Grizzlies

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In Summer 2010, we spent three weeks in British Columbia, Canada. The standout highlight of the trip was the three days we spent at Knight Inlet Lodge in Glendale Cove.

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The floating lodge is deep within Knight Inlet, one of the many huge inlets that serrate the coast of this beautiful province. It can only be reached by float plane or boat.

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Like most visitors to the Lodge, we travelled by float plane from Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Living just outside London, England, we don’t get to travel this way very often so our stay was off to an exciting start before we’d even arrived!

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The views were superb despite the weather; it rains a lot here.

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On arrival, after a short introduction to the guides and resident dogs, we were soon in a boat out in the Cove scouring the banks for signs of bears. Although we were too early for the salmon run when bears gather in numbers to fish and can be watched from hides, there was a good chance of finding some foraging on the shoreline.

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We saw some mergansers, a kingfisher, several curious seals and a loon before a call came over the radio to return to base immediately; bears had been spotted near the lodge!

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I wasn’t prepared for how breathtaking it was to see these wonderful creatures in the wild.

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We watched this female, ‘christened’ Bella by the guides, and her three cubs as they foraged along the shoreline. Although we were separated by several feet of water, I felt very aware of my proximity to this powerful mother, who would not hesitate to defend her cubs.

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We would be lucky enough to watch Bella and her cubs several more times during our stay as well as two other grizzly families. Wildlife abounds in Glendale Cove; we also saw a black bear and some black-tailed deer.

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There were many bald eagles and herons as well as numerous smaller species of bird, including swallows who nested in the eaves of the lodge.

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Not to be outdone, some smaller mammals shared the limelight. We saw mink on the shore and the lodge was frequently visited by a cheeky band of river otters.

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For a change of pace, we could bear-watch from kayaks.

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Or go on a guided forest hike. Here, my town-bred daughter can’t quite believe I am letting her stir her hot chocolate with a twig!

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The evenings were spent socialising in the bar or enjoying entertaining and interesting talks by the friendly and knowledgeable guides. We had read on Tripadvisor that the food was great but it was even better than we expected.

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Knight Inlet Lodge is a founding member of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of British Columbia (CBVA). The CBVA campaigns to ban the currently legal trophy hunting of grizzly bears in British Columbia. Watching these magnificent creatures in the wild, I could not imagine ever being able to shoot one with anything other than a camera.

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It was a privilege seeing these animals in their natural habitat. To be able to share an experience like this with my children, and to hear them talk about it still, is even better.

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Lightbox fun

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Today the weather is truly dreadful. Cold, relentless rain and high winds. While, for photographers, there is no such thing as bad weather, some delicate souls (me!) might be tempted to stay firmly indoors. But that doesn’t mean the photography has to stop. The top image was taken in my kitchen using a lightbox. My A4 lightbox set me back £50 but has been worth every penny. It works best for semi-transparent subjects where the backlighting of the lightbox reveals internal details that might otherwise go unnoticed.

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Some tips:
– lightboxes can take a while to warm up and reach maximum brightness. You can use that time to make your arrangement.
– the bright light may fool the camera into underexposing so dial in some exposure compensation.
– if your subject is wet, use a sheet of clear acetate to protect the lightbox. This also makes it easier for you to move the arrangement round to find the best composition.
– for an arrangement like the one at the top here, try to select as small an aperture as you can to get maximum sharpness from corner to corner. Using a tripod will help. As will making sure your lens is parallel to the arrangement.
– don’t be afraid to experiment with your processing. Inverting the image can produce some weird and eye-catching results. In the shots below, a physalis fruit became an alien pod and a sea thistle exploded!

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Romantic runaways

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Last year I published a series of articles in some local magazines about the Wey Navigation, a historic waterway that runs for 20 miles from the Thames at Weybridge to Godalming, in Surrey, England. I thought I might occasionally feature excerpts from the series in this blog. Today’s excerpt is about one of the many interesting historical landmarks that can be seen from the towpath. This small brick tower can be found on the stretch between Pyrford Lock and Walsham Gates near the village of Ripley. It is an attractive and unusual structure, fourteen feet square, two storeys high with a first floor entrance and a distinctive ogee-pitched roof. Known as the ‘Summer House’, it bears a blue plaque declaring that: ‘John Donne, Poet and Dean of St.Pauls, lived here 1600-1604’. The story of the romantic runaways is about Donne and his passion for Ann More.

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Donne had fallen in love with Ann, the daughter of Sir George More of Loseley Park near Guildford. Ann’s family was too important for her to be permitted to marry Donne so the lovers eloped, when Ann was only 17. This caused a scandal and Sir George organised a search for the runaways. Once they were found, Sir George had Donne thrown into London’s Fleet Prison. On his release, he and Ann were given shelter at Pyrford Place, the home of Sir Francis Wolley, a friend of Donne’s. Sir Francis eventually managed to engineer a reconciliation with Sir George. John and Ann Donne lived at Pyrford Place for a further two years and had the first of their twelve children there. Ann and children lived there for another year while Donne travelled, before the whole family moved to their own home in 1606. It is said that, such was his love for Ann, Donne never got over his grief when she died (having 12 children took its toll!).

It seems unlikely that Donne ever actually lived in the Summer House, which some historians think may not even have been built until later in the century, but the Summer House is in the grounds of Pyrford Place and it is certainly picturesque enough to stand in the imagination as the retreat of a lovelorn poet!

All other things, to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay;
This, no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday,
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

Songs and Sonnets (1611) ‘The Anniversary’

The full text of my article and some more of the images can be viewed here.

Hopeful green

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‘A child said What is the grass? fetching it to one with full hands,
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of the hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark,
and say Whose?
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.’

