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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



Experiences with macro 1

Posted in photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 31, 2008 by overread

Well back from the holidays and with the new kit I was eager, now that time was my own, to start experimenting with the macro gear and seeing what I could get with it. Added to my excitement was the arrival – 3 days ago – of my birthday and amungst the various items there was a Canon battery grip and remote cable release for my camera. Not only that, but also a lowepro Mini Trekker bag which holds (just) all my current kit as well as the tripod. The battery grip is not fully attached to my camera and is not likely to come of any time soon.
Anyway back to the photos:

All taken with:
Canon 400D
Sigma 150mm macro
Sigma 2* teleconverter
Speedlite 580M2+toiletpaper diffuser

Sadly the story starts off with a bit of a mess – my flash batteries died on me, but I did not notice till too late and a small host of shots were lost simply due to underexposure without the flash for support – a great shame. Then I found out why its important to use “white” toilet paper only

f16, ISO 200, 1/100sec
And this is after saving the shot form a horrible red tinge as a result of coloured diffusion paper – lesson leant and paper change so at last some shooting can take place! The rest of the shots I took round some fallen apples which proved to be a great source of attraction for bugs

f13, ISO 400, 1/40sec

f13, ISO 400, 1/40sec

f13, ISO 400, 1/40sec

f13, ISO 400, 1/40sec

Well there is a similar pattern in these shots – the bokeh is great, really blurred and soft, but the depth of field is really lacking. In a few the angle of shot makes up for the limited depth to the infocus areas, but its not enough really. A shame, but this is part of a feeling that is getting stronger – that the 2* teleconverter is just too tricky to use handheld without focus stacking or longer exposures and retaining its depth of field with me. That and its a swine to focus with, the focus is razor thin with this setup and I was only able to shoot as I did because I was resting on the ground and so could use a slower shutter speed without fear of shake.

The low-down on the Ducks!

Posted in duck, photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 16, 2008 by overread

Well it has been a while since the last update and though I have been taking shots in the mean time, nothing has really stood out as amazing – but today I managed to at last get some boards down onto the pond and now I can take shots at water level! I decided to use a folded hat as opposed to my cushion in a binbag as the cushion was a little high for what I wanted in this case – it was fine for getting me above the grass on land, but water has nothing like that so I wanted to get as low as I could.

All taken with:
Cannon ESO 400D
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro lens
For settings save pic to pc and review properties

The boards:
Balanced on the bottom of a stone step and the edge of a concrete sandbag wall that we had to put into the pond all the way round to keep the banks stable – the birds were destroying the bank into a mudslick and that made it hard for them to get out of the water

Carolina Wood Duck

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Well I need to go back and turn a few of these so that the water is flat, one downside of resting on a folded hat – less structure to the support. I am really gald though to have got another (better) shot of him swimming directly towards me – it was an angle I got before and liked, but the original was never a good enough shot for me.


Well one step forward and one back still – really got to get out of the habit of snapping and start taking shots. A good shot of the mandrin, but the bird in front really detracts from the overall effect – a little twisting needed on this shot as well.

Cuban Tree Duck

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This was a very intersting chap – standing on the concrete wall he was whistling rather than quacking and was looking right at me for a good while – so I took some head shots of him – a little work need in my composition, but I really like the background blurr that I got with these – a wonderful background.


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Overall I am really liking the effect this has done to my shots, the backgrounds have come up really well (considering I know what they look like in the clear sharp world!) though one person has suggested to me to blurr the backgrounds a little to remove distractions from them – something that I am keen to try. I always aim to get it right in camera, but I still have a long way to go and if a little work in photoshop can improve a shot then I will work on it to get there – but I will always know its a photoshopped result.

Well I learnt a lot from this first try:
1) I need a better support than a folded hat, way too many shots were blurry. I am thinking on using a sock stuffed with rice/beans tomorrow (weather allowing)

2) The evening light is not really ideal, I have to twist on the boards to get the light right, which leads to more wabble.

