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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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Photographing Autumn Woodlands

Photographing Autumn Woodlands

It’s during late October and early November that I try to squeeze in an autumn woodland shoot. For my style of photography I find this time to be the best as it usually coincides with more gaps in the trees and more leaf litter on the woodland floor. This particular woodland in West Yorkshire is one that I have visited once before – back in the days of film! When visiting a relatively new location I find that it pays to keep an open mind and not be too rigid in your picture-taking.

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The majority of the afternoon consisted of overcast conditions which suited me fine – it made things much simpler and I could record wide scenes without too much contrast.

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The low light inevitably meant slow shutter speeds and this was perfect for creating movement in the water. I personally love the effect of these long shutter speeds.

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For all the images I used a polarising filter. The effect can be surprisingly striking: even in heavily overcast conditions a quick twist of the filter and the colours really leap out – with both greens and oranges becoming equally vibrant.

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This was particularly true when photographing this magnificent beech tree by the water’s edge. I kept checking the effect of the filter, rotating it a few times to make sure it was having maximum effect. Exposure wise, the meter was fairly accurate. If anything I underexposed slightly for some shots.

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As a professional photographer I often have specific markets in mind and whilst this is generally a good thing, it can stifle creativity. When I finally checked on the time I realised I’d been in the wood for nearly 2 hours. My first thought was how quickly the time had flown, but then something else gradually dawned on me. In all that time – I hadn’t really thought about the picture-taking. Sure, I’d considered the composition and all the technicalities of maximising sharpness and depth of field, but in all that time I hadn’t consciously thought about what I was photographing or why. Everything I had been doing was simply guided by instinct; intuition. All those little tweaks of position, angle; the play of light – they were all done with feel – as I strived to create something that satisfied me, and nobody else. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is when we achieve our most rewarding images.

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Now that I felt I was getting ‘under the skin’ of this special place I turned my attention towards the water and let my instincts work on creating more abstract images.

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The leaf colour by the water was stunning and I worked on some closer images using this clean backdrop.

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The leaves were barely staying still due to the light breeze so I deliberately used a slower shutter speed to create movement and much more abstract image of autumn colour.

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Another abstract but this time allowing the scum on the water to record as streaks whilst the autumn trees remained still.

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My last shots of the day were of the weir surrounded by autumn colour. By this point the light was failing and it was becoming too dull for good rendition of the colours.

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This woodland is a truly stunning location for autumn colours and I’ll be adding it to my list of Photography Workshops for 2016. More courses can be viewed at Nature Photography Courses

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