Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

Archive for the tag “Photography”

A Valentine’s day – special

I thought I would enter into the spirit of the occasion and share a few photographs taken over the past few years at my local wildlife reserve at Tophill Low.

…and not a single bottle of wine in sight!

Mute swans mating_3

 

Shelducks mating_3

 

Roe deer-mating

 

Oystercatchers spring mating

 

Mute swans mating_2

 

Malard mating

 

Fox cubs - friendly

 

Gadwall-mating in Winter

 

Greylag Love

 

Kingfishers - Mating

 

Lesser Black-backed Gulls mating

 

 

Cormorants - Mating

 

Coots mating_1

The whole amorous act only lasted a matter of seconds. Just as well as the females’s head was below the water during the brief action.

Common Terns-mating

 

Canada geese - mating

 

Black-headed Gulls-on the nest

 

 

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and ‘Yes’, I shall be dining alone again this evening! I wonder why? 🙂

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History Lessons – Grey Heron with Eel

Heron with EelGrey Heron with Eel – 14 July 2013 – [500 mm + 1.7 T.C. 1/800 sec f 6.3 ISO 320]

For the eighth in my ‘History Lessons’ series I have chosen my photograph of a Grey Heron with an eel.

On the evening of Saturday, 14 July 2013, I was sat watching a group of four Herons and a few Little Egrets on the opposite shore. Nothing much was happening—just a few dabbling ducks and a lone cormorant perched on a nearby mooring post.

You can read about what happened next in an earlier post , ‘Hard to swallow‘. That was certainly an evening to remember and I still have around three-hundred RAW files from that encounter—all taken in the space of fifteen minutes.

The wetland areas of Tophill Low provide a perfect habitat for the Grey Heron. The number of herons breeding in Britain and on the Continent has been growing steadily for many years probably due to the recent run of mild winters. Despite their plain grey colour, they area wonderful species to photograph. Large enough to ensure perfect focus and sufficiently stationary to enable an interesting composition—try to avoid using the central focus point on your camera and hence positioning the subject in the dead-centre of the frame.

Here’s a few more of my photographs of the Grey Heron taken over the past few years at Tophill Low:

Summer Heron

Heron shadow

Heron silohouette

Heron misty dawn

Heron flight

Heron chase

Heron and Cormorant

Thanks for reading. By the way, did you notice the butterflies in the second photograph? Honestly?

 

 

 

History Lessons – The Kingfisher

No Fishing‘No Fishing’ – 15 June 2013 – [1/800 second f 8 IS0 1600]

For the seventh episode of my ‘History Lessons’ series, I have chosen this picture of a Kingfisher from over five thousand images in my photographic library.

Why I have chosen this one? Well, I could have picked several others but this photograph has a combination of being both unique and humorous at the same time. I believe it was the warden, Richard Hampshire who designed and built this rather cheesy sign—he does have a wicked sense of humour. It was erected near North Marsh Hide and proved to be a popular backdrop for many photographers visiting Tophill Low during the summer of 2013.

I remember seeing a few photographs from fellow enthusiasts complete with a Kingfisher perched on top of this sign and less frequently, with a small fish too. When I arrived at the hide on the evening of Saturday 15 June, a Kingfisher was already present. I spent and hour or so photographing the bird on various perches including the ‘No Fishing’ perch. Suddenly, the Kingfisher noticed the protruding nail and began to explore it with its beak. That was it! That was worth waiting for.

Undoubtably, Kingfishers have become the number one attraction at Tophill Low for both photographers, bird-watchers and the visiting public. With the success of a breeding pair at the Hempholme hide this year—and only a few metres from the hide—their popularity is set to continue. Of course, we should not forget that the Kingfisher is a protected species and every visitor has a responsibility to minimise any disturbance to the nesting site and to these magnificent birds.

Looking back through my records of the past nine years, I have been lucky to capture some truly exciting moments.  I have photographs of Kingfishers perched, diving, preening, eating, courting, mating and excreting. Below are a few more of my photographs of Kingfishers taken at Tophill Low. I hope you enjoy them too.

