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.


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.


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.


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:


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. 


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 meeting the following conditions will considerably increase the likelihood of 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 of 15mm macro lenses.

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 wideangle macro images altogether although it can sometimes be done.

So here are a few of my examples, in each case I have indicated the lens that I used;


Blue-Tailed Damselfly (Laowa 15mm macro)

A Marbled White Butterfly (Tokina 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 (Tokina 35mm macro)

A Common Blue Butterfly (Tokina 35mm macro)

A Fly Agaric in woodland (fisheye @ 10mm)

A Meadow Brown Butterfly (fisheye @ 17mm)

Sulphur Tuft Fungi (fisheye @10mm)

Nomada Bee (Tokina 35mm macro)

Common Darter (Laowa 15mm 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.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Outdoor Photography Magazine

My website gets a mention in this month's Outdoor Photography magazine...