Saturday, 31 December 2011

Top 10 Images of 2011


Well, it's now the end of the year and it seems an appropriate time for me to reflect upon my photography over the past 12 months.

Generally speaking, I'm fairly happy with how things panned out photographically this year. There are a small group of images that I'm very happy with while a few others fill gaps in my collection even if they're nothing special photographically speaking.

A few observations I could make are that I don't think I have ever taken so few non-macro images (e.g. birds and mammals) as I have this year. To some extent this was deliberate but it was also circumstantial as well. For instance, the mild weather this autumn and winter has certainly limited the opportunities for photographing small birds at feeding stations and in my garden. Another observation I could make is that I normally take a greater number of fungi images but, again, the dry autumn meant there was very little fungi around this year compared to previous years. Finally, I think I've had a greater number of images published this year than in previous years though sadly I had no success in the major competitions despite having one or two shortlisted.

So what are my plans for next year? I don't have anything too specific planned but I do intend to continue to experiment and to try different styles. Watch this space for more details....

Having looked back over this year's images I thought I would draw up a list of my favourite 10 images taken in 2011. This is not an easy task as often an image will mean a lot to me for reasons that wouldn't be obvious to anyone else viewing the image. For instance, I may appreciate an image because I had been trying to capture a certain behaviour for some time or because the image was one that I had pre-planned. Nevertheless, the following images, in no particular order, would be those that I'm probably most proud of.



Black Ant (Lasius niger) drinking on a foxglove: I find these tiny black ants (3-5mm in length) very difficult to photograph due to their small size and the fact that they are always on the move. I like the fact that I managed to photograph this one side-on and I also like the striking pink backdrop.





Four-Spotted Chaser Dragonfly: The reason I like this image is partly the combination of the perch and background colours (it's a field of buttercups) but also because the day before I took this image I was lucky enough to observe this dragonfly emerge from its larval form.




A mating pair of Syrphus ribesii hoverflies: It's always nice to capture insect behaviour and I particularly like the fact that the female is having a drink...!




Glowing Snail: I like this image of sunlight shining through a small snail mainly because it's a little different.




A Large Red Damselfly emerging from its larval stage: The process through which dragonflies and damselflies transform from their aquatic nymphal stage into the adult stage never ceases to amaze me. I like the position of the damselfly in this image as it tries to push its way free of the exuvia.




A Seven-Spot Ladybird feeding on an Aphid: I had been trying to capture this behaviour for a while and was very pleased to capture a series of detailed images showing ladybirds eating aphids.




Black and White Woodlouse: This image was taken back in March but it was only very recently that I decided to have a go at producing a menacing looking black and white version. I'm sure it's not to everyone's tastes but I'm quite pleased with how it turned out and I like the fact that it's a fairly unusual image.





Horse Fly (or Cleg Fly): I've been trying to get a decent image of a Horse Fly's eyes for some time but Horse Flies can be very skittish. I was pleased with the composition of this one.




Fly Agaric wideangle: As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm a big fan of 'wideangle macro' style images. They're difficult to do well, and this one is far from perfect, but I was still quite pleased with how it came out.




Black Ant trying to 'milk' an aphid: This behaviour is very difficult to capture for the same reasons as I've given for the Black Ant image above. Again, I like the fact that I've managed to capture the ant and aphid side-on in the second or two for which they paused. Ideally a globule of honeydew would be present although the image would then tell a different story to this image which shows an increasingly frustrated ant resorting to clambering onto the aphid in an attempt to get it to secrete some honeydew.



So there you have it, an entirely personal and subjective selection of some of my favourite images of the year. I'm looking forward to next year already...

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Website Updated


26 new images have been added to my main website. Some have already been featured within various recent blogposts but a number are new, including those below.

The images can all be found in the Latest Images gallery and in the appropriate insect, bird, mammal and fungi galleries.


PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE

Forest Bug

Emerald Damselfly, male

Hoverfly - Rhingia campestris

Red Deer Stag

Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the readers of this blog for their interest in the blog and in my photography more generally. Since starting the blog towards the end of August visitor numbers have increased steadily and the number of pageloads has now passed 3,700. I intend to develop the blog further in 2012 and to maintain a regular flow of varied posts.

