Waterfowl Shoot

Back on the 8th of August I and 3 other avid Olympus Photographers (sorry but I’m terrible with names) met up with Wildlife Photographer Tesni Ward for a Waterfowl Photography Workshop. This is the second dedicated Tesni workshop that I have been on, I like the informal (though professional) way that Tesni runs the courses and I always learn something new. And although this my second workshop with Tesni I have also met up with Tesni at Marwell Zoo (Olympus EM-1 Mark II promotion) and at the Photography show at Birmingham’s NEC.

The shoot was next to a large river that has a wide variety of birds there, many of them not normally associated with the UK which has made their identification difficult. The river runs through the small village of Rochester which is just a few miles south of Alton Towers. Knowing this I arranged to meet my sister, brother-in-law and nephew at Alton Towers for a an overnight stay so that I could pop into the Alton Towers park the following day (Merlin passes are a great invention).

On the day the weather was miserable and showered nearly all day; however, Tesni pointed out that this is great weather for the type of photography we had planned for the day. I was sceptical at first but I did come away from the workshop with some fantastic images.

We walked a relatively short distance to the edge of the river and we were advised to try and shoot as low as possible as this proved to be the best angle. It wasn’t easy as I had to use the rear screen. I normally shoot with back-button focusing for continuous AF but trying to this and take pictures with the screen proved to require some one who could be more ambidextrous and more of a finger contortionist than I. I never truly mastered this way of focusing as I much prefer to use the viewfinder whether this be an EVF or Optical based one. But the images we managed to take this way are clearly superior to the average photograph of water based fowl.

Below are a selection of my favourite photos with a couple of BIF (birds in flight) shots at the end. I have tried to more for motion shots as this is more interesting than the usual static ones I take. You can also see the rain in many of the photos too. Nearly all of the pictures are taken with the awesome M.Zuiko 300mm f4 PRO IS lens on the OM-D E-M1 MarkII, I did swap over the the 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens for some of the shots when it wasn’t raining.

There is a collection of birds towards the end of this post where I’m sure what species they are. I hope that over time I (or some kind reader) will let me know and I’ll update this post accordingly.

Daffy:
This is a resident duck at the site who as you can see has a damaged bill, Tesni would like to take him home. Clearly her favourite bird.

White Cheeked Pintail Duck:

Great Crested Grebe:

Young Common Coot:
All this young Coot was either calling for its parent or doing some weird yoga thing with one its legs.

White Faced Whistling Ducks:

Black Swan:

Bar Headed Goose:

Mallard Ducklings:

Nene Goose:

Barnacle Geese:

Smew (female):

Black Headed Gull (Winter Plumage):

Golden Eye (female):

Unknown Birds:

Birds in Flight
Black Headed Gull:

Greylag Geese:

Weather Sealing:
When you are told that your camera and/or lens has weather sealing you never know how good this is. The EM-1 MkII and the two PRO lenses I used were at points dripping wet but I never noticed any issues during or after the shoot. It took a little time to truly dry out some of the gear the next day. Since that time I have continued to use the E-M1 with no problems and no evidence of how wet the gear got. This is in stark contrast to stories I heave heard of other professional weather sealed gear made by other manufacturers that has failed in lesser extreme weather. Bravo Olympus!

Testimonial:
Finally, I would like to thank Tesni for another wonderful workshop that enabled me to travel a bit further in my never ending journey of Nature Photography education. The days are always well planned and researched and Tesni is always willing to provide any help whether this be a technical issue with your gear or more in the craft of photography such as composition or exposure. Tesni’s way of teaching gels with the way I like to learn and she makes the days fun and is reassuring when you are not sure about something. I am already planing which Tesni workshop to attend next. Thank you! 🙂

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Bempton Cliffs with Tesni Ward (May)

Earlier this month I visited the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs. This was the location for one of Tesni Ward’s Coastal Birds workshops.
Tesni runs a number of these workshops and I chose the one on May 13th as this was a Saturday and allowed me use of the family car.

