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 229 – TUFTED DUCK

 

 

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Male Tufted Duck on the edge of a reedbed at Chew Valley Lake, south of Bristol; 18 Mar 2013.

This species is a common waterbird in the UK.  Rather than moving in close for a portrait – which I was completely unable to do – this picture shows the bird in a typical habitat.

Many male ducks (drakes) have beautifully coloured plumage, while the far duller plumage of the females (ducks) reflects their need to remain concealed on the nest while incubating their eggs.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 300mm; 200 ISO.

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BIRDS 74 – MALLARDS (MONO)

 

 

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Mallard ducks on the edge of Chew Valley Lake, Somerset; 6 Apr 2015.

A pair of these common and often very tame ducks, at Herons Green. 

On the left, the male stands immobile on one leg.   On the right, his mate’s busy preening sends great numbers of ripples out into the shallows.

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

There is another picture in the same style, in this case of a swan preening, here.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 200mm; 200 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Low Key 2 preset.
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CHEW LAKE 17 – MIST LIFTING, HERONS GREEN 5

 

 

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A pair of Tufted Ducks in Herons Green Bay, as the mist lifts; 6 Apr 2015.

The male (drake) Tufted Duck is on the left; his little tuft or crest can just be seen sticking out from the back of his head if you click onto this image to enlarge it.

I rarely use software presets with images if the presets take everything out of my control and just produce “a look”.  But I like the look of this “look”, if I can put it like that 🙂 , and so here it is.

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

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 300mm; 200 ISO; +0.7 stops overexposure at capture; Color Efex Pro 4‘s Bleach Bypass preset.
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CHEW LAKE 12 – MIST LIFTING, HERONS GREEN 4 (MONO + COLOUR)

 

 

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Ducks, Mallards I think, moving off towards the sunrise and mist, at Herons Green; 6 Apr 2015.

This picture would work in its true orientation but, to me, presenting it off the horizontal adds to it.  It is starting to cross the line towards an assemblage of graphic elements, rather than being a depiction of reality.  So that, instead of three ducks swimming away, it is now three rounded silhouettes positioned more or less on the periphery of the area stretching down from them to the lower right corner of the frame, which has its golden colouration thinly streaked with black.  Whereas, up and to the left of these three silhouettes, this streaking very quickly fades away. 

Its really not like me to ask such a thing, but are these three beings heading away from troubled waters … into a calmer place with more …  Hope And Light … ? … or was it simply that they’d realised they’d ravaged and swallowed the last morsels of my last sandwich ….. ? ….

And in the same way, rather than using colour “straight out of the camera”, I have taken this image into black and white via Silver Efex Pro 2, and then restored its colour.  As often happens, the colour restoration has not faithfully reproduced reality so, in this way too, the image is moving away from reality.

Somewhere recently I read of a photographer saying “I’m not interested in reproducing reality” – a sentiment that would of course make the hackles of our Photorealist Brothers and Sisters rise into overdrive.  But to me, as always, there is room for all approaches, from pure fantasy right through to the starkest realism.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 300mm; 200 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Cool Tones 1 preset and restoring colour.
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PEOPLE 205 – FISHERMAN (MONO)

 

 

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Fisherman in early morning mist, Herons Green, Chew Valley Lake, near Bristol; 6 Apr 2015.

The morning was very misty but, in pursuit of Minimalism, I’ve added a pale vignette to further reduce detail.

And this all enfolding mistiness also serves to enhance the impression of a lone individual pursuing his passion early on a calm morning, surrounded by the gentle sounds of water, birds, and the lightest of breezes.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 300mm; 200 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Classic Portrait preset.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 214 – MALLARD ON THE RHYNE BESIDE JACK’S DROVE (MONO)

 

 

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Mallard on the rhyne beside Jack’s Drove, on Tadham Moor; 31 Mar 2015.

Springtime, and a pair of Mallards swim up the water-filled ditch or rhyne (rhymes with “seen”)  beside the little road known as Jack’s Drove.  These ducks will breed on this backwater, the more brightly patterned male (on the left) more prominent on his territory while the darker, drabber and more camouflaged female sits undetected on their nest, somewhere in the dense waterside vegetation.

In contrast to these two quietly swimming beings, I see the bare tree on the right as a mass of writhing snakes or sinuous fingers, reaching up, furiously grasping, skywards.  And in fact on this extremely windy day, while the ducks were relatively sheltered on their little waterway, the tree was twisting and writhing as it took the full force of a westerly howling in from the Bristol Channel.

Click onto this image to see a larger and far more detailed image that opens in a separate window.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 300mm; 400 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Antique Portrait preset.
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ARCHIVE 118 – SUSPICION (MONO)

 

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A Cape Teal regarding me with deep suspicion as I crawl towards it, inching forward with a long telephoto, at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire; 11 Aug 2010.

Because its in shadow, I’ve slightly brightened the white in its eye,  and I love the way this bird’s whole, slightly severe mien exudes suspicion and doubt.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 300mm; 400 ISO; converted to mono with Capture NX2.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 134 – GLASTONBURY TOR

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Sunrise over Glastonbury Tor; 23 Nov 2012.

As I’ve most probably made clear by now, the Somerset Levels are just that – level.  The areas that I frequent have hills on the horizon –  the Mendips to the north, the Poldens to the south – but essentially they are flatlands.  And usually damp or downright wet flatlands at that.

But, that said, there are isolated small hills in this area which were islands when these flats were marshlands and open water.  And at the eastern end of the Levels that I visit most frequently, there is one hill that is truly iconic, Glastonbury Tor.

Why iconic?  Well, it is a real landmark, visible from far around, and the ruined church tower on its summit, seen here, makes it instantly recognisable, even from far away.   And it has a vast and intriguing history, certainly going far back into the Anglo-Saxon era.  At the time that King Henry VIII destroyed the Catholic monasteries and founded the Church of England, the monastery at Glastonbury was second in terms of power and prestige only to the church’s spiritual centre, Canterbury.

And, in addition to all of this solid history, Glastonbury has a vast swathe of associated myths and legends – as the last resting place of the little known King Arthur, for example.  And then the supposed associations with Joseph of Aramathea and the Holy Grail.  And there is of course its current status as a centre for spirituality and New Age beliefs and, as the site (not far from the town) of Britain’s most famous music festival.

I feel truly grateful to live not distant from this enigmatic and fascinating place.

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