Spring 2013: Part I

I just can’t seem to find the time to regularly post something on my blog and that is why you’re getting only one or two posts every few months or so. Next to actually writing the stuff, and desperately trying to think up some funny sentences here and there, I also have to update my website, upload the images shown on this blog to tinypic, and go through the html story by actually making the pictures visible and correctly link to my website. I’m sure there are easier ways to do this but I’m rather conservative in that way. If it works, don’t mess with it :p. So here it goes, hope you like what you see (the downside to posting every few months or so is that you have to show so many photo’s per post, so please scroll down a bit :-P).

painting flowers
Straight out of the camera. Got to like that D800 🙂

Tawnly owl
While running after an Osprey I caught this sleepy beauty.

Rapeseed field
Rapeseed field

Spring leaf

Pheasant
This crazy fella often falls asleep in my garden giving me an opportunity to carefully position myself within 10 meters or so. He will suddenly wake up, raise himself up, and shout out to call for females. Then he takes a nap again, only to wake up 5 minutes later and do it all over again. I have many good action shots of those moments but all are in the shadows with an annoying background so not really worth sharing. This was the only acceptable one I think.

macro

bird flowers

On another note, the more I get to know the work of other photographers (I’ve started to follow several on Facebook), the more I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever break through that solid brick wall that’s keeping so many photographers in the shadows, in some dark place where their pictures are hardly seen or admired, let alone make some money out of it. There are so many nature photographers out there, all with professional gear and time to spare that it is almost impossible to stand out (especially if you’re short like me and have a full time job :-P). The only way to burst through that wall is by winning (major) nature photography contests that are mainly dominated by professional photographers, or perhaps by doing something out of the ordinary in a business where ‘out of the ordinary’ opportunities are quickly diminishing. Luckily I’m only 26 years old and (like to) believe that I’m still on a steep learning curve so who knows what the future will bring. Up until then, I’ll just continue to do my best in the shadows… where it’s nice and quiet. Maybe my light ray project for the Fall of 2013 can shine some light through the bricks.

Until next time (very soon, I have a lot of sun ray shots to show you!)

New season, new adventures

Goodbye Winter! We’ve had some good (mostly cold) times, see you again next year. To say goodbye, here are some of the last winter shots.

starling
blue jay
Finch
cranes
This was quite fun! Almost 2500 Crane’s that spend the night at National Park the Meinweg and I was there when they woke up and took to the skies :).

And since Spring is upon us:
snowdrop

While looking back, I can’t help but wonder what the next seasons will bring me. Most of the times, opportunities find you instead of the other way around. While exploring new grounds, I often stumble upon something to turn into a new project. I also wonder what new opportunities (and challenges..) my new, yet to be bought :p, camera will bring me. 36MP is a lot of fun but it has its drawbacks of course.. I’ll hate the small AF area coverage (compared to DX) and the massive file sizes, but I’ll love the additional cropping, detail, better noise handling, dynamic range, and AF performance…. O well, nothing is perfect in life.

And now, time to go after that Pheasant that just walked into my garden. Good to know he survived the killing spree of the local hunters.

Until next time!

Warming up for Spring

In the last few weeks I have been warming up for Spring, literally since the weather has been quite cold and rainy. Fortunately there were some sunny moments now and then which allowed me to go walkabout and scout new locations. I was hoping for some nice quality time with King Fishers but they apparently had a very tough winter meaning that only 1 pair is busy with building their love shack. This means that I have to find something else to photograph in May (my month off). Lets hope for the best (which would be to see the bee eaters return once more).

Now for some new photo’s!

This is what the Netherlands is famous for! Large tulip fields and cloudy skies:
Tulips

The next one is of an Osprey, a bird quite rare for the Netherlands. What’s even more rare is to see this awesome bird plummeting into the river to catch a fish at just 30 meters away from you. A nice camera with a tele lens attached would also come in handy of course ;). Luckily all those things came together and I positioned myself right in de middle of it. What an awesome sight!
Osprey

Next up are some Swan shots:
Swan

Swan

Swan

That’s it for this post. I hope May proves to have some nice warm weather and I’ll probably go after wild boar, the usual garden birds, and the beaver. But you never know what happens so maybe it’ll be the bee eaters again..