Kingfisher_dive_4983399694_o

Kingfisher - preening May morning_34877753416_o

Kingfisher with fish_5_5001821510_o

Kingfisher on reed_2_9561392604_o

Kingfisher flight (rear view)_4896485233_o

Kingfisher-excreting_6192337411_o

Kingfishers - Mating_34877745186_o

History Lessons – Elephant Hawk Moth

Elephant Hawk moth blogElephant Hawk Moth – [1/40 sec f16 ISO1600 Nikon D800 105 macro lens]

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I was sitting on a log in the cool shade behind the warden’s office at Tophill Low. A painful knee had limited my wildlife photography for a while and it was good to be back at the reserve. I had been invited to witness the daily ritual of the emptying of the moth-traps by expert naturalists, Martin Hodges and Doug Fairweather.

I watched as Martin carefully lifted the dome of the trap and reached inside for an egg box. Doug was poised with his notebook as Martin lifted each specimen with his pencil and uttered unpronounceable latin names at a machine-gun pace. Every so often the pair would pause and debate the proper identification of a moth and maybe consult a battered copy of their pocket-sized guide to moths.

The captive moths were of all sizes and colours—from micro-moths that I could hardly see—to wondrous beasties that were maybe a couple of inches in across. Some moths were more cooperative than others and allowed Doug to patiently transfer them with the tip of a pencil to the log where I was sat.

The Elephant Hawk moth was a handsome specimen. I hovered above it with my macro lens and carefully squeezed the shutter. I chose not to use flash on this occasion as I envisaged a more natural background. I found a small pink flower nearby and laid it along the edge of the frame and took a few more photographs of this new composition.

It was an interesting morning and I believe that the moth count was quite impressive too. Just before I left, Doug spotted a Deerfly (the females have that nasty bite) and nonchalantly placed it on his arm for me to photograph. A brave man indeed.

Twin-lobed Deerfly - Chysops relictus - blogTwin-lobed Deerfly (Chysops relicts) – [1/400 sec f16 ISO 1000 D800 105 macro lens]

A few months later, I suffered a computer hard-drive error and lost all of my RAW files form June to December 2016. Luckily, I did have some JPEG copies of some of those images but nevertheless, it was an important lesson to have learned. Don’t forget to back-up your important files before it’s too late!

History Lessons – Short-eared Owls

SEO_1Two Short-eared Owls (1/3200 second @ f 6.7 IS0 1250)

My photograph above of two Short-eared Owls is the subject of my fourth ‘history lesson’.  It’s one of my favourite owl pictures taken during the winter of 2011/12. I had made the long journey to Hempholme meadows, on the outskirts of Tophill Low, several times during December of that year and had been lucky to have seen a pair of SEO’s and a Barn Owl during each short visit.

The owls appeared to frequent a part of the shooting estate that was covered in scrub and small birch trees—making the photography very challenging. The pair of SEO’s hunted singly and I never seemed to be able to get both birds in the same frame. In fact, I was always delighted when I managed to achieve a positive focus lock on any of the owls as they flew between the branches.

I’d arrived at the perimeter of the field in the early afternoon of 15 December 2011. The sky was a pale blue and the low sunlight turned the dead grasses and branches a rich golden colour. I had my 500 mm lens on a gimbal on my Gitzo tripod with my Nikon D3S attached. I was also using a 1.7x tele-converter on this lens giving me a focal length of 850 mm and an effective aperture of f 6.7.

I photographed several Roe deer while I was waiting for the owls to show. Just after two-o-clock, two SEO appeared and began hunting. Within twenty-five minutes they had both moved on to another field. Pity, as I had been enjoying myself. The light was good and I had managed to get several photographs of the owls during that short period.

The best of the photographs were my last ones of that day. The two Short-eared Owls met briefly as they rose in the sky above the scrub to venture onwards. At that moment, I managed to capture four consecutive frames of the pair and of the four, this one I considered the best. The chances of both owls being in perfect focus in the same frame were immense but I’d had a very lucky day.

Here’s a few other of my photographs from the same afternoon…

SEO_2

SEO_3

SEO_4

SEO_5

The next episode in my series of photographs from Tophill Low will follow in a few days.

History Lessons – A Vixen urinating

Vixen - urinating‘A vixen urinating’

For the second instalment of my History Lesson series I have chosen this photograph from my archives, ‘A Vixen urinating’.