The RSPB reserve is one of the better ones around the coast in that they have a nice building that serves coffee and snacks, sells gifts and provides the necessary facilities all for a small charge; fortunately for me the fee I paid for the workshop included access to the reserve.
I arrived at the reserve just before the agreed time and met up with Tesni who remembered me from previous meet ups (Marwell Zoo back in February and The Photography show in March); I have a lot of respect for those who remember people they meet and Tesni must meet a lot of different people all the time.

Joining Tesni and I on the day were two other Olympus Photographers both called John; I contemplated changing my name to John for the day but two were confusing enough. Both Johns were nice guys too, I always enjoy meeting up with other photographers and I am making new friends all the time – social media really helps keep in contact.

Although Tesni primarily shoots with Olympus gear, she had to lug around her Canon 5D and 500mm lens on this day as one of the John’s had borrowed her Olympus 300mm f4 PRO IS lens. The Johns agreed to swap the lens between them so they could both experience what it is like to use this awesome lens. I of course have my own 300mm lens that I picked up for a great price at the Photography show earlier this year, although it wasn’t cheap I don’t begrudge the cost of this lens as it sees a lot of use on my OM-D E-M1 Mark-II. I was initially worried that the 300mm would be too much focal length for the day as this lens has a Field of View equivalent to 600mm on a “full-frame” 35mm sensor. So I brought with (and carried or rather lugged around) my 40-140mm, TC1.4x and other lenses just in case I needed them – I didn’t and by the end of the day my aching shoulders pointed out that a shoulder bag is not the best item to carry around for a day if it hold a lot of stuff and carrying more gear ”just in case” toy need it is not a good idea – seems obvious I know but I will learn one day.

Just prior to heading into the reserve we went through the types of bird we will see at the reserve as well as the typical shots we should be able to get. I also picked up one of the Reserve’s “What you might see at Bempton Cliffs” fact-sheet/map to help. The list of birds on the sheet was quite extensive:

  • Puffins
  • Kittiwakes
  • Herring Gulls
  • Gannets
  • Guillemots
  • Razorbills
  • Fulmars
  • Shags

Tesni took us around the reserve and what follows are what I consider my best shots of the day, these are not necessarily in chronological order but instead are separated by species.

The Gannets:
Most of my photo’s from the day are of the Gannets, they were out performing for us throughout the day.

Gannets in flight

Puffin:
We saw a total of 2 puffins on the day, most of them nest more north of Bempton:

Kittiwakes:
Along with the Gannets, Razor Bills and Guillemots there were large number of Kittiwakes too.

This is a photobombed version of the previous shot:

Razorbill:

Guillemot:

Bridled Guillemot: There were not many of these around but some of the Guillemots had a white spectacle like mark around and behind their eyes as below:

Other Animals:
Although we visited Bempton Cliffs to take pictures of various coastal birds, we also saw some other animals too, these included, Pheasants, Sparrows and many Jackdaws.

We also saw a few porpoises in the water below, these are heavily cropped but you can still see that the shape of the fin and the white under belly:

This was my first experience of one of Tesni’s own workshops, she is professional, knows her stuff and has a great sense of humour. I was there to learn, take great pictures and have a great day out which I (and the other workshop attendees) had even though it was a long day. How Tesni does this day in day out just amazes me – I don’t think I could. Tesni has comprehensive knowledge of how to get the best out of the Olympus OM-D system for nature and wildlife photography, what works and doesn’t work, as well as demystifying the myriad of focusing modes and options at our disposal. Her subject matter knowledge was extensive, and interesting and useful facts about the birds we were photographing were provided to help get the better shots. As we were taking photographs Tesni also reminded us to think about the more camera agnostic aspects of photography such as exposure and composition. Finally, it was obvious that Tesni knew the area well and we were directed to the best locations at Bempton Cliffs to get the photos that we wanted. Thank you Tesni for a great day out and I look forward to my next workshop with you.

