Wisley Gardens Butterflies

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2009 by overread

The Gardens at Wisley have been working with a leading butterfly centre (honestly I can’t remember which one now, and details are no longer on their website) to keep a range of butterflies in their large greenhouse. So of course I decided to give the place a visit whilst I was within range. So a train trip and a cab ride later and I’m at the gardens and ready to see the butterflies.

I met a few new factors here, this being the first trip to a butterfly house with the camera; firstly there was the heat change, being early in the year outside was very cool, so with the big temperature change the first thing my lenses all did was to fog right up. So that left me a good few minutes to wander and get a feel for the place, spot the feeding locations and have a general nose around as I waited for the glass to clear. The second big thing was the heat, something that beats down and is fine for a short while, but can start to strain oneself when holding and focusing for macro shots (without any tripod support of course); so breaks for water and a cool down were important throughout the day.

The greenhouse setup they have is large and split in two, a larger more open deserty section with a wide range of flower, and a more dense jungle type arrangement, which is where they were housing the butterflies.

Certainly the attraction was a major success, there were many visitors there that day, got to be quite a scrum what with coach loads of school kids and others arriving throughout the day. The butterflies seemed well also, though possibly gorged a little on fruit a bit much, many were very docile, to the point where many appeared to be dead they were so still and relaxed, but would soon get to moving when anything happened to nudge what they were resting on. Of course I visited very near the end of this event, so it stands to reason that many of the butterflies would be approaching the latter part of their lifespan.

Well enough babbling onto the photos!

RHS Wisley Gardens website

All photos taken with:
Canon 400D
Sigma 150mm f2.8 macro
Sigma 1.4 teleconverter
Canon speedlite 580EX2 + Lumiquest softbox (off camera flashcored used sometimes)

Firstly now I must apologise for not knowing much (anything) about butterflies – one day I will get some species names up here – till then its just some pretty pics

f13, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

One thing I really like in macro is getting close, really close and capturing a detailed shot of the insects. Butterfly houses give a great combination of (often) large butterfly species in a highly docile state – which lets me get super close for shots like this, where not only is the eye shown in clear detail, but also things such as the white muscles responsible for moving their wings and the pattern of their fur over their bodies.

f13, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

Each time you think you’ve found the smallest bug you find one smaller – this was something I wanted to show in this shot, however the little fruit fly was not going to help matters out and decided to moon the camera. The banana also didn’t help matters, yellow flowers (and yellow in general I find) does have a tendency to overexpose when shot, which makes it a pain when it gets into shots. Some selective contrast and saturation reductions can help matters.

f16, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

He’s not on what you think! But they do like rotting banana! Again a bit of a play needed in the background yellows, but overall a nice shot of his feeder and eye.

f13, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

A little step back to get a bit more wing into the shot, very hard to get the exact perfect angle into these sorts of shot, a bit more wing detail in the upper corners would have been nice. Getting the eye is the minimum requirement, the better shots get that perfect angle as well.



IMG_0691 100% crop

f6.3, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

Ok sometimes your finger slips and you end up shooting with the “wrong” settings. Though the wider aperture has given a nice bokeh (background blur) its really reduced the depth of field in the shot. However with good focus not all is lost, the eye is focus at least.
One thing I have picked up is that the viewer’s eye is apparently drawn to the brightest spot on a shot. So as you can see in the edit of this shot the back leg has been dimmed, a little less attracting to the eye of the viewer (I hope at least).
The 3rd image – erm just me showing off a crop of the eye, its sideways because that was the original orientation of the shot.

f13, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

For this shot I was happy at the time, though looking back I really do wish I had stepped back another pace to get the whole wing in focus.

Bit of a change now, going to move back a step and get some wing shots of the big bugs. This is something that is a little harder (amazingly) in these places than the ultra close shots due to a few reasons.

Firstly the butterflies can often be on or near to manmade objects – this makes backgrounds harder to deal with than in the wild, since whilst errant leaves and twigs simple work as part of a natural setting, bits of building and tables don’t. Though you might say that a wider aperture can help counter this by blurring the background, remember it would also cut down the depth or field over the insect, making getting the right angle of shooting (to get focus over the body and the wings) even harder.
Secondly there is the space issue, though this is more a result of using effectively 210mm of macro lens (remember the 1.4TC is attached with my setup) which means that I had to shoot from quite a distance back – great for not distracting the butterfly, but not so great when there are pathways to stick to and people walking past.

f13, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

Here’s a great example of distracting backgrounds – a full wing and body shot of one of the same subjects from the earlier close-up that I showed of his face and eye.

f6.3, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

Here this wider aperture is not a mistake, I deliberately chose this lesser depth of field so that there was more blur to the background, which is of vines growing up a wall. Though the wall is still visible the overall tone and colour I feel lets it slip back into the background more.

f7.1, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

Me playing around with settings again, I was going for a wider aperture again to lose building elements in the background, fortunately for me he was hanging off a plant at the time and the background features were far enough away the they didn’t get enough light from the flash, thus giving the great lowkey effect in this shot (black background).

Well another change, this time taking advantage of the docile nature of the butterflies to get the camera really close and capture some great details of the wings.

f13, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

f13, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

Not the best compositions, but some great details to see as well as being able to get a real look at the makeup of the colours on the wings.

