a semi-derelict fence, the heavens had opened and I got seriously wet. At this point I decided to beat a hasty retreat and walked back to the car to dry out!
I’ve been confined to the house today, waiting in for a couple of parcels to be delivered. Frustrating as this is, it did give me a chance to catch up on some necessary admin jobs and print some photos too. When the parcels had finally arrived, I decided to sit in the garden for a while, preparing some music scores. I figure if I spend time in the garden regularly the local bird life will come to realise I’m not a threat and will hopefully come and feed while I’m there. This approach certainly worked with our young bluetit family last summer, although the goldfinches seem a little more skittish.
As I sat there quietly (wrapped in umpteen layers and with a blanket to keep warm!) the bird feeder tree was visited by a family of long tailed tits and two nuthatches, although I couldn’t get my camera to my face quick enough to photograph them. Eventually, a pair of bluetits and a few goldfinches returned and I was able to catch them on camera. By now the light was fading fast but not shooting through double glazed windows helped enormously with catching sharp shots! I can see I’m going to be spending more time out here in the coming weeks so hopefully I’ll be able to capture some of our other visitors.
If you'd like to hear what accompanied my time in the garden this afternoon I recorded a little of the birdsong and turned it into a video - you can find it here.
In these days of digital photography it’s so easy to get snap happy and find ourselves taking too many photos. I’m as guilty of this as the next person on occasions - when each frame doesn’t cost you directly it’s too easy to shoot without thought. Today I decided to take a more considered approach and do some ‘slow photography’. The best way I’ve found for this is to pick a single prime lens to shoot with. I often feel I take better photos when using a prime lens. It makes me think more carefully about how to frame pictures and use my feet to zoom.
My weapon of choice this morning was the tiny, jewel like, Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens. I’ve had this little gem in my kit almost since I first started exploring mirrorless cameras, but its effective focal length of 90mm isn’t one I use a lot. This sort of lens is a more natural habitat for portrait photographers and, as you know, I’m no portrait photographer!
My location for my slow photography was Thaxted. I’ve been to this beautiful village many, many times but I always find something new to aim my camera at. This morning I simply meandered through the streets, stopping off in the voluminous church, and photographed whatever took my fancy. All the while I considered my compositions with care and only took photos that really worked in the viewfinder. The result is a varied mix of subjects but one I thoroughly enjoyed exploring.
As an added bonus I also found my photo for this week’s ‘thoughtful’ theme over on the Photoblog forum during my walk this morning. If you like the idea of participating in the weekly theme do pop over to the forum and take a look here.
The last time I participated in the RSPB’s Big Bird Garden Birdwatch was way back in 2011 – somehow work has always got in the way since then. I got up early this morning and spent an hour watching the bird activity in our garden. As in 2011, Lucy came and joined me, sitting at the living room window watching our feathered friends with interest. In the end she decided she’d had enough and went outside to check out her territory in our neighbours’ garden instead.
As I watched the birds I took lots of pictures. The light was truly awful, with no sign of sunshine, so I was shooting against the odds. Of the 158 photos I took only these three come anywhere near being worthy of publishing. I was pleased with the starling though as what little light there was brought out the colours in its feathers.
Ultimately I came spotted quite a variety of birds, and I now need to upload the numbers to the RSPB website so the national statistics can be collated. Here’s what I saw:
- 4 Blackbirds
- 8 Goldfinches
- 2 Bluetits
- 1 Magpie
- 2 Bullfinches
- 1 Dunnock
- 1 Wood Pigeon
- 1 Great Tit
- 1 Robin
- 1 Greenfinch
- 1 Starling
It’s a pretty good representation of the birds that regularly visit our garden – thank goodness they all turned out when it mattered!
To my amazement my new computer arrived yesterday afternoon, a mere 24 hours after I ordered it. Much as I was looking forward to the increased performance of a new machine I wasn’t looking forward to moving all my documents across to it. The main documents was the easy part but when I came to shift all my photos over in Lightroom I ran into major headaches, despite following all the right procedures. I spent a couple of hours trying to live chat with the tech folks at Adobe, only to find that they don’t work on a Saturday. Ultimately I managed to get everything where it should be and I was finally able to import the few photos I’ve taken today and edit one to post here. It’s certainly taken patience and perseverance in spades but, from what I’ve seen so far, my new computer has all the speed of a thoroughbred race horse and that should be a joy once I’m over the frustrations of today!
