Fall, the quick version

I seem to be writing one blog post per season lately. This one won’t be any different :p. Lots of shots again though :). Fall 2013 was rather short and spread out throughout a few months instead of a clear climax in colors. A bit dull unfortunately. Luckily we did have some exceptions that made it worth while to go and shoot. See below for the results. Been quite busy with learning some new techniques (photography related 😉 ) and networking. A network is just as important for a nature photographer as reliable gear as it will open up new opportunities. One of these opportunities already gave me (better) access to a large National Park so I could get to places I would normally never go. I will learn new things and contribute to studying the area and its diversity. I am sure I will capture this diversity in all its beauty as time progresses.

Anyways, here it goes:

forest abstract
You either love this one or hate it. It needs some fine tuning but I already like it quite a bit!

A very Mystical morning 🙂
forest fog

forest fog

forest fog

forest fog

King fisher

Until next time! (should be mid-end Winter 😉 ).

Summer of ’13

It seems that for the past three years I’ve always taken the wrong decision on when to have my Summer holidays. This year I had the better part of June off from work and, as always, I started to take the best photographs when I had to go back to work again. Same is true for the weather. The minute I had to go back to work it started to clear up and get nice and sunny… oh well, enough about that. Time to see what I’ve been up to for the past few months (yes, it has been that long since my previous post, sorry ’bout that :p).

I don’t really have any special stuff to share other than that I’ve been preparing for a very interesting, yet quite difficult and challenging, project that will probably take me around 2 years or so to complete. I’m not going to specify exactly what it is since I don’t even know yet if I can get it to work like it has been working in my mind. I’ve had to make some serious investments in both time and money but if it’s going to work, oh boy, will you be amazed!

Here is my Summer of ’13 (so far..):
(all are clickable and will link to my website)

Running hare
Great fun that was! Came running straight towards me, then stopped within the minimum focussing distance of my lens and decided to turn around when it noticed something weird was lying on the path (I wasn’t even wearing any camo clothes).

King fishers
Yes! 2 King fishers :). Taken at F14 or so to try and get both of them sharp.

Roe deer mother and fawn
ISO 4000 :p

butterfly
Actually found a small weed plantation near where I took this shot :p (I’m not kidding!)

Haw Finch
Not a very common garden guest. Shot full frame at 4fps of a D800 :). Wall sized prints anyone?

wild fox
A real wild fox! Not one of those fake, tame ones ;). It actually took me five early mornings to get this one. Luckily I got the fox before the local army of hunters did..

King fisher
An evening light King Fisher. They never seem to bore me. Such characters they have!

evening light

Until next time!

Trading hours for seconds…

Time for another post! It has been some time since my last post but I’ve definitely spent that time usefully. Fall is setting in which means relatively cold nights, dampened forest floors and… light rays, if you’re lucky and know what to look for. I’ve been quite successful in matching last years light ray shots. The best ones from last year were at the peak of the autumn but unfortunately I have to travel to the US for work in the week that I expect Fall to reach its climax over here. Have to see if I’ll be able to go into the woods before and after my US visit. Next to the light ray shots I’ve also been busy with a family of Roe Deer that are currently residing in the corn fields near from where I live. A family of three, mom and her two calfs. Very nice to see them come out of hiding when the sun is setting and interact which each other.
Anyways.. this is not the only place on which I upload my photo’s as I also make use of the Flickr photo community website. The concept is that everyone can get a free account and upload up to 200 photo’s and then share it with everyone else. You can comment on each others work, join communities, look for inspiring work of other great photographers around the world, and if you’re lucky you get your shots on Flickr Explore. This is basically a large billboard for the entire community which showcases the best uploads of a particular day. On an average day millions of photo’s get uploaded and only 500 are selected to be shown on Explore. The white dove below got to spot #1 on Flickr Explore and one of my light ray shots got to #4. This meant that I got over 5000 views between those two shots. This also lead to a lot of comments and favorites and to over 300 emails which I had/chose to respond to :p. But, enough blabla and time for some of my latest work now.

First up, magical light:
sun rays
Note the heart carved into the tree on the right.

A slightly different point of view:
sun rays
More can be found on my website. I’ve created a new gallery especially for these sun ray shots (see link at the bottom of this post).

Next up is the dove photo I was talking about earlier:
white dove

And last but not least, the Roe Deer family, a sunset, and a Kingfisher I hadn’t uploaded yet.
Roe Deer family
sunset
King fisher

So all in all, these kind of shots don’t come easy. You really have to trade hours for seconds. But boy, are those seconds worth it!

Until next time!

P.S. I’ve also updated my website with my latest work, including a lot of photo’s I haven’t uploaded on Flickr or this blog. I’m planning to modernize it a bit more this winter but haven’t thought of how I’m going to do this or what I’m going to change. I have to learn that programming stuff all over again as I’m getting a bit rusty in using HTML…

4 in 1, and where did my mojo go?

