St Aidans Country Park to Open

St Aidans Country Park to Open

staidanscountryparkGreat news! I’m very happy to report that RSPB St. Aidans Country Park will now open on Monday 10th April. The site, between Leeds and Castleford in Yorkshire, has been cultivated into a world class nature reserve. I’ve been photographing here for the past three years, capturing stunning images of both the landscape and its wildlife. I regularly run Photography Workshops at St. Aidans, aimed at beginners. Few people know the site as well as I do, so why not come and take advantage of my local knowledge.

To see more images of St. Aidans visit the Gallery

For more Photography Workshops visit www.naturephotographycourses.co.uk 

Share

Why I Switched to Fixed Lenses

Why I Switched to Fixed Lenses
17-40mm lens
Cow and Calf Rocks Ilkley Moor, Canon 1D Mark iv, 17-40mm f/4 lens at around 31mm

My work predominantly consists of Wildlife Photography but I also enjoy shooting landscapes along with generic countryside images suitable for stock. For years I used the Canon 17-40mm f/4 USM lens for my landscape photography. The results were good but the edge softness always annoyed me – particularly in the corners where at times I felt it too unacceptable. Although I had the facility to shoot at 17mm, the fact is – I never did! Simply due to the increased edge softness I always zoomed in to at least 21mm to improve things. Working professionally and submitting to discerning picture libraries I always strived to get the most out of the lens – trying to use it at a mid-range focal length where possible and keeping the aperture around f/11 to maximise image quality.

fixedlenses
I shot this image on Ilkley Moor with the Canon 17-40mm. I was happy with the overall composition but the original file shows softness at the edges and particularly in the corners. Shot with a Canon 1D Mark iv.

Upgrading to a Canon 1D X Mark i showed an improvement in my images but I still felt I needed to improve the landscape quality. I toyed with the idea of the Canon 16-35mm which has an excellent reputation and would no doubt be a step up. But I also thought long and hard about switching to a fixed wide angle. A good quality fixed lens should always be sharper than a zoom – and it does make sense. I’ve certainly found it to be the case in my experience. I already had a fixed 50mm f/1.8, giving excellent performance, so I considered switching my 17-40mm zoom for a fixed wide angle. Overall image quality was a consideration but there was perhaps a more important issue related to zoom lenses. Now, zoom lenses are great for many situations; they are flexible and mean you don’t have to stop, change lens and carry on with your shoot. But what they also do is: make you lazy! This might not apply to everyone, but for me certainly, a fixed lens is a better option and it makes me a better photographer. Why? Well, with zoom lenses you can put yourself in great surroundings and change focal point to find the best images. But’s that not how it should be: the art of Landscape Photography is to search for your images… and that means moving around.! Whilst I like to think I wasn’t falling into the trap, I probably was. Essentially I was staying more in one place and adjusting my zoom, rather than thinking about the look of the image (for a given focal length) and finding the composition to suit.

zoomlensesarebad
After reviewing this image I wasn’t entirely happy due to the mid-frame rock which wasn’t separated enough from the background. I couldn’t help feeling that with a fixed lens I would have been forced to search out a better viewpoint.

So, after reading many reviews, I opted for a Canon 24mm 2.8 lens. I now had two main lenses for landscape photography: the 24mm and my 50mm, along with a 100mm macro as an extra option for picking out sections of the landscape. I was itching to try the 24mm quickly so within two days of receiving it I headed out for a night shoot with my good friend Nik Goulthorp. We visited Millenium Bridge, Castleford – an excellent place for night photography that offers a number of compositions. I attached the 24mm and set to work. With this fixed lens I had to keep moving around to find the best viewpoint; there was no room to tweak the zoom. I had to find the very best spot. To be honest, it was refreshing and I felt more like a true landscape photographer.

canon 24mm lens
Wide angle image of Millenium Bridge, shot with Canon 1D X and 24mm 2.8 lens.

 

whyfixedlens
For this low down viewpoint the 24mm was just too wide for the best composition. I switched to the standard 50mm f/1.8 which provided a tighter and stronger image. It also gives fantastic image quality.

Even during this one initial shoot with the 24mm I could feel myself working harder; thinking more. With one focal length on the camera I was forced to think about the overall composition and discover the best viewpoint. In fact, it’s taken me back to the old days when I used to shoot with a Bronica ETRS medium format camera – a beautiful piece of equipment. Back then, I would carry just two fixed lenses – a wide angle and a standard. I would then set about finding the best compositions that would work best for these lenses. Many of theses images found their way into calendars and a few Dalesman front covers too. Time will tell, but I think I will begin to work better with my new combination. I can’t wait til my next landscape shoot! Zoom lenses are not bad pieces of kit, just don’t fall into the trap of letting the lens do the work. The most important factor in creating the image is always – the photographer’s eye!!