I know it’s a little rude. You may also find it odd that I have picked a pretty ordinary photograph of a vixen scent marking from the five-and-a-half thousand images on my computer but please be patient, I have an interesting story to tell.

On Sunday 6 November 2011, I was up before dawn and arrived at the reserve about thirty minutes before sunrise. It was a cool morning but the forecast was for any lingering mist to clear to leave a fine day. I had just unpacked my camera when a fox appeared on the river bank. I quickly made a few exposures but the results were disappointing. An exposure of 1/15 second at f4 ISO 3200 was the best I could manage and although the fox was in focus, there was sufficient movement to blur the image. Unusually, I didn’t discard this file so here is my effort…

F_1

Thirty minutes later, with the sun now above the horizon, I managed to get a much better photograph of the same fox.

F_2

Five minutes later, I had another opportunity to photograph the fox again as it suddenly leaped into the undergrowth and pounced on its prey. It’s the kind of photograph that every wildlife photographer wants in their portfolio. Unfortunately, it was not to be. At the critical moment, some foreground vegetation obscured the scene. Ho-hum!

F_3

Never mind, it had been an interesting morning and I had also managed to get some good photographs of Long-tailed tits, a Goldcrest and a Sparrowhawk.

I must have been keen back in 2011, because I returned to the reserve for a second time in the afternoon at around 2:30 pm. The sun was due to set at around 4:20 pm so I had a couple of hours of patient photography. A waxing gibbous moon rose above the horizon into a pale blue sky.

Moon

I passed the time photographing cormorants as they returned to their roost. I was getting ready to depart when I saw a fox strolling along the shore-line. It stopped for a few moments to scent-mark a small bush and then disappeared into the undergrowth. I made a few exposure and hoped that the 1/200 shutter speed was sufficient.

I processed the RAW file, cropping it down to a 4:3 format and posted it to my Flickr account. The photograph appeared to be quite popular—I suspect that the search engine results from my title, ‘A Vixen urinating’ had more to do with its reputation than any artistic merit on my part!

A few year later, I was contacted by a designer from the Swedish punk band, Rävjunk. They had seen the image on Flickr and wished to use my photograph as an album cover. He promised me a copy of the album when it was released. True to his word, a copy of the band’s L.P. and three C.D.’s arrived a few weeks later. I must admit that I have never listened to their album but it still has pride of place on my wall as a conversation piece.

RAVJUNK

More ‘History Lessons’ in the next few days…

History Lessons – The Jumping Rabbit

Rabbit_6The flying rabbit © 2013

I thought it may be a good idea to write a short account of some of my favourite wildlife photographs taken at Tophill Low and provide a few technical details too. I know it’s Christmas and a selection of twelve may have been more seasonally appropriate but I’m a reluctant blogger—so ten it is.

Several people have kindly told me that they really admire, The flying rabbit. It certainly is one of my most memorable photographs and although one-or-two people have asked me if the image had been Photoshopped, it hasn’t. So here’s the story…

A few years ago, there used to be a continuous spit of land that spanned across the lagoon dividing the waters on each side. Sadly it disappeared a few years ago when the water level rose and countless cattle hooves  loosened the soil. It was a magnificent feature and one that I exploited to the full. It was a popular shortcut for many mammals including roe deer, foxes and very occasionally, rabbits too.

Back in early May 2012, I was in my usual spot waiting for some activity. The evening sun  was setting directly behind me providing a spot-lit effect to the landscape. I watched as a rabbit wandered along the shore towards the point where the two lagoons intersect. I was rather disappointed that it decided to wade rather than jump the small gap but I was happy to witness such a rare wildlife moment. I took a series of eight exposures and the image below was number six. At the time, I was using a x1.7 tele-converter on my 500mm Nikon lens with a D3S camera. I have since learned through experience that a 1.4 tele-converter gives the optimum sharpness for my camera and lens combination.

Rabbit_1[for those interested in the exposure details, it was 1/800 second @ f9 ISO 1000]

Exactly three weeks later, I was once again, enjoying the evening sunshine when another rabbit approached the water from the opposite direction. In anticipation, I quickly checked my shutter speed (I normally use aperture priority mode) so I bumped-up the ISO to give me a nice healthy shutter speed of 1/2000 second. Hooray! It jumped and more importantly, my photographs were reasonably sharp and correctly exposed. Here are two images from the series, taken at 10 f.p.s.

