In life you meet some people you just get on with without any effort.
Five months ago after posting images of birds on social media and offering my knowledge to anyone who wanted help with their photography, a nice guy called Tom got in touch with me asking for for a chat about camera settings.
We met later in the month and spent some time in Stanley Park near Blackpool, taking some images of Swans and Parakeets. We got on really well and I invited him up to our static van to see the bird life we get.
He came today for the morning. We had some lunch and sat taking images of Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Redpoll, Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin, Blackbird and Collard Dove.
Tom loved it as the birds came into feed all the time, giving him a chance to test his Nikon D7200 out on different settings.
Sometimes in photography you’re getting great images, then for some reason you decide to try something else. That is what happened to me today – I changed my focus setting area.
I think, with the light being great, the settings were not to my liking, so I am going back to old settings. But it is good to try out new things just to make sure!
I can still remember my Grandad 50 years ago with his camera, getting us to pose for a family photo.
He loved photography, and said it made time stand still.
Unfortunately I don’t have many of the 2×2 black and white images that he took.
Sadly when he passed, I was in India with the Army and couldn’t get back for his funeral.
My last memory of him with his camera was when he was in hospital. Lying in bed in bad health, he reached down and pulled out his little 35mm camera. “Gather round the end of the bed for a photo” he said.
He is always with me when I am out with my camera.
I carry a very old tripod he used for his photography work, and I use it for my compact camera, and for mounting my wildlife Trail Cam on.
I find it amazing that back in 1972 when I picked up my first camera I could only afford a roll of film with 12 exposures.
We talk today about ISO all the time – it is in every forum you look at about photography. Those were the days when I could only get ISO 100 or 200.
You had to work with what you had, and if you got it wrong that was that. Buy another film, plus development of the negatives.
The firm ‘Bonus Print’ developed my film, and back then they would develop out of focus negatives and still charge you.
I traveled to Belize in 1979, spending 6 months 10 miles from Belize city.
On my weekends off I used to travel to small island and spend time chilling.
Arriving in Belize city, I would get a boat to the island.
On one particular boat journey I had my camera at hand.
Out of the sea a Dolphin leapt from the water.
You couldn’t check if it was in focus, but months later I got the film developed and it was a great shot as it was horizontal to the horizon. I have the picture somewhere and will post on here at a later date.
I got my second camera whilst I was in the Falklands.
This is an image I got from the internet, and the one I owned had a Ziess Lens.
The camera was so sharp. I can’t remember what mode I used back then, all I know is the images this camera produced were excellent.
On my weekends off I walked for miles in uniform; just me and my camera, venturing to remote places that no one else had tread.
One afternoon as I rested below a small rock face, I looked up and halfway up was a Red Backed Hawk only 10 feet away from me.
It was looking straight at me, with a very disturbing posture.
It was only when I spoke to a local Falklander that they informed me the Hawk I encountered had a reputation for attacking people.
Another afternoon whilst walking I came to a place called Fox Bay. On a hillside, miles from anywhere, was a Wooden Cross with the name inscription Capt John Hamleton.
The first time I witnessed this was as a boy, but I never thought it looked beautiful until I was older and appreciated how majestic the Swan is; clumsy on land yet moving with grace on the water.
The Swan mate for life, and the courtship involves mutual bill dipping and head posturing.
They are sociable except in breeding season, and can be very aggressive if you approach with a dog. My old Labrador, Monty, found that out when he was a pup and ventured too close.
Observing them this year was very interesting.
They pick on certain birds that are on the lake.
There are different species all swimming around them, but as soon as a Canada goose comes into the area, the Swan lowers itself into the water and pushes using it’s big feet to get up speed, quickly getting within range to attack.
This is great for me because you get some great action shots.
The male Swan is called a cob, and the female a pen.
They feed by dabbling, not diving, in the shallows for aquatic plants.
Over time I have learnt to know when the action will start, so I am always ready with the big zoom pulled back – if not the Swan fills the frame (and more). Many images captured only half the swan.
The action can be anything from taking flight to landing, and after they preen themselves they always rise up out of the water for a fantastic display of power.
An amazing bird that I was always told belong to the Her Majesty The Queen of England.
Picking up my knife five years ago, I never imagined I would be selling my wood Carvings to very happy customers.
What and where did this creative skill come from, or is it in us all to make something from nothing?
I look back at my military career and my time as a confectioner, and wonder what if the path of my life had been different. But then I would not have the things in life I have now.
Anyway, with my love for bird and animal photography, I wanted to copy an owl onto wood, and that is how it all started.
MDF and some cheap wood chisels.
I soon learned about dust spoor that gets on your lungs, and looked for a better material. I cut up old tables and anything else that would be good for relief carving.
Then we moved to a Caravan in the country, and I soon found some nice wood – green wood that was easy to work with.
I had to learn about the different species of tree, what carved well, density of wood, splitting and the grain. All very interesting, but ultimately it was getting your hands on the right tree, and the right size of tree.
Getting to know a man called Colin who worked on the site gave me a new opportunity to get my hands on some wood. Colin, who works as maintenance, would inform me when he was cutting a tree down or when a tree had come down in the woods. With this source I would have the materials to start working with.
I needed good ,sharp tools that would make carving easier. Researching all aspects of wood carving put me in good stead, and it began from there.
Tha chisels were the most important tool in my box. Pfiel are a Swiss made chisel that cost the earth, but I still use them now as the steel is premium and always stays super sharp.
With me photographing birds led me to trying to make a 3D bird. YouTube videos and books gave me vital information, but it was down to me, my skills and patience.