The local birdlife seemed on particularly good form at Hatfield Forest this morning, with several robins filling the air with song. Opposite my 'office' the jackdaws were having a good old rummage around in the grass for tasty goodies, oblivious to my presence. I hoped to get more photos of them but this plan was scuppered by two rather overenthusiastic spaniels who came bursting through the gate and scared them off!
Being stuck at home this week has been very frustrating, especially when the sun is shining and I'd prefer to be outdoors taking photos. However, I wasn't going to be defeated, so I sought inspiration from the Photoblog 365 Photo Ideas calendar, where today's theme is cosy. You may remember my little pocket bear, Cuthbert, who starred on my blog back in December. My Mum thought he looked a little chilly with no clothes so she's been busy knitting him an outfit. He's now a very well dressed bear about town, with trousers, a scarf (not pictured here - it wasn't that cold indoors!), hat and a cape! He looks decidedly cosy so he was a natural choice for the theme.
For my close up picture I had another try with the Panasonic G9's high resolution mode and, boy, does it make a difference having more light to play with! The high res RAW files come in at a whopping 80 megapixels and some 10,368 pixels long on their longest edge. The level of detail when you zoom in is astonishing and Cuthbert, with his fuzzy texture, was the perfect subject to see this. Of course, the files are enormous (a 461MB TIFF file once I'd tweaked him in Color Efex Pro!) so my aging computer complained a lot! However, that should soon be a thing of the past as my other activity for today was ordering a new computer. The new laptop will have an i7 processor, 32MB of RAM, a 1TB solid state hard drive and a 4K screen so Lightroom should absolutely whizz along once I've got it up and running! My current computer is almost five years old so I'm hoping the spec of the new one should keep me going for at least another five....
As a photographer who suffers from Raynauds Syndrome, keeping my hands warm and functional while shooting in the winter is a perpetual challenge. The combination of winter weather and a cold camera are often enough to drain the blood from my fingertips, making it incredibly hard to feel the buttons and dials. When I used a DSLR I found silk lined leather gloves gave me enough dexterity, while being windproof. Of course, once I went mirrorless and introduced a touchscreen into the mix they didn't work.
I've tried various touchscreen gloves and found them all too bulky for precise control but last winter I discovered some cosy cashmere fingerless gloves which convert into mittens for warmth when it's needed. Although they have covered thumbs I found I could still the operate the touchscreen on my Panasonic GX8. Imagine my frustration when I bought my new G9 and discovered they've changed the touchscreen and my wonderful gloves no longer work!
A chance conversation with another photographer at Snetterton last week made me look up arthritis gloves online and found these beauties. They're thin, knitted gloves but with silver thread running through them. The silver reflects the heat back inside and has the added bonus that it is conductive enough to work with a touchscreen - result! Time will tell if they're really the perfect photography gloves but at least I can spend the rest of this winter shooting with warm hands and have complete control of my camera - fingers crossed!
I’m delighted to say the glitch which prevented iOS device and Mac users seeing my pictures over on Photoblog seems to have been eradicated at last. That should make this duplicate blog redundant. Of course, I’m not going to tempt fate just now but abandoning this but, assuming it continues to work, I may well repurpose this part of my website in a week or two. Watch this space for further info!
In the meantime, here’s today’s post.....
My plan this afternoon was to have another go with the high resolution mode on my camera. However, I stupidly left it too late in the day and by the time I made a start the light levels had dropped too much for me to be able to use a low enough ISO setting for ultimate quality. This picture was shot in high res mode but at ISO 1600 its detail isn’t as clean as I’d have liked. It was as useful lesson learnt though and it made a pretty monochrome picture of nature’s use of the Fibonacci series in any case!
Once again I've tried to stay indoors as much as possible today while my cold improves. Changes of temperature send me into paroxysms of violent coughs which, as well as being painful thanks to pulled stomach muscles, are liable to send any passersby running for the hills in fear of Aussie Flu! I've caught up on a few admin jobs around the house but also took the opportunity to do a spot of reading. My current book, The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor, is a murder mystery set in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and a bit of a page turner. Settling down this afternoon I grabbed a coffee and couple of welshcakes to go with it and was inspired to shoot the scene as my offering for this week's 'words' theme over on the Photoblog forum. If you fancy participating in the theme do pop over to the weekly theme thread and see what it's all about.
