Thursday 27 December 2012

Top 10 Images of 2012

The end of the year is nearly upon us and so it's a good time for me to reflect upon my photography over the previous 12 months.

Although I haven't actually counted, I suspect I took fewer photos this year than in previous years. This was largely due to work commitments but also, to some extent, due to the adoption of a slightly more focussed approach to image taking. In previous years I would often visit a nature reserve to have a good wander around and to photograph anything that caught my eye. This year, largely as a result of having less time, I tended to know what species I wanted to photograph before leaving the house. Once on site, I therefore targeted that (or those) species and then left. This is undoubtedly a more efficient approach to photography (if efficiency were measured in terms of hours of labour per 'successful' image), but I'm not necessarily sure it's a more enjoyable one.

In terms of competitions, I entered three and had images placed in two of them which, when I write it like that, doesn't sound too bad. My Brown Hawker image was Highly Commended in the British Wildlife Photography Awards and earlier in the year my Confused Grasshopper image was one of four finalists in its category in the International Garden Photographer of the Year. The competition in which I wasn't placed was the WPOTY which is obviously the toughest of the three. In years to come I think I will give the other competitions a miss and simply focus on BWPA and WPOTY.

This year I was also pleased to begin contributing to the Meet Your Neighbours (MYN) photography project, something I have enjoyed a great deal. I've taken many images in the MYN style and a small proportion of these are already available via the Nature Picture Library (this proportion will grow in time).

Another notable aspect of this year's photography was the emphasis I placed on wideangle 'macro'. Some of these images were taken with my Tokina 10-17mm fisheye while others were taken with a new purchase, the Tokina 35mm macro. This latter lens has been great fun to use and is a true macro lens, capable of lifesize reproduction.

Other than that there probably isn't a great deal to report. I sold quite a few images through FLPA, had a few published in BBC Wildlife magazine (including an online gallery) and had an article on macrophotography published in Digital SLR magazine. All of which were very welcome.

So which were my favourite images of the year? As ever, this has been a difficult decision for me to make and a number of factors were taken into account when selecting images.  It is not intended to be a selection of my most popular images, though hopefully there is an overlap between the two. Anyway, in no particular order, the images that I am most pleased with are:


Crab Spider. For several years I have been looking for a Crab Spider to photograph and so I was very pleased to find this one. I particularly like the composition of this image and the purple colours formed by the Periwinkle flowers.

Emerging Damselfly. One of the aspects of the MYN project that I like is the ease with which composite images are possible. This sequence shows the emergence of a Large Red Damselfly from its aquatic nymph form into an adult damselfly.

 'Wideangle' Nomada Bee. My new Tokina 35mm macro lens made this image possible. The Nomada Bee is very small (approx 10mm) and so to show it within its environment would typically have meant the bee was very small in the frame. However, the lifesize capabilities of the Tokina lens allowed me to overcome this. The result, an unusual mix of (fairly) high magnification and (fairly) wide field of view.

Nursery Web Spider with Egg Sac. Again, a subject I have been trying to shoot for several years. This is a Nursery Web Spider carrying its egg sac. The female carries the egg sac around like this until the eggs are about to hatch at which point she builds a protective nursery web for them. In the past I'd never managed to get close enough to photograph this behaviour but on this occasion I was successful.

Globular Springtail. I always enjoy photographing these tiny, colourful springtails but it is often difficult to photograph them from a low viewpoint due to their tiny size and also difficult to achieve a nice background. This one was found on the edge of a red house brick and so this allowed me to get the lens down below 'ground level' to photograph it side-on. Also, I like the fact that the orangey red of the house brick complements the colours of the springtail.

Newly Emerged Dragonfly. Another image taken with my Tokina 35mm macro. This time, a newly emerged Four Spotted Chaser dragonfly is shown within its waterside habitat.

Ladybird Taking Off. This image was taken back in the spring and was the result of a number of attempts to capture Seven Spot Ladybirds as they took off. Not an easy subject matter but I was quite pleased with this one.

Meet My Neighbours. Another composite image, this time showing a selection of the insect life photographed this year in my garden. This was my first attempt at creating a composite of this type and I was pleased with how it turned out.

Common Blue in Habitat. It may surprise you to know that this is probably my favourite image of the year. Again, it was taken with my Tokina 35mm macro and is precisely the type of image that I hoped to capture when I bought this lens. It shows a lovely fresh looking female Common Blue butterfly as she flits about a flower meadow in the June sunshine. Why do I like it so much? I think it's the combination of the butterfly itself, the blue sky, the natural looking habitat and the fact that, when I look at it, I can almost feel the sun on my back and hear the bees buzzing and the birds singing. I'm sure my judgement is at least partly influenced by the experience of actually taking the image but to me it represents the epitome of English summertime.