Four weeks crammed into one blog post. So it’ll be a long one. I basically had the larger part of 4 weeks to spend on nature photography since this was, or as I’m writing this, still is my spring/summer holiday. I wanted to make the most of it so I threw myself out into the field every day looking for stuff to photograph. The weather was not really super, but manageable. I needed clear skies in the morning and clear skies in the evening. Once these requirements have been met, all you need to do is look for the correct location. So, the first three weeks all went pretty bad. No beaver, no kingfisher, no bee eaters, no buzzards, no wild boar or roe deer. The Buzzards (buizerd) were my largest project. I knew a nice location where these birds of prey have a nest each year and thought I should give them a hand in raising their young by laying out some bait (roadkill) for them. In the meantime, I’d be there waiting in my tent with my camera. I picked the perfect spots with the rising sun behind me so if it would work, I could capture these amazing birds in the warm morning light. Unfortunately these birds are quite watchful which meant that I had to go into my tent in the middle of the night when it was still dark! This meant getting up at 4 am in the morning, cramming food down my throat, cycling 10 minutes to the location, arriving without lights, without making a sound, putting the bait on the ground in the dark, securing it with hooks so they don’t fly off with it, and try not to fall asleep while waiting. Thus, there I was at 4.30 in the morning awaiting an attack on my bait. No such luck :(. After 3 long mornings I gave up. The third time they clearly saw the bait, circled 2m over it, and flew off again. Now, 3 days later, the bait is still there, untouched. I could have sat there for over 3 days and nothing would have happened. Lesson learned I’d say. I guess this only works well in winter time when there is snow and it is much more difficult for them to find prey. After 2 weeks of bad luck I started to doubt myself, and realized that I might had lost my ‘photography mojo’ (watch an Austin Powers movie in case you don’t understand the word ‘mojo’, if you do understand it, watch them anyways as they are kind of fun). So this is when I resorted back to macro photography in an effort to find my mojo again as this is the more easier part of nature photography. Your subjects don’t run away and you don’t have to get up while its dark outside. A good place to start to get my mojo back again. The results can be found directly below. I’m quite happy with the dragonfly shots:

Tulips

Tulips

After some time, I realized that most of the time you don’t have to go look for photo opportunities but they’ll find you eventually. Just by going for a bike ride or taking a stroll along the riverside. That’s when I saw this cutie:
roe deer fawn
It must have been a few days old! I hit the brakes (I was cycling), immediately started unpacking my lens + camera and was able to take just a few shots before it ran of. Good to see that their fear of humans is a genetic thing.

Next day, I got a call from my king fisher ‘connection’ that he had found a nesting site which I could use to finally take some king fisher shots. And so I did:
king fisher
I’ll go back there in my last holiday days (this actually means crossing a fast flowing river in wading boots with 15kg of (rather expensive) camera gear on your back. One slip and things get pricey ;-).

The next shots were taken somewhere in the first 3 weeks or so. I had hoped for more and better but you can’t have it all, right?! We’ll see what the rest of summer will bring us. At least it seems that I have found my mojo again (or still had it all this time).
KungFu Goose
rays of light
phaesant on the move
I’ll end this post with a small bang. Our neighbors have a Little Owl (Steenuil) nesting box in their orchard and each year the young owls are ringed for study purposes (see how many there are and where they go after they leave their parents territory). Now, I usually don’t post photo’s of captive birds but as these are actual wild ones and it’s so darn cute I’ll show it anyway. Hope to get some really ‘wild’ shots of these ladies later this summer. Just look at the newborn! Melts your heart right?
Little Owl / Steenuil

Until next time!

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!

Sitting, waiting, wishing…

Since my last Kingfisher post I’ve had the opportunity to take a week off from work. The weather forecast was good so things were looking quite positive. I planned to spend a lot of time at one of my Kingfisher sites in order to take those dream shots of parents feeding their young etc. So, I created an excellent site at which the youngsters could dine and I could sit with my tent. Things were a little bit tricky since I had to cross the river to get there, also meaning that I had to walk through the, relatively fast flowing, river with about 10k worth of gear on my back. You don’t want to take a swim then I can tell you! Luckily it all worked out and I was able to spend, ow lets say, 14 hours in my tent. Result: nothing, nada (hence the ‘sitting, waiting, wishing’ title). They just did’t like my branches or something.. (even though I saw them sitting on them a few times when I was observing them). To get my dream shots I even got up at 5 am, something I don’t like to do at all :p. So, it wasn’t meant to be. Another subject I wanted to photograph under somewhat more controlled conditions were wild boar. So I got up at 5 am (again…) and went to my favorite forest. No luck! They didn’t show up.
Luckily, the one thing you can always count on (besides taxes and death) is the sun! That’s when this happened:

sun rays
Great moment!

