I have a great love for the natural world. I was a birder for decades, and still retain – will always retain! – a deep love and regard for “our feathered friends”. And having recently acquired the Fuji X-T2 mirrorless camera, with its great reputation for autofocus speed, I have for sometime had the idea on trying it out on flying birds, and also birds exploding into flight from the ground. And so, with the (highly treasured!) leisure time of the retiree, I stuffed some stale bread in my rucksack, threw the X-T2 with its telephoto over my shoulder, and drove down to Chew Valley Lake, which is not far south of Bristol.
LOL!!! >>> and the joke was on me because, this being the start of birds’ breeding season, there were, firstly, few birds around this great reservoir and secondly, there were even fewer in flight – and when I tried to stimulate some flying activity by throwing bits of bread up in the air, the feathered layabouts that were present merely let it fall to the ground, before waddling over to bolt it down >>> HA!!! >>> the best laid plans of mice and ex-birders …..
But, Chew is a pleasant spot, and there were birds up out of the water and very close to me, and I set about thinking what, in photographic terms, to do with them. Just taking pictures of them is not my thing, as there are millions of such images around and there’s little point in adding to those numbers. Then again, when photographing animals or birds, I often like to get in close to them, filling the frame if I can, so that the picture is more of an individual, rather than an overall, generic shot.
Well, these birds were close and unconcerned by my presence – by the car pull-offs at Herons Green and Herriots Bridge they are very used to people – and even more used to the titbits that people often feed to them. So frame-filling or thereabouts shots were quite possible – but then what I laughingly call my mind went off at another tangent. Why not try and produce pictures that are more like still lifes, which really ignore the fact that this is a portrait of a Mute Swan and this a Mallard – in favour of creating something visual that looks nice, even if it doesn’t show the whole individual and may not be a true likeness, particularly in terms of colour.
And one of the things that I particularly like about the X-T2 (and the X-T1 too) is its large, Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), which enables me to see exactly how the image is going to look – i.e. after all exposure adjustments, etc. that I’ve made – before I capture the shot. And this has in turn led to my using spot metering quite a lot for quite radical exposure adjustments, rather than trusting to multizone metering to given me an overall balanced exposure.
Composition: here is the first of these shots. I’m standing over a male Mallard, a common duck here, that is asleep on the ground below me. His bill is buried in his back feathers, the sun is catching the iridescent plumage on his green head to produce a swathe of purple, and his white eyelid is closed. The image is quite high key, with that great, purple and green head as the centrepiece and everything else arranged around it, with pale colours, lots of finely vermiculated (birderspeak for finely barred) feathers, and some pale, sunlit stonework at the top of the frame. Rather than a picture that might be used in a bird identification guide, or a picture of a characterful individual, I’m hoping that this is an attractive arrangement of shapes, colours and textures – a still life.
My visit to Chew Valley Lake held something else too. For it was here (and other local places), in 1967 – half a century ago! – that two school friends, Pete and Clive, started enticing me away from the geology that, until then, really had been my raison d’etre, and began taking me on the birdwatching trips that were to entirely intrigue me, and which were to have a profound effect on the course of the rest of my life. 50 years ago. Wow, that really does seem a long time. In a way, that seems forever.
Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that enlarged image to enlarge it yet again – recommended.
Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm; 1600 ISO; spot metering; and with Lightroom used to give the raw file the look of Fuji’s Velvia (or Vivid) colour profile; Herriots Bridge, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 3 Apr 2017.