We were supposed to have lots of rain today but apparently no one told the weather that, so we had snow instead! I've been keeping indoors as I've got a hacking cough and cold so I spent some time watching the birds at our feeding station. The blackbirds have well and truly got the knack of feeding from the fat balls now but they do have to queue up as there's only one perch from which they can reach them. This young female blackbird was looking particular puffed up as she waited patiently and the falling snow just adds that winter wonderland finishing touch!
Much of the time Lucy ignores the many toys we've bought for her over the years but from time to time she suddenly finds the impulse to hunt. Today's favourite was this hamster and I found her sitting on the living room floor this afternoon contemplating it!
Since I took delivery of my new camera a couple of weeks ago I've been looking an opportunity to properly test its ability to track moving subjects accurately. What I needed was a ready supply of subjects who would obligingly keep speeding past my camera. The local birdlife hasn't been cooperative enough so I decided to seek out speed of a mechanical variety instead. Snetterton race circuit provided the source I needed, with a track day taking place today, so I drove up to Norfolk this morning. An eclectic mix of cars continuously sped around the track all day so I was able to try out lots of different settings. As I suspected the camera's bespoke tracking mode isn't very good, although I had the odd success.
I had much more success using a single focus point but with the camera set to continuous focus and I moved that focus point to where I wanted it with my thumb on the touchscreen. The other useful option was to activate all 225 focus points and tell the camera which group of points I wanted it to start with. Having locked onto the lead car the camera then tracked it across the viewfinder pretty well, although I suspect this would work less well with a large field of cars in a race.
Normally I would spend some time doing some slow speed panning work to create a sense of speed in my pictures. I did a little of that today, but most of the time I stuck to a shutter speed of around a thousandth of a second. That meant I was unlikely to have any problems with camera shake and any failures were going to largely down to the camera rather than me!
Some seven hundred frames later I headed home, happy that I'd give my camera a really good test. It achieved a much better success rate than my little GX8 and I think the G9 now matches the abilities of the Canon DSLR I've just sold so I'm happy with my choice. All I need now is for the weather to warm up so I can get out to photograph more motorsport and aviation events and hone my skills!
The birds who visit our garden are an endless source of entertainment and I keep some binoculars beside the kitchen window at all times to aid identification. Today we had the usual range of aviators in the garden - lots of goldfinches plus the odd greenfinch, half a dozen blackbirds and a solitary robin. Shooting through the kitchen window I was able to catch them all on camera, although it was a bit of a challenge as yesterday's bright sunshine had long since gone.
This afternoon, staring aimlessly out of the window, I noticed we had an additional visitor - more of an acrobat than an aviator. Most days this squirrel scoots along the back fence (the theme from Mission Impossible always passes through my mind when I see this!) but it rarely ventures further than that. Today though he or she whizzed up the bird feeder tree to nab some tasty morsels from the fatballs. I know technically grey squirrels are vermin but I couldn't help admire this one's grace as it scaled the tree and I don't mind too much, as long as it only makes the occasional raid on the bird food!
When I awoke this morning the sky was a beautiful shade of blue and featured an unusual golden orb. Of course, what I was seeing was the sun, but it's been so long since we had a sunny day I'd almost forgotten what that looked like! I certainly wasn't going to waste this opportunity so I headed in out in search of some flying subjects, with which to test the focus tracking on my new camera.
I headed first for the Fowlmere RSPB nature reserve, not far from here. My hopes were high that I might find some bird life to photograph among the chalk streams and reed beds. Sadly I was mightily disappointed. With the exception of a lone swan, who remained stubbornly in the water, I barely saw a single bird. The walk did me good though and it was wonderful to be out in the sunshine, even if there was a cutting wind which was, of course, the probable reason why the birds were in hiding.
After a couple of hours I gave up and drove the short distance to Duxford in the hope that I might find the odd metallic bird to photograph. Here my luck was in - as I walked out of the visitor centre a Spitfire was revving up its engines, ready for take off. I dug my camera and long lens out of my bag, legged it over to the flight line and snapped away. After spot of lunch I emerged back into the sunshine and found, to my delight, that the Spitfire was going out again - my luck really was in. I'd been hoping to shoot the odd mundane private plane so this thoroughbred was a huge bonus!
