SOMERSET LEVELS 356 – IT FELT GOOD TO BE ALIVE

 

 

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I’d driven down to the end of the little, single track road – Allermoor Drove – that runs out westwards onto Aller Moor, on the Somerset Levels.  It wasn’t actually the end of the drove as that continues onwards as a rough track, but my days of driving saloon cars off-road are long past and, indeed, far away, on another continent.  But, anyway, I’d turned the car around ready for departure, and was downing hot, sweet coffee while demolishing a thick, brown, bitter marmalade sandwich.

And beside me was a water-filled ditch – a rhyne – dense with summer’s lush growth.  And from that ditch was coming the loud, reeling song of a Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus if you want to know.  That small bird had flown – probably mainly by night – all the way from sub-Saharan Africa to breed in this little, wet ditch in Somerset.  Probably, it had bred in this ditch last year too and, if it survives, it will be here next year to do so again.  The Germans have a word for this, it is ortstreuer, this almost fanatical attachment to one small breeding site on a vast continent.

And as I stood there listening to that loud, reeling song, the bird shot up into the air several times in his fierce, hormone-driven, territorial frenzy, before dropping back once more into the safety of the ditch’s lush green depths.  And of course I know Sedge Warblers from before – those I encountered seeing out the northern winters in Africa’s warm, dense, insect ridden lushnesses – and those long before that, 50 years and more ago now, when I first started looking at birds, here in Somerset.

And as I stood there listening to that loud and lusty song, it felt good to be there with that bird, it felt good in fact to be alive, and I found myself talking to him – “Yes, come on, do it, go for it, go for it!!!”.  And that felt good too.  But then I often do such things when anything like in contact with the natural world.

Beside the ditch there was a field gate, with a long strand of orange bailer twine hanging from it, being blown about by the breeze, and a carpet of white wildflowers stretching out beyond.   And as I photographed that gate, the first, uncertain splashes of rain were cool on the back of my neck, and suddenly they were a downpour.

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I ran for the car, hunched over the camera, trying to shield it from the streaming water.  And so into the car, slamming the door, but the ******* electric window was down and I couldn’t find the car keys to switch the ignition on to raise it again – a plague on electric windows!!!  The rain poured into the car.  I cursed savagely and pulled my backpack over the two cameras on the seat beside me, trying to keep them dry.  The keys appeared, the window closed, I cursed some more, and the downpour drummed on the car.  And as I looked out through the streaming windscreen, the view before me – the trees, the sky, the little road – came alive and dissolved into a living, moving mass, and picking up the X-T2, I photographed that too.
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And, amongst all of that Nature, raw and real, it continued to feel good to be alive.
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Click onto each image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it further.

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens; 100 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Aller Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 14 June 2019.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 355 – TREE WITH BROKEN BRANCH (MONO)

 

 


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Casualty of recent unseasonally windy weather, on a decidedly damp and dull morning in what we Brits have known, in the past at least, as “Flaming June”.

Technique: both of the cameras that I now take to the Somerset Levels – the Nikon Z 6 and the Fujifilm X-T2 – have the facility to process their Raw files internally to produce jpegs that can be downloaded alongside the original Raw files to (in my case) Lightroom Classic.  The processing possibilities are quite extensive – including adding “looks”, cropping, changing exposure, white balance, etc etc – and I find this a great aid to creativity.  I find the Fujifilm X-T2 a little better at this sort of processing than the Nikon Z 6, but even in the latter it is still a very useful process / add-on.

Thus a typical day is an early morning visit to the Levels, followed by an afternoon slumped in an armchair feeling totally shattered, sipping the golden Belgian beer Duvel that is my favourite tipple, and – for greater or shorter periods – looking through the day’s images on the two cameras, trying out various edits, and saving as jpegs those that look promising.  Then, the same day if I’m not too far Duvelled – or the next day if I am –  I can download BOTH the original Raw files and my manufactured jpegs into Lightroom >>> so that I can look at both my original photos AND the prompts towards potentially useful processing methods.  I can only say that I find this a definite aid to creativity and that anyone whose camera allows in-camera Raw processing should explore its possibilities (the Duvel is of course optional, but wholeheartedly recommended all the same!).

Another point here is that mirrorless cameras like the Nikon and the Fuji allow review of images via the viewfinder as well as the rear screen, and that the viewfinder often gives a better appreciation, especially in bright ambient light.

And yet another point is that Lightroom – dear Lightroom – removes things like Fujifilm’s excellent film simulations as it reads in Raw files, whereas it does not do this with other file types eg jpegs >>> so that all in-camera processing is preserved.