A day at Whipsnade Zoo

Posted in photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2008 by overread

Well after the slightly disappointing trip to London Zoo I set my sights on another zoo – this time Whipsnade. This was far further to get to (3 odd hours on public transport) and also involved timing to get one of the very few busses that went from the train station to the zoo. I decided to set off on Wednesday 19th March (yah this is a late update) so as to avoid the storm that would arrive on Monday and also to avoid the tourists and general crush of the weekend – and of Friday (when the new cheetah pen was opened).
So I was up and off at 6am and the sky was brilliant blue – not a cloud to be seen and the wind was light, but still holding a little chill of winter (I was glad to have taken my mac in the end). However despite good train times, I managed to miss the bus by mere moments and so I had to fork out for a taxi, the distance being far to great to walk in any sensible time and especially difficult without map or any local street knowledge. After that little hiccup there was another – by 10am (or rather 9:40am) the Zoo opened; it was a cold day now I was not moving much and the sun was starting to hide behind the vanguard of the approaching storms clouds. That did not stop me having a great day out or from capturing over 1000 shots on the day (well really 3-400 odd as I use multi-shot a lot!)

All taken with:

Cannon EOS 400D
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro lens
For settings save pic to pc and review properties


Basking in the sun and glaring at passers by; they were a wonderful poses and very still, but just too close to the bars to get shots without the bars being present. Further they were completely out of sight from the glass viewing area – defiantly a cat that you could spend all day watching to get them in the right place and a dedicated sit and wait day with such an animal is something that I have considered doing in the future.

IMG_0067 IMG_0086b IMG_0126

All is fine in the world – I have my stick!

These next two have in focus bars – the overall effect is not as bad on the big screen as it is on the small – but it’s still bad enough.
Nice angle with the cat, but the light is in the wrong place – casting shadows over and hiding much of the eyes – the focus is also a little out
Solves some of the problems of the first, but without keeping the advantage of the direction of focus of the cat

The King!
IMG_0121 IMG_0117
Seems to have had a few clawed encounters in his time

Well from one big cat to another – and whilst one tiger was patrolling the boarders the other was content to laze around on the top of a wooden tower and doze!
Though the light was wicked to me and the noise was likewise mean, this is another shot I love for the look that I captured – though I can’t tell if its a tiger or a beaver!

Nicer light, mean bars still! But overall a nice shot

The next two were taken from up high on a hill behind the dozing cat – though for some reason my sky has gone green on me (something to play around with in editing later)
IMG_0491 tiger IMG_0505

Well next time I will spend more time photographing IDs of animals – they look so easy to remember on the day…
No idea what this is – but here it is, so kind of him to stand so still for so long – I got right down close.
IMG_0245b IMG_0251
Note that the last is not a crop, but a closer shot altogether – and one that I feel I will crop a little closer at a later date.

Flamingo – Phoenicopterus ruber
I was going to walk right by the birds – but I spied a chance for some good shots of these birds – and was well rewarded
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A display showing pinioned wings which are done to the birds when young to prevent one wing from developing fully – preventing flight and also meaning that stressful clipping of the primary flight feathers is not needed.

White Rhinoceros – Ceratotherium simum
Well I followed the rhinos round their very large pen, but they kept moving away every time I got down to shoot – methinks they were tired of all the camera attention, though in the end I did get some shots.
IMG_0143 IMG_0161


Nothing much really to say here – just 2 quick shots; but I found that the zebra is an interesting thing to edit in Photoshop – it really benefits from a stronger darkening of highlights than other animals.

IMG_0258 IMG_0261

Nile Lechwe
(the bachelor group)

All was quiet in the herd – and then two started a fight and another joined in – the fourth decided to ignore the others. When I took these I could have shot just above the fence, but I wanted to get lower down angles – a shame that the bars were not as out of focus as I would have liked.

IMG_0325 IMG_0526 IMG_0528 IMG_0529 IMG_0540 IMG_0543 IMG_0549 IMG_0550 IMG_0361 IMG_0359
Recently I also used the burn tool to remove some of the highlights caused by the bars – I think it has improved the shots, the bars are still there, but they are less noticable now

Greater One-horned Rhinoceros – Rhinoceros unicornis

Well a new arrival means that mum and dad are separated whilst mum raises the child. I could only get above shots of the mum and child – but I could get rather closer to them than I could the dad who was out in the open grazing – not wondrous shots, but something of the good zoos do with keeping bloodlines viable and alive.

IMG_0607 IMG_0622 IMG_0605
Mum > Dad > Baby

American Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus Leucocephalus

Nice pose – but bars galore!


I really regret not spending longer in this area, no bars at all, but it was getting a little cooler by now and I still had some animals that I wanted to catch on camera before the weather broke at last.

From where I was and using the 300mm end I got a few shots of this chap flapping, but in many I lost out on the ends of the wing.

The light was not helping and this shot took quite a bit of work to get to a suitable level, even for a webpost. Still I like the end result enough to post it, but I aim to get better next time.


