The Big Move

After keeping things very quiet until I had a confirmed leave date, I’m finally able to share some very exciting news; at the end of July I’ll be moving to India! Although I’ll be based in New Delhi, I’ll be exploring the whole country and travelling around other parts of Asia to work on some major photographic projects.

Alongside the usual favourites (tigers, elephants, monkeys etc) I’m really looking forward to documenting the incredible range of birdlife and less well known species that you simply couldn’t see in a short trip.

I’ve spent my whole life living around the Peak District and it feels very strange to be leaving my home behind for a while. However I’m really excited for the chance to develop my international portfolio and experience some more of the big wide world!

For anyone who hasn’t had the chance to book a date for their gift voucher yet, I’m extending already purchased vouchers indefinitely. This means they can be used on my return or for any of the prints and gifts in the shop whilst I’m away.

Expect lots of exciting photography very soon!

Back Button Focus

Back Button Focus

If there is one simple change you can make today to improve your wildlife photography; it’s back button focus. Since making this small adjustment, there has been a remarkable improvement in the speed and accuracy of my autofocus and my ‘keeper’ rate has improved dramatically. This simple technique offers far greater control and vastly reduces the amount of time spent changing settings. 

What is back button focus? 

Back button focus is the process of separating auto focus and shutter actuation on to separate buttons. Instead of half pressing the shutter to acquire focus, the autofocus function is re-assigned to a button on the back of the camera (typically labelled AF-On or AEL/AFL). The shutter button then simply takes the photograph.

This may seem over complicated and awkward, after all why change something that works?

Although it may take some getting used to, (you’ll probably forget to press it a few times and wonder why the camera isn’t working!) it’s a major improvement and a very slight change in grip position, as the button lies pretty much where your thumb would rest naturally on the back of the camera.

The advantages of back button focus: 

1 – Recomposing is easy; you don’t need to worry about the available focus points. 

The first advantage is most obvious when dealing with those awkward compositions where your subject doesn’t quite sit on any of your available focus points. 

To get around this without back button focus you would need to focus in one shot, recompose and shoot, simple right? The problem here is that if you fully release the shutter button at any point you will have to either switch to manual focus, activate AF lock (if your camera has it) or move the camera to refocus again the next time you want to take a photograph. So every time you want to refocus you have to move the camera, focus, recompose, shoot, repeating time and time again every time you fully release the shutter and want to take another image. 

With back-button focus, all you have to do is focus using your centre point, which offers the most accurate focus, recompose, and keep shooting until you’re finished. Unless you or your subject significantly moves forward or backwards, you won’t have to re focus again.

2- You’ll never need to change from continuous focus mode:

With back button focus you can remain in continuous focus mode full time, whilst maintaining the benefits of being able to focus and recompose like in One Shot. 

For example, if I was photographing a static bird on a perch, I can focus by pressing AF-On once and recompose the bird off to the side of the frame for a more pleasing composition (as discussed in 1). I can then take as many images as required and the focus would remain the same as long as I don’t press AF-On again. If the bird then decided to suddenly take off, I can hold down the back button and immediately track the action. (Some cameras are even capable of assigning two back buttons, one for single point focus and one for group, very useful for birds in flight!) 

If I had used One Shot and AF lock for the static portraits, I wouldn’t have had enough time to change back to continuous focus and most likely missed the action. 

3 – Less time spent fiddling with dials and settings. 

Without back button focus I have to change my settings much more frequently. Whilst fiddling with dials and autofocus modes, I would be wasting precious time and potentially missing the shot. 

4 – You’ll never need to change to manual focus. 

With the autofocus set to the back button there’s no need to switch the camera/lens to manual. As long as you don’t press AF-On, the camera won’t try to acquire focus, enabling full time manual control with the focus ring and shutter button. 

If you’ve ever been in a situation where there is grass or thick vegetation slightly blocking the subject, you’ll understand the importance of having full time manual control. If you tried using the autofocus the camera would spend so much time hunting, that the opportunity was likely to be gone.

How do I set up back button focus? 

I have detailed the instructions for several major camera brands, instructions for other brands can be found in your manual. However the settings may be placed elsewhere on the menu for older/newer models. 

