Category Archives: Family

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.

Woburn Safari Park – October 2016

Back on the 6th October most of my family (Mum, Dad and Brother-in-law Simon) went to Woburn Safari Park, the original plan was for us 3 guys to go to Thorpe Park which rather helpfully (not) was shut for the day. However, going to Woburn was a more than great alternative and the bonus is that my Mum can come too, she is like me and likes to take lots of photographs of animals.

On entry to the park you start with a typical safari and drive around in your car, Simon was thankfully driving the four of us, so we all had a corner each. I was upfront with Mum and Dad in the back. The first parts of the park are quite open and you will see various deer, wildebeest and other fairly tame animals roaming around.

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When you enter the later areas (though double gates) you see some of the wilder animals. The first ones were Black Bears, they got very close to the car, the 40-150mm lens that was on the X-T2 couldn’t focus that close so my pictures weren’t very good. 😦

The next section we visited contained the lions:
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They were all female in here and were enjoying a snack on some hoofed animal (looked Gazelle like):
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Towards the end of the Lion area was a separate pen that housed a male lion who was quite happy sunning himself:
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We went through some more double-gates and saw large quantities of Giraffes, at some points we couldn’t drive forward as they kept crossing the road:
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After a short drive and more gates, we drove through the monkey area, their expressions are so human-like:
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They also have a habit of sitting on your car, sometimes large numbers all together:
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Or they just lay around watching the world go by:
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Once we left the monkeys (they didn’t want to get off the car at first), we parked up at the second part of the park which is a walk-around area. There are large numbers of different animals from penguins to Lemurs:
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Just around the corner from the Lemurs were some goat and donkeys:
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After some food and coffee we visited the “Birds In Action” area to watch the show that was about to start. Whilst waiting, a crow was flying around and almost showing off:
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Not long after this the main show started and a number of well-trained parakeets and parrots performed a number of tricks:
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It was all great entertainment:
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They can even put coins in the collection box for you:
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As you can see I took a large number of shots of these amazing birds.

One of the final areas we visited (apart from the elephants) was an Australian animal area, they had a large number of Wallabies, including this almost tame one:
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The also had some Emus too:
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We visited the elephant’s area last but there was always some fencing in the way so I didn’t process any pictures I took. We all had a great day out and if you get the chance to visit I cannot recommend it enough!

Disney Animal Kingdom – April 2016

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This is the third and final blog post about my trip to Orlando, you can read about Busch Gardens here and SeaWorld here. During our stay in Orlando we visited three of the Disney parks too: Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Whilst they all had great attractions there was one unifying factor, they were very busy all of the time. The Hollywood studios were a bit disappointing this year, there were a few rides closed and the fast pass selections were poor as well. However Epcot and Animal Kingdom, the subject of this post were very good.

One other common thing with other parks like Epcot and Animal Kingdom is their sheer size, it takes a lot of time to see everything; Epcot really needs 2 days to do it justice.

Onto the pictures:
There were a lot of birds around like this Metallic Starling, that red eye follows you were ever you go:
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Green Winged Dove:
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There were a lot of apes and chimpanzees around too, like the one at the top of this post. They also like to play with each other, there are two of them here:
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One of the most impressive (and dangerous) animals are the Hippopotamuses (yes that it the correct term for the plural of Hippopotamus). you get to see them swimming around and under water but this picture shows what you can see above water which isn’t much:
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Finally one of most endangered species around tofay a rhino:
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SeaWorld – April 2016

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This is the second of my blog posts about my trip to Orlando, you can read the previous one about Busch Gardens here.

This post shows some of my favorite pictures from both visits to SeaWorld; I used my DSLR camera on and off throughout the day on our first visit during the first week of our holiday and for the entire morning of the second trip (second week) whilst Louise, Simon and Jack visited Aquatica.

Pictures from the first visit (6th April)
After trying out the Manta ride (similar to what “Air” was in Alton Towers before it was changed into Galactica) a few times we ventured around the park to see an Animal show and tell.