Until next time!

So it begins…

The title points to the start of a new season. A season full of color, sweet scents and (hopefully) good weather. We recently had some very nice and warm spring weather causing all sorts of plants to pop their heads out of the soil and start showing off their gorgeous vivid colors. An excellent time to go out and about with my camera. The following shots have been taken in the past two weeks and I must say I’m quite satisfied with them. I’ve had to endure mud on my clothes, face, and camera, but somehow I also managed to overlook a nice pile of sheep shit when taking photos of little lambs. Luckily only my clothes were harmed in that operation.

Anyways.. here we go:
blossom

Something new, something blue:
blue bokeh

The culprit of my ‘smelly’ clothes:
lamb

On another note: Unfortunately today I had to burry a Tawny Owl (bosuil in Dutch) that had died in my neighbors barn. He called me today that he had found a dead owl in his barn and if I was interested in taking some shots of it and burry it. Very unfortunate death since these birds are absolutely stunning (and very soft/cuddly!) but just as life, death is also a part of nature. Luckily my Little Owls (in Dutch Steenuil) seem to be ok and are hopefully able to give birth to some little fur balls later in June.

Until next time!

The diary of a nature photographer (part II of II)

Last Wednesday I was sitting behind my desk at work when I heard the weather forecast on the radio. After a long spell of dark and cloudy weather we were finally going to get some clear skies and warm Spring days. I decided to take the next two days off from work and spent it in the great outdoors with my camera. The report of day 1 can be found in my previous post.

Day 2

Just as day 1, day 2 started at 5.45am but this time with John Mayer and his Heartbreak Warfare. A nice way to start off the day. I decided to try my luck again at the forest of day 1. I set off on my bike and arrived close to 7am, made my way into the forest, nervously looking out for wild boar and put up my hide. The story of day 2 is going to be a little bit shorter than of day 1 because basically nothing happened the entire morning. No deer or wild boar today. Unfortunately this is an integral part of nature photography. Patience and perseverance… (I was able to level up some Angry Birds levels though :p ).

Back home again. I was planning to have another go at the snowdrops when I suddenly saw a frog in my pond. It had already laid eggs in the water and I was able to get close enough for some nice portrait shots.

frog
(D300, Sigma 150mm F2.8, F5.6, ISO 200, 1/125sec)

While I was taking photographs of the frog I suddenly heard the distinctive sound of 2 Tong-tailed Tits (I’m not kidding, they’re really called Tits…). I immediately remembered the pair of Tits that made a nest in my garden last year. These little fur balls with long tails are really cute so I decided to run after them to see where they might be building their love shack. Sure enough, they were at it again this year. The female, or at least I assumed it was the female for obvious reasons, selected a nice yew bush (taxus) next to the driveway.

long tailed tit
(D300, 500mm F4 VR, ISO 250, 1/1000sec, F4, handhold / had to be fast hence the weird settings).
I decided to help them out a bit by putting some stylish, soft nest building stuff next to the building site.

The bird below is a Blue Tit (family of the other Tit):
blue tit
(D300, 500mm F4 VR, ISO 250, F5.6, 1/250sec, tripod)

I was also (fairly) successful with the snowdrops this time. I used the flash to fill in the background a bit. If I hadn’t used the flash, the background would have been much darker and not as appealing.
snow drop
(D300, Sigma 150mm f2.8, F3, ISO 250, 1/1000sec)

That is it for day 2. The rest of the day was spend enjoying the nice sunny weather and chilling a bit.