Woodside Wildlife Park

This was my third visit to Woodside Wildlife Park although every time I come it has a slight name change, last time it was Woodside Wildlife and Falconry Park and the first time (admittedly a few years ago it was simply Woodside Falconry Park. The change in name is simply to detail that it now hosts a very diverse selection of animals. I went there on the 10th May with my parents as a Birthday trip out doing something that I quite enjoy which is (taking pictures of animals).

The park opens at 10:00 and closes at 17:00 and it has several events on throughout the day, on the day we went we had the following itinerary:

  • 11:00 Wolf Feeding
  • 12:00 Amazing Animal Show
  • 13:00 Big Cat Feeding
  • 13:30 Meet the Reptiles
  • 15:00 Bird Show
  • 16:00 Raccoon Feeding

In addition to the activities on during the day we went around the park a few times and took photographs of the other animals that are not necessarily park of any “activity”.

Wolf Feeding
Woodside has 4 magnificent Hudson Bay White Wolves called Saska, Nuna, Toba and Mr. Hudson and their names come from the regions of Canada they originate from. The wolves knew feeding time was near as we arrived at their enclosure. Shortly before feeding they were let out of their sleeping pen. It was very interesting watching them eat the fresh meat as it was thrown over the enclosure’s fence; sometimes the wolf would catch the meat in their jaws as the meat was thrown over. From a photographic view (a common theme at Woodside unfortunately) was that between the enclosure fence and the fence nest to the path where you stand there is a gap of a few feet; this means that you cannot throw the enclosure fence out of focus. Therefore all of my wolf shots have fence in them like the photo below which is a shame as they are amazing animals to observe:

Amazing Animal Show
The show was in the Barn towards the rear of the park and the theme was that each animal had one amazing characteristic that was showcased by the animals. These photos were taken at high ISOs in a very dimly lit barn.

There was a hand reared fox (so could not be released into the wild):

Spotted Genet:

Kinkajou:

We even had many rats walk along a suspending rope from one end of the barn to the other, here is one of them:

Big Cat Feeding
Although Woodside have Siberian Lynx, Geoffrey’s Cats and a Bengal Tiger called Julia , the only big cat I saw them feed was the Tiger. There used to be two but the other one (Tango) passed away late last year. It was difficult to get a reasonable photo of the Tiger:

Meet the Reptiles
For this activity, they bring a number of reptiles out to show you that you can either touch in the case of the Bearded Dragon or Blue Tongued Skink or hold such as the Dumeril Boa Snakes. Here is a picture of my Mum holding one of the snakes:

Bird Show
This show featured several birds of which some had a trick or two to perform. It was quite amusing watching the birds that for the most part were well behaved. I managed to get a few nice shots of them during their respective routines. I have noted the different types of birds if I know what they are.

Crested Caracara:

Short Eared Owl:

White Stork:

Red Legged Seriema:

Blue and Gold Macaws

Jackdaw gate-crashing the bird show:

Other animals in the park
Situated throughout the Park are other animals in their various enclosures or areas, here are some of them.

Not far from the entrance to the Park we have a colony of Meerkats (all wildlife parks seem to have them these days), there are very fun to watch and were clearly popular with the visitors to the park. There were even a few young pups running around:

Sulcata Tortoise (there were two these visible):

Geoffrey’s Marmosets (they were quite active running around their cage and a few young Marmosets were visible:

Canada Geese Goslings duking it out:

Bengalese Eagle Owl:

Asian Short Clawed Otters:

I’m not 100% sure about this bird, it seems to be a cross between a Blackbird and an American Robin:

Turtle Dove:

White Stork:

As you can see from my photos I had a nice day out a real treat for my birthday. I need to go back any maybe try out some of their experience days.

