Strange Looks at the Cafe

I am always amazed at the places photo opportunities present themselves. Recently I was enjoying a cream tea outside a cafe. As I watched the inevitable cloud of wasps descend on the strawberry jam, I had an idea…

Common Wasps {Vespula vulgaris} Eating Jam

Common Wasps {Vespula vulgaris} feeding on a pot of jam – a great opportunity

As is often the case, I had my basic macro setup with me (100mm macro lens, flash, off-camera lead, diffuser). With some carefully aimed flash, the plate in the background was transformed into a perfect white background for a cutout shot. My friend Tom kindly provided the photo below, should you be interested to see my rather basic lighting setup.

Alex Hyde

Waiting for the wasps to pose.

One of the challenges of insect photography is concentrating on getting your subject in focus whilst ignoring the whispered comments from bemused onlookers.

Images and text copyright Alex Hyde or Tom Hartman (second image) – www.alexhyde.co.uk

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Rockpool Macro Photography

September 11th, 2013

I live in Derbyshire which has no coastline, so I always get excited when I visit the seaside. A couple of hours exploring rockpools at low tide always turns up some exciting macro photography opportunities, and in this post I am going to look at some of the techniques I use.

Low tide nr. Carsaig, Isle of Mull

Tidal pool, Carsaig, Isle of Mull, Scotland, UK. June.

Using Natural Light

The sea anemones below were photographed using natural light with a Canon 100mm macro lens. The exposure time was 0.4 seconds at f16, ISO 500 so a tripod was essential.

Beadlet Anemone {Actinia equina}

Beadlet Anemones {Actinia equina} in rock pool at low tide. Iona, Isle of Mull, Scotland, UK. June. – Canon 100mm macro lens

Now look at the photo below. We can see an obvious problem that any rockpool photographer will face – surface reflections. To eliminate these, try crouching directly over the rock pool to block out the reflection of the sky. If you find this difficult, a small black umbrella can be very useful. I keep a collapsable one in my camera bag for such occasions.

Alex Hyde_Beadlet Anemone {Actinia equina} before

Reflections can cause big problems!

A polarizing filter can also remove or reduce surface reflections, but won’t always work depending on the angle you are working at. Still, it is well worth trying.

Using Flash

Flash allows us to freeze movement which can be very handy during a rockpool photography session. When using natural light, you may well end up with shutter speeds as slow as one second, and if during this time the wind ripples the surface of the rockpool or your subject moves, your shot could be ruined. With patience, it’s obviously possible to get great results with natural light, but flash can make life much easier.

Many people fear that flash will make their images look unnatural and harsh. This can certainly be the case, but needn’t be if a diffuser and an off-camera flash lead are used.

Alex Hyde_Flash setup

An off-camera flash lead and a flash diffuser allow you to create softer lighting in your macro flash photography.

For the shot of the blenny below, I used a single Canon 580EX II fitted with a diffuser. The diffuser has a larger surface area than the flash head, allowing the light to wrap round the subject, creating softer shadows. Using the off camera lead, I was able to position the flash to the side at such an angle that there were no surface reflections off the water. As a final trick, I placed a small piece of silver foil just out of frame to reflect light from the flash back into the composition and further soften the shadows. The soft light was important here as I wanted to show off the excellent camouflage this fish has and a harsh shadow would have outlined it instead. You can see more of my animal camouflage images here: CAMOUFLAGE GALLERY

Common Blenny

Common Blenny {Lipophrys / Blennius pholis} camouflaged in rockpool. Isle of Mull, Scotland. – Canon 100mm Macro Lens, 580 EX II flash with diffuser

Here is a hermit crab photographed in exactly the same way.

Common Hermit Crab {Pagurus bernhardus}

Common Hermit Crab {Pagurus bernhardus} in a rockpool, withdrawing into shell for protection. Isle of Skye. – Canon 100mm macro lens, 580 EX II flash with diffuser

These fish eggs are tiny, just a few millimetres across so the Canon MP-E 65mm was used to get good magnification.