Canon

  1. Menu
  2. Go to C. Fn6 : Operation
  3. Custom Controls
  4. Change shutter to “metering start”
  5. Set AF-ON to “metering and AF start”

Nikon

  1. Menu
  2. Custom settings (pencil) 
  3. Select Controls
  4. f5 (assign AE-L/AF-L) 
  5. Choose AF-On
  6. custom settings 
  7. Autofocus
  8. A1 (Af-C priority selection) and set it to release
  9. set AF-s priority selection to also release 
  10. A4 – AF activation change to AF-on only 

Sony

  1. Menu 
  2. Custom Settings (gear icon) 
  3. AF w/Shutter = OFF
  4. Menu
  5. Custom Settings
  6. Custom key settings 
  7. AE-L Button = AF ON

Olympus

  1. Press the Menu button and navigate to Gear-A (AF/MF)
  2. Go to AF Mode and select S-AF – Press OK.
  3. Check that Full-time AF is Off.
  4. Go to AEL/AFL, click on S-AF, and select mode3, Click OK, Click Menu (See illustration to find S-AF)
  5. Navigate to Gear-B (Button/Dial/Lever), Press OK.
  6. Click on Button Function.
  7. Click on Fn1 and select AEL/AFL, Click OK, Click Menu, Click Menu

 

Lake Kerkini – Home of the Dalmatian Pelican

Earlier this year I visited Lake Kerkini in Northern Greece to photograph the healthy population of Dalmatian Pelicans found on the lake.

During the 20th century the pelican population suffered a dramatic worldwide decline due to habitat loss, disturbance and poaching. Recent conservation efforts around Lake Kerkini, such as the creation of artificial nesting platforms and the removal of power lines has seen a distinct upturn in the breeding population.The local fisherman on the lake have also been an integral part of this success story, providing plenty of food, safe havens for them and ensuring there was no conflict of interest between the birds and people.

LAKE KERKINI:

Lake Kerkini is one of the most important and easily accessible wetlands in Europe. With over 300 species of birds recorded here Kerkini is considered to be one of the worlds best bird watching destinations. The lake is most famous for it’s internationally important breeding numbers of Dalmatian Pelicans.

Dalmatian Pelicans:

The Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) is the biggest of all the pelican species. Adult birds can have a wingspan of over 11ft making them one of the worlds largest flying birds. At 11–15 kg in weight it’s also the world’s heaviest flying bird, although large swans and male bustards can sometimes exceed the pelican in weight.

Male pelicans are considerably larger than the females, but both exhibit the bright red pouches during the breeding season when their harsh vocalisations become much more obvious. After mating has concluded these distinctive pouches fade to a much more subdued yellow.

In some areas the pelicans were so habituated that they would come within a couple of metres of us, allowing for some wide angle images. This one was taken at 16mm and looks just like they could be posing for the latest album cover!

Detailed close up of the stunning black and white plumage of an adult Dalmatian Pelican. The birds were so habituated in some areas they came close enough to capture wide angle and fine detail images.

Dalmatian Pelican on Lake Kerkini in Northern Greece. Daily feeds by the local fisherman offered some incredible opportunities to get up close and personal with these stunning birds. Here I used my telephoto lens at f/11 to pick out the fine details and ensure everything was tack sharp. I love the simplicity of images like this, focusing on shape, colour and fine detail rather than the wider view.

Dalmatian pelican staring straight down the lens. Despite the lack of sunshine during the week, we were blessed with several very calm days that were perfect for reflections.

Dalmatian Pelican on Lake Kerkini in Northern Greece. These stunning birds have been in serious decline in recent years but thanks to conservation efforts the population has seen a substantial increase. This classic portrait was taken on a very foggy and dull day that was perfect to show off the elegance of these striking birds.

Three in a row. Dalmatian pelicans have a range of bill colours with the reddest bills belonging to the birds in prime breeding condition. Here three birds lined up beautifully showing the difference in colours.

Dalmatian pelican preening on the edge of an artificial island, created specifically to help increase breeding success. Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece.

Dalmatian pelican in aggressive pose after seeing off a competitor. Despite the lack of sunshine during the week, we were blessed with several very calm days that were perfect for reflections.

Dalmatian Pelican in flight over Lake Kerkini in Northern Greece. One of the most impressive aspects of these stunning birds was their gigantic wingspan. Adult pelicans can have a wingspan of over 11ft! This makes them one of the worlds largest flying birds.

Whilst on the hunt for new and interesting local wildlife around Lake Kerkini we discovered a thriving population of Coypu. These large semiaquatic rodents can reach a metre in length and weigh up to 9kg. Originally native to South America, they have since been introduced around the world. The situation of these charismatic animals around the reed beds was perfect for creating perfectly clean out of focus backgrounds and the lack of wind down in the valley meant we could achieve perfect reflections.

COYPU (NUTRIA):

Coypu, otherwise known as Nutria, are large semi aquatic rodents whose webbed feet make them perfectly adapted to a life on the water.  Coypu are highly sociable animals, often living in family units of 10+ individuals. Nutria families live in burrows or nests in dense reedbeds along riverbanks, lakeshores, and wetlands. They are very strong swimmers and can remain submerged for as long as five minutes. A Coypu’s diet mainly consists of aquatic plants and roots and small creatures such as snails or mussels. After grazing on the bank they typically take their meal into the water to wash it before eating.

Whilst on the hunt for new and interesting local wildlife around Lake Kerkini we discovered a thriving population of Coypu. These large semiaquatic rodents can reach a metre in length and weigh up to 9kg. Originally native to South America, they have since been introduced around the world.