And now for a bit of a complaint about the gardens – they labelled something wrong!

f13, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

f13, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

Ok totally the wrong settings, though thankfully the flash was able to throw enough light to get both shots. These were just fired off without time to change the settings as this little robin landed on the label – he was flying around inside the greenhouse and had come in through an open vent and got trapped inside.

f8, ISO 200, 1/200sec flash used

During one of my breaks from the heat I took a moment to do a little flower shooting, not much though since I was mostly heading right back in with the butterflies as soon as I could.

And so that’s it from Wisley, it was a great exhibition of butterflies and well worth a visit. The gardens also looked very well laid out, though at this time of year they were a little more bare, though the snowdrops were invading the wooded sections. It’s certainly worth a visit for the gardens alone if one has a chance, and hopefully they will hold the butterflies next year as well.

I also learnt a lot about shooting in such an environment, the close shooting distance and very docile butterflies not putting the same demands on me as in the field, I had time to compose, but honestly was too excited to get super close shots to put as much thought into it. Further the close environment means that the 150mm + TC is in fact often too long for its own good, something that I never thought I would find in macro work.

Oh and one more just for the road



Wildwood Trust

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2009 by overread

Recently managed to find some time to revist a wildlife centre which I had previously been to several years before, though without a camera at the time; and not only did I have time to visit, but also attend with a great group of photographers from EPZ forums – got a chance to meet some faces from the site for the first time and take a few snaps along with them. But not only was it a great chance to meet some faces, but there was also a competition as well to be had. Each member got to select a single photo from their days shoot, the collected shots would then be judged by the staff from the centre. However there was a catch, the shot was not to be edited in any way, save for anything done in camera.

The day was bright and cool, though a little darker and cooler in the centre itself since it really is in the woods. Though we were lucky that many of the trees had not regained their leaves, the cool weather meant that many animals decided to hide up and sleep the day away, something that made getting shots a little tricky. Still there was more than enough wildlife moving around to be shot and even sleeping animals work well in a shot. So with many a camera and tripod we invaded the place!

Wildwood Trust website

Ephotozine (EPZ) website:

All photos taken with:
Canon 400D
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L
Canon 1.4 teleconverter
Canon speedlite 580M2 + Lumiquest softbox — flash was used considerably over the whole day since lighting was often shaded and poor

Red Fox

Sleepy Fox
f5, ISO 200, 1/125sec

This little chap stayed in that very same spot all day! This shot was tricky, the inside had a decent view, but the glass was very dingy to shoot through, so this was taken outside. Now the pen was hidden by a bush and fence, so getting the shot required one to be higher – and a nice well placed bench allowed for that.

Arctic Fox

Sleepy Arctic Fox
f5.6, ISO 100, 1/100sec

Yep today was most certainly a day for foxes to be asleep. Shame that I could not get a little close to remove the building and such more from the shot and that he had decided to sleep on the building in the first place. Sometimes you just can’t hide the zoo from a zooshot.


f4, ISO 200, 1/200sec

Yep a very very sleepy day! One of my most favoured animals, but a very tricky subject to get a shot of here. Its either fighting with the fine bars over on one pen or the larger areas of the second pen which had many far off sections – where I sorly wished that I had a longer lens to get shots. The woods are also more dense for this area, so that is an added complication in getting shots, less light present to work with overall.


f5, ISO 200, 1/500sec

The bread rather detractes from making this look like a wild shot and the angle is not perfect (Facing away from the camera) but I still rather like this shot for the depth of field over the deer, which has given a nice feeling of depth to the shot. These deer also had the advantage that they are more out in the open at the centre, and thus much more light reaches them.


f5, ISO 400, 1/200sec

The lynx did not come out till late in the day, around feeding time, and so the lighting was weaker still (early in the year so shorter days), so one had to reach to a higher ISO. I also started using my flash a lot more for these shots, relying on it to give a bit more fill into my shots. An added complication here was that the bars of the pen started confusing my AF, being held back from them by a primary wooden barrier (so kids don’t lose fingers poking them into the pen) meant the bars were not only a pain to shoot through, but also at a distance outside of my minimum focusing distance, so my AF could very easily (and did) lock onto them at several occasions.

Robin and Chaffinch

f5, ISO 200, 1/60sec

f4, ISO 400, 1/200sec

As part of the setup they also have several bird feeding stations on the site which attract a wide range of small feeding birds. There was even an appearance by a red woodpecker on the day as well.


Storks Up!
f4, ISO 100, 1/640sec

Well I saved the best for last, the unedited version of this shot was the one I entered into the days competition, bagging myself 6th place in the runnings and a free bag as a prize! A most unexpected delight at the end of the long day, interestingly it was also one of the first shots I snapped off as well, and as the shutter speed shows, it was in a very well lit section of the centre.

Overall it was a great day out and a great chance to meet some fantastic photographers and people. Though the wildlife might not have been jumping around that is part of working with animals – sometimes they are not going to be that active, so one has to work with that or simply put down the camera and just watch and wait.