Common Blenny Shanny {Lipophrys pholis} Eggs

Eggs of Common Blenny / Shanny {Lipophrys pholis}. Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, UK. Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens, 580 EX II flash with diffuser

Field Studio

Field studio in this instance means a pyrex dish supported a couple of feet above some black fabric, not exactly a Rolls-Royce setup but it works. I positioned two Canon 580EXII flash guns underneath this setup to backlight subject. Whilst light fall off and positioning of the flash guns help give a dark background, I find that a piece of dark velvety fabric ensures a true black is achieved.

Common Prawn (Leander serratus)

Common Prawn (Leander serratus) photographed in mobile field studio. Isle of Mull, Scotland, UK. Canon 100mm macro lens, with two Canon 580 EX II flash units controlled via Pocket Wizard radio triggers.

If you buy a small aquarium net from a pet shop you should be able to catch a variety of rockpool creatures that you can photograph in a field studio like this. To minimise stress for any subjects you want to photograph, get your lighting setup worked out first, then introduce your creature. Make sure you use clean seawater, as if there is lots of disturbed sediment floating around in it, your photographs will look very speckled. I sometimes filter the water through a piece of muslin.

Let’s have a closer look at that prawn:

Common Prawn (Leander serratus)

Common Prawn (Leander serratus) close up showing reflecting superposition compound eyes. Photographed in mobile field studio. Isle of Mull, Scotland, UK. Canon MP-E 65mm, lit with two 580 EX II flash guns controlled via Pocket Wizard radio triggers.

This close up was done using the Canon MP-E 65mm. The subject to camera distance here is very small, just a few centimetres. Care must be taken not to accidentally submerge the front of the lens in the water. The solution is not to overfill the pyrex dish!

Here is a final rockpool field studio shot. It is a composite image showing a range of sea creatures that were all photographed on white backgrounds and then combined in Photoshop. The setup used a white plastic food tray filled with sea water, with a flash below to create a clean white background. A second flash was positioned above to stop the subjects being silhouetted.

Rockpool Creatures and Seaweeds - Isle of Skye

Rockpool creatures and seaweeds, photographed on a white background in mobile field studio. Isle of Skye, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, UK. March. Digital composite.

All images and text copyright Alex Hyde – www.alexhyde.co.uk

Tour Report – Isle of Mull 2013

September 4th, 2013

Every June I join friends and fellow wildlife photographers Chris Mattison and Nick Garbutt to run a photography tour to the Isle of Mull. During the week we guide our guests through a diverse range of photographic techniques, from the basics of getting the correct exposure right through to capturing birds in flight. Below are a selection of images from this year’s tour.

Thrift {Armeria maritima} - Isle of Staffa

Flowering thrift {Armeria maritima} growing amongst basalt columns. Isle of Staffa, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, UK.

During June, swathes of thrift adorn the rocky coastline with pink flowers. It is a time of plenty, with photographic opportunities presenting themselves all of the time.

Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) - Treshnish Isles

Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica), Isle of Lunga, Treshnish Isles, Scotland, June.

One of the highlights of the tour is a visit to the Treshnish Isles, where clients get excellent opportunities to photograph sea bird colonies, including puffins. This year the cliff tops were covered in bluebells, allowing for an extra splash of colour when shooting low to the ground.

Thrift - Treshnish Isles

Isle of Lunga, Treshnish Isles, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, UK. Photographed with Canon 16-35mm.

We spend plenty of time getting to grips with macro photography, exploring some of the smaller subjects that inhabit Mull. A favourite every year is the round-leaved sundew, a carnivorous plants that traps insects with sticky droplets. These small plants grow in damp boggy areas across most of Mull.

Round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)

Round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). Isle of Mull, Scotland. June.

The island is dripping with ferns, providing yet more opportunities to experiment with abstract compositions.

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) Abstract

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas) abstract, Isle of Mull, Scotland, UK. June.

