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…

It’s good to be the King!

As already mentioned in my previous post, I still have some new deer fawn photo’s to share with you. Again such an amazing moment! I went back to the usual location and already saw two young deer fawns playing along the creek bed. I slowly moved closer, playing red light – green light with them (freeze when they looked, walk when they didn’t). I came within 40 meters or so when I positioned myself behind some long grass and underneath a bush. After a while one of the fawns started running towards me trying to find a gap in the fence through which to enter the field with the high grass. It was completely focussed on finding that opening and didn’t seem to notice the guy making these clicking noises. Even though the light was pretty bad, I was able to get some nice action shots. I was very much wondering how close the fawn was going to come near me. After a few attempts to enter the meadow it kept searching for a decent opening, which happened to be around 10 meters from where I was standing. So basically that’s where the fawn went! She (I guess it’s a she because of her good looks and all) stopped no more than 10 meters from me, stared at me for 30 seconds or so (in the meantime I was shooting away, anxiously wondering for how long she was going to stand there). After nicely posing for me she disappeared through the opening and started playing in the tall grass, leaving me shaking with adrenaline and 50 good shots in the pocket.

Here she is:
Roe deer fawn
Roe deer fawn

Later that morning I went back to my Kingfisher spot where I was greeted by a Kingfisher cleaning session within a few minutes of waiting. Was able to take some action shots and left a good 3 hours later. All in all, some pretty decent weekends lately. Now I’m waiting for the grass to grow higher again as the farmers just mowed it all down down causing the deer to leave for the corn fields much earlier in the morning when there is hardly any light. Lets hope the deer fawns don’t loose their playful behavior in the next few weeks.

Kingfisher
Kingfisher

Until next time!

The Deer Whisperer

I’ve figured it all out and I’m not going to share my secrets with you ;-). I found the right location, right time, and the best way to photograph Roe deer fawns. It all started two weeks ago when I entered a specific area that seemed to meet all the requirements for a Roe Deer meet. I slowly walked towards a meadow with tall grass and suddenly saw two Roe deer fawns jumping up from the ground, startled by my presence. Both looked at me and apparently saw no danger as they both just kept standing at the place where they landed after their jump. One of them just kept staring at me. I immediately brought up my camera and started shooting away, trying not to make any sudden movements, and anxiously wondering how long this moment was going to last. What happened next was awesome… both fawns accepted my presence and started to eat, groom, run, and play. I was able to closely follow them for about half an hour. Unfortunately the tall grass prevented me from taking any clear shots and also made the focusing quite difficult, especially when you have to hand hold a 500mm and manually focus at the same time. But that’s when those 50 daily push-ups come in handy! What an amazing moment that was. Little did I know that this was going to repeat itself 2 weeks later. More about that encounter in my next blog. Here are the shots:

Roe deer fawn
Wonderful moment!

Mom:
Roe deer
Just look at how graceful these creatures are. I’m sure I’ll go ballistic if I ever saw a hunter kill one. If you ever read in the newspaper that a nature photographer attacked a hunter, it’ll most likely be me :p. Please come and bail me out then by the way ;).

Next up is a Common Sandpiper. These birds are not very common in the Netherlands and it’s not at all common that one lands on your Kingfisher branch. Amazing moment once again.
Common Sandpiper

Next up are some macro’s I took in the meadow where the deer were playing.
grass macro

grasshopper
I could have sworn it was saluting me!

Last one for this post. This young Buzzard flew over my head while I was taking shots of the 2 Roe deer fawns. Had to act quickly to change exposure settings and fire away.
Buzzard in flight

Next post will probably be sometime later this week to describe my adventures of this weekend. As said before, I met the roe deer fawns again and one got close, really close :D.

Until next time!

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!

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!