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).