Rabbit_2

Rabbit_4

I was pleased with my photographs and never thought there would ever be a repeat. A year went by and I was sat, bleary-eyed, waiting for sunrise. It was just after six and the sky was clear but the dawn-light was blinding. This was challenging photography, even though I was using RAW—too much exposure and the highlights would be irretrievable—too little and I would end up with a silhouette. The ‘gods’ must have been with me that morning as I judged the exposure perfectly.

Rabbit_5

Out of nowhere, another Easter bunny came running at pace along the spit of land. I checked my settings carefully. I’d already changed the colour balance on my camera to ‘warm light’ which  to my eye, gave an accurate representation of the dawn light and because I was photographing into the sun, my shutter speed was an astronomic 1/6400 second.

Wow! Another actor entered the scene, stage-left. A beautiful male tufted duck. Would the cow jump over the moon, perhaps? I followed the action using a short-burst and back-button focusing. Several frames later I relaxed. As I checked the sequence of images on the LCD I was relieved to find that they were all properly exposed and delighted to see that there was one frame where the duck’s head was not obscured. That was an unexpected bonus.

Rabbit_6

Rabbit_7

Rabbit_8

So my thanks to all those rabbits who took part in this, the first of my History Lessons blog entries. As usual, please ask any questions and/or give  feedback on my post.

A Merry Christmas to you all!

—Tony Mclean 2017

Ice-fishing adventure, Alta – Norway

Hauling the sled

Who would have thought that ice-fishing on a frozen lake at -15 C would be so much fun?

I’ve just returned to the warmth of my guest-house after spending the morning fishing, a few kilometres south of Alta, with my guide Børre from the local tour company Glød. I was picked up around 10:00 am from the town centre and we chatted as we drove the short distance to a snow covered golf course—a rather surreal location surrounded by frozen, fresh-water lakes.

Sunrise near Alta

Although the sun had not risen above the horizon it had turned the tops of the surrounding peaks a beautiful salmon pink. Børre gave me instructions on how to put on my snow shoes; not an easy task wearing gloves in the sub-zero temperatures. It felt very strange and distinctly unnatural walking with enormous plates of plastic strapped to my feet; I guess that I walked like a young girl trying on her mother’s high-heeled shoes for the first time!

Børre turned out to be an experienced and confident outdoorsman. He even has his own Husky & sled and explained that he much preferred that method of transport to the modern, noisy snowmobile. Although a native of Alta, Børre had travelled extensively and had just returned from an extended trip to Svalbard, an island between Greenland and Norway. It is famous for its Polar bears and thanks to its duty free status, a place where a bottle of Vodka is cheaper than a litre of milk.

Børre was playing the role of the ‘Husky’ today. I stumbled along in his wake as he effortlessly hauled a bright orange plastic sled on a harness behind him. He pointed out some reindeer tracks in the snow and the point at which a recent dog-sled had almost overturned, as I fumbled with the controls of my camera with numb fingers in the cold, clear mountain air. After a couple of kilometres we reached our destination; a huge twenty-foot teepee constructed of birch spars covered with canvas, with a hole at its apex.

The tent

Drilling the hole

We removed our snow-shoes and Børre and I strode out onto the surface of the frozen lake. Using a huge auger, he drilled a six-inch diameter hole through the thick ice. He handed me a tiny fishing rod and what looked like a large metal ladle with holes in for preventing our hole from freezing-over again.

Børre returned to the tent to light a fire and cook our lunch, whilst I sat on ‘Rudolph’, his affectionate term for an old reindeer hide, and dangled my plastic maggot in the vain hope of enticing a trout or perhaps an arctic char or two. I guess I must have looked like the proverbial garden gnome as I sat patiently and and waited for a bite.

Børre setting-up the tiny fishing rod

An hour our so later, I was summoned back to the tent for lunch of poached salmon and hot coffee. The fish was cooked to perfection and poached in little foil parcels with finely chopped red peppers, tomatoes and onion-grass which we ate with a wooden fork and was quite delicious! The strong black coffee, poured from an old soot-blackened pot that hung above the fire, was very welcome too. We talked about the traditions of the indigenous Sami people and mourned the loss of the traditional skills of fishing and hunting. It was good to see that Børre was doing his best to prolong these skills and educate the younger generation of northern Norway.