Banded Demoiselle. As a simple portrait of a male Banded Demoiselle damselfly I think this shot works quite well due to the nice soft light, the attractive perch and the pleasant background. However, what I like most about the image is the fact that just as I was about to take it, a fly landed on the Demoiselle's wing and proceeded to wander around for a minute or two before eventually flying off. I have versions of this image without the fly but I like the added interest that the fly brings.

So those are my favourite 10 images, but maybe I can include one more for luck. It's a portrait of a Common Green Grasshopper photographed in the MYN style.

That just leaves me to wish all of the readers of this blog a happy, healthy and photo-filled new year.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Different Lenses for Different Styles of Image

When I stumble across a photogenic subject I will normally take a number of different images with the same lens in order to achieve different compositions. In addition, I will often use more than one lens to capture the subject in a number of very different styles.

My starting point is often my Sigma 150mm macro which is great for classic style macro images in which the subject is isolated from the background. I will then often see if it is possible to take a more wideangle style of image to capture the subject within its environment, typically with either my Tokina 35mm macro or my Tokina 10-17mm fisheye. Finally, if the subject lends itself to it, I will use my Canon MP-E 65mm macro to take some above life size images.

The following pair of images provide a good example of how different lenses can produce very different images. The images are of a trio of Amethyst Deceiver fungi. The image on the left was taken with my Tokina 10-17mm fisheye, at 17mm and f22. The fungi were approximately 4cm tall and so to ensure that they were this large in the frame the lens was literally almost touching them. The wide field of view of the fisheye lens has ensured that there is lots of detail in the background, helped of course by the small aperture. In contrast, the image on the right was taken with my Sigma 150mm macro lens which has a very narrow field of view. I also took this at f8 to reduce the detail in the background still further. To ensure that both the stems and the front of the 'bonnets' were sharp I had to stack 2 images.


I should stress that my intention here is not to provide a direct comparison of the different fields of view of the 2 lenses. If that were my intention I would have taken each image at the same aperture and not stacked the right hand image. Instead, my aim is simply to show the different image styles that are possible with different lenses. It would not be possible to take the left hand image with the Sigma lens (even at f22) not the right hand image with the Tokina lens (even at f8).

The following 2 images provide another example of the effect of different lenses. The first image, of a newly emerged Four-Spotted Chaser dragonfly, was taken with my Tokina 35mm macro lens (at f13), with the obvious aim of trying to capture the dragonfly within its aquatic environment.  The second image was taken with my Sigma 150mm macro (at f7.1) and, due to the sun starting to peep through, shooting into the light slightly. Again, two very different styles of image.

Friday 14 December 2012

Autumn Woodland

It turns out that this is the 100th post on this blog. That being the case, I thought it important for this to be a profound post that is fascinating and thought provoking in equal measure. Unfortunately, I couldn't think of anything fascinating and thought provoking so you'll have to make to with this. :)

Here are a few images of autumnal woodland taken in Oct/Nov. I do very much enjoy being in the woods in autumn. The atmosphere and the sights and smells are very evocative and although I'm normally concentrating on the fungi at ground level, I do occasionally remember to look up.


Friday 7 December 2012

Meet My Neighbours

Earlier this year I joined the Meet Your Neighbours (MYN) photography project and I've taken many MYN style images since then. But one of the features of the project that first attracted me to it was Niall Benvie's use of composite panels to show a selection of the biodiversity in a particular region or location. Free from background distractions, these composites perfectly illustrate the variety of species in that region. I also like the way they show the sheer variety of colours, patterns, shapes and sizes of those species.

Naturally, therefore, I was keen to produce some composites of my own but I've struggled to find time until now. For my first attempt I really did want to show my neighbours i.e. the species that I have photographed in my own humble, suburban, back garden.

So please, meet my neighbours....


The panel contains the following (in a clockwork spiral from top left): a sleeping Nomada Bee, Common Centipede, Jumping Spider (Sitticus pubescens), Honey Bee, Common Green Lacewing, Globular Springtail, Seven-Spot Ladybird, Tawny Mining Bee, Sitona species weevil, Mullein Moth caterpillar, Ground Beetle (Pterostichus madidus), Pill Woodlouse, Black Millipede, Hawthorn Shieldbug and another Seven-Spot Ladybird.

I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed preparing this panel. The fact that the original images all have perfectly white backgrounds made the preparation of the panel relatively easy. I simply roughly selected each subject, turned them into 'smart objects' and then copied them across to the main panel. Then it was just a matter of making the panel look reasonably balanced and, probably the most difficult bit, scaling the subjects so that their relative sizes are (roughly) correct. I'm sure I'll produce others in due course.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Ladybird Lifecycle

There were lots of ladybirds in my garden this summer with the majority being the familiar Seven Spot Ladybird. However, I also found Pine, Two-Spot, Fourteen-Spot, Larch and the increasingly common Harlequin Ladybird. The latter only arrived in the UK in 2004 and its rapid spread has led to concerns that it will out-compete some of the indigenous species. Apparently numbers of several species have fallen since the arrival of the Harlequin, with the Two-Spot ladybird suffering one of the biggest declines.