In the meantime I would like to wish you all a happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous new year.




Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Black and White Macro

It occurred to me recently that you see very few black and white macro images. To some extent this may reflect the fact that brightly coloured insects, which are often the subject of choice for macro photographers, may not lend themselves to being photographed in black and white. Instead, black and white photography is normally considered to be an effective way to introduce mood to an image, typically landscape images, or to emphasise textures for wildlife subjects such as elephants. But having given some more thought to this issue I came to the conclusion that some macro subjects would be well suited to black and white photography.

Earlier this year I photographed some Common Rough Woodlice and was struck by the fact that up-close they look rather menacing and almost warrior-like. They are predominantly grey, highly textured and tend to lurk in damp, dark places. All of which made me think that it should be possible to create almost film noir type images of these menacing looking creatures emerging from the darkness. The results can be seen below.

Do these images work? Well, you can be the judge of that. I imagine they will divide opinion but it's nice to try something different from time-to-time.

PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE

Canon 5D with MP-E 65mm macro lens and heavily diffused 580 EXII flash, f11, 1/160, ISO 50



Monday, 12 December 2011

Butterflies in Decline


A new report on the state of the UK's butterflies over the last decade paints a rather depressing picture. The report, compiled by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, has some disturbing headline figures. Over a 10 year period;
  • the population levels of 72% of UK species declined 
  • the distributions of 54% of species declined
These findings relate to a 10 year period within the broader period 1995-2009 (i.e. they are comparing data gathered during 1995-1999 with data gathered during 2005-2009). 


Common Blue


Aside from the headline figures, what is particularly worrying is the finding that some of our most common species are in decline, such as the Common Blue (above), the Small Skipper (below) and the Large Skipper. These are species which appeared relatively well suited to living alongside human activity and were not considered to be particularly sensitive species. 


Small Skipper



It's not all doom and gloom though. Both the population and distribution of species such as the Comma, Speckled Wood and the Ringlet (below) are increasing.  The distribution of the Peacock has also increased, though its population levels appear to have declined.


Ringlet 



Numbers of the Large Blue, the Dark Green Fritillary and Silver Wash Fritillary have also increased, albeit from a very low base in the case of the Large Blue. These improvements reflect the hard work of organisations such as Butterfly Conservation.

Nevertheless, the overall picture is a depressing one. There is no getting away from the fact that the majority of our butterflies have declined in both numbers and range over a 10 year period - the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. Conservation work is obviously continuing as are various agri-environmental schemes but it would seem the best we can hope for is to halt, or even merely slow, the decline. 

The full report can be found here:


Friday, 9 December 2011

Greenbottles and Bluebottles

The mild weather here in the midlands this autumn and winter has meant greater insect activity than would normally be expected. Only a few days ago I saw a Bluebottle fly and Greenbottles were also still around until fairly recently. These images are probably my last insect images to be taken this year.

Although I don't think either of these species would win any popularity contests, the Greenbottles in particular are actually quite attractive close-up. Or maybe it's just me...!


PLEASE CLICK TO ENLARGE IMAGES

Canon 60D with MPE-65mm macro lens and diffused MT-24 flash, f13, 1/160, ISO 100



Canon 60D with MPE-65mm macro lens and diffused MT-24 flash, f13, 1/160, ISO 100



Canon 7D with MPE-65mm macro lens and diffused MT-24 flash, f11, 1/160, ISO 100


Canon 7D with MPE-65mm macro lens and diffused MT-24 flash, f11, 1/160, ISO 100


Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Confused Grasshopper Goes Viral

For all of the undoubted benefits that the internet provides it does also have a less positive side. In fact there are times when it seems to develop a life of its own. Back in October I posted here to say that my 'Confused Grasshopper' image (below) had been featured in The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Times. This was due to Solent News and Photo Agency who thought the image to be interesting and hence purchased it from FLPA stock agency and approached the national press with it. I'm still very grateful to Solent as it's always nice to see your images in the national press.

PLEASE CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE



However, only fairly recently have I realised that my image has almost gone viral on the internet, largely as a result of also appearing in the online versions of The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail. Most worrying of all, in the vast majority of cases I am not credited as the photographer. By way of example, if you type the words 'confused' and 'grasshopper' into Google you will get 20+ pages of results (yes that is 20+ pages of results!) almost all relating to my image and almost all make no mention of my name.