River Witham in May

As I have said in some of my other Blog posts we are quite lucky in Lincoln to have many parks, pools, rivers and lakes and these are inhabited by a whole host of different wildlife species although birds are the most common and visible. As part of my “keep-fit” regime (limited though it is) I occasionally walk into town form home. This is between 4km and 5km depending on the route I take often culminating in the Starbucks on the High Street; as I walk quickly I’m quite warm at the end and I enjoy a Mocha Frappuccino Light which isn’t too high in syns (see the Slimming World website for details on what a “syn” is).

Although I walk rapidly I do look around on my journeys and so note anything of interest, I have even modified my route on occasion if there is something to see. My route into town takes me down Brant Road onto Newark Road (aka A1434) which then joins the A15. The two roads turn into a short dual carriageway called St. Catherine’s which after a round-about splits off into the High-Street and South Park Avenue. I follow the High-Street route into town.

At the bottom of the high street (just after the afore mentioned roundabout) is a pedestrian route to the right called Altham Terrace which runs adjacent to an off-shoot of the River Witham called Sincil Dike. On the opposite bank that is inaccessible to people is a large swan nest that had a female Mute Swan as the occupant (as well as no doubt one or more eggs).
I had wanted to take pictures of the swan and hopefully see how many eggs she had for some time and just over a week ago I made time to takes some photo’s. As I had walked from home to this Altham Terrace, I first had a quick drink of some coke I brought with me. The wasn’t much action so after the drink I took out my camera (OM-D E-M1 Mark-II + 300mm f4 IS PRO lens) and took a few shots. I waited for a bit and apart from some preening by her and the male “cob” there wasn’t much to see.

After taking a few shots of the two swans I carried on down Altham Terrace and saw my first set of ducklings this year, in total I saw five families of ducks and ducklings. In my enthusiasm, I had my shutter speed set too low (1/250 sec) so my first shots of the ducklings are all blurred as they were moving too fast.
As you progress down Altham Terrace / Sincil Dike after a small weir there is a river crossroads of Sincil Dike and the River Witham. Altham Terrace joins a road of the same name after crossing a pedestrian foot bridge. If you follow the River Witham to the right (North) it ultimately goes into town and eventually flows into the Brayford Pool in the centre of town. If you go left (South) the river flows towards the junction of Brant Road and Newark Road. You can either walk down the bank of the river or alternatively back from the bank is a tarmacked path (perfect for bikes). This has led to a completely new route which from the end of Brant Road and town.

Now onto the photographs…
My first three photographs are around the Mallard ducks; a small family, a female and 3 ducklings swam onto one of the banks that had some other Mallards there and there was an altercation between the mother and one of the males:

Whilst this was happening the ducklings took cover:

However, it all turned out well and the family carried on down the river foraging for food along the way:

Near where I was standing watching this (the junction of the two rivers) was a railing where a House Sparrow was collecting food and I caught a shot whilst it was perched on these railings:

When it jumped to the ground I took a couple more shots but that low shutter-speed caught me out and the bird was moving too quickly. However, a female Blackbird landed not far from the Sparrow and it wasn’t moving too fast so I managed a few nice shots like this one:

During all the commotion and the large number of birds in the water a Mute Swan that was swimming down (probably a Male) puffed himself up as follows, needless to say the other birds got out of its way:

Once I started to walk down the river towards home I saw other Mallard duck familes, Common Coots and Moorhens such as this one:
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What I didn’t expect to see though were any Grey Herons such as this one:

In fact, there were two Herons present, this one was on the other bank:

As this was on my side I walked slowly towards it and I managed to take a few head-shots as it looked over the tall grass. Not long after this the first Heron (on the opposite) bank took off and a few seconds later this one also flew away, this was my best effort and it would have been great if the other wing had been in frame too:

I think this a combination of my (lack of) skill and too much focal length and/or being too close.

As I said earlier this will most likely be my preferred way into town now as it is picturesque, offer photographic opportunities and is less polluted tank to the lack of cars.