Marwell Zoo

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2008 by overread

Well got another free weekend so decided to pay a trip to a place I have heard a lot about and seen a lot of great photos from – Marwell Zoo. I had also recently picked up a circular polarizer for my 70-200mm f2.8 IS lens and hoped to give this a try at reducing flare and reflections off zooglass; however the day I chose was not the best for photography, the sky was a thick mass of cloud and whilst the rain held off for the day lighting was drab and weak over most of the day. Whilst this avoided me problems with highlight overexposure it did create the problem of having to raise me ISO in order to get fast enough shutter speeds (and even then sometimes they were not fast enough). My own taste with my 400D is to have my ISO at 200 for a standard setting, lowering or raising as needed, but ISO 400 is my general upper limit for raising the ISO whilst still getting me images that I am happy with respect to noise. ISO 800 is for emergencies and any higher is just too much noise for my tastes. Being in a zoo I also experimented with using my flash to give me more light to work with – with variable results.
The zoo was also in that pre-season state where many grazing animals were not on show and kept in pens and the overall feel of the zoo was a bit dead (and I don’t just mean few visitors which I don’t mind, but dead on the zoo side of things as well). I am sure that when I get a chance to return in better weather and in a better season I will be back here complaining of there being too many people!

Anyway back to the photos – I am sorry to say I can’t note which ones I used the polarizer on and which I did not as I was changing back and forth with it all day – suffice to say I learnt some lessons with it at least.

All photos taken with:
Canon 400D
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L
Canon 1.4 teleconverter

For flash shots following gear used in addition to the above:
Canon speedlite 580M2 + Lumiquest softbox

Circular polarizer used on some shots – noted where remembered, but not all are marked.


One of the first animals you see (well at least of the predators) and the first I headed for. Sad to say that whilst they have a smaller section of their pen which they like to rest in which is closer, that section is also not that wide so you tend to end up with bars affecting either the foreground of the shot or affecting the background (in the worst cases affecting the both ends of the shot!).

f4, ISO 200, 1/160sec

As you can see nice and close, but clear bars in the background and you can just see an out of focus bar cutting right through the right eye and part of the nose in a line. This is the downside to places where there is a barrier before the bars as it prevents you getting your lens close enough to easily shoot between the bars – seeing this effect in the LCD on a camera is very hard to impossible unless its a very bad effect so its harder to correct in the field if you get such shots.

IMG_2128 no noise no sharpen
f5, ISO 200, 1/125sec

Again the bars are affecting both sections of the shot – though in context I don’t mind the background as much, but the foreground is being damaged by the bars – some selective contrast and saturation boosting has hidden the effect a little, but its still clear to see sadly.

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/200sec, flash used

This was not the shot I wanted – I was at the time moving to try and get behind the cat as much as possible and shoot with a view to showing the cat looking out over the large grass pen through the bars – this was a grabshot as I was heading round – sadly whilst the cat remained still for long enough the bars (which I was able to shoot over at this point in the pen) rose up to come to block me from clearly capturing a shot of the cat by the time I was in position. I was also forced further away from the cat, making it a smaller part of the shot – correctable compositionally, but not easy for me to do with the bars raising up to create a barrier of lined haze.

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/40sec

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/50sec

Well exposure in both is nice, but these shots show one weakness of not getting good long lens skills – and that is letting ones shutter speed drop and then rely in on IS to hold up its end. It does so very well, but not if the subject is moving at the time! Motion blur in both shots just does not work as its not really conveying movement, just showing where I let my speed down too far to freeze the moving leg. I might also (and probably should have) used flash and a higher ISO in these two shots to improve my chances

f4, ISO 200, 1/100sec

For once a good shot – but no legs nor full tail! I do like the autumnal colours in this shot and its come out well in that respect – but whilst framing has removed moving parts which were a problem before it has now introduced the problem that I am just not close enough to the cat to get a full and proper portrait (without cropping) and I am not far back enough to present the cat as a whole. A bit of creative cropping to remove the left hand side of the shot might help this shot a bit.

Suffice to say the cheetahs have taught me a lot already from this day about shooting in much poorer lighting conditions.


The otter pen (from what I remember) at Marwell was small! That was the first thing that hit me about it – I have got used to seeing the larger pen and full pond that the British Wildlife Centre otters have so it was rather a hit to see otters now in such a tiny pen and with a far smaller pool.
Something else that struck me was that unlike the European otters in the BWC, these otters (Asian short clawed) were in a much larger family group in a single pen.

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/125sec

I didn’t pay him for that shot either (though I would have if I could have). I had this feeling that he was really expecting something from me and was rather disappointed that I didn’t have it! Might have been near feeding time or just him also not liking the dull day, however it does show well my feelings at least about the pen.

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/100sec

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/100sec

One of my favourite shots from the day – after not getting anything from me he goes for a quick drink from the pool.
And now for some happier shots of them:

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/125sec

All those moving bodies its a pain to try and focus on just one key point – looking at it now the lower left otter is where the focus is needed – but its landed right in the middle on a patch of brown fur instead! In brighter weather a smaller aperture and deeper depth of field would probably have helped save such a shot by giving greater depth – but with limited light the focus really needs to be spot on.

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/60sec

Risky slower speeds, but for a still moment its enough with IS as a backup. The yellows have also rather dominated this shot and I should re-edit to lower their saturation (especially in the shadows under his chin).


The leopard pen, for bars, was sadly worse than I found the cheetah pen, for these cats were in a very strong wired pen and there was wire all over the place – made worse by the fact that the pen divided into two so as to allow a mother and child in one section and the father in the other. So I walked away sadly with quite a few shots that suffered horribly from bar effects or from glass reflection problems; for whilst the polarizer did work very well there was just not the light to use it as well as could be expected. I needed every stop I could get – and I was also quickly learning that flash (at least with big cats) was not going to help at all beyond a little bit of fill – beyond that and one gets cats eye reflections.