Interested in joining me for a Photography Workshop? I’ve worked with hundreds of photographers over the years both in group workshops and on a One to One basis. Check out the range of Photography Courses  including the soon to be added Night Photography Workshops – planned for Autumn 2017!

 

 

Share

Long Eared Owl Photography

Long Eared Owl Photography

It was a few short words in a travel magazine that began it all: my obsession with Long eared Owls. I had never heard of the owl roosts in Serbia, but after researching on the net I decided to try my luck at photographing the Long eared Owl roosts that occur each winter in Serbia.

long eared owl

My first visit was in November 2015. After researching other locations for bird photography I spent my last day in the northern town of Kikinda, famed for its owl roosts. The day was wall to wall sunshine; glorious. At first the owls were barely noticeable, but then I suddenly spotted my first one – perched on a clear branch overlooking a well used path. It’s then that you begin to see what’s really there. As I walked under the trees I could make out another, slightly hidden behind the foliage – and then another, and then… well, when you really start to look you realise there’s actually about six all sat within a few feet of each another! I found one conifer tree and counted around twenty, all sat quietly above me. That day I barely stopped, shooting as much as I could. Most images were taken with a Canon 400mm and a 1.4x extender but sometimes it was possible to shoot with the 400mm alone.

longearedowl photography

owlphotography

howtophotographowls

Long eared Owls have been roosting in Kikinda for years – in huge numbers. The surrounding farmlands are perfect for hunting, providing the owls with a high number of voles. With virtually no surrounding trees, the town makes the perfect (and only) roosting site. The streets are lined with both deciduous and evergreen trees, ideal for owls to roost during the day. The added heat of the town also helps the birds to avoid the harsh temperatures of the Serbian winter.

serbianowlphotography

photographyowls

twilightowls

Seeing the owls in such numbers in this fascinating urban habitat had really got under my skin. I just had to go back! February 2016 saw my second visit, but with poor weather it proved to largely a recce trip. I was introduced to two new owl roosts though – both with photographic potential.

owlroostphotography

longearedowl roosts

It was December 2016 when I made my third visit. Through new Serbian contacts I was granted access to higher floors of buildings; enabling me to get to the same level as the owls! With a spell of settled weather forecast I booked my flight with literally two days notice. This trip was undoubtedly the best so far. It also drew the attention of Serbian TV who Filmed me in Kikinda! During this trip I was able to get to eye level with a number of owls and explore more locations for future visits. Things were looking good..how to photograph owls

owlphototour

One of the most exciting aspects was the possibility of capturing images at twilight. This would be virtually impossible had it not been for the nearby street lights. The result was images of Long Eared Owls with twilight skies lit purely by a mixture of natural and artificial light. Magical!

twilight owl photo

owlphototwilight

This type of photography sure does test your long lens technique.! The only way to achieve pin sharp results with my newly acquired Canon 500mm lens was to rest a beanbag on top of an empty tripod head. Shutter speeds were insanely slow… and ISOs high. But.. it was possible – and the results… absolutely stunning! I really doubt it’s possible to do this anywhere else on the planet. It truly is unique.

nightphotoowls

longearedowl night

owlroostserbia

There’s no doubt the Long eared Owl roosts of Serbia are a true spectacle. Watching them sat in the trees peering down at passers by is quite bizarre. Its urban wildlife at its best!

If you’re interested in this unique experience why not book yourself onto one of the Serbian Owl Photography Tours in December. Serbia is a country full of surprises and this surely is one of its best.

owlphototour

 

Share

Night Photography West Yorkshire

In recent months I’ve been spending more time on night photography. It’s a difficult discipline, but one that can undoubtedly give very rewarding results – but you have to put the work in! This image was taken at my local haunt of St. Aidans Nature Reserve, between Leeds and Castleford. Clear skies are great for cityscapes, but when shooting wide scenes like this it’s tough to balance the exposure correctly. From experience I decided the best conditions would be partial cloud which would create movement in the sky and hopefully some colour too.

Alllerton Bywater, near Castleford, England. 5th October 2016. Disused dragline and lake at night, with moving clouds and stars, site of former opencast coal mine, now a flourisihing nature reserve.
Allerton Bywater, near Castleford, England. 5th October 2016. Disused dragline and lake at night, with moving clouds and stars, site of former opencast coal mine, now a flourishing nature reserve.