I had to lay down on the concrete to get this, not pleasant and the end result is a little dark – a case where I wish I had had a good flash.


Nice and sharp shots, but the bars were unavoidable.
IMG_0676 IMG_0680


Well this is something of a pet-pain to shoot – I really want to get a good, clear, sharp shot of otters – yet they are tricky to shoot; Always moving makes them hard to focus on and they are often surrounded by people watching. Though the latter problem was not present on the day, the moving was and the light was getting very cloudy by now. Though I did find out that you only need one energetic otter to get good action!

IMG_0824 IMG_0840 IMG_0842 IMG_0844 IMG_0850 IMG_0852 IMG_0861 IMG_0867 IMG_0870

Red-tailed Kite

Well whilst I was about to photograph the wolves for a second time that day I noticed this bird flying high overhead. It was way, way to far out for my lens to get a clear shot of and at first I thought it was an escapee of the zoo – but the lack of the holders on the legs means that this is unlikely (as display birds always have these) so it looks to be a local come for a visit!

IMG_0892 IMG_0897


Well these I tried as handheld and they came out much like the first, blurry – I however did get one really good keeper from the set where I balanced the camera on the fence in front of me to get it.

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Both the first and the last animal that I photographed were the wolves; though in both cases they were keeping to the back of the pen – a shame as they were just out of my lenses capacity to capture clear crisp shots – so all were a little more blurry than I would have liked. And though there was a section where the pathway was above the fence for viewing, it was almost impossible to get a shot without the background fence appearing and in many cases the top of the closer lower fence would creep into view.

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I have recently used the burn tool in photoshop over the lower section of these shots to lower the visablity of the bars – not perfect but a definate improvment.

IMG_0925 IMG_0924

And the final shot of the day!
IMG_1066darken highlights all the way

Me trying out blurring water – I found that it was really too bright a time for such a shot and that very early morning or late evening where there is less light about would be better for taking such long shots. In this one I had to darken the highlights considerably to get a shot that was not too bright with glare – but I like the overall effect captured.

In the end I had a good day and only left early before closing because I had run out of shots and the clouds were now rolling in, as was the erratic rain. So with tired legs I packed up and headed for the way home – this time not missing that bus!

Lessons learnt

1) Never miss your bus – its always cheaper than a taxi

2) A zoo is a big place and you defiantly need to work out which animals you want to see before you go if you intend to photograph them. Even then you can’t ensure that they will be doing anything interesting at the time

3) Bars can either be a blessing or a curse – a blessing when you remember your composition and a curse when you want a “natural” looking shot

London Zoo – results and guides 1

Posted in photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2008 by overread

Well here starts a change in the pace – this will be the first in several entries which will detail from start to finish how I altered photos in post production. The photos are all new ones from my recent trip to London Zoo.
However first, my impression of the zoo overall: This felt like a zoo that has past its time, a broken and forgotten place still stuck in the renovations of cheap concrete enclosures and small spaces of the city. Though it has some spectacular works for its age – such as the large outdoor aviary, the mould on the sides is showing the age. Personally, as I walked round and looked at the different exhibitions I thought that they should to away with the larger enclosures – creatures such as tigers, hunting dogs, giraffes and zebras to name but a few, really need larger enclosures. I am aware that many animals have already been moved to their other site – Whipsnade – which has considerably more room. A recent transfer is the cheetahs. I also overheard plans to expand some of the enclosures into “waste space” or as I read it, space where once humans thronged in their hundreds where now they gather only in their 10s. Though I think the establishment should stay open, it should focus on smaller animals on a whole = becoming more like a large city farm – with a few more exotic creatures such as the reptiles, otters and meerkats.
Well that is enough of my views of the zoo – onto the photos:
This day was hard day to shoot for it was overcast with grey clouds – that would spit forth the odd drop or two of rain. The wind was on the colder side of cool, leading fingers to get far colder than you would notice at first.
All photos in the Zoo collection were taken with:
Cannon EOS 400D
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro lens
For settings save pic to pc and review properties
ORIGINAL (reduced for web)

For this one I went through the usual smart fix, levels, contrast and colour auto settings. I then increased the saturation and further added a little bit more reddening through temperature. I then selected the far right hand side of the hound – in line with the tree trunk and increased this areas saturation and reddening further – to balance out the effect of the glass. The reddening was to counter the dull light cast by the overcast day. I then sharpened the image using the unsharpen mask. Following that I reduced the noise and then sharpened (to a lesser degree) again. I finally lowered the tint a fraction into the green – to counter the harsh reddening.
For the web version I overhsharpened a little and then reduced the image size – adjusting the sharpening a little again.