Since the Harlequin is now relatively common in my part of the world, I was able to observe and photograph 3 of the 4 stages within its lifecycle. The 4 stages are egg, larva, pupa and adult and it is only the eggs that I have yet to see.


A Harlequin Ladybird Larva...

...and another view.

After approximately 3 weeks the larva anchors itself to a leaf and forms a pupa, as shown below;

A Harlequin Ladybird Pupa...

....and another view.

After approximately one week the adult ladybird emerges. They are generally pale to begin with but their colours slowly start to develop.

A newly emerged adult Harlequin Ladybird.

Like many species of ladybird, the Harlequin feeds predominantly on aphids and so, at face value, their spread would seem to be good news for gardeners. However, this natural pest control service becomes far more vulnerable if it is performed by only one ladybird rather than by a number of different species. If anything were to affect Harlequin numbers then the natural check on aphid numbers would no longer be there. The only good news here is that Harlequins don't appear to pose a threat to the Seven-Spot Ladybird at least.

All images were taken with the Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens and a heavily diffused Canon MT-24EX twin flash (and 7D or 60D bodies).

Thursday 29 November 2012

More Grasshoppers

A previous post included some grasshoppers in the Meet Your Neighbours style but here are a couple of more conventional grasshopper images.


Unfortunately I'm not actually sure what species is in this first image and on this occasion I didn't manage to take a full body shot to help identify it. I confess to finding grasshoppers difficult to identify, largely due to the variation in colouring and patterning that exists within each species. 

However, I'm fairly sure the second image is of a Common Green Grasshopper.

The image was taken with my 35mm Tokina macro lens and it clearly provides a very different style of image to the first one (which was taken with my MP-E 65mm macro). 

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Homepage updated

I thought it about time I updated the front page of my main website as the dragonflies etc were looking somewhat unseasonal. I've gone with an autumn theme...just in time for winter, lol.


Thursday 22 November 2012

Emerald Damselfly

Here are a couple of images of a male Emerald Damselfly from an early morning start back in the summer. Everything was covered in a heavy dew after the overnight temperature had dropped considerably.

The first image was taken with the sun behind me, the second was taken shooting towards the sun.


Friday 16 November 2012

Autumn Dewdrops

This autumn we've had quite a few misty mornings which have resulted in cobwebs festooned with dewdrops throughout my garden. On closer inspection I noticed that each dewdrop was showing an inverted image of my garden so, once the sun had burned through a little, I decided to try to photograph these.

The immediate problem was that the most attractive cobwebs (and those with some distance behind them to help with the background of the images) were in parts of my garden that were not accessible with a tripod. So I had little option but to shoot handheld and to use my 60mm macro lens rather than the 150mm. The breeze that was gently moving each cobweb meant that it would be impossible to use a slow shutter speed anyway, so there seemed little to lose. In these sort of images, the challenge is to get each dewdrop in the frame to be in focus which can be very difficult at this level of magnification, especially when the web is moving in the breeze. Anyway, the image below was probably the best higher magnification image that I managed.


and here's one at a lower level of magnification:

Friday 9 November 2012

Meet Your Neighbours: Dragonflies 1

This year I took quite a large number of 'Meet Your Neighbours' images of dragonflies and damselflies. In terms of damselflies, I managed to photograph most of the more common UK species (see for example this post and this post). However, as I fully expected, dragonflies proved to be a bit more difficult. At my local sites, dragonflies can be found in much smaller numbers than damselflies and hence I always need a bit of luck to find them when they are cold enough to be photographed. In the end I managed to photograph only 3 species all summer. The first is probably the most common UK species, the aptly named Common Darter. The other 2 will be the subject of a future post.

Here are a selection of 'Meet Your Neighbours' Common Darter images.


Saturday 3 November 2012

New Garden Species

There was a short spell towards the end of this summer when I discovered a number of insects in my garden that I had never previously seen. As a slightly obsessive macro photographer, I was obviously rather excited about this :-)

First up is this rather handsome Oak Bush Cricket (Meconema thalassinum) that was found perched on some foliage early one morning.


Next is this large hoverfly with very speckled eyes (Eristalinus sepulchralis). It looks very similar to a Drone Fly but the eyes are very different.

Then we have a Damsel Bug (not to be confused with a Damsel Fly) which is probably Himacerus species, quite possibly the Ant Damsel Bug (Himacerus mirmicoides).