Walt Whitman, ‘Song of Myself’ (1855), 6

April has been a month of rain for us here in England. As I travelled in a taxi through Hyde Park this morning I noticed how gloriously green everything was, drenched in refreshing spring showers. So today’s post is simply a celebration of green.
The top image was taken in the churchyard of St. James’s, Weybridge.

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A landscape of black and white

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On the whole, I tend to favour colour photography but sometimes a scene suggests itself to me in black and white. When colour is gone, the outlines or structure of a landscape come to the fore.

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Black and white landscapes work best if contrast is strong, with at least some true blacks and whites, not just shades of grey.

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Converting an image taken on a bright summer’s day to black and white can add drama, if the subject seems to demand it.

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You can add a tint if you want a particular mood…

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or a different slant on a familiar scene.

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Do you ever shoot landscapes in black and white?

The images:
Storm approaching Birling Gap, East Sussex, England
Beach art, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, England
Wheat field, Surrey, England
Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland, England
The boathouse, Wey Navigation, England
Monument Valley, Utah, USA

In flight entertainment

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One of my photographic obsessions in the last couple of years has been capturing insects in flight. Particularly bees and hover flies. I have by no means mastered this art yet. But I have bagged a few shots that I like and I have learned a few things along the way.

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I suspect that the best way to get really superb shots is to find a flower that the insects frequent, set up the tripod, lock focus on the flower and use a remote shutter release to fire off a load of shots every time a bug comes near. I can see the attraction of this laid back approach. I imagine a deck chair, comfy cushions, a cool glass of Pimms… But you would need that kind of still summer’s day that only happens in this country in Evelyn Waugh novels. Even the slightest breeze can move a flower. So, ditch the tripod.

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I prefer to shoot flying bugs in shutter priority, set to 1/640 or 1/800, with the camera set to AI servo and continuous shooting. Any faster than 800 and you risk freezing the wings. I prefer blurry wings. They’re moving, and I want my picture to show that. Compare the two shots below:

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The first shot is probably better quality but I prefer the shimmering wings in the second.

While blurry wings are good, blurry bodies are not, especially eyes. I use centre spot focus; my manual focus skills just aren’t up to the job. If yours are, go for it. For those of us who rely on auto, you should aim to get the centre point over the eye. Yes, it’s tricky. But put in some practice and you will be able to do it. Softness in the rest of the insect matters less if the eyes are clear.

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I won’t use flash; I don’t want to ‘bug’ the bugs. So having such a fast shutter speed reduces my depth of field somewhat, or a lot! Therefore, I always use ISO 400 for these shots. That gets me more depth. Really bright direct sunlight that would allow a lower ISO is usually fairly ugly light anyway. On the upside, a wider aperture means nicer backgrounds, smooth and undistracting.

Background is half the battle. Compare the next two shots. In the first the bee is nice and sharp but the background is ugly. In the second, the bee is frankly too soft but you just have to love that fresh green background. Which do you think is the more pleasing image?

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Oh, and I mustn’t forget to mention metering. I use spot metering. I want to expose for the bug and it is too small in the frame for the camera to expose for it in the default, evaluative metering mode.

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Finally, it helps to learn a bit about the habits of your models. After a while of crouching in the bushes with ants crawling up your trousers you will start to notice that, while honey bees tend to approach flowers in a business-like straight line, bumble bees live up to their name and bumble all over the place. Certain hover flies, particularly the marmalade fly, hover beautifully, while others zoom around oblivious to the fact that they are supposed to be hover flies and are frankly not worth your trouble until they settle.

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Finally, be prepared to get very funny looks from a lot of people if attempting any of this in public. Good luck!

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Many thanks to The Goat that Wrote for the idea for today’s post.

PS Before someone asks, I use a 100mm macro lens on a full frame camera. But you could do this just as well with a cropped sensor and another lens.
And, no, I have never been stung.

PPS I have shown some of the images in small size because of problems with downloading really long blog entries.  All of the images stand up to scrutiny at a larger size.  You’re just going  to have to trust me on that 😉

Painshill

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Painshill Park, in Cobham, Surrey, is one of my very favourite local photography locations. An eighteenth century landscape garden, with several ‘follies’ ideally positioned to be ‘picturesque’ in the true sense of the term, it pleases the camera in any season. The top image is a view of the Lake from the Gothic Temple.

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‘Painshill was created between 1738 and 1773 by the Hon Charles Hamilton, 9th son and 14th child of 6th Earl of Abercorn. A painter, plantsman and brilliantly gifted and imaginative designer, he dedicated his creative genius to the layout and composition of a landscape garden which was unique in Europe and still remains so.’

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‘Painshill was created as a romantic landscape to stimulate the senses and emotions of the visitor…The gardens were among the earliest to reflect the changing fashion from geometric formality to the naturalistic style.’

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The ruined abbey catches the morning sun. The use of still water to create reflections was one of the typical elements in landscape gardens of the period.

‘Rescuing and restoring this exceptional Grade I landscape has been very challenging and difficult but ultimately exceedingly rewarding, capped with the award of the rare Europa Nostra Medal in 1998 “for the exemplary restoration from a state of extreme neglect, of a most important 18th century landscape park and its extraordinary buildings”. Painshill Park is of international importance and therefore The Painshill Park Trust now has a long-term aim to become a world heritage site.’
The-Story-of-Painshill

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The Park is big enough that it never feels crowded. Largely maintained and staffed by volunteers, it is a fascinating and beautiful place to visit.

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The grotto is another of the follies, and it looks very spooky in fog. Father Christmas holds court inside every year.

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There is even a working vineyard.

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Wildlife abounds…

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… from the small…

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…to the not so small.

If you are ever in the area, Painshill Park is a must see!

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There are more images in my Flickr set.