Børre cooking lunch

Leaving Børre to tidy up, I retraced my steps to my hole in the ice. Another twenty minutes of fishing and it was time to leave. The sky was still clear but the wind had picked-up and it had gotten noticeably cooler. This was indeed a unique experience and one I would recommend to anyone visiting this area. Børre was an excellent guide and teacher and like most Norwegians I met during my short trip, was highly intelligent and spoke perfect English.

Note: no fish were harmed (or caught) during the duration of this trip!

Please feel free to ‘click’ on any of the above images to see a larger (2048 pixel wide) version.

Photographing the aurora – Alta, Norway

Aurora - Langfjord, Norway

It’s almost a month now since I returned from a wonderful trip to Alta in Norway. I travelled there alone with the sole intention of photographing the Northern Lights. In hindsight, I was extremely lucky. The conditions during my short stay were almost ideal with clear, star-studded skies almost every night during my ten day stay. I don’t believe that the weather over there has been quite as good since returning to the U.K. I guess those ancient Norse Gods must have been smiling down on me.

Perhaps some of you are wondering why on earth I chose Alta in Norway to spend two weeks of my well-earned, annual vacation? I suspect that privately, even some of my friends think I’m border-line certifiable. Well, there is sound (sort of) logic behind my decision. Let me explain…

Last year, I travelled to Iceland with my Squiver friends and enjoyed the experience. Even though we only got to see the northern lights on one evening, it was spectacular. Far better than the best fireworks display you’ve ever seen and without the smoke and the crowds! Perched precariously on steep and loose glacial moraine and watching the light-show unfold was an amazing experience but one I admit, for which I was totally unprepared. I fumbled with my camera controls in the inky blackness and failed to get a sharp focus on the stars. I struggled getting an adequate exposure and had no time to explore alternative compositions. I was so very envious of my Canadian friends to whom this was second nature and who effortlessly snapped away and produced some absolutely stunning images. I was angry with myself but at the same time, I was hooked!

So, during the past twelve months, I’ve been surfing the web, searching for a location that would be both accessible and scenic and with a stable climate, clear nights and with good prospects of an auroral display. The small city of Alta in the arctic circle appeared to fit all of the above criteria. It was further north than the popular Norwegian city of Tromso and and more importantly to me, it attracted far fewer tourists. Personally, I hate being distracted by large numbers of other photographers all getting in each others way and spoiling my images with the light from their head-torches.

I stayed at the wonderful Baarstua Guesthouse, some fifteen minutes from the centre of Alta. The owner Bente lives in a beautiful family home right opposite the guesthouse and was extremely helpful throughout my stay, giving me plenty of advice and organising taxis and car rental. There is no doubt that Norway is expensive but staying at this guesthouse, equipped with its own small kitchen, enabled me to survive within my budget. I even hired my car from the local franchise of ‘Rent-A- Wreck’.

Aurora streams - Alta

I pre-booked a couple of evening ‘aurora hunts’ through a local adventure company Glød, before I visited Norway. This turned out to be a wise move. The local knowledge and experience of the two guides Anton and Katrina, proved invaluable and gave me the confidence to hire a car and explore the landscape by myself for the remainder of my trip.

Winter in northern Norway is cold. I experienced a range of temperatures from an almost tropical -10 C down to -35 C near Suolovuopmi! You need to dress for the conditions. A down-jacket, insulated boots and thermal underwear are essential. Handling your camera in such temperatures can be difficult. I have never yet found an ideal pair of gloves that would give me the necessary tactility and insulation. At temperatures below -20 C, your skin will begin to freeze in minutes. I thought I’d escaped without injury until small blisters appeared on the pads of each of my finger-tips when I got home. Camera batteries are much less efficient in really cold temperatures. I kept a spare battery in my inside pocket each night, just in case.

Witnessing the aurora for the first time is an almost spiritual experience. Yes, scientists have researched the phenomena and can fully explain the physics behind the spectacle. Nevertheless, the feeling of wonder and awe still remains. I admire both its beauty, rarity and its ephemeralness. To me, photography is all about capturing that unique moment in time; so very different from other media such as film or video.