Much of the difficulty in night photography is technical – as well as not forgetting anything crucial (missing one piece of equipment can ruin a photo session –  I know.!). I had already scouted a good viewpoint for this image and arrived in darkness, around 7.30pm on an October’s night. First I took a test shot – this is for two reasons 1. To ensure sharp focus  and 2. To make sure the composition is how I want it. Setting the ISO at 12800 and a wide aperture of f4 I could get a ‘quick’ test shot at about 5 seconds. Focusing can be tricky – I set the focus to infinity which proved to work perfectly; my test shot was sharp. I then set my exposure for my proper image on a lower ISO for minimal noise. I chose an ISO of 400 and aperture of f8. Again using experience I estimated an exposure time of seven and a half minutes; of course you can always do the exposure maths to work it out! With the camera on my tripod and a remote release I set the exposure to bulb mode, pressed the button then timed it on my phone.

Share

Robin on Spade Handle

Robin on Spade Handle

Processing some images for picture libraries I was quite drawn to this cheeky robin. You’d think this kind of image was easy but in reality there are few opportunities when everything comes together for perfect bird portraits. Photographed one crisp February morning, the quality of light made all the difference – along with a nice diffused background. The bird itself also managed to strike a good pose! Perhaps surprisingly this was the first time I had specifically aimed for this image.

robin on spade handle
European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) adult, perched on spade handle in garden, West Yorkshire, England, February
Share

Photographing Harvest Mice

Photographing Harvest Mice

Most of my wildlife photography is done in the wild but occasionally I’ll take advantage of some captive set-ups to add a new subject to my portfolio. Harvest mouse is a subject I’d wanted to photograph for a while so I took the opportunity to visit Alan Heeley, a wildlife photographer in Derbyshire. Alan keeps harvest mice and provides workshops for photographers who want to get high quality images of Britain’s smallest mammal.

harvestmice1

I knew they were going to be tough but I was still surprised how fast they were! It really took about 15 minutes to get my eye in, by which time my images were starting to improve. We used a range of props, all natural looking, and an artificial background which worked well. The light was quite overcast but this made life easier, avoiding strong highlights and dark shadows. After a while we switched to a lighter background which I preferred and continued to vary the props – teasel, wheat stalks, flower heads and bramble were all used. Alan was really helpful in changing props and backgrounds – and giving tips on capturing the best images. He has a great sense of humour too so it’s always good fun.!

harvestmice5

harvestmice4

The harvest mice put on a great show, at times posing really well. Tripods are pretty useless here – due to the nature of these fast moving creatures you really need to shoot handheld so can move around and react quickly. I shot with a Canon 100mm macro lens which could fill the frame if necessary. The biggest difficulty was getting a high enough shutter speed with a good enough depth of field for sharpness. When getting in close, depth of field was tiny, even at my chosen aperture of f/9. I opted for an ISO of around 2000 to get good settings and with the lighter background noise was minimal on my Canon 1D Mark iv.

It was certainly a fun session – exhausting too as it takes a lot of concentration with such quick animals. If you want to photograph these adorable little animals email Alan: alan.heeley1@btinternet.com

harvestmice7

The bramble was my favourite setting and this mouse was a right poser! Wonderful to spend a couple of hours with these tiny mammals. A big thanks to Alan Heeley – you can see more of his work at Alan Heeley Wildlife Photography

Share

The Importance of Being There

The Importance of Being There

It’s barely past 5.00am and I’m standing ankle deep in water next to my tripod, waiting patiently for the sun to climb above the tree-lined horizon. Already I can tell that I’ve made a good decision: the predicted early morning mist is clinging to the shallow pool and swirling in the soft breeze; the sky is largely clear but with the added touch of low cloud straight ahead. My composition is wide, to encompass the urban surroundings of this fascinating place. I’m happy with the foreground – the low sun will highlight the plants, revealing texture and form. I take a test shot before the sun rises but know the resulting image is flat; lifeless. It needs the light. The light will transform everything.

letchmire10

 

Gradually the sun begins to break, shining through the mist and casting its warm glow upon my carefully composed scene. I continue to shoot for the next ten minutes watching minute shifts in light and shade and subtle changes to the moving mist. Quickly it becomes too bright to continue and I know that the first exposures were the best. I pack up my gear and search for different photo opportunities in stronger light.

letchmire11

There are many ingredients that create a successful nature photograph but perhaps the biggest is actually ‘being there’. This does not mean simply turning up and shooting – it means a careful, considered approach to put you in the right place at the right time. With enough research you can visualise your image and arrive at the perfect hour in the best weather conditions. I often think how many nature and landscape photographs I have on file, but how many are truly good ones? It’s almost always the case that the most compelling of images are those that were carefully thought, crafted and executed. A little effort can go a long way…

Technical info: Canon 1D Mark iv; Canon 17-40mm lens at around 20mm, 1/6 second at f14, ISO 100, Cokin strong ND grad, mirror lock up, Induro Tripod

Share

Birds of Prey Photography Courses

Birds of Prey Photography Courses

A great way of getting into wildlife photography is to practice on captive subjects such as birds of prey. I don’t consider this as ‘cheating’. In the wild you often have to react quickly and know your settings inside out to get the best out of any given opportunity. Bird of prey workshops offer you the chance to learn the skills necessary – in natural surroundings and often with variable weather conditions. Working with SMJ Falconry in Oxenhope, Yorkshire we have access to wonderful surroundings including moorland edge with gritstone boulders and heather.bop02

bop01

The male merlin is one of my favourite birds. This particular merlin is incredibly relaxed around photographers and often preens for us.

