Landscape Photography: How to Photograph Frost

Landscape Photography: How to Photograph Frost

I spend a lot of time watching the weather – and when temperatures are set to dip below zero I’m ready to get out with the camera. True winter weather is one of the joys of landscape photography – unfortunately it’s something that’s been sadly lacking in the U.K. for the past few years. On this particular morning, temperatures were forecast to reach -4 degrees in rural areas. Combined with low winds, the conditions were looking good and I was up early to visit a local site close to Leeds, West Yorkshire.

I arrived to glorious conditions – thick frost… everywhere! In these situations the biggest difficulty is often choosing what to photograph. Rather than begin to shoot straight away, I took a stroll around the area, noting the best compositions and trying to decide where the light would hit first. Big undulations in the land meant that certain areas wouldn’t get any sun for quite some time. There were a few good options but I started with a simple composition of the frosted heather and Birch trees, using my 50mm lens. Here I wanted everything sharp so I used f/14 to ensure good depth of field.

 

What I really liked about the image, apart from the frost, was the slight mist in the air, helping to add a little more atmosphere. I tried the image with a polarising filter and whilst it enhanced colour and contrast – it seemed to take away from the atmosphere. I actually preferred the shot without the filter – and with a little overexposure in post-processing.

Very quickly the sun was up and beginning to cast strong light onto higher ground. Lower down the frost still stay thick, having not received any sunlight. This led to a really interesting scene with a mixture of light and shade. While the sun was strongly illuminating an Oak tree and surrounding heather, the foreground remained in shadow. Often in strong light the shadow areas can be too dark but here the frost was making a huge difference in brightening things up. I took a number of images trying both landscape and portrait compositions. A polariser improved this image when rotated fully.

 

Drawn by the strong colour and contrast I moved in closer and shot the Oak tree and heather, this time using my wide angle 24mm lens, again with a polarising filter. By this point the frost was beginning to melt – often the case here in the U.K where such opportunities can be fleeting.

Often it’s so tempting to photograph the wider views but the smaller details can sometimes provide better images. Whilst shooting a wide landscape I kept looking at the frosty Oak nearby. Many of the leaves were still frosted and they showed up well against the shaded background. I switched to my 100mm lens and began to investigate compositions. The light was beautiful. Shooting almost into the sun, the colourful leaves were perfectly lit whilst the shaded background added more winter atmosphere to the image.  For this exposure I used an aperture of f5.6. This was definitely my favourite shot so far!

This was my first frosty photography session of the season and the conditions could barely have been better. With the sun getting higher I decided the best images had been taken and I set off for home, albeit taking a brief detour to capture these birch trees in semi-shade against autumn colour.

All images were taken with a Canon 1DX mark i using Canon 24mm, 50mm and 100mm lens and Induro tripod. If you’d like to learn the skills involved in capturing landscape images like these then why not book a One to One Nature Photography Workshop To see more of my landscape photography check out the Photo Galleries  on my website.

 

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Photographing Spider Webs

Photographing Spider Webs

September is one of those months where I sometimes struggle with what to photograph. The flowers of summer are largely over but the colours of autumn have yet to arrive. There is however one subject that grabs my attention, providing one of the best spectacles a nature photographer could wish for. Spider webs. And lots of them..! A clear night can yield masses of these beautiful structures that glisten in the early morning dew. In fact, it’s not just September – I find that any time from August to November is worth a look in the right conditions.

I know my local sites in depth and when good conditions appear I seize the opportunity to make the most of them. With a clear sky overnight and temperatures dipping low, I set off early to my local wetland nature reserve hoping for low lying mists. Arriving before sunrise I was mesmorized by the patchy mist swirling its way through the water channels. The potential for landscape shots was good, but I was equally struck by the sheer number of spider webs, criss-crossing the foliage, like glistening tiny tightropes slung between stems. I turned my attention to the webs, taking my time to find the best compositions.

The image I really had in mind was a wide angle shot – with spider webs in foreground as part of a wider view of the reserve and background disappearing into mist. I decided to stick with my wide angle Canon 24mm. At 6.30am the sun was already starting to burn through the mist so I needed to use a graduated filter to darken the sky; first off I used a 2 stop hard edged ND grad, but as it got brighter I added an additional 2 stop soft edged grad – for these kind of images there is a huge amount of contrast to deal with!

 

It wasn’t long before the sun’s intensity increased, casting a soft golden glow as it filtered its way through the mist. The stronger light allowed me to compose an image of a string of back-lit webs, separated nicely from the darker background reeds. This image wasn’t easy to achieve – the light really has to be perfect to highlight the webs strongly enough but not completely destroy the mist.

 

As the sun continued its ascent the mist began to dissipate and I concentrated on isolating the many spider webs that were now strongly back-lit. For these images I opted for my Canon 100mm F2.8 macro; this is such a great lens for this type of photography – perfect for giving that extra separation from the background, helping make the webs stand out.

 

I went with my instincts, searching for pleasing compositions as I tried to capture the mood of the morning in camera.

 

Within an hour those special conditions were gone and any more photos just simply wouldn’t match up. I began the walk back, content in the knowledge that I had experienced the best time of the day – and captured some beautiful atmospheric images.

If you are interested in seeing more of my work please visit the Photo Galleries at www.paulmiguel.co.uk.  If you want to learn how to take Nature Photographs like these then why not book a One to One Photography Workshop and receive expert guidance for the day.

Paul

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Serbian Birds Photo Tour Trip Report

Serbian Birds Photo Tour Trip Report

I’ve just returned from a successful Bird Photography Tour in Serbia with my two clients Ian and Alec. During the seven night all inclusive tour we used some excellent hides which really delivered, and we experienced incredibly consistent weather. We all managed some ‘firsts’ including the extravagant looking Hoopoe.!