When needed, Nick, Chris and I all use off-camera flash in our work.  Depending on your individual interest, we can guide you through working with flash in the field. Flash opens up many options in nature photography, freezing movement in a subject as well as providing a strong light source that allows for good depth of field. Flash also lets you create creative lighting setups, such as this jellyfish image below.

Lion's Mane Jellyfish {Cyanea capillata}

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish {Cyanea capillata}, photographed in mobie field studio, Isle of Mull, Scotland. June.

This juvenile jellyfish was photographed in a pyrex dish before being returned to the sea. It was backlit with a pair of off camera flashes (Canon 580 EX II’s triggered via Pocket Wizard radio triggers). To ensure a black background was achieved, the pyrex dish was supported a couple of feet above a piece of black fabric.

If you want to find out more about next year’s Mull trip, then details can be seen on my website: http://alexhyde.photoshelter.com/page1#Mull

All images and text copyright Alex Hyde – www.alexhyde.co.uk

More moths!

Aug 29th, 2013

Just over a week ago I put up a post about moth photography, looking particularly at creating white background cutout shots: http://wp.me/p3PJ2M-1f . This post concentrates on a couple of moth shots I have produced since then, exploring some more complex compositions. The first photograph below is of a beautiful little moth known as the Chinese Character {Cilix glaucoma}. This little chap is tiny at roughly one centimetre in length. All of my work with insects of this size is carried out with a very special lens that Canon make called the MP-E 65mm. It allows magnification up to x5 life size which in real terms means you can fill the frame with a grain of rice!

Chinese Character moth {Cilix glaucata}

Chinese Character moth {Cilix glaucata} – Canon MP-E 65mm, off-camera flash with diffuser, macro focussing rail

When viewing the world at high magnification, your creative options as a photographer are almost limitless. The Chinese Character moth above is resting on the petal of a clematis flower. By positioning my camera carefully, I was able to fill the background completely with another clematis petal, creating an incredibly vibrant image despite the fact that the main subject is a pale cream and grey moth. I lit the scene with a single off-camera flash with a diffuser fitted to soften the light. I also used a tripod-mounted macro focussing rail (made by Really Right Stuff) to ensure my focus was spot on.

Dusky Thorn {Ennomos fuscantaria}

Dusky Thorn moth {Ennomos fuscantaria} – Canon 100mm macro lens, tripod

My next shot (above) is of Dusky Thorn moth {Ennomos fuscantaria}. The wings of this moth look very like dead leaves, helping it to remain camouflaged throughout the day when it is at rest. As this moth is a fair bit bigger than the Chinese Character, I didn’t need the high magnification provided by the MP-E 65mm lens, so was able to use my Canon 100mm macro lens instead that offers x1 life size magnification. This lens is easier to use as it has a greater working distance (distance between front of lens and subject) so you are less likely to spook your subject. I used natural light for this shot and due to the shady conditions, this meant a shutter speed of over one second so a tripod was essential! The subtle colour palette works for me in this shot, showing off the moth’s camouflage.

Both of these images were taken in my back garden, which remains one of my most productive locations. The colourful flower bed and the messy corners of dead wood and decaying leaves provide a wealth of miniature landscapes to explore with the macro lens… and you are never too far from a cup of tea!

All images and text copyright Alex Hyde – www.alexhyde.co.uk

In the Presence of a Lady

Aug 28, 2013

A couple of days ago I had decided to visit Higger Tor in the Peak District to photograph some landscapes at sunset. This location is covered in interesting gritstone rock formations and affords excellent panoramic views of the surrounding area. As is too often the case, my camera bag weighed a ton. Surely I could have left some of my kit behind, especially my macro lens. After all, I was here to do landscape photography, wasn’t I? I trudged on, searching for a composition. Then I spotter her. A Painted Lady butterfly {Vanessa cardu}, basking on a gritstone boulder in the late evening light. Suddenly all thoughts of landscape photography vanished.