The first was what looked like an Owl but isn’t called a Tawny Frogmouth, an unusual looked bird:
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The second animal was more obvious, a Common Green Iguana, he (she?) liked being the centre of attention:
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During the day we visited the Shark Encounter attraction, the highlight of which is walking through a translucent tunnel being surrounded by sharks. At one point there is a large set of Jaws form a great white shark, a perfect photo opportunity, Jack of course could not resist. Unfortunately I picked far too low a shutter speed so I have played with this a bit in Lightroom (not one of my best shots):
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Like we have black headed gulls in the UK, Florida has a lot of Snowy Egrets around, here is one of them:
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Here is one of my favourite shots of the holiday (already seen on Facebook), it’s Jack looking in awe at the Manta Rays – his favourite animal I think.
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And here he is a few minutes later trying to feed them with small (dead) fishes you can buy, after this we called him “fish-boy” due to the smell he picked up thanks to his tee-shirt getting soaked from that pool:
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Pictures from the second visit (12th April)
On the second day I was on my own for the morning so I managed to get around the park to photograph the animals at my own pace. In addition to going on the Sky Tower I took a lot of photographs and here are my favourites:

At some point of the day I noticed that there were many House Sparrows flying around, they all seemed to be nest building, here is one of them that paused flying allowing me to take this photo:
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A better (closer) photo of a Snowy Egret:
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In addition to the Snowy Egrets, there were also a number of Wood Storks too:
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And like the common sighting (even in the UK) of the sparrow above, there were also grey squirrels running about the area (can’t resist a squirrel picture):
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Like Busch Gardens,there are large numbers of birds in the park like this Hooded Merganser:
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My final picture of the (half) day was of this terrapin:
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Just after mid-day we all met up back at SeaWorld entrance and after a spot of lunch we did some more rides, saw a show or too, did the Sky Tower together and had a great day!

Busch Gardens – April 2016

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Back in April this year I was fortunate enough to go with my Sister, Brother-in-law and Nephew for 2 weeks to Florida. During our stay we visited most of the usual places in Orlando (Disney and Universal as well as SeaWorld), we also went to Busch Gardens twice.

This post shows some of my favorite pictures from our first visit to Busch Gardens, on the second visit I didn’t take the DSLR with me as we wanted to concentrate on the rides; the Cheetah Hunt being our favourite one in the park and possibly the best ride anywhere. That said, Sheikra, also in Busch Gardens is a close second; its like the Oblivion x2 mixed with the Nemesis (both in Alton Towers) all in one. Kudos to both my nephew and sister for both conquering their fears and doing this ride.

My nephew pretending to his arm trapped in a tree trunk, good acting Jack:
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Typically it was hot both days of our visit, thankfully it wasn’t humid at all. Nevertheless, the animals are quite laid back and like all cats, this Lion was no exception:
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Every Zoo or animal sanctuary has Meerkats it seems and Busch Gardens is no exception. They are cute and the red-sand they were playing is reflected nicely on their coats:
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There were a lot of birds at Busch Gardens and whilst most were in captivity of some kind, there were the usual sighting of black-headed gulls everyewhere:
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This Parakeet was one of the many varieties of captive bird:
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As well as Lions and Cheetahs, there were also a large colony of Bengal Tigers there too:
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Towards the front of the park, there is a large pool full of Alligators and Terrapins and they seem to cohabit quite peacefully, I was surprised by this. Both species did like to sunbathe in the warm heat though:
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My final image is one of the many common lizards that are almost everywhere you go in Florida, less common in the UK. This photo was taken whilst waiting fit the Cheetahs to come closer to me in their run, it was just sunbathing on the rock next to me:
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The Parrot Zoo

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Back in October my parents and I visited the aptly named Parrot Zoo which is located almost in the middle of nowhere between Boston, Skegness and Spilsby. Whilst the main attraction are the parrots the Zoo also hosts a large number of other animals from other small birds to Tigers.

If you have never been I heartily recommend a visit but I suggest that you take a packed lunch with you as the restaurant which serves hot food and is a nice clean environment does have a rather limited menu. If your idea of food is anything form a cooked breakfast to something severed with chips you will be well met, but anyone who is particular about what they can eat (such as myself) will be struggling to find something they can have.