A late night flight to Belgrade meant a quick stop over before being picked up the next morning. We were soon on the road, heading towards Subotica in the province of Vojvodina. Subotica is the most Northern city in Serbia, with many Hungarian influences. After checking into Hotel Galleria we were soon taken for our first hide session: the Tower Hide. Situated in flat, largely agricultural land this hide overlooks a number of small trees used by various breeding birds. This is a one-way glass hide which helps to reduce disturbance; the disadvantages are in loss of light – you lose around a stop. And yes, it can reduce sharpness a little, but with good light and good equipment I think it really is negligible. Nest boxes close to the hide allow amazing views of European Roller, Common Kestrel and Red footed Falcon. Perches have been expertly positioned, giving stunning backgrounds at a good distance for the majority of ‘wildlife’ lenses. During our first session we captured beautifully lit portraits and I managed to bag a decent flight shot of a Roller…  after failing miserably last year.! The hide gets very hot, but such is the nature of wildlife photography – it is a case of suffering for your art. The results are worth it! You can see some Roller Video Footage on my YouTube Channel

Shooting during this time of year means early starts and  the next morning we were out for 5.00am to try the Hoopoe hide. This was a real bonus, having only been set up this year by our hosts. I wasn’t too sure what to expect but it turned out to be one of my favourite hides. Myself and Alec settled into the bigger hide whilst Ian had a pop up hide to himself – both positioned at the same distance from the nesting Hoopoes. Between us we shot with a mixture of 400mm, 500mm and 600m  – all Canon gear.! The setting is just beautiful; perfect for the early morning light with a mixture of background colours and some semi-shade. After taking portraits we all had a go at flight shots, such was the frequency of the returning parent birds.

After a midday break and some lunch we headed for our next photography hide – the drinking pool. This is essentially a reflection pool situated within a woodland site, regularly used by a good selection of birds. The light here is best in the afternoon when the sun is directly behind. The great thing about this type of hide is you never know what’s going to turn up.! The record is around 15 species in one session and we did pretty well – reaching about 12. Both male and female Hawfinch were a delight as they came to drink and bathe; other birds included Tree pipit, male Blackcap, Jay and the beautiful Turtle Dove. The real highlight was when a juvenile Sparrowhawk came in!

After teasing us in the branches it finally dropped down and began to splash in the pool – just yards away! A magical encounter. The visit was a prolonged one… the longest I’ve ever watched a Sparrowhawk for. Whilst this is great if you’re a huge Sparrowhawk fan (like me!) it doesn’t help to attract the smaller birds.! Eventually the bird left and we got a few more images of various species before the light levels started to drop. Light levels aren’t really an issue for filming so I made sure to get some Video footage including this Bathing Jay!

Another early start and this time for pop-up hides at the Bee-eater colony. If you want to photograph colourful birds then you can’t do much better than a Bee-eater! Our host set up the hides, positioned strategically towards the slim perches and then we prepared ourselves. After a bit of a wait the birds were back, landing on the perches and dazzling us in the morning sun. The light was extraordinary – bright, but somehow with a different quality that didn’t seem quite as harsh as in the UK. We photographed a number of food passes, including one with a beautiful blue dragonfly.! The sounds of these birds were beautiful too – a lovely relaxed bubbling as they whizzed around the nest site. I also captured some Bee-eater Video Footage of the food passing.

Towards the end of the tour we visited Palic Lake. This area, designated as a protected nature reserve, is a tranquil haven for birds. Palic is home to a huge Pygmy Cormorant roost, a very interesting subject to photograph, with the dark shapes dotted around the white-washed trees. The tranquillity was only broken by the calls of Egrets and Herons that constantly flew past us over the reedbed. Unlike some reserves in the UK, here there is no struggling for tripod space – in fact, we barely saw a person during three hours. Great Reed Warblers were everywhere and we all managed to get something of this vocal bird.

The long days do take their toll so I had factored in a rest morning half way through. This was a good time to explore Subotica – a beautiful and relaxing city with friendly locals and some superb food.! During the week long trip we visited each hide twice, trying to capture something different. Me and Alec visited the drinking pool again and were quite taken aback when a huge Buzzard bungled itself in by the pool – one of the highlights of the week! On the last day, I went for back-lit Hoopoe shots whilst Alec and Ian tried the drinking pool again. This time they were treated to a male Sparrowhawk. I was gutted!!

This Serbian Photography Tour will run again in mid-May 2018. You can see more Serbian Wildlife on the Gallery Page at www.paulmiguel.co.uk  If you’re looking for a different destination with quality hides and a top class hotel, then this is the trip for you. Serbia really does offer very good value all round. Any questions about these bird holidays please feel free to email on paul@naturephotographycourses.co.uk or ring me on 07759485791. You may be interested in my other Small Group Nature Photography Tours

I’m looking forward to taking next years group already!

Paul Miguel

 

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Leeds Birdfair 2017

Leeds Birdfair 2017

I’ll be at Leeds Birdfair on 24th June at Rodley Nature Reserve. Come say hello and check out my range of Photography Prints and Greetings Cards – or just come and have a chat.! Looking forward to seeing lots of keen birders and meeting the other exhibitors too. This is the second Leeds Birdfair, established by Linda Jenkinson from Start Birding. Linda has an incredible knowledge of birds and runs a number of birdwatching courses for all levels. Hopefully this event will continue to grow and grow in future years. I’m very happy to be part of it.

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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 

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Why I Switched to Fixed Lenses

Why I Switched to Fixed Lenses
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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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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!

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.!

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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

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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

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