Day 3
Started at 9.30am (… I had to recover from days 1 and 2 :p). It was going to be a cloudy day so there wasn’t much to do photography wise (also I thought..). One of the important aspects of nature photography that often goes overlooked are being outside and scouting the territory for nice scenery or wild life. In nature photography you often need to be at the right place at the right time, hence the scouting for possibilities. Anyways.. I was going out for a walk (I always take my camera with me, you never know..) when I heard something in an old corn field. I looked over to find a gorgeous male pheasant having lunch on the left over corn. Something was off since I was able to come quite close without the pheasant screaming and flying off in the opposite direction. I put one and two together and concluded that this had to be a fairly tame pheasant that was bred and set free by local hunters. That would also explain the lack of pheasants during the winter when the hunters catch the wild ones, use them for breeding, bring up the chicks and set them free again to murder them later on in the year (preferably Christmas, a joyful season for all, except if you’re a pheasant). This breeding is highly illegal but those scumbags don’t give a sh*t since there is no one there to check that hunters follow the rules. Anyways.. back to my specific pheasant:

pheasant
(D300, 500mm F4 VR, ISO 400, 1/60sec, F6.3, handholding)

Day 4:
The last day was spent selecting and processing the best shots, writing this story, updating my blog and website, and cleaning up the camera gear.

So… long story… but fun to write. Hope you found it interesting to read.

Until next time!

The diary of a nature photographer (part I of II)

Last Wednesday I was sitting behind my desk at work when I heard the weather forecast on the radio. After a long spell of dark and cloudy weather we were finally going to get some clear skies and warm Spring days. I decided to take the next two days off from work and spent it in the great outdoors with my camera. Below is my report from day 1. Day 2 will follow tomorrow. Days 3 and 4 (the weekend) were going to be cloudy and would therefor be spent on selecting and processing over 500 photo’s.

Day 1

My day started at 5.45am when I was wakened by the radio alarm, with Sectrets, by One Republic. I decided to get out of bed at 6.15am (I’m not a morning person, one of my biggest achievements of that day was actually getting up that early..). So, I put on 3 layers of cold clothes, which I kept outside overnight to loose their freshly washed scent, and started to fix breakfast (toast, fruit drink). I watched some cartoons on tv while eating and set off to a forest nearby. It was a 20-minute bike ride (mostly uphill) with 20kg’s of camera gear on my back and a portable hide hanging from my neck. Oh, and did I mention it was freezing? Pretty darn cold if only half an hour ago, you were lying underneath warm, cuddly bed sheets. Anyhow, there was a dense layer of fog hanging over the meadows and the birds were already singing their hearts out. I came close to my final destination, which was a big open forest with old trees and a great diversity of wild life. It was my intent to try and find that wild life before it would find me (and would run off in the opposite direction). Unfortunately I have to walk for about 5 minutes through the forest to get to the spot where I usually set up my hide. These 5 minutes are always quit nerve-racking, as I have to be sneaky and extremely watchful at the same time. The forest is inhabited by wild boar and around this time the females are giving birth to these cute little rascals. If I would, lets say, walk into a group of resting wild boar and come between the those little rascals and their mommies, these mommies would likely attack me. As I’m not a very big guy and those mommies outweigh me by a lot, it could get more interesting than I would have initially hoped for, especially with the before mentioned weight on my back and around my neck. So, after the 5 minute walk I ended up at my spot and set up my tent. I was greeted by an orchestra of singing birds, which were getting themselves ready for Spring. It was 6.45am by now and I was sweating profusely from carrying all that stuff around, making my scentless approach pretty useless. Anyhow, I installed my gear, got comfortable (for as far that’s possible in a tiny hide) and peeked through the openings in the tent to see if there was something worth taking pictures off. Nothing there yet, no deer, no wild boar, no squirrels. I decided to check my e-mails on my phone and have another go at Angry Birds level 2-15. Every now and then I took another peek through the hide openings to see what was happening in the world outside my tent. After looking around to the left and right, I suddenly heard the sound of cracking leaves and hoped it was a deer or wild boar. After a good look I saw two squirrels going up a tree and racing each other up and down. The one in the lead must have been the female since, also in the animal kingdom, the male has to race after the female to get some….. uh…. romance. Love was clearly in the air as the birds were doing the same thing with the males trying to impress the females with their loud singing. All these sights and noises made me realize that I too was looking forward to the upcoming Spring season. I always feel more alive during Spring and Summer, more energetic and positive. Anyways, so after the squirrels left my view, I suddenly saw a deer in the distance, walking closer and closer towards my hide, every now and then sniffing and licking at stuff. I was able to take some good pictures, even though the light was bad and I had to increase the ISO to get a reasonable shutter speed. My heart was pumping as the deer came closer and closer and I was wondering how close it would come before it started to notice my smell or the sound of the camera shutter.