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/40sec

Really really slow shutter speed, high ISO and not a single bit of flash in this shot (though it does look like it). You can tell there is no flash because the eyes are clear and there is no cats eye effect present. This is mostly a result of editing done to the shot.
Its a shot of the cub in the pen and despite the bars in the background its one of the shots I rather like from the day due to that intense impact that one gets from the stare of the cat.

f4, ISO 800, 1/60sec

No flash again and me reaching for that “emergency” ISO gives you an idea of how dark the day was and how dark this shaded spot of the pen was. This I believe was the father who spent a lot of the day pacing around the pen. I was lucky with this shot working at all as I had learnt that flash was just not going to work for me in this case (it might work but I could not get it to work for me on the day) so a nice shot. Again we have that half way sort of look to the shot that I am starting to see as a pattern in my shooting where I go for a closer shot to the face (either to eliminate distracting cage parts from the shot or as a part of my general style of shooting – often both together), but lack the focal length needed so end up only halfway there.

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/15sec

Really pushing even the IS now – remember with a 1.4TC is a 280mm lens I am shooting with at the long end – though I did have my monopod with me on the day I still found myself handholding for most of the time – though I did use it at odd spot and might have used it for this shot (can’t recall – its not stored in EXIF ;)). Personally I find that in such an environment with a light lens like the 70-200mm f2.8 IS (light by wildlife lens standards at any rate) one just does not need that support for the weight much of the time – I am sure that if I were using a much heavier lens like a 300mm f2.8 IS I would be using that monopod gladly!


Well the penguins make an interesting shooting experience at Marwell as there is a glass windowed underwater viewing point which (unlike a lot of others) is not fully underground – so there is a reasonable amount of light floating in from the open doors. Its not enough and I had to push to ISO 800, but it gives more light than in many others I have been in.

f5.6, ISO 800, 1/60sec – polarizer used

f5, ISO 800, 1/60sec – polarizer used

Well ok so I could have opened up a bit more with the aperture, but I wanted to be stopped down a little to try and preserve some details as well as to get some depth since I was shooting as close as I could with the lens (limited space inside). The polarizer has helped some areas and lost any reflects from light on the glass, but its again taken away more light – if I had had time I should have removed the teleconverter from the setup.
The other tricky part was he was mostly diving for fingers – children’s fingers on the glass to be exact so every time he was there so too were the kids right up to the glass – made shooting a bit tricky. Still whilst not fantastic they are pleasing and very different shots.

f5, ISO 200, 1/160sec

This is one of my favourite exposures from the day – I really like it – but what I hate is the composition. set like it is we are focused on the backend and there is no empty space for him to look into – its too close a shot in the wrong place which is a great shame as the shot technically came out well. I should also crop out the out of focus head appearing on the left side.

f5, ISO 200, 1/80sec

f5, ISO 200, 1/100sec

These last two shots were taken right at the end of the day, when the sun decided to make a token appearance – however the last shot shows that I was not thinking sunny and the whites have been rather blown out as the meter got confused – though there is some details still in there and I think using tone mapping one could get more details out of the whites on the second shot. However what I should have done was to stick with ISO 400 and gone for a smaller aperture – there beaks are very long!

Yellow Mongoose

ISO 400, 1/125sec – data corrupted partly on the aperture (unless I managed f0.5!!)

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/125sec

I think I might have used the polarizer for these shots as they were through glass – though they were also inside so I might not have. Anyway me being a little more compositional with my work – came out rather well I feel in both shots.

Meerkats (with contrast mask experiments)

What follows is a series of shots of meerkats where I have used a contrast mask (as mentioned in a previous post) to adjust the lighting in them.


Contrast mask edition
IMG_2018contrast mask
f5, ISO 400, 1/125sec

At first glance the contrast mask is a lot darker than the regular version and the light also appears flatter. However details are now showing up clearer in the eye, ear and also some of the fur areas where before the brightness was hiding them. I think that if I used a contrast mask to remove (either fully or partially) the contrast mask effect on key areas like the main body of its back I should be able to restore some of the depth of light without losing the gains that the mask has given me.


Contrast mask edition
IMG_2029contrast mask
f4, ISO 400, 1/200sec

Again we see the contrast mask doing similar to before – though the shot is not as dark as before there is still a noticeable difference. There is also the messy cloning of the background area where I have tried to hide up the large white patch – I still need to get to grips with the clone tool and its effective use!


Contrast mask edition
IMG_2009contrast mask
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/100sec

And for a third time we see that darkening effect, though this time I don’t think it would need further selective removal and rather covers the kat well. Again we also have the key areas like the eye now being shown in greater detail and clarity.

And now for a normal meerkat shot:
f5.6, ISO 400, 1/100sec

Once I master the clone tool I do want to come back to this shot and lose that white line along the top of it.
Also I should point out that I think flash was used for many of these meerkat shots, however for some reason Photoshop elements 6 is not registering the flash info in the EXIF data – its normally good at noting it down, but not this times and yet I am sure I used flash on the meerkats.


Though they had a larger pen than the other big cats (far larger) the tigers did like to rest on the platforms or pace the edges – so again I was met with a lot of bar problems again – this time though the cats were generally far enough back that the foreground was safe, so its just background areas that were affected.

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/160sec

Should have used that polarizer for this shot! I think the sun just peeked out for this shot and its times like this I wish I had spot focusing so that I could really nail those white patches on the cat rather than have them blowout!