Nutria foraging on the banks of a marsh near Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece. A Coypu's diet mainly consists of aquatic plants and roots and small creatures such as snails or mussels. After grazing on the bank they take their meal into the water to wash it before eating.

Coypu swimming through the calm waters of the reedbed near Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece. These web-footed rodents are much more agile in the water than on land and are able to stay submerged for as long as 5 minutes!

Coypu are highly sociable animals, often living in family units of 10+ individuals. This offered some fantastic opportunities to capture group images as they bonded on the old floating logs and rocks next to the reedbed.

_F5A1369.jpg

Nutria standing on a submerged log in front of the reedbed near Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece. Whilst on the hunt for new and interesting local wildlife around Lake Kerkini we discovered a thriving population of Nutria. These large semiaquatic rodents can reach a metre in length and weigh up to 9kg. Originally native to South America, they have since been introduced around the world.

ROSY PELICANS:

The Great White Pelican, otherwise known as the Rosy Pelican is the second largest of all the pelicans. The Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) being the largest with a wing span of over 11ft. This enormous pelican has a striking bluey bill with a central red stripe and red hook at the tip. Beneath the bill is a vibrant yellow pouch capable of holding large volumes of fish. During breeding season they have pinky white crest of long, bushy feathers. 

The breeding range of the Great White Pelican extends from Africa to Eastern Europe, Iraq, India  and Kazakstan. 

Rosy Pelican close up showing feather and bill details. Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece. Alongside the Dalmatian Pelicans we spent some time photographing the small population of Rosy Pelicans. There were far less of these gorgeous pink pelicans, so they did seem to get a bit of a raw deal when squabbles over fish occurred!

Rosy Pelican in Breeding Plumage, Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece.

Great white pelican flying past the snow capped mountains surrounding Lake Kerkini in Northern Greece.

Great White Pelican or Rosy Pelican, Lake Kerkini Greece.

Great white pelican reflected in the calm waters of Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece. Alongside the Dalmatian Pelicans we spent some time photographing the small population of Rosy Pelicans. There were far less of these gorgeous pink pelicans, so they did seem to get a bit of a raw deal when squabbles over fish occurred! Despite the lack of sunshine during the week, we were blessed with several very calm days that were perfect for reflections.

PYGMY CORMORANTS:

The Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus) is the much smaller cousin of the common cormorant. Despite their large breeding range over Eastern Europe and Asia numbers declined so rapidly over the 20th century that it was feared they would become extinct. Successful conservation efforts helped to revive and stabilise their breeding numbers and since the late 1990’s their has been a distinct increase westward of their range.

Pygmy Cormorant resting on an old weathered tree on the shores of Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece. Lake Kerkini is regarded as one of the best birding sites in Europe, boasting over 300 different species.

Pygmy Cormorant displaying on the fishing poles in Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece. Lake Kerkini is regarded as one of the best birding sites in Europe, boasting over 300 different species.

Other wildlife:

_MG_4347

Cormorant in stunning Winter breeding plumage, Lake Kerkini, Northern Greece. Lake Kerkini is regarded as one of the best birding sites in Europe, boasting over 300 different species. 

Cat in the window of an old tumbledown building. Whilst driving around Lake Kerkini one afternoon I couldn't resist stopping to capture this picture perfect scene. During my time in Greece I was surprised by the sheer number of feral cats and dogs. Despite not having owners most of them seemed to be in good health and very friendly, thanks to a government scheme. Although the dogs did keep trying to bite the car tyres as we passed!

Cat in the window of an old tumbledown building. Whilst driving around Lake Kerkini one afternoon I couldn’t resist stopping to capture this picture perfect scene. During my time in Greece I was surprised by the sheer number of feral cats and dogs. Despite not having owners most of them seemed to be in good health and very friendly, thanks to a government scheme. Although the dogs did keep trying to bite the car tyres as we passed!

I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip, sorry for the very image heavy post!

 

BWPA 2017

I’m delighted to be able to announce that my image ‘A Magical Morning’ was awarded 1st place in the ‘Wild Woods’ category of the prestigious British Wildlife Photography Awards. Winning me a place in the book, travelling exhibition and a photography holiday! 

I actually found out about the award in late July when I received a phone call from awards founder Maggie Gowan whilst out at a music event. Being in a loud venue I couldn’t quite tell if I had heard the news correctly and it didn’t really sink in until a week or so later! In November I went down to accept my award at the Mall Galleries in London’s iconic Trafalgar square, before heading off for a week to the Isle of Skye. As I’m writing this just after New Year it’s definitely a while ago now, so please do excuse the very late blog post!

I also would like to congratulate the rest of this years commended and award winning photographs in this fantastic competition. The standard of images is truly incredible and it really motivates me to keep improving and progressing with my own work.

You can see more of this years winners and highly commended entries on the BWPA website, the Guardian and the Telegraph.