Roe Deer

Unfortunately it started to walk a bit away from me and laid itself down behind some branches, 50 meters from my hide. I was still able to see her (the deer was female) and she kept moving her ears around, like little radars that continuously scanned the area around her for suspicious noises. After a while I saw here eyelids falling shut and guess she was ready for a nap. At the same time the sun rose above the pine trees, thereby lighting the fog that was slowly moving through the forest. The sunrays shining through were amazing! It really felt like I was in a fairytale. The deer was clearly fighting the sleep as the eyelids kept falling shut and slowly opened up again.

Roe Deer

After an hour or so, the deer stood up and walked away into the bushes. I could have sworn she yawned a bit before getting up though.
In the next 2 hours nothing interesting happened. Unfortunately, no wild boar today so I headed home, had lunch, and inspected the garden for some Spring flowers (crocus and snowdrops). I took some nice shots of the crocus flowers (most of which had already lost their full glory) but found the snowdrops to be a somewhat more difficult subject so I left them for day 2.

crocus macro

Day 1 ended with listening to Little Owls singing to each other under the night sky.

Until next time (so tomorrow with day 2)!

Nature photography – how does it work?

Before I show you my last photo’s I wanted to write a ‘small’ piece about what, I believe, is needed to become successful at nature photography (photo’s are below the text). Many people seem to think that the right gear will give you great shots, and this is true to a certain extent, but unfortunately a little bit less so for nature photography. What’s most important is being there at the right moment, at the right time to capture these moments (this is actually true for all things in life of course). You can have the best gear available but it’s useless when there’s nothing to take pictures of. It will give you a broader range of opportunities though (higher ISO, longer range (mm’s) etc) and thus a higher chance of a good shot or qualitatively better shots. Below you will find (in bold) some factors which I believe are essential to become a good nature photographer.

