Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Pictures from a walk-about

Yesterday morning I went for a walk-about at the swamp, just to see how spring was coming along. I was pretty exhausted after I was done, the swamp was still rather wet and soft and I could feel the mornings walk as lead in my legs when I back at work for nightshift in the evening. I did manage to get a few pictures, so I think it was worth it.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Thoughts on hide positioning and light

I exchanged ideas with photographer and friend of mine, J.Lopperi, in his blog on how I choose the location of my hide and what factors I take into consideration when choosing the location. Mainly the question was on light and how much emphasis I give to the direction of light or if it is even possible to do so. That short bouncing of ideas and questions got me thinking about things a bit more and so I decided to share my ideas on hide positioning and what I take into consideration when choosing a location.

The first thing I think of is what I am trying to photograph. The subjects are at a certain location and I have to get the hide close enough for photography. This can be extremely hard at times, since things change constantly. A place where the subjects were yesterday may be devoid of activity tomorrow. Locating, observing and following subjects and their patterns of movement and behavior requires time and patience. No matter how well the observation has been done, there are no guarantees of success. On principle, I do not use food or other means to attract wildlife, I try to keep my photography as natural as possible.

Secondly I have to take into consideration the terrain in relation to the hide and having to spend several hours in it. Swamps can be rather challenging in this respect, there are places where I would not want to set up. Some spots are just too wet and soft to able to set up, even with my rather good "flooring" for the hide. I also have to keep in mind that the hide needs to be anchored somehow. Finding something strong enough to hold the hide in place during windy days is not very easy with only soft peat all around.

Lastly I consider the lighting. The rising and setting of the sun makes for great effects in pictures, with the light coming at a low angle and the colors are something very different from the "hard light" of noon. If at all possible, I try to position the hide so that the light would come from the side or at an angle to the subjects, at least during the time of "best light". This is obviously rather challenging at times, since the positioning of the subjects affects this as well. Unlike some other forms of photography, a naturephotographer can't really direct his or her subjects, but good planning can help improve the odds of getting the desired picture.

All in all, choosing the position for a hide is a combination of all factors listed above. All have an effect on the end result and none can be overlooked completely.

I do not photograph only from a hide, however. My "Year(s) at the swamp -sunken dreams" -project contains a lot of pictures taken without using the hide. For fast situations that arise while walking about the swamp, there is no time to consider the direction of the lighting, I simply take the shot and look afterwards what the picture looks like regarding lights and shadows. Not a very good way to do things, but sometimes there simply is no other way. There is no time to think things thru with a bird flying suddenly by, you either take the picture or then you don't. With stationary or slow moving subjects I do try to look for a good angle with the light in mind also. Plants and insects (and sometimes even birds) give the chance to think things thru a bit more and re-position to get the lighting at a good angle.

In the end, I am pretty much at the mercy of nature with regards to lighting. The subjects choose where and when they want to show up. I also have no say on the weather, which affects the available light considerably. If the weather is gray, cloudy, foggy or even rainy, there simply is not a way to get the light effect of the setting suns rays hitting the wing feathers of a landing crane. I take all these problems as something I just have to live with. If the conditions are not right, I'll just come back some other day and keep doing so until I have the picture I have visualized in my mind and was looking to get.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Live view function

When I bought a new camera some time ago, I wondered what use is having the live view function in a camera. I couldn't come up with any way of using it to my advantage. I am so used to using the regular viewfinder, that I could not think of using the big screen at the back when taking a picture. My thinking was that the screen is there only so that I can check the histogram and other relevant information AFTER I have taken the picture.

However, sitting in my hide last week, I found a use for live view. Canon has one major flaw in its system. When photographing with lenses with smaller apertures (my kind of lenses, the cheaper ones) the autofocus does not function when using a extender. Looking thru the viewfinder I have serious problems with focusing right when going manual. With 400mm lens and 2x entension at full aperture there is no leeway in depth of field and even the smalles mistake in focusing ruins the picture. With smaller aperture, the shuttertimes become too long for my kind of photography, since my subjects seldom stay in one spot for longer than a moment. With longer shuttertimes the result is a blurred picture due to the motion of the subject. Photographing the grouses in the morning, I decided to try manual focusing using live view. I was surprised at how much easier focusing using the big screen was. It does have its problems also, but it's easier. I think I'll use it in again sometimes.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Grouse morning II

The rest of the pictures of a good morning for black grouse.