As another example, the screenshot below (click to enlarge) is from the the following URL:

http://www.quickmeme.com/Confused-grasshopper/?upcoming



and allows users to add 'humorous' captions to the image. (The caption in the middle of the above screenshot was kindly submitted by Simon Litten after he learned of this issue!)

The problem is that I had no way of preventing this from happening and wouldn't have any way of preventing it from happening again if another of my images was publicised by the press. Because the image was bought by Solent from FLPA it was obviously a stock image and therefore did not contain a watermark across the image or my name in the bottom corner. Even if it had the latter it would not have helped since all 3 papers cropped the original image!

Maybe I should be flattered that my image has captured people's imagination in this way, and part of me is, but I nevertheless find the complete loss of control of one of my images slightly troubling. I'm sure most photographers would feel the same.


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Fly Agarics

It hasn't been a good year for fungi due to the lack of rain throughout September and October. My local Fly Agaric site didn't have as many specimens as last year but a couple of visits back in September did provide one or two that were quite photogenic. Until I found my local site 2-3 years ago I had never really had the chance to photograph Fly Agarics. As a result, they almost became something of an obsession as I was so keen to photograph them due to their classic toadstool appearances so familiar from children's stories. The legacy of this now cured obsession is that I can never resist photographing Fly Agarics whenever I see any. Here are a few from this autumn.

PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE







Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Glowing Snail

Macro opportunities are few and far between at this time of year, although the unusually mild weather has meant there is still some invertebrate life around. I recently saw a very small snail on the leaf of a now wilted sunflower plant in my garden and happened to notice that its shell and body were slightly translucent. It was a bright sunny day and so by carefully changing the angle of the leaf I was able to get the sun to shine through the snail. Probably not everyone's cup of tea but I quite like the final image.


PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE 

Canon 60D with Canon 60mm macro lens, f9, 1/800, ISO 400.


Friday, 18 November 2011

Natural Pest Control

I am always keen to photograph aspects of insects' behaviour and a recent blog post discussed and illustrated the relationship between ants and aphids. But no discussion of the ant-aphid relationship is complete without mentioning the role played by ladybirds. Ants provide protection to aphids against predators (and are paid for their protection services in the form of honeydew) and ladybirds are perhaps the most notable predator of aphids.

In recent years I have therefore actively sought opportunities to photograph the interactions between ants, aphids and ladybirds. While I have yet to capture the skirmishes between ants and ladybirds, this summer I did get the opportunity to photograph ladybirds feeding on aphids, as shown below.

All images taken with a Canon 60D with MP-E 65mm macro lens and heavily diffused MT-24EX twin flash. The settings for each image were f13, 1/160, ISO 100.

PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE









The following sequence appears to show the aphids fighting back, though whether they really had such an intention is unclear. Sadly for them, their resistance proved futile!








Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts do an excellent job managing and protecting many of the UK's most important wildlife reserves. I'm a member of the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and my images are regularly used by several regional Wildlife Trusts as well as by the 'main' Wildlife Trusts in their national magazine, their website and in other publications.

I'm particularly pleased to say that one of my hedgehog images has been included in The Wildlife Trusts' national 2012 calendar, as shown below:

PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE



The calendar is 30cm x 30cm (when folded, so 60cm tall when open) and contains some lovely images, as shown on the back cover:



The calendar would make a very nice Christmas present for anyone with an interest in British wildlife and obviously helps a very worthy cause. It can be purchased online for only £7.50 including postage by visiting HERE (note the main Wildlife Trusts website has yet to get its online shop up and running so this is a link to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust's shop).

The Wildlife Trusts have also recently used one of my images on the front cover of their Annual Report and Accounts 2010-11 (below):





on their website to promote their Living Landscape campaign:





and a couple of my images have also been used to produce Wildlife Trusts greetings cards as below (these don't seem to be available online as yet):



Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Spider and Hoverfly

As a keen macro photographer I'm always on the look-out for interesting insects and interesting insect behaviour. My eyes now seem able to spot an irregular shape on a leaf or a tiny movement from some distance.  At the end of the summer we seemed to have an enormous number of hoverflies visiting my house and garden and, inevitably, certain species were taking advantage of this bumper harvest. One evening I noticed a small, unusual shape on the leaf of a sunflower in my garden and knew that it was something a bit more interesting than normal. Sure enough, on closer inspection I could see a small spider grappling with a hoverfly that was larger than it was.