Olympus Fashion Shoot – April 2017

In Lincoln, we have not one but two London Camera Exchanges and they are on a roll this year with so many events being organised by both of them. Last week was Silver Street store’s “Olympus Fashion Shoot” to coincide with this year’s Lincoln Fashion Week (28th April to 5th May). As the name implies this was an event arranged between LCE and Olympus.

Out local Olympus rep (Lewis) was there along with a great selection of Olympus system cameras, lenses and flash equipment. He and LCE’s favourite professional model Katie Lea came to show how to take stunning fashion shots. The shoot was in two parts from 10 to 12:30 we used the LCE store floor-space for an indoor shot followed by an outdoor shot in Lincoln from about 13:30 to 16:00. The LCE store also had some great offers on for the day but that 300mm f4 lens really wiped me out so I was not able to make use of these offers. My next investment must be a second body – another OM-D E-M1 MarkII – hopefully they will come down in price by the time I have saved up for one.

LCE/Olympus had set up a patterned backdrop for us and after experiencing problems using two Olympus flashguns via optical triggering we switched to radio triggers.

As a side note, this is one reason I am thinking of investing in some Nissin radio-based flashes over the Olympus branded versions; they offer all of the features at a much more attractive price. Two i60A flashes and a trigger cost about the same as a single Olympus FL900R. Whilst the Nissin flashes are more compact, they are not as quick charging and are not weather sealed like the FL900R. If outdoor shooting with a weather sealed flash was a need then investing in them might be a good idea.
I also managed to try out two Olympus lenses, the new 25mm PRO f1.2 lens and the (non-PRO) 75mm f1.8 lens. I wasn’t very impressed with the 25mm, even though I was shooting at f3.5/f4 the depth of field was very small and most of my shots were not sharp. The 75mm lens was a completely different “kettle of fish”; this lens is flipping sharp! I have used one before at a Damian McGillicuddy event a couple of years ago and I wasn’t impressed; however, this lens produced some amazing shots and I like the way that I was forced to think different as there were no zooming to get get in the way.

We moved the flashes around to get some different shots o Katie, her are my favourite shots:

After a lunch break we loaded up and ventured outside, we needed a good backdrop where there wasn’t too much foot traffic. We ended up near Stokes Caffe bridge on the south bank (opposite the “Glory Hole” side). After an abortive use of the reflector we all managed to get some nice photos:

We went to the entrance of this passage where this is an iron stair case, these didn’t produce a lot of great shots but I do like this one once I cropped out a lot of the extraneous detail:

Our final location of the evening was not far from where I work on Silver Street on the out-bound side near Sills and Betteridge Solicitors. All along this street are alley ways and we found one where we all tried lots of different styles and lighting techniques, these didn’t produce many great shots as they all looked like a flash was used; some coloured gels and lighting modifiers might have helped. We managed with what we had, here is my favourite:

Like always with Olympus/LCE shoots I learned a lot, managed to get some nice shots, had a great day and met up with likeminded photographers. I want to thank all the staff at LCE, Lee from Olympus and most of all Katie with putting up with us for the whole day. 🙂

Warwick Castle

Last week my father, sister, brother in law, nephew and his friend Jamie went to Warwick Castle. As we all (except my father and Jamie) have a Merlin pass it’s free to enter and we also get 20% off food and gifts. I have never been to Warwick Castle before so was not sure what to expect.

My father and I were to meet up at the car park just before 10:00 as he others would meet us there. The entrance wasn’t the easiest place to find as both the TomTom sat-nav and local signs both didn’t help at all. It took a lot of driving around until purely by chance we found what looked like an entrance, a quick call to my sister confirmed that this was the entrance and after what (for me) a frustrating journey we went into the castle. Although I’m used to it in the US, more and more places are now performing bag searches and Warwick Castle is no exception.

As we were going out of season we knew the Jousting would not be on but there was still plenty to see and do, just before you go into the main castle was a guy showing some long bow archery, he was very entertaining.