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/200sec

f5.,6 ISO 800, 1/125sec

Being cats some decided to spend the whole day in bed! Really glad that I got a shot of the eye looking right at me! Also I am sure that first shot is another where flash is not being exif reported in my elements 6!

f5.,6 ISO 200, 1/80sec

f4, ISO 200, 1/125sec

In both of these last two shots I used the circular polarizer to help keep my sky from blowing out – however doing so also preserved the haze of the wire in those areas. So during editing I used curves to deliberately blow out those upper sky areas (and layer masked off the lower white areas so that the curves would not affect them and blow them out more as well). The result is that the sky is now blown, but the wires in the background are lost. I am sure that some editing to blur the background could have been used instead, but I was not sure of a method that would give me the effect I wanted without looking fake as well.

Wild Birds

Well around the zoo there were a small score of garden birds darting around – often near the tiger pens – so I managed a few proper wildlife shots!

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/500sec

Best shutter speed of the whole day!

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/125sec

Those last two shots are pretty heavy crops from the originals so a little less fine details in them, but still decent shots for tiny birds!

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/500sec

And that was not a crop – full sized – he was a bolder bird by far (and must be that is the tigers pen he is standing on).


Totally forgot to get a shot of this little fellas name – and now can’t recall what he was but here he is

f4, ISO 200, 1/50sec

Nice little portrait of him – very centred – but still rather nice.

And that is it from the day, it was dull day, but not a total washout, though I do wish for one of those higher end cameras with better high ISO noise control — still my composition and framing will be the same till I change!
I also learnt quite a lot about lower light shooting as well as getting reacquainted with bars and all the problems they can bring – sometimes one has to put the camera down and just enjoy watching rather than shoot away all the time.

So its goodbye to Marwell for now – but I will return – even if some of the residents don’t want their photo taken


Return to the BWC

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2008 by overread

I was so impressed with what I saw at the centre and also with the general atmosphere of the place that I decided to go back as soon as I could. This time though there was no meet up, so I had to get from train station to centre on my own power.
It was a great morning, misty, but not too cold and the sky promised a cloud free day! I could have snapped many shots along the way, but as I had little idea of where exactly the centre was I didn’t want to risk slowing down on the way there.

And after wandering round the area for an hour I found myself a back at the train station! There were no brown signs to the place – so I was lost! I looked on the map and made for the local library – not too far off – under the hope that even if the staff did not know the way there would be a local OS map there for me to use. Luckily the librarian knew the way and an hour later (one hour late ;)) I made it to the centre – a bit out of breath, but the walk did me good (though I hasten to add that the major rout there is along a long stretch of main road with no provision for pedestrians. There is a footpath locally though which will cut off a good chunk of this road and its advisable to take that rout.

Anyway back to the important things – firstly there was a difference – Milo was in residence!

f4, ISO 400, 1/40sec

A hand reared barn owl who sits in the entrance/dining area and greets the guests. He enjoys being stroked and even does a funny little dance (sort of shuffling from foot to foot – I need a 5DM2 to capture it!). Makes a difference to get a hands on feel at the zoo!


Well after being otter mad last time, it was the turn of the foxes. However they were pretending to be cats today

f5, ISO 200, 1/1000sec

f4, ISO 100, 1/640sec

f5.6, ISO 100, 1/320sec
Though like all sleeping animals – if you can get the right angle on them it can make a shot 🙂

And speaking of pretending – this fox was trying to be a wolf!
f4, ISO 200, 1/400sec
That or he has an itch!
Not a natural low-key shot this one, but the background areas were dark, so I boosted the blacks to get a low-key effect.

With promise of food though (dead chicks in this case), the foxes awakened and began hunting the blue bucket of food!

f5.6, ISO 100, 1/200sec
A bit more space on the left – in the direction the fox is facing – would have been nice in this shot

f5, ISO 100, 1/200sec

f8, ISO 100, 1/50sec
Risky shot since any movement from the fox would have blurred at that speed; and without lens IS in use handshake would also have blurred the shot. However going for f8 was worth it to get so much depth to the face – their long faces need that smaller aperture and greater depth of field.

IMG_1851contrast mask
f4, ISO 100, 1/640sec
A shame that I got the focus slightly wrong – its just missed the eyes in this shot, however I still very much like this one. I have also used a contrast mask on this shot to selectively soften the whites of the shot. One can make a contrast mask using one of the following guides and I consider it well worth experimenting with. Its effect is similar to that of shadows and highlights, but I prefer the contrast mask overall.
Contrast mask

f4, ISO 100, 1/320sec
One of my most favourite shots – close distance and a wide aperture combined to give a great blurred background and tack sharp results in the fox – that they eye is just facing the camera is the winning part!
I also used a contrast mask on this shot as well as adjusting the hues. In the hue editing I set the colour to Cyan and selectively desaturating the cyan all the way and it removed a slight cyan (blueish) colouring from the whites – making them much more white.

IMG_1406b2 copy
f5, ISO 100, 1/320sec
One of my problem shots – this is a crop from a larger version and I think the biggest distraction, for me, is the that the left eye is so much darker than the right. With the lighting all coming from the right one could only have used fillflash to boost the lighting in the shadowed areas – exposing for the darker side would be risking blown highlights on the right side. If given the choice I find it much easier to work a darker area into a shot than a blown out area.

f6.3, ISO 100, 1/100sec
Proof that good exposure is not all that there is to photography. The back end being hacked off as it is a big distraction and breaks the composition of the shot – one could crop this shot to try and restore the balance to it. Ideally one would get it right in the field – its always best to avoid cropping at much as possible – but of course not to avoid using it if the occasion demands it.