Another version:
With this one instead of altering the colours on the far right I cropped the section off entirely

ORIGINAL (reduced for web)


Again though smart fix, auto levels, contrast and colour. Following that I again increased saturation and reddening (temperature) with a very tiny tint towards the green. Following that a near full unsharpen, followed by a second lesser sharpen. I then cropped out the bar from the bottom of the photo – as it added nothing but a distraction to the image. I then altered the image back and forth between large and small (websize) and decided to crop out a little of the top and right hand sides.
I then reduced the photo for the web and applied another near full unsharpen followed by reducing the noise.

ORIGINAL (reduced for web)


First off, again smartfix, levels, contrast and colour all done on auto settings; From there I boosted saturation by a bit and then increased temp and decreased tint by small degrees. From there it was a full sharpen followed by removing noise and then a smaller degree of sharpening again.
After that it was time to reduce sizes again and then a final larger sharpen (unsharpen mask).
My initial worry about this photo is the back of the dog not being in focus – as the dog is looking in that direction as well, the viewers eyes are dragged a little that way and the blurred back spoils the effect. I tried changing sharpening of only that section of the pic, but to no luck.

ORIGINAL (resized for web)


First off, again smartfix, levels, contrast and colour all done on auto settings; From there I boosted saturation by a bit and then increased temp and decreased tint by small degrees. From there is was a full sharpen however this time I decided to try out the demo edition of neat image and see what I got. I found the software easy to pick up in basic mode and managed to remove a greater amount of noise than was possible with my photoshop skills.
From there I then reduced the image for the net and sharpened yet again.

link to neat image demo:

Home Birds – the pheasants 2

Posted in photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 12, 2008 by overread

Right back to the caged birdies again, and again time was against me, preventing me from sitting out in the cages for the more flighty birds. Getting the lighting right was also tricky, as some pens would not let be get the light behind.

All taken with:
Cannon EOS 400D
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro lens
For settings save pic to pc and review properties

Within the pens

I increased the darkness of shadows in this one to counter the glare off his white feathers

Great one of the female, but such a shame her tail is missing – they were just a little too close to my camera to get all of the bird into the shot at the time.

Well this one was taken in a pen, but the angle of the pen meant that I could not move round and get the bird with the light fully behind me and thus shining on him.
OUSIDE the pens

A crop of a larger shot, this focusing on his head. This has to be my most favoured picture to date – wonderful colouring on the bird and great sharpness to him. Taken through the bars – but such that the bars have no effect on the shot — wonderful!

The full bird – wonderful colours all over this one.

The full bird, but infortunatly to get him all in the bars had to appear as well!

This is a shot that I have played around with quite a bit and I will put up a separate blog for this one – as it deserves a little bit more space (and writing time!)

Lessons learnt
1) White birds really are a pain to shoot (don’t read that in the wrong context!!!)
2) Sometimes the best shots appear when you least expect them to

Seagulls and lunch

Posted in photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 12, 2008 by overread

Well family decided to go out and have fish and chips down in Aldebrough and so I decided that as well as my fish and chips I would try to get some seagulls on the wing. Now the first problem with this trip was that it was a grey day – which meant boring grey skies and a boring grey sea. Those problems aside I decided that the practice would do me good; and I had the perfect bait — the remains of my fish and chips!
So birds baited with the remains of fish I used not my tripod, but a railing for support – it worked well:

All Taken with
Cannon EOS 400D
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro lens
metal railing!!
For settings save pic to pc and review properties


Probably the best shot I got that day of a bird in flight.

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I like the angle of flight in this one, different from the usually seen angles – so I made a crop, getting rid of the empty skies


I have seen other shots like this and as with those the limited depth of field leave the bird looking unatural and strange –

Defending his right to my former lunch (that orangey thing in the corner).


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I added more saturation to the last of these three and I really like the added light and colour that it adds to the pic – really makes it stand out a little more in the grim light – but with the sky showing overcast it’s a little fake looking if one looks closely!

Lessons learnt:
1) dim lighting makes getting fast shots tricky – better lighting would make it easier to shoot with a quicker shutter speed
2) however then I have to deal with the glare off the wings – I think were I to try these again in better light I would either have to go during the magic hours or use a polarizer on the lens to eliminate the glare
3) increasing saturation works well at countering a lack of light – but if the sky is showing overcast in the pic then the effect is lost a little!