STILL LIFE 159 – ASSASSIN (MONO)

 

 


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Perception can so often be a matter of viewpoint. 

To our eyes, this may be a beautiful, even elegant, wild creature, the sight of which lifts our spirits and, indeed, our quality of life.

But in the real world, that thick, serpentine, muscular neck, and that dagger of a bill, are the tools of a precise and eminently stealthy predator – and any small creature moving under the water, if it sees this killer at all before being struck, views it quite differently.

Another picture of a Great White Egret at Chew Valley Lake, the first picture of this bird, is here.

Click onto this image to open a larger (and grainier) version in a separate window, and click onto that image to marginally enlarge it further.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 200 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Film Noir 1 preset and adding a light coffee tone; Herons Green, Chew Valley Lake; 6 Oct 2017.  This is a huge enlargement of an APS-C image, with the X-T2 working at its highest quality, native 200 ISO.
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BIRDS 95 – GREAT WHITE EGRET – AND A NEW BIRD FOR MY UK LIST!!!

 

 

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Last Friday, driving home past Chew Valley Lake, I saw a white heron out of the corner of my eye and automatically assumed that it was a Little Egret, a bird that was very rare here in my youth but which has flooded into southern Britain in recent decades.  But, all in an instant, it hit me that it looked far too big for a Little – and my car swerved across the thankfully empty road, I grabbed the bins, leapt out and, well, here it is pictured above – it is a Great White Egret, a bird of warmer, more southerly climes and, as far as I knew, a great rarity – tho not new for my UK bird list, as I’d already seen one on Benbecula, in the Outer Hebrides, in the 1990s.

Well, I will summarise what happened next.  I immediately met a birder from South Wales, a chap of my age, and as we looked out over this small part of the lake – the Herons Green Bay that I’ve often spoken of before – we found 18 Little Egrets, 12 of these Great White Egrets – and a single Cattle Egret, a bird I’d never seen in Britain before, but which I’m very familiar with from 12 years in Kenya.  Unfortunately this new bird was too far away for anything like a decent photo – I wished I’d been carrying a full-frame Nikon and 400+mm of telephoto reach!

I’m not a bird lister these days, its simply a type of collecting, and while I was reasonably into it during my birding decades, 1967-2002, a great chunk of my life really, I now have a far more relaxed attitude to birds.  I still enjoy them hugely, I love to see them and they certainly significantly raise my Quality Of Life – as do butterflies.  But I am now out the frenetic race to see more and more bird species – I’ve moved on, as the current phrase goes, and I’m different now.

But, nevertheless, seeing a new bird for my UK list so unexpectedly was quite a (nice) shock – and this welcome feeling was only enhanced by the setting, because Herons Green was one of the Somerset locations where I started birding all those years ago.  I’ve travelled quite a bit I suppose, including living in Kenya, but now I’m happy to be, more or less, “back where I started”.  Is it a “coming home” thing, well I don’t know, although I am now very close to where I grew up – but I do know that ending up here in southwest England – Somerset, and sometimes Dorset, Devon and Cornwall too – feels right.

Click onto the image to open another copy in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it – recommended.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 200 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Chew Valley Lake, south of Bristol; 6 Oct 2017.
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ARCHIVE 300 – THE BAY BESIDE BROOK COPSE

 

 


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This image is best viewed enlarged – click onto it to see a larger version in a separate window.

Mute Swan in the bay beside Brook Copse, on Chew Valley Lake’s northeast edge; south of Bristol; 15 May 2015.

An image almost without colour, with the marked exception of that beacon-like bill.  The various structures within this image are mainly horizontal – the wavelets, the areas of water plants – but the bird’s gentle bow wave is at a slight angle to this trend.

A popular path around the lake crosses a small stream or brook here via a small bridge, and walkers often feed the waterbirds from the bridge.  This swan spotted me on the bridge from some way off and, ever ready for food, came over – but I had not a thing edible on me!

You can find a very different picture of a swan at this lake here.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 400 ISO.

UPDATE: I still very much like the simplicity of this, both in terms of colour and the textures and structures present.  The structures are of three types.  Those on the water’s surface are linear.  Then there are the three horizontal bands of blackish emergent vegetation – out of focus in the foreground, highly scattered in the middle ground, and helping to form some sort of more solid closure to the top of the composition.  And the swan, really, is the only more rounded, organic thing there.
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STILL LIFE 106 – MALLARD 2

 

 


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Female Mallard, resting but alert as I edge closer – the first of these bird still lifes (a male Mallard), with context, is here: 1, and there are other images here: 2; 3; 4.

Click onto this image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that larger image to enlarge it yet again.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 1600 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Herriots Bridge, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 3 Apr 2017.
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STILL LIFE 101 – SWAN 2

 

 


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Close in with a Mute Swan – the first of these bird still lifes, with context, is here: 1, and there is another image here: 2.