And first up is a bleached grey squirrel!

f5.6, ISO 100, 1/160sec
Ok it’s not really bleached – it’s an albino grey squirrel. This was a very tricky shot, not only because of the fact that the pen was rather dark, but more because squirrel enclosures tend to have very fine gauge wire over them which means your lens has to be right up to the cage to get a shot without bars in it. I was lucky that he was sleeping and let me take the shot

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/60sec
As you can see, even on a bright day, I have had to use a high ISO in the squirrel enclosure because of all the shade – it makes for tricky shooting since they are such active creatures (remember there is also the fine gauge wire to deal with as well).

f5, ISO 400, 1/80sec

f4, ISO 400, 1/160sec

Sometimes we are handed fantastic sights to shoot – either in the zoos, the wild, the garden etc… Often we only get one shot at these sights and its always a pleasure to just be able to see and record the slight – getting it recorded really well is a fantastic thing. Sadly sometimes we fail;

f4, ISO 400, 1/400sec
At these ISOs one needs to get the focus right – otherwise details get hit hard by noise. I was operating at a wide aperture since he was running all over the place, so I was trying to capture the motion – then he paused for a split moment in this pose – and my focus hit his chest and missed his eyes and face. A great shame, but still a shot that I am proud to have taken.


f8, ISO 100, 1/40sec
Again going for more facial depth at a close up angle with a bird – this kestrel is great he/she will fly and perch right up close – downside is that its in a corner and its very easy to get the bars showing through behind – one could remove them from the shot though with some time in editing.

f7.1, ISO 100, 1/30sec
Not quite sure, but I think that the background is the result of the mesh between me and the bird.

f4, ISO 100, 1/400sec


f5.6, ISO 100, 1/400sec


f5, ISO 100, 1/500sec

f5.6, ISO 100, 1/160sec

f5, ISO 100, 1/320sec

Playful little creatures – I think I might have boosted the reds a bit strong on these three shots – but still they came out really well I think.


f5, ISO 200, 1/1600sec
This is a rare shot (for me at least) getting the depth of field to cover the whole animal as it has without having a fully clear background. I really like this shot and its one of the few of the deer that I have taken which I am happy with.

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/800sec

f8, ISO 200, 1/320sec

f8, ISO 200, 1/400sec

Well in the last 3 shots you can see a repeating pattern where my shooting has failed in framing the scene. I was trying to get as close to the head and antlers as I could, but I just did not have the reach. I should have cut back and got the legs and backend of the deer in the shots – that would have been better.
One thing I did get right (and it took me all day to) was to remember to use ISO 200 rather than 100 – the noise difference between the two on my camera is not that much and in a good exposure ISO 200 is perfectly usable. Using it over ISO 100 gives me more shutter speed to work with – an important component in wildlife photography – since whilst one can work with a noisy and/or underexposed shot, one cannot do anything with unintentional motion blur.

And that was the trip – a good second trip and I got some great keepers from it. A few things I need to brush up on, but overall a great success.
Link to flickr set for this day

The British Wildlife Centre

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2008 by overread

Well its been a long while since the last update – a long while. Remembering back this first visit to the Centre was with a great group of fellow photographers from Amateur Photographer (AP) forums (link to the right) as well as this random chap that tagged along for the trip
— wait come back my adoring fans!!…..

Things started early on the day and it was a fantastic day for shooting; clear skies and bright sun. The only thing to block the light was the odd plane flying over – of course this introduced its own problems with controlling the highlights on the shots – very tricky.

As for the centre itself I have to say that I was more than impressed with what I saw; the pens were made for the animals and not for people viewing. This was the biggest difference between this and many other wildlife centres and zoos – one could visit here and (for example) not see a single otter in the pen if they are hid up in their homes. There is a feeding time for many of the animals (though for many its just treats – chicks) which will bring them out of hiding and ensure attracting a host of photographers to surround the pens at the same time!

There was also the atmosphere at the centre – not one of decadence that can be felt at many places that have passed their prime, but rather of a place buzzing with energy. Another difference is the hands-on approach they had with their dealings with the animals – on can even visit, see and stroke the resident barn owl in the main reception/eating area – and he does not bite (least he did not bite me ;)) – though upon this visit he was in his pen due to the season.

As for photography I encourage anyone with an interest in wildlife and photography to visit the centre – it accommodates photographers wonderfully and with the pens one can get very natural looking photos – plus one can get right up to the bars – which can effectively remove them from obscuring the vision of the lens. I would also recommend their photography days and hope myself to attend some.