So the morning wasn’t a total waste. On my way home I also drove past this barley field which was also the home of a lot of red poppies. So that’s were the following shot was taken. I really like the flying bumble bee.

red poppy field

The last shot is a woodpecker silhouette. I actually took this one while waiting for the wild boar. I underexposed this photo and then darkened it a bit further in Lightroom. I really like the blue color in the darkness.

woodpecker

That’s it for today. Until next time!

Gone fishing..

Lately I have been busy with several different projects which took a while to pay themselves off. I’ve mentioned in some of my previous posts that I’ve been busy observing king fishers for the past few weeks and that I managed to find some pairs that are in love with each other. Now, one thing leads to another of course, and the female, as in any other relationship, starts to show clear ‘nesting’ behavior. For humans this means regular visits to the Ikea in which the male, under supervision of the female, has to pick out the right cushions for the new sofa. If the chosen color or fabric of the cushions is not to the liking of the female, the mating is postponed until the male comes up with the correct combination of both color and fabric… For king fishers, this whole selection process basically comes down to fish. If the male wants to win over the heart of the female, he basically has to present her with a dozen fish. Now the (emancipated) female, rather catches her own fish instead of accepting the gracious present of the hard working/fishing male. Were it not for persisting males (both humans and birds), both populations would be doomed of course. So after several gracious fish presentations, the (bird, not human) female gives in and the romantic mating ritual can begin. For humans, this is a little bit more complicated since the male also has to pay the restaurant bills and hold open as much doors as possible for the female. Since I don’t have any pictures of mating humans to show you (even though I would consider this to be ‘nature photography’) I will stop with the whole human – bird analogy and continue with the king fishers.

Now one of the nesting sites is situated along a small creek somewhere in the middle of a dense forest (so pretty bad light conditions!). I carefully entered the area trying not to step on any branches, most of the time succeeding in this, and pretty much always getting my Wimberley tripod head stuck in some branches.. Anyways.. first I always sit down about 50-100m from the nest to listen if there’s any activity going on. I can’t just walk in uninvited to their romantic candle light dinner now can I? So, after about 5 minutes of quietness I sneaked towards some sticks that I placed above the water for the king fishers to sit on before they would enter their nests. They often use these kind of look outs for resting or cleaning themselves. I unpacked my tent and gear and was ready for the birds. After about 10 minutes (of playing Angry Birds on my phone), I suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching king fisher. He landed on one of my branches and I was able to take a few great shots. Now, as I previously mentioned, the light conditions in the forest are really bad. After a few try-outs I noticed that I could still get amazingly sharp images at ISO 200 and 1/15s. Luckily these king fishers don’t move around that much and can sit perfectly still. I decided to focus on limiting my ISO to 250 since 1/15s produced excellent images. Having a Nikon 500mm f4 VR on an excellent Gitzo and Wimberly head II also does wonders of course! For the first shots I noticed that I was sitting too close to the branches since my lens couldn’t focus close enough (3.85 meters). All of the shots below are therefore full-frame! So I did some camouflage-tent re-decorating and was able to move it back by half a meter. Next time I have to try to increase my F-number to get some more depth of field. It is way too narrow now at f4, but I think I need some more light to do this.

king fisher

king fisher

king fisher

Whenever the birds didn’t land on either of my 2 branches, I spent the time observing their behavior. They didn’t just have 1 nest but also a freshly dug outhouse and garage. That’s 3 in a row.. a real settlement. Let’s hope that they will start with a second round of mating really soon to improve the population figures (the king fishers have had some harsh winters for the past few years). So after a few hours of taking photo’s I suddenly noticed I got several small itches all over my arms. These itches were caused by little ticks crawling over my arms to find a nice spot to dig in and suck the life out of me. Luckily I was able to get all 8!! of them off of me. These little buggers can be quite dangerous since about 15% of the ticks are carriers of the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease. So there is a realistic chance of getting this disease, something not to be taken lightly of course. So I was freaking out a little bit since they were just crawling all over me. Last year I got 8 in 3 months, in this half an hour yesterday I had already broken that record. I decided to call it a day and drove home and took a shower as soon as possible to try and wash those ticks off that I couldn’t find. I looks like I’m tick free for now.. However, I think I will go back there in the coming days since the youngsters are about ready to leave the nest. Once that happens, I can have 3 or 4 king fishers sitting on my branches at any given time. I’ll have to take even better precautions to prevent the ticks from forming a problem.

Next to my king fisher expedition I also visited a site which had a rare Melodious Warbler (Orpheusspotvogel). These are quite rare for the Netherlands and the little guy soon attracted bird watchers from all over the country (it was like last years bee eaters all over again). Here it is:

orpheusspotvogel

Until next time!