“I need a change” I thought. Time for some landscape photography. So here I was on location at a beautiful reservoir on the outskirts of the Yorkshire Dales. As I set off I could feel the relaxation beginning to set in – much welcome after many days in the office. I was soon drawn to a view of the distant hills – a mixture of light and shade alternating across the landscape. I set up the tripod, attached my 50mm lens – and then… disaster! As I went to put the camera on tripod I realised there was no plate on the bottom! Now quite why I had taken it off, I can’t actually remember. But the fact was… I had. Despite racking my brains I could think of no way to attach the camera properly. Annoyed was not the word!! So after cursing myself for a good few minutes I decided not to give up on the evening. This was my time to enjoy, to create and I was going to make the most of it. So I set myself the challenge of capturing the best images I could hand-holding.
I set the ISO at 400 and the aperture of f/8 – a decent combination to avoid slow shutter speeds whilst getting reasonable depth of field. I worked with one lens – my Canon 50mm 1.8 – the nifty fifty as it’s called.. or ‘plastic fantastic’. Then it was a case of finding compositions that would work – using the fading sunlight of the evening. A mature Horse Chestnut tree was looking appealing and I shot towards the light, back-lighting the leaves and the nettles below.
A patch of Foxgloves looked beautiful as the hazy sun began to disappear behind the hillside. I experimented with a number of compositions and took a few shots with slight glare at the top of the frame – something I would rarely do.
Despite being initially frustrated, it was perhaps a blessing in disguise. Working with just one lens forced me to look for specific compositions and concentrate hard on each image – a good way of challenging yourself as a photographer. By the end of the shoot I felt that I had been genuinely creative and I could go home happy. That said – I don’t ever want to forget the plate again!
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.
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.
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.
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