But now for the photos;

Mostly all taken with:
Canon 400D
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L
Canon 1.4 teleconverter


Ok I could watch foxes all day and still not be bored – beautiful creatures that they are:

f4, ISO 100, 1/1000sec
One of the first shots of the day and thus is a young vixen lazing in the sun. This shot has proved to be one of those where I have never been able to get a version of it that I am fully happy with. At the time of shooting I should have got more fox and less background into the shot – and not cut off her paws or backend.
Some alternative versions:

IMG_0011altered reds
For this edit I firstly used a saturation and hues layer and selectively desaturated the reds in the background areas (look at the tree trunk for a good idea of the reduction in background reds) – clearly the fox was excluded from this change as – well foxes are reddy. Though I did very slightly lower the global reds as well (-6) so that the overall boost to master saturation did not over represent the reds in the shot.
The fox though I also altered but right now I can’t remember what I did to him to change his colours (might very well have been a contrast mask used but I can’t be sure)

These next two are crops of the main shot which try to focus more on the fox, removing the large background areas and also trying to lessen the effect of chopped off paws!
IMG_0011 closer crop 1

IMG_0011closer crop 2
note there might be differences in sharpness between the shots – this is not due to flickr, but more because of different sharpening amounts used (since these edits were made at different times) and also because the latter crop only had one stage or resizing and sharpening whilst the others had two (since a lot of shot was cropped for the last version).

Right its time to leave the problem shot and move on to others.

f7.1, ISO 100, 1/30sec
Pure luck and nothing else – well that an IS! One downside of working in modes like aperture priority is that you still have to keep your eye on the shutter speed, in the shady area that this shot was taken the shutter speed has dropped very low indeed – without IS there would be considerable handshake blur and without the fox being dead still there would be blur from him as well. I was very lucky to get this shot at all!

f8, ISO 100, 1/30sec
A second shot from the burst that was taken – again very lucky that this came out at all!
Now this shot also serves to show as an example of how bars/wire can affect a shot and also how one can edit the problem away (in some – not all cases). If you look to the top left of the shot there is a hazy area which is lighter than the rest of the shot. This also continued on in a line to hit the side of the fox as well (though that has already been corrected). The method I use to correct this is to use start a contrast layer – and then selectively boost contrast in that lighter, hazy area. Contrast increases are typically very high to totally lose the haze and this can be risky as it can cause you to get a lot of noise generated by the big contrast increase. If all things go well though you end up with something similar to the shot below


Here you can see the corner no longer stands out against the rest of the shot – the wire effect has been lost. This does not work all the time, and one needs the bars to already be very blurred out of the shot in order to rescue it.

Another rescue method is to crop the shot:

F5.6, ISO 400, 1/1600sec
A rather sleepy fox on the hot day! High ISO is from where I was shooting a subject in a darker cage and forgot to switch back to a lower one for the sunny shot.


Well despite liking foxes a lot I ended up spending far more time round the otters on this trip (TPF members will probably attribute this to me being with the Otter King ;)).
One otter was quite determined to put on a show for us before feeding time:

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/500sec

f4, ISO 200, 1/1250sec

f4, ISO 200, 1/1250sec

Sometimes this is all you would get of an otter (if you were lucky)
f6.4, ISO 200, 1/500sec

f5, ISO 200, 1/1000sec

f5, ISO 200, 1/1000sec
Watching the keeper and bucket of food!

f5, ISO 400, 1/400sec
Keeping the ISO up to keep the shutter speed up (otters are speedy things!). This was a later day shot when the light was fading

Far into the end of the day (well around closing time for the centre) a group of photographers hung out round the otter pens waiting – for today evening meal was fish – and not fish fingers, but whole fish! For these shots I decided to try out the 2*teleconverter instead of the 1.4 I had been using all day – this was party out of interest, but also as the otters had retreated further back into the pens.

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/250sec

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/250sec

You can see how much darker things have become with the TC; though this is partly due to dimmer lighting at this time of day as well in these shots. Not the best for an example, but it does enough to show that whilst results can be decent with the 2*TC one needs brighter lighting ideally (especially if shutter speed is to be kept up). For a rough idea the next shot was taken just after these two and in better lighting.
Also note that I had to focus these shots manually since the reeds were confusing the AF (even on centre point only)

f5.6, ISO 400, 1/160sec
Risky shutter speed there! Also playing with re-dynamizer again

Now this next shot is special – this shot was taken not with the 70-200mm, but with the Canon 300mm f2.8 IS L lens along with a 1.4TC. I got a chance to shoot with this lens (loaned from the Otter King) for a bit and must say that it impressed me greatly, even with the 1.4TC the results were amazingly sharp, and the viewfinder image was far clearer and brighter to see. It is much heavier though!

f4, ISO 200, 1/1000sec
There were a more shots taken, though at the time the otters were eating treats (well dead chicks) and a little bit hidden away.
Overall an impressive lens – just wish it cost less 😉


Yep Toads!

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/800sec

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/200sec

Sometimes its best to not be seen or heard 😉
f8, ISO 100, 1/200sec
I was actually just trying to be a bit more creative with the background and toad in this shot – the frog I never saw till I got back and put the shot on the computer

a crop of the above


A very lucky shot of this elusive creature – a water vole – having a feed on his feeding station – only got one shot before he was off and gone!

f5.6, ISO 200, 1/320sec

Snowy Owl

f4, ISO 100, 1/160sec

Red Squirrel

f4, ISO 400, 1/400sec
A tricky shot as he was running back and forth along the edge of the cage (you can just see it affecting the background areas) and his enclosure was darker than many, even on this bright day. Still managed one shot when he stood still for a second. Looks very different in his summer coat to their winter coat with ear tufts.


well its either a stoat or a weasel
f4, ISO200, 1/250sec
fingers were risked for this pose! *luckily not mine!*


Yep not even a listed species for the centre – a dragon(fly)

f13, ISO 200, 1/50sec

IS helps again – and this was not even taken with the macro lens (he was on a bush in a pen so I could not get closer)

And there we have it – the visit over – it was my first to the centre and it certainly won’t be my last!
You can also get a look at the shots taken by others on the day as well over at the AP forums here;
AP forums BWC trip
And the shots by the Otter King and a 7ft squirrel over here:
Attack of the 7ft Squirrel
ps I am the one on the right
Link to the centre website:
British Wildlife Centre

Link to the flickr set for this trip

Experiences with macro 7 – The End?