The resulting photos were something of a mixed bag. That said, I was shooting into the light a lot of the time and my panning technique is horribly out of practice after a winter with no aircraft to aim at. However, there were some successes. With some more practice and greater familiarity with the camera's controls no doubt things will improve- I just need to find more suitable subjects to photograph!
After a morning spent thoroughly refreshing the portfolio over on my website (you can see if here if you'd like to take a look) I wanted to get out of the house for a short walk while there was some light. I ended up in Saffron Walden where I simply followed my nose. In one of the shopping streets I found a dog tied to a post while his owner was inside one of the shops. He was shivering in the cold wind so I went over to say hello and tried to offer some warmth and a good fuss. He seemed very grateful and obligingly posed for a photo, with one paw raised in a very cute manner. Fortunately, when I passed by again half hour later he'd gone so I hope his owner had taken him somewhere warmer.
I continued my meanderings, heading past Oliver Cromwell's former headquarters towards the church. By this stage the low winter sun was throwing some beautiful shafts of light towards the high altar. The way it was falling across the steps and ornately carved wooden gates was simply beautiful and I figured there was a photo to be found there for this week's 'shape and form' theme over on the Photoblog forum.
Finally, having checked my canine friend had been reunited with his owner I walked back towards my car. On the way I passed a new chocolate shop so I stopped off for a warming hot chocolate which was absolutely delicious!
I've noticed over the years that blackbirds don't generally take food from bird feeders, unlike the bluetits and goldfinches who frequent our garden. Instead they scuttle around the earth below, picking up the crumbs dropped by those feeding overhead. In recent weeks I've often seen as many as six blackbirds, bickering over the leftovers and chasing each other around the flowerbed.
Since we replanted our birdfeeder tree into a more upright position and reorganised the feeders though, a few of these intelligent birds have used some lateral thinking. They realised they can stand on one of the branches to reach the fatball feeder, from where they can scoff much tastier and larger morsels of food. This particular branch is now frequented by a steady stream of blackbirds, all stuffing their beaks with high energy food, to keep them fuelled through the tough winter months.
It's strange how you can visit a place many times and not notice a landmark right under your nose. Every month I park up in the village of Knowl Hill to eat lunch before my rehearsal. The spot where I park is right next to a long footbridge, crossing the A4, yet I've never thought to walk across it. Today I put that right, walking up the steps to see what the view looked like. Staring across the fields I saw this chap walking his dog in the distance. I could see he was heading in my direction, towards a cross roads in the grass, where decades of dog walkers have followed the same path. I composed my shot and waited for man and dog to reach the spot where I wanted to freeze frame their journey. It may not be the most dynamic piece of street photography (or should that be field photography?!) I've ever created but it taught me to take more notice of the places I visit month in, month out.
I'm beginning to wonder whether my recent camera and lens purchases have put a curse on the weather. Since I bought the lens in mid-December we've barely seen the sun, and when it has deigned to appear I've been at work! Today was similarly gloomy but that wasn't going to put me off going for a stroll after my shift at Hatfield Forest.
Yesterday I attended the SWPP photography trade show in London. I had no intention of spending any more money but it did offer me the opportunity to meet up with sports photographer Ian Cook to ask his advice on action shooting with my new G9. He was incredibly helpful, suggesting tweaks I could make to the settings, including using back button focus. I've been aware of this technique (which separates focusing from the shutter button) but had never tried it until this afternoon. After a few minutes all at sea I managed to get my brain into gear and spent some time photographing the birds.
Thanks to the apocalyptically dull light I struggled with birds in flight today but had more success with the geese on the lake. Of course, one of the forest robins was ever present, always hopeful of some crumbs, so I couldn't resist a quick picture, especially when he chose to land on a post just a couple of yards from me!
I think I can safely say my back button focus technique needs more practice but at least I came away with a few pictures. All I need now is for some sunshine when I have a few days off next week - fingers crossed!
As I walked through Whitechapel this morning I came across some street art which just called out to be photographed. This area is a haven for such paintings but sadly I didn't have enough time to explore some more. I almost missed the second painting as the characters stood no taller than knee height - miniature men at work!