Tuesday, 14 February 2023

Spring has arrived

 This week I had such a lovely excursion  photographing spring flowers. We visited the very pretty Richardson Dees park, Wallsend,  a park fairly local to us in North Tyneside,  on a magical sunshiney morning .

The sun was just starting to cast its rays over the park, which was slightly hazy, causing some gorgeous light beams cascading through the trees, lighting up the jewel like flowers. We couldn't have chosen a better morning, with barely a hint of a breeze, and relatively warm for February.

I quickly found my favourite spot full of purple Crocuses, Snowdrops and Winter aconites, all in bloom, although none of the Crocus flowers were open.

 The flowers were mostly in shade when I arrived which is actually a lot better for photographing shiny flowers such as Crocuses, the harsher light of bright sunshine can be a bit tricky for flower photography, often causing severe contrast between light and dark. But the sun soon rose and lit the dazzling scene up. So I was having to move around  and keep in the shade to make the photos work the way that I wanted, luckily there are a few trees that helped. I'm hoping to return with a reflector next time to diffuse sunshine, with a stand to hold it, maybe a bit later in the day next time too so I can capture the Crocuses actually fully open ( I'm assuming they close when its dark and open in good light/warmth). By the time I left, the Crocuses were starting to respond to the daylight radiance and expose their full, exquisite colours, I did get a few shots of some in their full glory, but not many, so will plan to return within the week if I can.

I took along 4 lenses but ended up only using one, my 100-400, because it allowed me to photograph the flowers from a few ft away, whilst lying on a mat, which meant I wasn't crushing lots of flowers. You can see from an image further up how closely planted the flowers are, it was difficult to get close to the Winter aconites, but I will be trying to find a better spot to photograph them next time, when hopefully the flowers will be open.

I photographed pretty much everything at F6.3 to F8, yet still got a lovely bokeh due to the longer lens and positioning, composing the scenes to include blurred foreground and background. Whilst I had my mini tripod, I ended up just lying on the ground looking through the viewfinder - something I'm regretting now as my neck and shoulder muscles are crying out for some deep heat and hot baths. So tripod it will be next time. Its funny just how much I forgot after not doing this for a few months.

It was lovely to chat to a few people and also finally meet an online photographer friend after chatting via social media for many years. I was amused to discover that he thought I had fallen from my scooter, until he spotted the camera, I really must make a sign for my scooter so people don't panic. Even one of the gardeners was super friendly and rightly proud of the garden, hoping I would share the resulting images.

The image below is my favourite from this session, you can see why I want to return to capture more of the blooms fully open. Believe it or not, all I have done to this image is increase shadows and reduce highlights. That's all for today, lots more images below. 

Friday, 3 February 2023

2023 Off to a good start

 Well its only February and 2023 has certainly got off to a great start photography wise for me. 

Michael upgraded his equipment last year and kindly gave me his Z6 which has the fantastic focus shift feature, allowing focus stacking. He had let me use it frequently over the last couple of years, but this last month I have really concentrated on focus stacking in my mini home studio ( dining room/table). I bought a couple of insects to practice with, used some flowers and other objects too. I was directed to a fantastic macro photographer youtube channel, full of excellent videos giving information on pretty much everything you could ever need to know to get started in macro focus stacking. Namely Allan Walls photography. I ended up watching the videos most days this last few weeks and joining the new livestreams. Despite having done macro and close up photography for 17-18 years, I have learned loads through this channel and put a lot of it into practice already. 

My aims in improving with focus stacking are to use it creatively, like in the Astrantia image above, combining it with creative effects in camera, and using creative lenses. Secondly is to get more into extreme macro - such as  x2 -x 5 life size and see how I get on with that. 

Now I was really over the moon and grateful to have the opportunity to use the Z6 for focus stacking. However, I had some great news this month in winning both 1st and 2nd place in the Camera Jabber photographer of the year competition and this has allowed me to add in some extra gear ( I will also sell some as the prize - £1500 voucher to spend with MPB -  didnt have the main piece of equipment I wanted) So I treat myself to an automated focus rail - the WeMacro rail, after watching video reviews on it. This allows me to use my Sony camera and all its lenses, meaning I can get more creative. I have also got a Canon MPE 65 macro lens coming as part of my prize - this allows up to 5x life size. So I will be able to really  focus on the macro side of things this year. Im feeling super lucky and grateful in winning this competition. 

I ordered some ethically sourced taxidermy specimens to photograph and Im slowly learning how to relax them, position them and photograph them. Ive ruined most of them already, breaking feet or antennae off, but its all part of learning I guess. Above is a Giraffe beetle, quite fascinating - as so many of these insects are. Its a whole new world photographing insects.

Ive had to learn new lighting techniques to help avoid glare and hotspots on shiny subjects such as beetles and small products such a jewellery, so its a great learning experience. I've been using extra scrims and flagging more, aswell as reflecting light a lot - all techniques I use for still life - but in slightly different ways. Its not coming easy with my brain fog, but I leave everything set up constantly and often enlist Michaels brainpower when I get stuck or forget things/ cant work something out. Even photographing something that might appear simple like these beautiful earrings given to me by my daughter, has been helped by employing my new knowledge and growing macro skills. 

Ive had more exciting news this month too, I have 3 images shortlisted in the SWPP Photographer of the year awards - 2 in the macro category and one in In camera artistry. The results are out in March.

Also, I was thrilled to have an image Highly commended in the Beauty of plants category and another in the Abstract category of International garden photographer of the year. So thats a total of 6 images placed in al the categories for 2022. Its worth taking a look at their website as the winning entries are quite wonderful. My favourites are the winning portfolio by Barry WEbb of Slime moulds - something I am keen to try myself once I improve with closer focus stacking. 

Yet another competition result was with the WPE - I had completely forgotten that I had entered 3 images and was browsing the winning images when I discovered I had won first place and Gold medal in flowers and two silver medals in macro. So its been a bit of a crazy month competition wise, funnily enough I had been considering pulling back from competitions and entering less, now Im not sure. Ive stopped entering a couple, but will have a think on whether I really want to enter so many. I do enjoy entering some and it pushes me to improve. So I will likely still enter my favourite subjects of macro/close up and flowers. I have entered a bit of a fun image into Allan Walls photography's macro mineral competition and funnily enough got it highly commended with the SWPP - it wasnt a serious entry but more fun. See below.

This last week I treat myself to some of my favourite flowers - Anemones - Blue mistral and Nero, and Ive been learning how to use the WeMacro rail whilst photographing these. I have some pastel Anemones coming next week - something Ive not been able to get hold of for many years. One good thing is that it doesnt use much energy as everything sits on a tripod, so easier to capture images in a way. Ive loved getting images like the one below with the centre in focus and still lots of nicely blurred out of focus bokeh. 

So anyone following my photography will be seeing lots of beetle and flower photography popping up and hopefully will see some improvements in my macro work. 
I also have two lensbaby lenses coming as part of my prize from Camera jabber and MPB which I am excited to use in focus stacking too. Lots to keep me occupied with macro at home whilst Im not managing much physically, although I really am hoping to get out to photograph Snowdrops, Crocuses and other spring flowers asap.

What a month!

It's been an interesting month with some rather nice goings on. If you read my previous blog you will recall my mojo bouncing back and I...