STILL LIFE 102 – SWAN 3 (MONO)

 

 


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Mute Swan in low key – the first of these bird still lifes, with context, is here: 1, and there are other images here: 2; 3.

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); 200 ISO; Lightroom; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Full Dynamic Smooth preset; 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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SOMERSET LEVELS 292 – EARLY IN THE DAY, JUST BEFORE MIDWINTER

 

 


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The first flushes of sunrise on 16th Dec 2016 –  just before the shortest day of the year.  I was heading towards the village of Mark, and looking eastwards across Binham Moor.

Composition: a noisy, grainy, blurry image – no more than an impression of what it was like being there.  And what was it like being there?  Well, it was ******* cold and, despite 1/250th and image stabilisation, I was lying across the outside of the car, hoping to high heaven that, shivering as I was, I could still hold the camera steady.  Did I have a tripod with me?  Yes.  Could I be bothered to use it?  Nope – but then that’s always the case!  This image is very much a series of horizontal layers, one on top of the other, the darkness of the ground moving up, in a series of discreet steps, into the first welcome tints of the day.

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

Technique: D800 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 25,600 ISO; 1/250th, wide open at f5.6; Lightroom.
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ARCHIVE 286 – SELF-PORTRAIT WITH ROAD CHIPPINGS AND DEAD LEAVES

 

 


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Self-portrait with road chippings and dead leaves, along Swanshard Lane, north of Polsham, on the Somerset Levels; 24 Jul 2012.

Along Swanshard Lane, approaching Fenny Castle House, there is a large layby regularly used by the local council’s road maintenance department for the storage of bulk quantities of chippings and other road materials.  As I passed by yesterday the sun was slanting over the great mounds of debris, interesting shadows and textures were all around and the whole affair looked good for something wideangle.

Here my shadow falls on a mound of chippings rising up in front of me, some minor heaps produce an interesting line of shadows which my shadow intersects, and there are some richly coloured dead leaves around too.  The slopes of the mound were not vertical, but they appear so in the photo – to me they appear to be rising up almost vertically in front of me and I like this effect.

This is a prime candidate for conversion to mono, but I think the bright colours of the dead leaves add something living and organic.  I tried converting the shot to mono and then restoring the leaves’ colour, but the image looks better in straight colour.

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

Technique: D700 with 16-35 Nikkor lens at 16mm; 320 ISO; manipulated with Capture NX2.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 291 – TADHAM MOOR, LOOKING EAST

 

 


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The day starts: star-rise, Our Star rising, Tadham Moor.

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

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 800 ISO; Lightroom; 27 Jan 2017.
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ARCHIVE 285 – EARLY MORNING AT TEALHAM (MONO)

 

 


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Early morning on the Tealham-Tadham Moors, on the Somerset Levels south of Wedmore; 28 Aug 2013.

Rhyne (rhymes with seen) is the Somerset term for water-filled ditches that help drain the land and often, as here, act as field boundaries.  This rhyne’s surface is covered in floating waterweed and, in the foreground, are the tall, pointed leaves of wild iris, which love these waterside locations.

The two prominent trees are in the fact the ends of two rows of such trees that line the undulating, single track, tarmac road just visible lower right of them.  The two, pale sheets of corrugated iron set up against the rhyne’s bank on the right of the picture are held there by stout wooden stakes, in an attempt to prevent the road collapsing down into the mud and water. 

The point here being that there is no solid rock supporting this landscape.  Below this countryside are over 60 feet of sodden clays and peat – “rocks” easily demolished by your shovel if not by your bare hands – such that everything is soft, yielding and unstable.  Stand beside this road as a tractor goes by and you are suddenly rising and falling as if on some rural trampoline, which can be quite shocking for those unused to it.

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

Technique: D700 with Sigma 12-24 zoom lens at 12mm; 400 ISO; conversion to mono and split toning with Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Pinhole preset.