The Wren, Kingfisher and Woodpecker were the first I did with good results, but it was the Owl I wanted to make. I concentrated on the Barn Owl because the face is so recognized by people.
First attempts were nice but the face wasn’t right, so I printed off images of the Barn Owl I had filmed and examined the face and eyes.
With having a source of wood to pick from I quickly learned that Silver Birch and Mountain Ash were the best to work with. Green is a term when you work with non seasoned wood, soft and full of moisture but very easy to carve.
The winter of 2018, I got my hands on a big chunk of Mountain Ash.
How I wanted to try a big owl carving.
I do work with a four inch Bosch grinder with a special disc made by Arbortech; without this I would not be able to get the shape I want.
I also invested in a Stihl 180 chainsaw with a Carving Blade fitted.
Having the shape of the owl in my head, I made a start with the chainsaw, getting a rough shape I was happy with.
Once I was happy with the shape, I tackled the hardest part of the carving – getting the feet right. I took my time and soon had a shape I could work with.
It was time for the chisels to come out to start work on the detail work.
Slowly I worked on the feet – like the eye, it has to resemble the real thing. Easy saying that.
Working for an hour a night, I was very happy with the feet and talons. Then the work started on the body and feather detail.
Overall, I was over the moon with my first big wood carving. The problem in the UK is what to treat it with after.
I hate putting varnish on my wood, but this was to take pride and place in our garden.
I found a suitable place on top of a large piece of Oak. It looked fantastic but I forgot to check it weekly for any signs of cracking or weather damage.
The rain had got into parts of the wood and we had the hottest summer in the UK for ages.
It split badly, so I decided to take it in for the winter. I worked on it by removing all the detail and started again. I even re-carved the face again.
It will take pride and place again in the garden but this time with varnish on.
Where did this gift come from? To take wood from the forest and have the skill to make it into an owl?
A bird flying low across the water at speed is a photographer’s dream – if you’re in the right place at the right time.
I found the Great Crested Greebe back in 2012 at a park nearby, and it was the first bird on the water I researched and spent hours observing.
From fishing, to mating, to aggressive behaviour – it was so interesting.
My first real challenge was to capture the Greebe with a fish.
I watched it dive for a fish and timed it from when it submerged down below to swimming back up to the surface. I worked out it stayed under the water for 12 to 14 seconds. Also, it left an air bubble trail on the surface.
I also quickly found that if the Greebe spotted you, it would swim away into the middle of the lake.
I began to observe it from a distance, and by doing that I could monitor it as it came close to the bank of the lake.
They seemed to prefer the overhanging trees where the fish take shelter.
A few areas became a favourite place for the Greebe to fish, so I made sure to get into position shortly before they got there.
As I followed the Greebe ,I found a method of getting into the right position.
With the park having many trees close to the bank, that gave me cover to move when the Greebe went down to fish.
I quickly ran between the trees, hoping it would come up with a fish.
The other Greebe image I wanted to capture was the famous Mating dance.
They meet in the lake, then turn and swim away for about 20 feet, then dive. They come up with dead leaves in their beaks and swim toward each other, then hit each other as they rise out of the water and dance, mimicking each other.
It was always going to be a case of right time, right place.
After watching them for three years, it happened.
These latest images were in March 2020 when a Coot was getting close to the Greebe nest area.
I just knew the Greebe would come out low, but I didn’t know it would fly across the water. Amazing.
Our static van is a bird paradise with around 70-80 bird species on and around the site.
One owl I had looked for but never found was the Little Owl.
I spent many hours scouring the countryside on some wild goose chases.
One afternoon me and my wife Ruth went for a walk from the site; after a mile along a country lane I looked up at this building sitting in a field about 100 feet from the lane.
“God look Ruth! There is the Little Owl I have been looking for so long.”
It spotted us from a distance but just seeing it was fantastic and my head started spinning thinking of my next plan of action
The next farm up was very close so being new to the area I made a point of contacting the farmer (a man called John), who was very interested in what I was doing. He gave me permission to go in the field next to the building.
I researched the behaviour of the Little Owl and found out that they come out at dusk and have a habit of sitting on fence posts.
I did a recce looking for signs of the owl.
After two weeks of of observing it I purchased a trail camera. This is a camera that captures anything that moves, triggered by sensors.
The plan worked well with some lovely footage of it sitting on the post.
I hadn’t realised that it makes itself bigger and lets out a call as it rises up.
The experience was amazing, and with no still images I still had a challenge on my hands to get a photograph.
The detail on a bird’s body is like it has been computer generated.
Feathers of all sizes and shapes begin at the head and continue down to the tail feathers.
The resolution you keep with the A7r4 gives you so much room when editing, coming from an APS.C sensor to a full frame camera didn’t bother me from 1.6 crop factor to 35mm.
The Sony 61mp is huge and if you’re not close enough you can use a APS-C mode that gives you extra reach but cuts the resolution down from 61mp to 26mp.
I took these today when the light was poor using an ISO 800 and a Shutter speed of 1/800 on f6.3.
Look at the bird’s eye and the resolution in the bird’s feathers – how clear they are.
The joy this camera has given me has opened up a new world.
Having the dynamic range and confidence that you can crop in camera is amazing. The beast 200-600 is so sharp it is a wildlife photographer’s dream; so sharp even at 600, and most of the time there is no sharpening needed.
Anyone wanting help with settings, or if you can’t get the images it should be producing, let me know – I’d be glad to help.