He also managed to not only pick on my nephrew for a “demonstartion” but also my father who from now on will be known as Sir Guy of Gisbourne.

After a short walk around the castle we visit the Birds of Prey enclosure where I got some nice shots (all taken with the 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens). Here are the birds:

White-Tailed Sea Eagle:

Grey Eagle Buzzard:

African Fish Eagle:

Bald Eagle:

Stellar’s Sea Eagle:

(Younger) Bald Eagle:

There was also an Egyptian Vulture and a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl but due to crowding at their enclosures from other people I couldn’t get a good shot, the song side lighting (evident on my other pictures) didn’t help either.

After looking at the birds we sat down to watch the Trebuchet in action and unfortunately that wasn’t working either as it was in the midst of being refurbished. However, the guy who was shooting the long bow earlier gave a talk about the device and other medieval machines of war which was quite interesting:

For me the highlights of the day were the two birds of prey flying demonstrations. And unlike other places I have been each one showcased different birds. Also, some of my shots are static I pushed the OM-D E-M1 markII to the limit trying to get the birds in flight. Although there is definitely room for improvement, my overall keeper rate has increased. This coupled with the hand-holding ability of the camera & lens combo makes getting the shot much more fun and doesn’t give you arm-ache like mother camera/lens combo’s I have used in the past.

Grey Eagle Buzzard:

Stellar’s Sea Eagle:

Bald Eagle:

Verreaux’s Eagle Owl:

I’m embarrassed to say but I’m not sure what this bird is:

There were many more birds that flew on the day, but these are my favourite (and best shots).

Along with the birds in flight we had many others around including this Pea Cock who was very vocal:

Towards the end of the day as we sat on the almost dry grass these two ducks came to visit us:

My final shot of the day is of my nephew Jack, he’s a much better subject if he’s not aware of you taking his picture:

I had a great day at Warwick castle and I can recommend it for a visit, it would be nice to see the Jousting and Trebuchet in action too – maybe another time.

Boultham Park – Last weekend of March

As well as going to Hartsholme Park last weekend on Saturday 25th March, I also went to Boultham Park on the following day (Sunday). From where I live you pass Boultham Park on the way to Hartsholme Park.

Thanks to my Apple Watch ad trying to close all of the circles on the watch I have to walk a few km each day to achieve these closures. If you have one of these watches you’ll know what I mean. Because of this I usually walk to and from Boultham Park every Sunday or Saturday; if the weather is nice I will take my E-M1 and a lens or two, in this case the 300mm f4 PRO, 1.4x tele-converter and 40-150mm f2.8 PRO if anything closer was required. All of this fits nicely into my LowePro Urban Photo Sling 250.

Unusually, when I arrived there were a large number of Common Coots at a slight distance away from the central lake of the park and they were almost too close (from a focal length point of view), so the first few shots I got were close-ups such as this one:

Fortunately a few of them moved around a bit (they were all munching on the grass) so I managed a few more:

Also in the area were a male and female Tufted Duck, fortunately with the 300mm lens and a bit of cropping I captured some nice shots:

As I was crouched taking these photo’s the other water fowl in the vicinity started to move about:

Here is the star of Boultham Park having a morning nap, there’s quite a debate of the species of this duck though:

I ventured around the lake and at the other end I saw this pair of Mallard ducks feeding:

There were also a lot of birds in the water such as this coot:

I think that this is a male Wigeon and it was swimming with another duck that could be a female but I didn’t manage to get any photos of that bird to check:

What I like about Spring is that the birds are all pairing up and building nests, soon we’ll have the young chicks too:

There was a part of the lake that had a large number of Moorhens too:

My final picture of the day was one from a pair of Canada Geese:

I have to say that the combo of the E-M1 Mark II and the 300mm f4 PRO lens is a killer wildlife combo and the more I use the more fun I have and I occasionally capture a truly magnificent (for me anyway) image.