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Wex Entry: Damselflies

This weeks #WexMondays competition was take in a nearby nature reserve of Thompson Common which is owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. I like this reserve mainly for fungi in the Autumn and bugs and insects at this time of year. 

I wanted to see some bigger dragonflies as I have already seen and photographed some Damselflies on the previous day at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen. However all I saw were Damselflies on the way back to the car and the odd butterfly which I were expecting to see more of.

The main thing I learned from this photoshoot is that it pays to be patient. It was only after I stood still for awhile till they started to land on the leaves to make it possible to photograph these tiny insects, and on occasions I got very close with the sigma 105mm about 15cm away from them

My technique was to set the camera at around F/16 and shutter speed at least at 1/250 seconds and manual focus with the ISO to create a good exposure being around 800. The idea was to make very slight adjustments to my body position forwards and backwards to achieve an image where I had the correct focus. With the camera set to high speed shooting I could easily take 10 images with the hope one of those would be useful, all taken in RAW mode.

Stay tuned for a video on my editing process from this trip.

Macro Tips

Spring is well on its way and summer is close by which is ideal time for capturing bugs and insects. Its when you get up close you see the beauty of these varied creatures.

Thankfully you don't have to travel far to find interesting subjects. The above image was taken along a path just a down the road with hedgerow on either side. Most bugs need to warm up in the sun before they become active so early morning is the best time to photograph.

A macro lens is required for small bugs while a zoom is better for butterflies as they tend to fly away if you get too close. When taking macro images auto focus is often useless and best used in manual and then move your body to get the subject in focus. A minimum aperture of F/11 is highly recommended and shutter speed to suit the subject.

I can find it difficult to see where the focus is on bugs is correct and instead look at the texture of its surrounding for textures to focus on. Another tip is to set the camera to fast continuous shooting as any slight movement makes a huge impact to what is in focus, the idea is to make slight adjustments to your position backwards and forwards while taking images with the hope at least one will be sharp as you can easily delete them later. 

If you find these tips useful then please share your results with me on twitter @nealtraf    

The Yellow Star of Bethlehem

During the last week I have been spending time in Wayland Wood as it has started to wake up from winter. 

I have been focusing too much on bluebells which isn't a bad thing but it would be too easy to miss other beautiful flowers that are currently in bloom such as The Yellow Star of Bethlehem which was pointed being a rare plant and only appears in a small number of locations in the UK and Wayland Wood is one of those places.

Macro photography to me is very rewarding as I find a sense of achievement when I can capture something beautiful that you would otherwise not even notice.

Using a Nikon D7100 with a Sigma 105mm lens I was sitting down on a bin bag and using a tripod to get a rough position. With the wind and the size of the flower being not much bigger than a 5p coin taking a picture that was usable was very difficult. I carry a small water bottle to create water droplets on flowers to create a more interesting picture.

I often see small insects around flowers which I find fascinating and fun to watch and getting any detail from them is even more of a challenge.

As spring is well on its way im sure many more will popup on here, so please visit often to see the results.


My Approach To Fungi Photography

This weekend I wasn't in the mood to travel far, with a busy Saturday I could have easily stayed at home. Having kicked myself out of the house I went to Hoe Rough nature reserve, about a 30 minute car journey.

This nature reserve is quickly becoming a regular spot for me with such a wide variety of nature to photograph, butterflies in the spring and summer. This time of year fungi is theme of choice. 

Clouded Funnel Fungi

In this image I tried out off camera flash with no focus stacking.

I found a group of what I have identified as Clouded Funnel or Clitocybe Nebularis. If I have the identification incorrect please let me know on twitter @nealtraf. Usually I prepare fungi and surrounding area to remove distractions and in this case making the subject accessible. I carry a pair of secateurs that fold up like a swiss army knife, this is an essential tool to carry if you are doing any nature photography. Another tool is a rocket blower, the intended use is to clean dust from the camera sensor. Works well with removing loose dirt from fragile fungi. 

Unsure what this white fury stuff was, unlike any fungi I have seen. Turns out to be Eriosomatinae 

Cutting away the surrounding thorney growth I was able to place the camera onto my homemade beanbag. I do carry a Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod where the central column and legs can be altered, as fungi mostly grow from the ground I often use the beanbag as it is far easier to use than setting up the tripod, the only downside is the weight.

When taking any pictures it's just as important to look around the edges of the picture to make sure nothing behind is creating a distraction. I try and remove anything that has lines, this could be branches, twigs or even a blade of grass. Also bright spots, in the below slideshow between two images that I photographed, to demonstrate how I setup the scene to highlight the importance of looking for distracting objects. 

If you look at the top left you can see bright spots caused by the sky breaking through leaves. Either change the angle of the camera to cut out the bright spots or spot removal/clone tool in post production. It's a lot easier to take the image correctly in camera than than to fix faults in post production, something that takes a couple of extra minutes out in the field can save hours in Photoshop. 

On future fungi forays I intent to find subjects that can be converted into black and white, defined edges, shapes and tones are what I intent to focus on. To me snapshot of fungi are not all that interesting, they need to have an artistic element.

Dersingham Bog Fungi

Dersingham bog, for me is one of the best places in Norfolk to visit. There is a vantage point that overlooks the nature reserve that is stunning, I took a sunrise a couple of months ago. The only downside is the lack of parking. I bumped into another local camera club on a workshop, with the amount of cars I had to park on the verge. 

Just before the sunrises from behind the hill, Using HDR to achieve a good exposure.

Fungi is still very much in mind with it still being autumn. When I first visited Dersingham Bog last year with the camera club there was a wide variety of fungi fruiting. This time I was unable to find as many specimens, can only presume that there has been less rain so far making the environment damp enough. 

Over the last few fungi forays I have been using focus stacking technique to get the fungi and foreground in focus which is impossible to achieve with a single image. Although this method requires heavily editing to fix the defects caused by the focus stacking, the results I have been achieving easily justifies the time and effort. A single image can take 30 minutes to find, prepare and photograph the "stack" and then up to a further two hours in post production. 

I shall return to Dersingham Bog before the autumn finishes to find more fungi to photograph. One image that I have in my head is a puffball fungi releasing its spores, black and white. I need to figure out how to release the spores and then photograph without getting a stick in the shot, a flash would most likely be required. 

My Addiction To Macro Photography

All cameras and lenses have a limit of how close they can focus. This can be demonstrated by using a smartphone. How close can you get the camera to the end of your finger with the camera/phone getting it in focus ? A macro lens allows you to focus much closer, effectively making a camera into a microscope. 

Getting closer to a subject allows you to get more detail out of smaller objects. Another advantage of macro is almost anything is interesting when you get closer which means you don't have to travel far to find interesting subjects, unlike landscapes where you need to allow time and research to capture anything meaningful. 

I find it very therapeutic when walking in woodland looking for fungi (when i'm not being bitten) and can take my time while never knowing what I will find. Also it takes my mind off the weekly grind for short awhile.

Trapped in a spiders web

The whole process of setting up and finding the composition is a rewarding process, there have been tools that i've discovered that has made this a bit easier such as Helicon Remote that allows me to remotely control my camera using my Android phone or tablet, very useful when the camera is laying on the ground. I also use this software to automate focus stacking, there are a few useful video tutorials on YouTube by searching "Focus Stacking" and "Helicon Remote".