Click onto this image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that larger image to enlarge it yet again.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 215mm (equiv); 200 ISO; Lightroom, using the Classic Chrome film simulation; Herriots Bridge, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 3 Apr 2017.
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STILL LIFE 97 – SWAN

 

 

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Close in with a male Mute Swan.  The large black knob above the base of the bill shows this to be an adult male, a cob.

Most of the bird was bathed in bright sunlight, and spot metering overexposed the highlights below its head.  Some very vague traces of its body are still visible, at upper right and lower left.  These would be easy to remove, but they’re left in to provide (a very little!) context. 

The first of these bird still life images, with context, is here: 1

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that larger image to enlarge it again.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 215mm (equiv); 1600 ISO; Lightroom, using Fuji’s Classic Chrome colour profile;  Herriots Bridge, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 3 Apr 2017.
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STILL LIFE 96 – MALLARD

 

 


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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.
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ARCHIVE 280 – MALLARD

 

 

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Mallard in Herons Green Bay, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 6 Apr 2015.

A Minimalist image – some ripples and a silhouetted duck.

The up-curled tail feathers show this to be a male (drake) Mallard, a very common and often tame waterbird here in the UK.

This is a colour image, albeit one with little colour in it.  And I’ve used CEP4‘s Cross Balance filter to give the effect of Tungsten (i.e. artificial light) film that has been used in daylight, which has resulted in the image’s cool, faintly bluish tints.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 200 ISO; Color Efex Pro 4, using the Cross Balance filter.

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ARCHIVE 269 – SWAN, KEEPING AN EYE ON ME (MONO)

 

 

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Mute Swan, back-lit and keeping a wary eye on me; Herons Green, Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 6 Apr 2015.

The common, resident swan of the British Isles, often tame – and especially so where regularly fed bread and other morsels by indulgent humans!

This is probably an adult male.  Adult on the basis of its white plumage, although its head and neck were stained dirty brown where it had been upending and reaching down into the muddy water to feed on aquatic vegetation.  And a Cob, a male, on the basis of its deep orange bill, and the large black knob on its forehead.

A formidable creature, and certainly not one to annoy.  He was keeping an eye on me, but I was keeping an eye on him too.

Click onto the image to see a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 200 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the High Key 2 preset.

UPDATE: they are not totally mute despite their name, uttering various hisses, snorts and even occasional gull-like cries.  But their large wings make a high, throbbing, singing noise in flight which, to me, is one of the most beautiful and ethereal sounds of this world.

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ARCHIVE 251 – MIST LIFTING, HERONS GREEN

 

 

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Early morning mist lifting at Herons Green Bay, Chew Valley Lake, south of Bristol; 6 Apr 2015.

Driving through the Chew Valley, heading for the Mendip Hills, I came out onto an open stretch of road beside Chew Valley Lake and was suddenly enveloped in thick mist.  But over to my left the sun was starting to rise, the mist was lifting and changing colours in the most visually seductive ways – and I swerved into a layby, jumped out and started taking pictures.

I was there for about an hour, and this is the first of a short series of images from that misty morning.  I love images with little detail, and the telezoom that I’m married to was just right for picking out scenes in that warm softness.

Chew Valley Lake is a large reservoir, the 5th largest artificial area of water in the UK.  It was opened in 1956, to supply Bristol with drinking water.  It has many memories for me because it was here, in 1967, that two school friends first opened my eyes to birds and birdwatching, and so set me on a path and interest that continued through to 2002.  I no longer go birdwatching, but I retain a deep love and feeling for birds, and see them as an essential facet of all land-, water- and skyscapes.

Click onto the image to see a larger version in a separate window – certainly recommended.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 78mm; 200 ISO; Color Efex Pro 4.

UPDATE: ask me the sorts of pictures I enjoy taking and scenes like this would be high on the list.  I get a real buzz from pointing telephoto lenses at scenes like this.

Why do I like this?  Well, first, its a Minimalist scene, there’s really not a lot of hard detail here, not a lot to get a real, visual grasp on, and to me it is the richer for that – the essence of the phrase “less is more”, perhaps.  Its just a duck, swimming in front of some trees which are all but shrouded in some glowing mist.  Then its a natural scene (although the body of water is actually an artificial reservoir) and Nature is always big with me – although, having said that, I do seem to be swinging more towards built environments, city photography, since getting a smaller and handier new camera, the Fujifilm X-T1.  I’ve done a lot of city photography in the past, often in pursuit of abstract studies.

But, anyway, here it is.  A calm scene, something taking us away from “the busy modern lifestyle”.  Was that my mobile phone?  I don’t know, I’ve got it switched off, and the greeting on its answerphone is “Go away!”.

And, lastly, would this image work without the duck?  Well, put your finger over the bird and its wake, and see.  For me it still works, becoming an even more Minimalist study, something on the lines of – although still far from – a Monet maybe?  For you, this may not work, this may be a subtraction too far.  What do you think?
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