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2008 by overread

Well its not the end of the season, but it is the end of my time at home, which means returning to uni and also losing my haunts round this area. That means heading into the unknown and not knowing where to find interesting bugs – could make for tricky macro times ahead – so here is one last trip out with the macro.
I have also been experimenting with a demo version of ReDynamizer (ergo the notes on the used shots) which I find to be a powerful, yet requiring some care to use program. I certainly does not like working on weak (noisy) photos and defiantly needs a strong noise filter running over after, but its effect can be very good;

To view exif data review properties of the thumbnails – exif not attached to larger versions

Shot taken with
Canon 400D
Sigma 150mm macro
Speedlite 580M2+Lumiquest softbox

f14, ISO 200, 1/200sec

Shots taken with
Canon 400D
Sigma 150mm macro
Sigma 1.4 teleconverter
Speedlite 580M2+Lumiquest softbox

f14, ISO 200, 1/160sec

f14, ISO 200, 1/160sec
This bee (and in the last shot his assistant) was incredibly slow. I think he was having a small sleep on the flower when I found him and he left me enough time to get out the camera and also take a few good shots before he worked up enough energy for flight. He spent most of the time rapidly eating his fill from the flower – and this second shot is currently one of the best I have taken – especially with the little fly that I did not notice at the time.

f14, ISO 200, 1/160sec

f14, ISO 200, 1/160sec
I really love the jewel like back to butterflies and moths – I think this one is a moth – least he looks mothy to me. Regardless a fine little insect!

f14, ISO 200, 1/160sec
Another shot experimented with and whilst I love the closeup of the eyes I am not happy with this shot – the colours and such lack something to my eye and I keep seeing that little bit of wing I clipped off. A good focus and primary subject, but something is lacking here for me.

f14, ISO 200, 1/160sec
I do like these sorts of shots, but I take so very few of them – mostly as when I see a butterfly I always try to go for a repeat of a close headshot – and so lose out on thinking about just hanging back and getting a full body shot.

Shot taken with:
Canon 400D
Sigma 150mm macro
Sigma 1.4* teleconverter
Sigma 2* teleconverter
Speedlite 580M2 and lumiquest softbox

f14, ISO 400, 1/160sec
Yes you read right, both teleconverters on this shot. Just a bit of fun at the end of the day – I can’t remember if I got as close as was fully possible with the combo, but I did get close. Focusing was very tricky to get right with both teleconverters attached.

And that is the end of that – off to uni now, though I think I can now handle a macro lens and get some good results – still loads of little areas to improve upon – checking the whole frame; backing off at times for creativity; and learning to control the flash in something other than its full auto mode.

Experiences with macro 6

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2008 by overread

Out again today – after the success of yesterday I am more confident in my settings and in my shooting style so its time to have another go and see what I can get this time around:

To view exif data review properties of the thumbnails – exif not attached to larger versions

Shots taken with
Canon 400D
Sigma 150mm macro
Speedlite 580M2+Lumiquest softbox

f14, ISO 200, 1/200sec

f14, ISO 200, 1/200sec
Shooting and moving closer at the same time, looks like he has an injury to one side of him, where blood has collected possibly.

f14, ISO 200, 1/200sec
Rather nice shot, not the greatest composition I feel though, I need to be more creative and remember that there is more than just the middle of the viewfinder.

This next series of shots came out as lowkey results, something that I really like in shooing, but I admit this is mostly by accident rather than intent at the time. I have yet to fully work out the ins and outs of shooting reliable lowkey.

f14, ISO 200, 1/160sec
Must use portrait mode more!

f14, ISO 200, 1/160sec
Definatly very pleased with this shot – bug is a little close to the bottom of the frame, but definatly please with this shot!

f14, ISO 200, 1/200sec
The other lowkey shots required some contrast and darkness boosting in the black areas to get proper black results, this shot though was almost a perfect in camera lowkey! It was taken a good distance away and this was as close as he let me get before he moved off. From this shot I really started to realise that the key to a good lowkey shot was a fast flash combined with a good distance between subject and background – so sometimes a longer shooting distance from subject (and thus also background) can help.

Shots taken with
Canon 400D
Sigma 150mm macro
1.4* telecoverter
Speedlite 580M2+Lumiquest softbox

f14, ISO 200, 1/160sec
Another butterfly’s face, just wish that I had got more of the wing in focus this time

f14, ISO 200, 1/200sec
And that is as close as I am going with a spider! And if you look just in the top left corner is his stash for lunch.

f14, ISO 200, 1/200sec
Decent shot, but it lacks some creativity now that I look at it – still I like that I can get that close and get the shot off sharp and clear! Little bit of shadowing on the underside, caused by the flash creating its own shadow – a second shooting flash or a ringlight would help counter that problem, but as I have neither I will have to make note and try to avoid or control angles where it might lead to a shadow forming.

Overall a great day out and some fantastic lowkey shots that I am very proud of. Also more confident with my settings at shooting now than before, far less fiddling and worrying about what settings to use.