I couldn’t decide which of these images to present and hence both are here – I think I prefer the darker, more foreboding, more apocalyptic,  version above.
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Click onto each image to open another version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it.

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 15mm (equiv); in-camera processing of the Raw file, using the Acros + red filter film simulation; no further processing; Great Withy Drove, Common Moor, north of Glastonbury, on the Somerset Levels; 14 June 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 349 – ANIMAL

 

 

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Click onto the image above to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – strongly recommendedThe lower image can be enlarged in this way too.

OK, let’s start at the bottom line: I love cats.  A cat named George, aged two, was present when I was born.  My mother told me that he used to get up on his hind legs and peer in at me in my pram – probably wondering if he was allowed to eat me I expect!  And I grew up alongside him and, as an only child, he was effectively my brother.  Quite simply, he was always there, he was always around, and he died when I was 13.  I have never owned a cat but, equally, I have never forgotten George and, indeed, over 50 years later he is still frequently – and warmly – in my thoughts.  And whenever I encounter cats these days, I look on them with much affection.

And my feline odyssey goes a little further than that because, taking clients on safari in Kenya, I came into close contact with our moggies’ much larger cousins – Lion, Leopard and Cheetah.  Lions I could take or leave really, but I spent ages almost drowning in the deep, expressionless, amber eyes of Leopard and Cheetah.  And then there were smaller cats too – Serval and (most wonderfully) Caracal.

So what on earth has all this got to do with the Somerset Levels?  Well, recently, I was exploring on the southeastern edges of Queen’s Sedge Moor, when I hauled up at Redlake Farm – and promptly had two very pleasant experiences.  I’ll talk about the first of those experiences another time but, as I walked along the farm’s frontage there was a closed gate with six cats basking beneath it on the morning sun’s warm rays.  There is a picture – not a very good picture – of them below, but it gives you an idea of the scene.
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And, standing very still, I looked at these cats, they looked back at me, and – very softly – I started talking to them.  I certainly didn’t want to frighten them by getting too close and, anyway, looking at them, it was immediately apparent that these were not tame house cats, but rather working cats in a way, who earn their keep on the farm as fierce ratters and mousers.  Stroking one of these, even if I could get near enough, might not be a wholly joyous experience.

And so the camera went into APS-C mode, lengthening the reach of my telephoto and, from a distance, I photographed them.  And as I looked through the camera into those impassive and predatory faces, I was reminded of those much larger cats in Kenya long ago, and the title of this post came surely to mind.

Technique: upper image – Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens used in DX (= APS-C) format to give 450mm; 1000 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Neutral V2 picture control.  Lower image: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 36mm (equiv); Lightroom, using the Provia/Standard film simulation; 400 ISO.  Redlake Farm, Queen’s Sedge Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 24 May 2019.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 347 – LANDSCAPE 2 (MONO)

 

 


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The rising sun, at Rose Farm.

There is an earlier Landscape image here: 1 .

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

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 36mm (equiv); 400 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation;  Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the High Contrast Green Filter preset; at Rose Farm, on the Somerset Levels south of Tarnock; 3 May 2019.
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TALKING IMAGES 49 – MORE ON THE NIKON Z 6, THE FUJIFILM X-T2, AND WAYS OF WORKING

 

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT THE NIKON Z 6

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What needs to be said here is quite brief.  This is an extremely pleasant and capable camera to use, and it looks to be a highly creative tool.  It seems very likely that this is going to be my main camera – lol! my primary weapon! – for quite a long time.  I’m posting the above image again, because I still can’t quite get over just how small and compact this full frame camera is – on the left is the much larger Nikon D800; but the Z 6 in the centre doesn’t look that much larger than the APS-C format Fujifilm X-T2 (now superseded by the X-T3) on the right.  In terms of bare numbers (and in both cases including the weight of battery and memory card), the Z 6 weighs 657gm, as against the X-T2 at 507gm – I find this difference both negligible and really quite astounding.