Through the viewfinder I was presented with an interesting scene (if you like this sort of thing :-)) but it became immediately obvious that the limited depth of field at this level of magnification meant it was practically impossible to get all of the key parts of the image in focus. Focus stacking (i.e. taking multiple images each with a slightly different part of the image in focus and then blending them in Photoshop) was therefore the only option. However, since the spider was almost continually moving it was far from straightforward to take multiple images of the spider in the same position. Nevertheless, I managed a few. The first three images below were therefore each focus stacked from two or three frames. The final image was from a single frame.

All images taken with a Canon 60D with MP-E 65mm macro lens and a heavily diffused MT-24EX flashgun. Each frame was taken at f13, 1/160, ISO 100. 

PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGES TO VIEW LARGER VERSIONS








Thursday, 3 November 2011

Wideangle Macro

[Updated April 2017]


Although the majority of my macro images deliberately show the subject in isolation, often against a clean background, an alternative style of photography that I am also very keen on is wideangle macro. Images taken in this style are able to show the subject in its natural environment and, as such, can be more interesting than other macro styles, in my opinion at least.

Producing wideangle macro images is far from easy. Fisheye or wideangle macro lenses work best as they will often allow very close focusing. The lenses I currently use for this style of photography are the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye and the Tokina 35mm macro lens. Although the maximum magnification of the fisheye lens is not great (approx 0.4x) this is fairly typical of fisheye lenses. The 35mm macro on the other hand is capable of lifesize (1x) reproduction although the field of view is obviously less than the fisheye. A newer lens that became available in 2015 is the Laowa 15mm macro lens. This isn't the easiest lens to use but can produce excellent results. This post provides a review of the lens while this post provides some additional images taken with the lens.

A problem that all of these lenses suffer from, but particularly the fisheye and the Laowa 15mm, is that at maximum magnification the subject will almost be touching the front of the lens, and that's no exaggeration. This also presents a challenge for lighting as the lens will often cast a shadow on the subject, given its close proximity. It is therefore necessary to use a very carefully positioned reflector or an even more carefully positioned flashgun. Finally, because of the ultra wideangle nature of fisheyes you need a very attractive backdrop and one without telegraph poles, benches or other artificial elements, all of which have a habit of creeping into fisheye images.

So, after much experimentation, I've realised that the following conditions all need to be met before taking a successful wideangle macro shot;

1. You need a relatively large insect (because of the lack of magnification), such as a dragonfly or large butterfly if using a fisheye. Smaller insects are possible if using the 35mm macro.

2. The insect also needs to be very docile and not likely to fly off when a lens is placed within a centimetre or two of it.

3. You need an attractive setting to form the backdrop of the image. Again, this is particularly true of the fisheye and the Laowa 15mm lens.

4. and you ideally need a deep blue sky because white sky will always tend to overexpose as well as look somewhat insipid. It is very difficult to keep the sky out of a wideangle macro images altogether although it can sometimes be done.

So here are a few of my examples;


PLEASE CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE


Blue-Tailed Damselfly (Laowa 15mm macro)



A Marbled White Butterfly (35mm macro)


A Brown Hawker Dragonfly (fisheye @ 17mm)



A Brown Lipped Snail (Laowa 15mm)


Blue-Tailed Damselfly (Laowa 15mm macro)


Newly Emerged Four Spotted Chaser Dragonfly (35mm macro)


A Common Blue Butterfly (35mm macro)


A Fly Agaric in woodland (fisheye @ 10mm)


A Meadow Brown Butterfly (fisheye @ 17mm)


Sulphur Tuft Fungi (fisheye @10mm)


Nomada Bee (35mm macro)



Finally, it's worth pointing out that Paul Harcourt Davies and Clay Bolt have published an excellent guide to wideangle macro photography which is available to buy here.