First of all, patience is key! You will often have to sit and wait for hours in your hide for something to photograph. The worse you are at choosing a correct site (and moment!) the more time you will have to spend in your hide! Things I often do when waiting for something to happen is playing Angry Birds, reading a book or just surfing the internet. Depending on your subject though, you will have to pay a lot of attention in order not to miss the correct moment. In general, decent preparations can lower your time in the tent. That’s where the next part of the puzzle comes into play:
Knowing your subject. The more you know about the behavior of your subject, the higher the chances are that you will be able to setup a ‘meet’ and get close. Often, you will need to read into your subject or observe them for some time. Know where and when they will be. For Kingfishers this comes down to knowing when and where they have a nest and also in what developmental stage their young are (how old is the nest). You can see this by the type of prey the adults bring into the nest (e.g. insects or very small fish means early development; larger fish means that the youngsters are just a few days away from leaving the nest). Same goes for Roe Deer. They mostly come out of hiding in the early morning or late in the afternoon/evening so you have to make sure you are present then and make sure that they don’t smell you (so check the wind direction and anticipate where the sun will be when your subject arrives). This last part has to do with:
Experience. The more failures you have, the more you will have learned. The more you learn, the higher the chances are of a successful encounter the next time because you should now know what not to do! An example would be to enter an area when the Roe Deer are already present. You will learn that they will see/smell you and run off or be very cautious. This leaves you with no opportunity to setup your tent/gear. The right approach into an area is very important (e.g. time and wind direction).
Know your gear. You will need to know which buttons to press. How’s my light? What ISO do I need? Do I expect action or will my subject be standing still most of the time? Does my bird have bright white patches or does it have darker colors (e.g. white spots on the cheeks of King Fishers will often be overexposed compared to the other blue parts, so take that into account when setting your exposure). Same goes for white swans or black crows… Do you need fast autofocus? If so, use the AF limiting dial for faster focus. And the list goes on and on…
Another important factor is the area you will spend your time in. Nature photographers generally invest most of their time in an area that is close to their home (e.g. within appr. 5-15 km from their house) because those are the area’s they will visit most often. There are area’s in which you can easily find roe deer when taking a walk but also area’s in which you have to invest a lot of time to get great (acceptable) shots (e.g. National Park the Meinweg; hunters like to keep the deer density low and their fridges well filled). And with acceptable I mean that you have to get the roe deer within 10-20m from you. A minor note about this range. You will often see shots of foxes that seem to have been made within 5m of the fox. This can either mean that a nature photographer has spend hours and hours observing/searching for foxes and made his ‘battle plan’ but it can also mean that the images were taken in an area in which you can approach the (domesticated) fox within 5 meters because they are extremely tame. This has nothing to do with nature photography! Don’t be fooled, no skill was needed to take these shots. Same goes for bird shows where you can find the most rare or endangered species. There is no skill in taking these kind of shots and many nature photographers refuse to even take their camera’s out (including me).
Next up is Luck. Sometimes you will get lucky if you just happen to run into a bird feeding on whatever. These encounters are rare and are never ‘controllable’ in that you can’t decide up front what kind of shot you want to have. For this, you will need to spend quality time with your camouflage tent ;). But your ‘luck’ can be increased when you have the right experience and preparations. Laying out bait (e.g. dead pigeon) in winter time at a place you know that is regularly visited by bird of prey will get you great shots. But again, you need the luck that one of those birds sees your bait, but you also needed to get the idea into your head to use bait, sit at the correct site, and at the correct moment. Many factors play a role, of which luck is most often just a small one.
Furthermore, you will need a lot of dedication. There are times that you will sit in your hide for hours and hours without seeing anything. Most often, this is a combination of bad luck, bad preparation, wrong time, wrong place. Dedication is needed to get into your hide the next day, and the day after that to get what you were looking for. I’ve spend over 30 hours in a tent for the last few weeks just to try and get close to Roe Deer, wild boar, a buzzard and so on. Nothing, Nada to show for it. So dedication and perseverance is needed! But I’ve learned from these failures and will try not to make them the next time.
In order to take great shots you will also need talent! You do need a good eye for taking the right shots. Make the right composition when in the field, and not while behind your computer at home. You need a feeling about how to make the picture speak. Talent is something which can be developed of course by experience/learning. A good base level of talent is essential though.
Craziness. You have to be somewhat nuts to sit in a tent in the freezing cold for several hours, waiting for that buzzard to come along. And then when it doesn’t, you have to be crazy enough to do the same thing again the next few days (perseverance, also see dedication above).
Another important factor is a social network. You alone won’t be able to see all that goes on in a specific area. Have a network of people that are also interested in nature and ask them to let you know when they see something special you might want to photograph. In the Netherlands we have waarneming.nl for that. This is a website dedicated to nature observations and can be divided into specific sub area’s. Whenever a member goes into an area and spots wild life, birds, plants etc. they put that into the website’s database for all to see. This is a very efficient way to get to know an area. Other examples are joining a nature group that has regular field visits etc. The more people you know, the more information you will have, the more chances you have of taking great shots.

Now that’s basically what I wanted to share with your. Now time for the news:

Beaver:
beaver
Tips: know your area (bite marks on trees), be there at the correct moment (dusk), be a little bit lucky ;).

Hovering dragonfly:
dragonfly in flight
Tips: know where they are, when they mate, when they will hold still long enough for you to take a shot. Gear: use a macro lens with enough mm’s, choose a high F-number to get more depth of field, choose a high shutter speed.

Flower macro:
flower macro
Tips: know where to find these flowers, if the light is bad (which it was) use a flash and try to point it in different directions relative to the flowers.

I think I might start giving these tips from now on on how I took my shots and which decisions I made when taking them.

Until next time!