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The large electronic viewfinder (EVF) is so good that, most of the time, I forget its electronic, its just like looking through an optical viewfinder.  One of my aims is to find out how good the Z 6 is at photographing birds in flight, and last week on the Somerset Levels I had my first opportunity.  The wings of Mute Swans make an entirely beautiful singing noise in flight, and I was suddenly aware of this noise behind me.  The Z 6 was set to continuous autofocus (more on that below) and, instantaneously,  I just turned on my heel, jammed my thumb onto the large AF-ON button and managed to get three shots of the birds before they were out of range.  The first two shots were out of focus as I struggled the get the camera onto the fast moving shapes, but the third exposure caught them – here it is:
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This all happened so quickly that I had no time to change any of the camera settings – hence my telephoto was on on 220mm; 800 ISO; 1/1250sec f7.1; the size of the full frame image is 6048×4024 pixels, and this is a crop to 1332×1323 pixels.  As I fired, there was a very brief (a split second) “hiccup” in the EVF after the first two frames, i.e. prior to this frame.  I’m going to try more such tests – hopefully with more time to prepare than for this one!  I have a feeling that the Z 6’s autofocus is not going to be quite as good as that on the D800, but time will tell.

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The other thing about the Z 6 that is really getting to me is the ease of switching between full frame and APS-C format, which increases the focal length of lenses by 1.5, so that my 300mm becomes 450mm.  By configuring the camera to how I want it to work, I simply have to press the Movie-record Button and turn the Main Command Dial a single click: this takes about a second, and being able to extend the reach of a telephoto almost instantaneously like this is extremely useful.

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WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD ABOUT THE NIKON Z 6, WITH REMARKS ON THE X-T2 TOO

Having said, above, that the Z 6’s EVF is so lifelike that it mostly seems like an optical viewfinder, this can’t be said of the EVF in the Fujifilm X-T2, which sometimes shows colours that are not accurate.  However, my experience is that the colours of the resulting images are always accurate – and often gorgeous!  The X-T2’s film simulations are more subtle and gorgeous that the Z 6’s picture controls, but the latter are still very usable, and can be edited to suit personal tastes if necessary.

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BUT the virtual level in the Z 6 is to me far more poorly designed and difficult than the very simple and eminently usable one on the X-T2 – I really don’t know what Nikon were thinking of when they designed theirs’!  And FURTHERMORE, the X-T2 has its virtual level and live histogram viewable simultaneously, whereas those on the Z 6 cannot be viewed on the same screen – the X-T2 is clearly superior in these (albeit fairly limited) respects.

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WAYS OF WORKING >>> CAVEATE … DISCLAIMER … A POLITICALLY CORRECT STATEMENT …

If eight years of blogging have taught me anything at all, its that we are all individuals, all different in our likes and dislikes – with this applying to just about any aspect of life that you care to mention.  With this in mind, its very clear that the two ways of working I’m about to describe many not be right for you, for any number of reasons.  However, they may strike a chord for someone, and they certainly are useful for me, so I’m going to describe them.

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WAYS OF WORKING 1

In the (good old?) days of film, I whipped lenses on and off my SLRs like there was no tomorrow, often changing the lens for each shot.  There were no worries then about getting dirt in the sensor >>> because the FILM was the sensor and you changed the sensor after every 36 pictures.  But now I change the lenses in my digital cameras far less.  This is partly because of the dirty sensor issue, but also because I take minimal kit with me when going out photographing, often taking just a camera and one (zoom) lens.  This makes for less weight to cart around – and I’m fully at one with the possibility of not being able to take certain types of shot because I don’t have the right type of lens with me.  I am certainly NOT someone who carries all my gear about with me, so as not to miss any shots at all.  In my philosophy, there will always be other chances another time.

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However, having said all that, for my last two visits to the Somerset Levels (which are all via my thoroughly disreputable car), I have taken two cameras and two lenses and this has worked extremely well.  The equipment in question is the Nikon Z 6 with the lens that I’m married to, the 70-300 Nikkor telezoom.  And the Fujifilm X-T2, with the Fujinon 10-24 wide angle zoom.

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Four points to make about this way or working.  First, no lens changes are involved.  Second, bulk is cut down because the Z 6 is so compact, really not that much bulkier than the X-T2 (see above).

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Third, this gear gives me two very different ways of looking at everywhere I visit, telephoto and wide angle.  So when I haul up somewhere, I walk about with first one camera and then the other, and very different photographic potentials are revealed.

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And lastly, carrying this gear gives me a very wide range of focal lengths to play with.  Since the Fujinon lens is APS-C format, its focal lengths must be multiplied by 1.5 to give their full-frame equivalents.  So that 10-24 becomes 15-36.  15mm is really quite a serious wide angle, whereas 36mm is not too far from the angle of view seen by the human eye.