The first image I took (below) is technically fine but doesn’t show any real creativity. It was captured with my Canon 100mm macro lens using a tripod. Despite being straight forward, the shot required plenty of patience, gradually inching the tripod towards the butterfly so as not to disturb it. When stalking a butterfly like this, it is really important not to cast a shadow over it whilst moving as this will often scare it off.

Painted Lady {Vanessa cardu} - Peak District

Painted Lady {Vanessa cardu} – 100mm macro lens, tripod

To make things more interesting, I tried a different camera angle. By shooting low across the surface of the rock, I was able to look the painted lady straight in the eye, instantly creating a more intriguing image (below). The warm evening light shining through the wings added a splash of colour to the scene. There was no room for a tripod here so I had to rely on resting the camera directly on the rock.

Painted Lady {Vanessa cardu} - Peak District

Painted Lady {Vanessa cardu} – 100mm macro lens, handheld

I changed angle again, this time trying to get a darker section of background behind the butterfly to show off its backlit antennae.

Painted Lady {Vanessa cardu} - Peak District

Painted Lady {Vanessa cardu} – 100mm macro lens, handheld

I finished off with this wide angle shot (below) using the 16-35mm lens to show the butterfly in its context. Ideally I would have liked the butterfly to be facing into the frame, but repositioning the camera for this would have meant casting a shadow over the scene so that wasn’t really an option. Still, I was happy with the final image.

Painted Lady {Vanessa cardu} - Peak District

Painted Lady {Vanessa cardu} 16-35mm lens @ 20mm – tripod

Despite having set out to capture some landscape scenes at sunset, I ended up concentrating all of my efforts on a chance encounter with a butterfly. This is exactly why I find it so difficult to pack light, you never know when you are going to need that macro lens!

All images and text copyright Alex Hyde – www.alexhyde.co.uk

Moth Trapping in Surrey

Aug 20, 2013

A week ago I ran a moth light trap whilst visiting family down in Surrey. I was keen to see which species were about as July and August are prime months for moth watching.

Moth Traps

Many species of moth are attracted to light as we all know from when they visit our windows at night. Moths are particularly attracted to bulbs that emit part of the UV spectrum, with a mercury vapour (MV) bulb being a common choice for moth trapping. I use a setup known as a Robinson trap. During the night moths are attracted into the trap where they settle and can be released unharmed the following morning.

Robinson Moth Trap

A Robinson moth light trap running a mercury vapour discharge bulb in a back garden. Egg boxes provide a safe place for moths to shelter.

For me nothing beats the excitement of opening a moth trap first thing in the morning, you never know what you are going to find. This is a small selection of the species I discovered. The moths were photographed individually and then composited together in Photoshop to produce this final image.

Moth Watch

A selection of moths attracted to a Robinson moth trap, using a mercury vapour bulb. Clockwise from top left: Tree-lichen Beauty {Cryphia algae}, Small Phoenix {Ecliptopera silaceata}, Copper Underwing {Amphipyra pyramidea}, Birch Marble {Apotomis betuletana}, Lozotaeniodes formosanus, Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing {Noctua fimbriata}, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing {Noctua janthe}, Black Arches {Lymantria monacha}, Nut-tree Tussock {Colocasia coryli} and Jersey Tiger Moth {Euplagia quadripunctaria}. All species photographed in mobile field studio on a white background. Surrey, UK. August. Digital composite.

Photography

On a good night a moth trap will gather hundreds of moths which can be an amazing, if not slightly overwhelming sight. I will usually photograph a selection of the more interesting species or those that fill gaps in my archive. This almost always involves photographing the moths individually on a white background. I do this outside, carefully transferring the moths onto a piece of very smooth white paper with a paintbrush. If you are careful and slow, it is possible to move the moths without damaging or disturbing them. Naturally some will fly away before you can photograph them, but that’s all part of the fun. Once in position on the paper, I light the moths with a pair of flash guns (Canon 580 EX II) either side of the moth to ensure even illumination. Critically, the flash guns are fitted with diffusers. The diffusers increase the surface area from which the light emitted, helping it to wrap round the subject and ensure hard-edged shadows are avoided. If you only have one flash gun and diffuser, a reflector can be substituted for the second flash with very similar results. See below:

Using a diffuser softens the  any shadow edges in your photograph. A reflector or a second flash will ensure the subject is lit evenly.

Using a flash diffuser softens any shadow edges in your photograph. A reflector or a second flash will also soften shadows and ensure the subject is evenly lit.

Below is a closer look at one of my favourite moths, the Black Arches. You will notice how softly lit the moth is, with the shadows under its legs barely visible.

Black Arches {Lymantria monacha}

Black Arches {Lymantria monacha} male photographed in mobile field studio on a white background. Surrey, UK. August.

The male Black Arches, as shown here, has large feathery antennae that I have tried to emphasise in the shot below. The lighting setup is exactly the same as the shot above.

Male Black Arches {Lymantria monacha}

Black Arches {Lymantria monacha} male showing feathery antennae. Photographed in mobile field studio on a white background. Surrey, UK. August.

Another species that caught my eye was a tiny moth, the Birch Marble, only about 1cm in length (see below). But why the interest in this rather bland little insect?

Birch Marble {Apotomis betuletana}

Birch Marble {Apotomis betuletana} photographed in mobile field studio on a white background. Surrey, UK. August.

As you can see below, the Birch Marble is an excellent bird-dropping mimic, brilliantly camouflaged as it sits on a leaf (it’s the one on the right!). Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have always been fascinated by examples of camouflage in nature and photograph them whenever I can. You can see more animal camouflage images in my web gallery here >>CAMOUFLAGE.

Birch Marble {Apotomis betuletana}

Birch Marble {Apotomis betuletana} (right) next to a bird dropping. This moth is an excellent bird-dropping mimic, giving it protection from predators. Surrey, UK. August.

If only there was more time, there are so many great photos to be made, but it’s important to return the moths to the safety of the undergrowth as soon as possible. Moth trapping is an excellent way to demonstrate just how much beauty and diversity there is in the insect world and I would recommend it to anyone. Alternatively, if you don’t want to make or buy a dedicated moth trap, you can always enjoy looking at moths that come to your window light at night.

All images and text copyright Alex Hyde – www.alexhyde.co.uk

Red Grouse on Derwent Edge, Peak District

Aug 19, 2013

Early starts are all the harder as I have given up coffee at the moment! I reached Derwent Edge in the Peak District just before sunrise, and quickly spotted the distinctive silhouette of a red grouse.

Red grouse {Lagopus lagopus scoticus}

Red grouse {Lagopus lagopus scoticus} silhouetted at dawn, Derwent Edge, Peak District National Park, Derbyshire, UK, August.

I was travelling light (for me anyway), taking just my 100-400mm and 16-35mm so that I could be as mobile as possible. To begin with I was after a nice, clean portrait of a grouse with the 100-400mm. After the sun had risen I noticed a male grouse peering out from amongst the heather, which is in full bloom at the moment. After several unsuccessful shots with busy, distracting backgrounds, I found a low angle that gave me the composition I was after.

Red grouse {Lagopus lagopus scoticus}

Red grouse {Lagopus lagopus scoticus} on heather moorland, Derwent Edge, Peak District National Park, Derbyshire, UK, August.

As the grouse moved, new compositions became possible. The image below was taken just a few metres from the previous one, but has a very different background. The dark area is the shaded side of a gritstone boulder.

Red grouse {Lagopus lagopus scoticus}

Red grouse {Lagopus lagopus scoticus} on heather moorland, Derwent Edge, Peak District National Park, Derbyshire, UK, August.

Once the portraits were in the bag, I decided to try some wide angle shots with my 16-35mm. This lens gives a very different perspective on the world, including lots of interesting habitat. After some careful creeping I was pleased to get the shot below, showing a male grouse in his environment.

Red grouse {Lagopus lagopus scoticus}

Red grouse {Lagopus lagopus scoticus} on heather moorland, Derwent Edge, Peak District National Park, Derbyshire, UK, August.