We also like to make use of prey. This peregrine was photographed with a quail. It soon ripped into the bird with feathers flying, making for images with real impact.!

bop04

bop03

Flight photography is always a test – not just of the photographer but also the equipment. Our barn owl is perfect for straight flights and we can usually repeat this a good number of times.

bop06

Willow, the female red kite is quite a star. We usually let her fly around the valley before photographing as she comes in to the food. The beauty of this location is in being able to get flight shots against the hillside rather than just sky.

bop05

If you are interested in joining one of theses Bird of Prey Photography Courses get in touch: paul@naturephotographycourses.co.uk  Further photo workshops can be found at www.naturephotographycourses.co.uk  All the birds at SMJ Falconry are in remarkable condition and it’s obvious that this family run business put a lot of effort into the birds’ welfare.

 

Share

Gannets in the Mist…

Gannets in the Mist…

I recently led a Photography Workshop at Bempton Cliffs on the East Yorkshire coast. Upon arrival we were greeted by the thickest of sea mists with terrible visibility. I was pretty sure it would lift by the afternoon, but the fact is – it didn’t! So, rather than complain about what could not be changed, we persevered with our bird photography. It certainly gave opportunities for something different – which is never easy to do at Bempton. The histogram for our images was almost in one place due to the short dynamic range.

gannets1 The most difficult part was focussing. Regardless of lens speed, autofocus was having an absolute nightmare trying to lock onto wishy washy targets against a wishy washy background. I found the juvenile gannets slightly easier as the camera was able to lock on better due to their mottled plumage. gannets3 gannets6 The wind was also a real challenge. A strong easterly breeze kept the birds buffeted about and throwing sea spray onto our lenses. Yes, this was definitely a challenge!! As always its a case of keep trying and we all managed some reasonably sharp flight images including the additional guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes.

gannets4 gannets5

A little closer to our cameras was this lovely pair of razorbills. Occasionally the sea fog thinned enough to capture some detail in the birds as in this shot here. A nice change from the constant grey fog.

gannets7

Thanks to my clients Louise and Martin who braved the conditions and embraced the challenge. It would have been all too easy to give up entirely..! As it happens I’m actually quite happy with some of the images and certainly gives me ideas for the future. If you’re interested in joining me on future workshops check out my Photography Course at Bempton Cliffs

Share

What’s Good for the Soul…

What’s Good for the Soul…

Such is my love of photographing wildlife that when I turn my attention to other subjects it can feel like a complete shift in mind set. But there’s no doubt that this can be a good thing. I’d purposefully set out early to concentrate on macro images close to home with a few ideas in mind. I find close up photography is often led by my own instinct and it takes me while to ‘get my eye in’. When first approaching a flourishing stand of Oak trees I found it difficult to separate the buds and to see the best photo opportunities. But, fifteen minutes or so later, after carefully searching through the branches I was beginning to satisfying my own creative intent.

goodforsoul2

goodforsoul3

Light is a key driver in all photography and certainly in macro work. Working in partial shade I could capture good colour in the freshly unfurling leaves. Within half an hour contrast was increasing rapidly due the rising sun and I was unable to capture the detail effectively as at first light.

goodforsoul4

As contrast increased I moved further into the shade, finding a beautiful Oak gall – a colourful and interesting shape.

goodforsoul5

Stepping back I could see the galls and leaves were creating a nice pattern, so I switched to a wider shot and composed vertically.

goodforsoul6

I continued to search, using my instincts. The catkins drew my attention, not only due to their stunning shapes and colour but also the way they stood out from the clean grey background. For this shot I got in even closer, increasing my aperture and taking a number of shots to ensure a pin sharp result.

goodforsoul7

Realising that it was now becoming too bright to do justice to any more macro images, I looked for some different views of the Oak branches against the blue sky.

goodforsoul8

I was happy with the images I’d taken in a short space of time. But more importantly I felt like I’d done something purely for me. And this is the best part of photography – letting your creative juices flow, unshackled by necessity; direction led not by what I ‘should’ be taking, but rather by what my soul ‘needs’.

www.paulmiguel.co.uk

goodforsoul1

 

Share