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The 70-300 is a useful full-frame telezoom, and I “see” many images at 300mm, which is x6 magnification.  But because the Z 6 can be used in APS-C mode, the 300mm fetch of this telephoto can also be magnified by 1.5 to become 450mm = x9 magnification, and so to a 70-450 lens, which is a very significant extension.

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And so the availability of a very wide ranging and very flexible 15-36mm and 70-450mm lens choice.

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WAYS OF WORKING 2

Three things about focusing the Z 6.  First, just as I do with Nikon’s D700 and D800 DSLRs, I have taken all focusing functions away from the shutter button, preferring instead to use the large AF-ON button on the back of the Z 6 >>> this is back button focusing.  So now the shutter button only does exactly what it says on the tin:  when I want to take a picture I press it.

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Second, the Z 6 has two basic types of autofocus.  AF-S (Single AF) is for stationary subjects: use this to focus on a subject, and the autofocus point very helpfully turns from red to green when focus is achieved.  So, when faced with a stationary subject, I can use the AF-ON button to focus on whatever part of the image I want to be in focus >>> and then leave the AF-ON button alone, and concentrate on framing/composing the picture – and perhaps measuring the exposure from a different part of the picture.  AF-C (Continuous AF) is for moving subjects, and the camera focuses continuously as long as the AF-ON button is pressed – but does NOT change colour when focus is achieved.

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But third, HOWEVER, although the Z 6 can be toggled between AF-S and AF-C quite quickly, in the flurry of a really urgent moment  – like trying frantically to photograph the two flying swans (above) – there really isn’t the time >>> and so I do the following.  As with the D700 and D800, the Z 6 is kept in AF-C Continuous autofocus at all times.  For stationary subjects, I just give the AF-ON button a quick tap to achieve focus, and then leave the AF-ON button alone.  But if AF-C is ever needed, well its already set, and so holding down the AF-ON button gives continuous AF in an instant.

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I suspect that many photographers use the shutter button to initiate autofocus, and this is obviously a matter of personal choice.  However, personally, I can’t recommend back button focusing too highly.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 338 – OLD BUILDING

 

 


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The rich hues of weathered corrugated iron.  And a feeling that this old structure is either sliding gently forwards to meet us, or subsiding down – again with gentle dignity – back into the all-enveloping, organic fecundity of the world into which it was born.

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

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 15mm (equiv); 400 ISO; Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Huntspill Moor, just east of East Huntspill, on the Somerset Levels; 3 May 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 337 – MORNING SKY, LOOKING NORTH (MONO)

 

 

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This image is best viewed enlarged: click onto it to open a larger version in a separate window and click onto that image to further enlarge it – recommended.

Looking up, looking to the north, early on a spring morning.

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 15mm (equiv); 800 ISO; Lightroom, using the Provia/Standard film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Landscape preset and adding a Split Tone; Bourtonbridge Drove, Queen’s Sedge Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 26 April 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 335 – LOOKING UP, BESIDE PILLMOOR DROVE

 

 


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Walking along Pillmoor Drove, in total peace and solitude.  Taking my time in this lovely quiet spot, looking at anything and everything through the eyes of two cameras.

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

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 15mm (equiv); Lightroom, using the Astia/Soft film simulation; Pillmoor Drove, on the Somerset Levels south of Wells; 26 Apr 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 334 – PILLMOOR DROVE, LOOKING SOUTH (MONO)

 

 


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This landscape is best viewed enlarged: click onto it to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – recommended.

Looking south along the single track road known as Pillmoor Drove, early on a spring morning.  This area is right on the local edge of the Levels.  Higher ground rises up towards Coxley and Wells to the right of the road, and a spur from this higher ground crosses the road, to form Harter’s Hill, which can be seen –  to the left of the tree – rising above the dead flat ground of Pill Moor, which is a part of the Levels.

Harter’s Hill, and the ground rising up to the right, stood up as islands when, not very long ago, the flats of the Levels were covered in lakes and marshes.

Technique: X-T2 with 10-24 Fujinon lens at 15mm (equiv); Lightroom, using the Velvia/Vivid film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Strong Infrared Low Contrast preset and adding a medium coffee tone; Pill Moor, on the Somerset Levels south of Wells; 26 Apr 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 325 – LONG MOOR DROVE, LOOKING WEST (MONO)

 

 


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A dull, dark morning, and Long Moor Drove makes off westwards across Liberty Moor.

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

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 83mm (equiv); 800 ISO; Lightroom, using the Provia/Standard film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Strong Infrared Low Contrast preset and adding a split tone; Liberty Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 22 Mar 2019.
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