There is plenty of action in these first pictures of the morning, but unfortunately there was not quite enough light:
The knoll on the right of the first picture seemed to be the place the biggest ones were after. In the end this bird managed to secure it for himself:
Some of the birds from the nearby spots came close at times, but backed off fast when this one flexed a bit. Settling the hierarchy called for some tough looks being exchanged:
As the light increased, I got more of the colors and feeling of the morning into the pictures:
As the morning progressed the hens showed up also:
After the hens had dropped by, the party began to quiet down. Some of the leaving birds flew right over my hide. For a moment I thought this one was going to crash straight in:
Quite a load of pictures for one morning. I'm still looking to go back for one more morning of grouse action before the mating season is done. I'll just have to figure out a way to get there without sinking in too deep.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Grouse morning

Moving the hide paid off. I arrived at the hide about four thirty. The trip over went well, except for the fact that what had a few days earlier been frozen ground was now extremely soft at some places. Noticing the deep and soft places in darkness before sinking in them was quite a task. For a moment I also doubted my navigation skills, since I did not see the hide when expected. Finding a safe path thru the swamp had caused me to judge the distance I had walked a bit wrong and also slightly off course. I managed to get my bearings right quickly enough and got to the hide without taking an unwanted swim. The length of my boots was just barely enough at some points along the way.

The sun began to rise and with the increasing light more and more grouses arrived. The first ones started to arrive well before there was enough light for me to see what was happening, but I could hear them coming. Especially the ones that glided in right over the top of my hide. As the light increased the birds became more and more active and the noise grew louder as about thirty birds started calling out. From time to time the ruffling of feathers and a slight move towards a better knoll would result in a clash. There was so much to action going on that I didn't feel any urgency in taking pictures and could take moments off to eat my sandwiches and just follow what was going on.
A few examples from the morning:
In addition to eating and taking pictures of the grouses, I managed to capture this piece of spring action:
On the way back to my car I just had to take a picture of the first butterfly for this spring.
I got a lot of pictures of the grouses, I'll probably post some more tomorrow.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Grayness and grouses, the continuation

Off I went again. And again the morning turned out to be gray and foggy and the grouses were far away. I sat and listened to the sounds of spring. The grouses, swans, cranes, lapwings and a number of other birds calling all around me. It just felt good. I tried to take some pictures, but they didn't really work out. Even with a 2x extender I could not get a tight enough picture and extenders tend to reduce the light and soften the pictures too much. Just not good enough. I deiced that the better option is to move the hide closer when the grouses have stopped their show for the day. We'll see in a couple of days if my move worked or not. Hopefully I'll be able to get better pictures next time out. Here are a few examples from this morning, not good:

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Gray morning grouses in the distance

I woke up just after two in the morning. This time it was a slightly different trip to my hide at the swamp, since another photographer was coming along, usually I go on my own. We headed off around three and arrived at the hide about four thirty. The break of dawn arrived foggy and gray. The grouses started arriving when there was just enough light for taking pictures. Unfortunately they landed a bit too far from the hide. We did take some pictures, but I'll have to go back out for another try at photographing black grouses at their mating season. These are not the type of pictures I was after:
The pictures do show what mating season looks like, but that's just about it. The season is definately on and picking up in pace.

Sunday, 4 April 2010


I was looking at my naturepicture gallery and started wondering if I should put some information on the picture to go along with it? Would anyone be interested on what species of bird or butterfly is in the picture? What about time and place where the picture was taken? Or the exif -information for the picture? In case you are not that familiar with photography and cameras, exifs tell the camera settings used at the time the picture was taken.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

At last

I managed to update my naturepicture gallery. Go take a look. The link can be found on the right. All comments are greatly appreciated. In fact, why don't we start a small competition? Who ever has the best reasoning for naming his / her favorite out of that mass flood of pictures wins a prize.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Oops! Mistake!

I obviously didn't think things thru when I set up my hide. Digging a hole in the snow for it came out of memory, it worked well a year ago. Big mistake! I didn't take into account the difference in snow depth and type at all. This time, all the melting snow filled my hole with water. Lucky enough I went to take a look at the place during the day and did not stumble into the hide in darkness to wait for sunrise. It would have been a wet and cold wait. The good thing is that the bottom construction of my hide actually floats, so it had lifted the whole system up as the water level rose. The foxhole looked like this after I had lifted the hide out:
There seemed to be a lot of water underneath the snow in this particular part of the swamp and I am wondering how things will develop as spring progresses. I hope I will not end up swimming with my photography gear. I moved the hide a bit and set it on top of the snow this time.
Judging by the markings in the snow, the grouses have begun mating season:
Not much of a picture, but the imprints in the snow are grouse tracks and the feathers indicate that some kind of a confrontation had occured. My hide seems to be at a rather good spot, but one can never be sure.