UPDATE: still a very favourite photo of mine, one that – in my eyes at least – will certainly stand the test of time.  No, it by no means depicts reality, but it is about a small, out of the way area of countryside that has a permanent place deep within me and, visually, it forcefully turns me on.  Technicalities?  Well, this image owes much to Silver Efex Pro 2 processing software, it would probably not have ended up looking like this without SEP2.  Reading about the photographic world, it emerges that SEP2 is very, very widely used by those with a love for black and white imagery.  And the other thing to mention here is my (now ancient) Sigma 12-24 zoom, which has facilitated this angle of view which is far wider than the human eye can achieve.  I call this lens ancient and, in digital terms it is – I first started using it with film cameras, shooting colour transparencies that I presented in slideshows – which maybe dates me a bit!  But since those far off days, Sigma has put this lens through two major updates, which have apparently improved image quality considerably.  The only downside to that is the cost of the latest update, £1600, which is significantly more than the cost of my recently acquired Fujifilm supercamera, the X-T2!  So I think I’ll just be sticking with my ancient 12-24 and, if it doesn’t give me “perfect” image quality, well, that’s just how it is – I’m not really into that degree of perfection, I don’t peer manically at pixels on screen, I’m more interested in the content of images, be it graphic or, sometimes, narrative.

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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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SOMERSET LEVELS 290 – THE SKY WARMS

 

 

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Looking east along Tealham Moor Drove, the faintly seen track at lower left, as sunrise colours start high in the sky above the Somerset Levels.

Technique: it was dark!  The human eye is a wonderful camera, able to see in low light levels, but it was clear that most things here were still heavily engulfed by the gloom.  And when I raised the camera to my eye – WOW! – even allowing the brightening sky to influence the reading, 25,600 ISO still only gave me 1/140th, wide open at f4.8 .  So, working handheld as always, image stabilisation helped, as did the fact that this camera is mirrorless, so that it has no mirror slap – there is more on mirror slap here.  Many photographers prefer not to use their lenses wide open due to reduced sharpness and definition, but I always go for it – if the light conditions demand it  (and also if I’m looking for as narrow as possible a depth of focus).  The bottom line being that its far, far better to be left with an image that is blurred and/or grainy, than to be left with no image at all.  This is a part of the great and ongoing debate about the respective importance of the technical quality of images on the one hand – sharpness, definition, colour rendition, white balance, etc. – and image content and atmosphere on the other.  I’m 101% with the importance of content and atmosphere.  Compositionally, the faint lines of the track and the much brighter, water-filled ditch lead the eye towards that single tall tree – and I’ve used this same composition, in this same place, before.

There are other images from this bitterly cold morning here (with context), here, here, here, here and hereEach will open in a separate window.

Click onto this post’s image to open a larger version in a separate window, and then click onto this larger version once more.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujifilm lens at 305mm (equiv); 25,600 ISO; Lightroom; 27 Jan 2017.
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ARCHIVE 275 – CURIOUS, TOUSLED AND WET (MONO + COLOUR)

 

 

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Cow in the rain, up tight against a gate to see what I’m about; Tadham Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 1 Nov 2013.

The roads here are more or less single track so that, if you want to leave your car, you have to find somewhere to get it off the road – which ought to be easy, except that the roads are mostly bordered by very soft and slippery, grassy verges that descend (cascade, might describe it better) without warning into the rhynes – the glutinous, water-filled ditches that do duty as fences in this decidedly wet part of Somerset.

I’d pulled off the road onto the muddy grass leading in towards a field’s gate, when two farmers came running down the road with some cows – one leading the animals and the other bringing up the rear – which meant that I was not going anywhere until they’d passed.

Seeing me stopped, the cows in the field rushed towards me, stampeding forwards and setting up a tremendous bellowing as they caught sight of their cousins running in the road.  In an instant the whole herd was pressed tight up against the field’s gate and, as the rain poured down, I protected the big telezoom’s front lens with its vast hood and started firing at them.

I like this shot because of its semi-abstract nature, caused by the bars of the gate cutting across the animal’s face.  And that face is demonstrably wet and tousled, soaked by the downpour.

Click onto this image to open a larger version in a separate window – clicking onto the larger image that opens will enlarge it further.

Technique: D800 with 80-400 Nikkor lens at 400mm; 6400 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2’s N 1.5 Push Process preset, with restoration of original colour.

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