At the time of the visit I was using an OlympuS OM-D E-M1 fitted with Olympus’s best zoom lens the 40-150mm f2.8 PRO. The would be one of the last times I would have the opportunity to use this combo which worked admirably throughout the day apart from a battery change mid-day (still the achilles heal of nearly all “mirrorless” cameras). In fact I managed to capture two of my best wildlife pictures ever so this proves that the photographer and not the camera takes the picture; I will save these for the last two pictures in the post.

The pictures
There are over 100 species of Parrot at the Parrot Zoo and I have named them too the best of my abilities. Please forgive me if I have incorrectly named them.

Blue Fronted Amazon #1:
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Blue Fronted Amazon #2:
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African Grey Parrot:
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Sun Conures:
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Eclectic Parrot (Male):
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There was an enclosure (double doored) where you could walk around an be amongst some of the species of birds at the enclosure and this one took a fancy to my father, at one time or another we all had a bird perched upon us, they so like hair it seems:
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Yellow-collared Lovebird:
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Regent Parrot:
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Cockatiel:
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Cockatiel with a Conure:
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Young Peacock, there was a whole family of them situated throughout the zoo and they went where they pleased:
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Baby and mother meerkat:
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Startled Robin (one of my all time best pictures):
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Family Photo Shoot

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Last week was half-term week and we had the pleasure to look after my nephew Jack for the week. He was dropped off on Saturday by his Mum and Dad and collected the following weekend by his Mum (my sister – Louise). When he was here over Christmas we never managed to get any photographs of him and the ones that my Mum has are of a much younger Jack, she really wanted some more up-to-date photos of him.

So I decided to get the lights, stands and brollies out to take some professional looking portraits of Jack, with and without the dogs and as his Mum was here a few of them together – the best of which is the above photo that has been very popular on Facebook so far.

Anyone who reads my blog will know that I have used the same gear to take photos of the dogs with and without their Christmas Gear. They always like to be in on then action so here are a couple of shots of the dogs on their own taking during the shoot.

First we have Zara:
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And we cannot forget Seska too:
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The lighting setup was a simple affair; we had two Cactus RF60 speedlights and each of them were configured to fire into a reflective brolly, we had these set-up on light stands to camera-right and camera-left. They were controlled wirelessly with a V6 transmitter and adjusted to provide even lighting onto both sides of Jack’s face – a light meter allowed me to adjust the power on the lights indepdendantly until I had them providing a suitable amount of light on both sides of Jack’s face. Once this was achieved I noted the aperture and shutter speed for the ISO that I wanted to use; this was before a single photo was taken. I also had assistants (first his Mum an then my Mum) holding a silver reflector to provide a little bounced light to remove harsh shadows from under Jack’s chin.

With the shooting parameters noted I set the camera to manual, dialled in the appropriate settings (ISO 200, f3.5 and a shutter speed of 1/250 sec) and took one more test shot, Jack gave the thumbs up to proceed:
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Jack being the age he is (9 going on 14 🙂 ) kept pulling faces and it was quite a challenge getting some nice photographs and occasional distraction form his mother and the dogs enabled more “non-staged” photos to be produced:
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However we also managed to get a few more poses from Jack. First we have the laid back:
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I then asked Jack to fold-his arms and look mean:
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Once he was less self-conscious I managed to get a much nicer photograph:
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Next we have, “The Thinker”:
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At this point the dogs decided that they also had to be in the picture again so jumped on Jack and we got a nice photo with no poses in sight:
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At times they were masking Jack, who struggled to keep in frame:
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Finally I persuaded Louise to join Jack and took a few of them together, all 3 of the shots in this post are nice but my favourite is the more candid one I have of them that is at the top of this post:
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I was quite happy with the results and this goes to show that the Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera paired with the awesomely sharp 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens is a powerful picture taking machine and I am frankly very pleased with the results I am getting. Whilst the general rule is that it is the photographer who takes the picture, it helps when you “connect” with the gear that you are using and using off-camera flash really helps provide the goods. My next exercise will to try out some dramatic lighting – I just need to find a willing subject.:)