Then we have a juvenile form of a very common species, the Green Shieldbug. I must have had these in my garden before but I don't ever recall seeing this particular juvenile stage. Quite striking I thought.

and finally a species that I've mentioned in a previous post, the Green Tortoise Beetle (Cassida viridis):

a nice selection and an illustration of what can be found in a fairly typical suburban garden if you keep your eyes peeled.

Friday 26 October 2012

Geostories: Meet Your Neighbours

National Geographic's Geostories is a new publishing platform for multimedia stories that are linked to a physical geographic place (or places). Clay Bolt has put together a very nice Meet Your Neighbours Geostory which provides a selection of images, each linked to the specific place that they were taken and each with a bit of background information about the image and the location.

Clicking the image above will take you directly to the Geostory. You'll find one of my images at number 11 in the slideshow.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Jigsaw, Mug or T-Shirt Anyone?!

I've got to hand it to my stock agency, FLPA, they're certainly good at proactively finding different opportunities to sell and market images. Evidence of this is provided by their tie-ins with The Garden CollectionAge Fotostock and Arkive, to name but three. But the point was really brought home to me when I, somehow, stumbled across one of my images for sale as a jigsaw on the US Amazon site!

A bit more digging indicated that FLPA has yet another tie-in with Media Storehouse and, through them, it is possible to buy jigsawsmugs and t-shirts of many of my images (not to mention keyrings and  fridge magnets)! I'm not sure how popular these are - I doubt there's a massive market for insect themed accessories and gifts and no doubt furrier or more feathered subjects sell better - but I certainly can't fault FLPA for trying!

Thursday 18 October 2012

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012

The winning images in this year's WPOTY competition have been announced and, as ever, they are generally very impressive.

While I do like the overall winning image by Paul Nicklen, I personally much prefer his image in the 'Behaviour: Birds' category, as shown below:

'Frozen Moment' by Paul Nicklen

For me this image has everything. I love the frozen water drops, the light, the composition. A real 'wow' image in my opinion and certainly my favourite of all of the winning and commended images in this year's competition.

However, while many of the images in this year's competition are impressive, I do have a couple of reservations.

First, there are relatively few images with the 'wow' factor such as the one above. We are increasingly exposed to high quality wildlife images and TV footage on a daily basis and so perhaps it is just becoming more and more difficult to produce such images. But, to me, many of the images have a familiar feel to them. Even the overall winning image here bears more than a passing resemblance to Matt Doggett's winning image in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards. They are both excellent images but I suppose it's increasingly difficult to produce images that are truly unique. However, one reason that the images all feel fairly familiar is that they feature a relatively small number of species. Which brings me to my second point...

Of the 70+ winning and commended images in the adult categories of this year's competition, only one features an insect or other invertebrate. Is it any wonder that the images all feel slightly familiar when they are dominated by the usual mix of polar bears, penguins and big cats?

I find the neglect of insects and inverts difficult to understand.The judges are looking for original and unique images and so I would have thought that insects and their behaviour lend themselves to this far more than polar bears and penguins. Indeed, even the preamble to the 'Behaviour: Cold-Blooded Animals' category (which would obviously include insects and invertebrates) states that "This category offers plenty of scope for interesting photos because cold-blooded animals comprise the majority of animals on Earth and their behaviour is often little known".

Perhaps the judges would argue that they were presented with few highly quality macro images, but again this is difficult to understand given the vast number of such images that can be found on forums and elsewhere, combined with the good numbers of images that have featured in the competition in previous years. Indeed, I do normally rely on this competition to feature a few truly inspirational macro images each year (Bence Mate's winner from 2010 being a great example) and so it's very disappointing to see so few this year.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes I did enter the competition this year but obviously with no success.  :-D

Wednesday 10 October 2012


I always enjoy photographing grasshoppers, not least because I find their faces to be very expressive. One of my photographic goals this summer was therefore to take a grasshopper portrait for the Meet Your Neighbours project.

I find grasshoppers reasonably easy to photograph as long as the weather is fairly cool and/or it is early in the morning or late in the evening. Some grasshoppers will simply jump away as soon as you approach but, if you're careful and move slowly, others will be surprisingly confiding. After a few unsuccessful attempts with uncooperative grasshoppers, the individual below posed nicely for me for a few frames (as ever, I then let it go about its business).

These images are of Common Green Grasshoppers (Omocestus viridulus):


Thursday 4 October 2012

More Dew-Covered Common Darter Images

Following on from this post, here are a couple more images of a heavily dew-covered Common Darter dragonfly, this time taken with my Sigma 150mm lens.


I don't normally like square-cropped images but on this occasion the shape of the subject seemed to suit it: