Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Give me clouds and give me raw.

Another Kingfisher, originally uploaded by Tony McLean.

First of all, let me say a huge ‘thank-you’ to everyone who has congratulated me for my small success on BBC’s Autumnwatch Unsprung. They kindly showed three of my Kingfisher images and Charlie Hamilton-James (the renowned wildlife photographer) made some quite positive comments. Well, I guess my 15 minutes of fame are over for this life-time and I can slink back into anonymity.

I paid a visit to Tophill Low on Sunday morning to see if my friendly Kingfishers were still posing. Arriving early, I was greeted by a wonderful sunrise and some beautiful warm lighting. Just a pity then that the kingfishers were elsewhere. A nice couple from Amsterdam contacted me recently by e-mail to say that they would be arriving next weekend with the sole purpose of getting a good photograph of a kingfisher at Tophill Low. Now that’s some pressure! What if the kingfishers just don’t turn up? So, if you see me with some disappointed Dutch folks next weekend then please, please let me know where the kingfishers are hiding.

This picture was taken on Sunday as proof that they are still around. Perhaps not as frequent as in the past but that’s hardly surprising given the number of recent raptor attacks. Goodness knows that if I was as conspicuous as a kingfisher, I’d be keeping my head down too!

Anyway, back to the lighting. A few hours after the glorious sunrise, the lighting became quite harsh. Usually, I would have slinked off for a bacon butty at the Hutton Cranswick farm shop. However today, I was on a mission. It was a nervous wait but at least this one turned up for a spot of fishing shortly before 11.00 am. My ideal conditions for photographing for any bird is a warm unidirectional light provided by a thin layer of cloud. The lighting on this day was the exact opposite—bright and contrasty.

One of the many reasons I choose to shoot in a Raw format is for just such instances. Even though I underexposed this frame (I dialled in minus 2/3 stop), I still had a tough time in Photoshop to bring back any detail in the kingfisher’s white collar. If I’d been shooting Jpeg I would have been out of luck. That’s the beauty of Raw images; both highlight and shadow detail can be rescued, Using Jpeg format is akin to using slide film. Unless your exposure is right on the nail then you were doomed. Of course, that why we all used to bracket our slide exposures in the hope that at least one of them was successful. Now that’s fine for landscapes but not for most wildlife images. You think that this kingfisher was perched still? Let me tell you, that fish was swallowed in less than three seconds.

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