Visiting Alta has also given me the opportunity of experiencing the polar winter with its unique ‘blue-light’; albeit at the tail-end of the season. Winters back home have become boring. Snowy conditions and minus temperatures are rare and are considered a nuisance rather than an event to be embraced and enjoyed. I like the cold and the ice. Everything appears so much cleaner and brighter. Here’s an excerpt from my daily diary that may give you a flavour of my nocturnal adventures…

Aurora and moonlight - Duggelv

Last night’s aurora was a doozie! For a few minutes, I swear I could have read a newspaper from its bright, green light. It was fantastic to see the winter landscape lit by an alien green glow and see its reflections on the surface of the sea. For a short spell, there was so much activity that I didn’t know which way to point my lens. I even wished that I had a fish-eye lens so I could capture the whole sky! It was stunning.

I set off about 8:00 pm, heading south along the E6 to a previously researched location on the shore of a fjord: one of Slartibartfast’s* award winning designs. I set up my camera in the middle of a snowy field and waited patiently in the deep powder snow. I guess it was below -15 C as my nose hairs tingled with each intake of breath.

After about fifteen minutes, I heard a man approaching me from the local farmhouse. He was curious to know the reason I was stood in the dark in the middle of his field. Satisfied that I was a genuine English eccentric, we chatted about the Aurora and the local wildlife, mostly foxes and otters.

Suddenly, I saw a luminous green light out of the corner of my eye and turned to see the stunning arc of an auroral rainbow spanning the whole sky. I reached for my camera and began to photograph this cosmic spectacle. The farmer tried to continue our conversation but eventually retreated to the warmth of his house when he realised I was totally engaged with my photography.

Aurora over the new Alta Bridge - Norway

I stayed and photographed the aurora for about an hour, trying many different compositions and camera settings whilst the aurora continued to wave and shimmer across the moon-lit sky. Eventually, I returned to my car, fingers frozen; as was the grin across my face. I drove back towards Alta, stopping at several previously researched locations; each time the aurora continued to oblige. I even managed to photograph the auroral lights above the recently completed suspension bridge over the fjord at Kåfjorden—perhaps a first?

* A character in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a comedy/science fiction series created by Douglas Adams.

Aurora over Langfjord - Alta

The whole trip was a wonderful experience. My camera equipment (Nikon D4 and D800) operated flawlessly despite the sub-zero temperatures. As I sit here at my desk, listening to the wind blown rain battering against my window, I really wish I was back in Finnmark, Norway.

Aurora - Langfjord, Norway

Heavens above

Heavens Above!

I had been planning a trip to this abandoned church for a few weeks. What I needed was a clear forecast with no cloud cover and a late rising moon. So, on the evening of Wednesday 15 August 2012, with the favourable conditions, I set off with my camera and tripod. The church is situated about a mile from the nearest road and about six miles from the neighbouring town. It’s also located in a deep valley, which I hoped would provide a safe haven from any surrounding light pollution. Those of you that are lucky enough to live in the East Yorkshire area will probably have already guessed the location. Unfortunately, as I do not wish to ‘awake’ or provoke the owner of this historical site, I shall have to remain silent on the subject to everyone else.

Talking of silence, being alone in an old church grave-yard, miles from anywhere in the middle of the night, is something that everyone should experience at least once! The sounds of the birds subsided slowly as the light faded. Even though there was no moon, it was still light enough for me to move around without my torch; and I really wanted to prolong my torch batteries for the walk back to the car. Thankfully, there was also a light breeze that kept the biting insects at bay. I must be honest here and admit that on a couple of occasions, I shone my torch into the surrounding bushes when I heard a mysterious rustle. Mostly, it was very peaceful. I could hear the screech of a Tawny Owl and the odd Bat would fly past, but fortunately, there wasn’t a zombie or a vampire to be seen!

I arrived at the location shortly before sunset. I scouted several promising view-points but kept changing my mind. Eventually I decided to use my 14-24 wide angle zoom at 15mm from inside the church with the lens pointing in a north-westerly direction. It took until around 10:00 pm before I had everything ready and the interval timer set on my Nikon D3s. I adjusted my camera to manual focus, selected Jpeg quality for a change to keep the file size small, opened the aperture to f4 at ISO 200, and set the exposure time to 30 seconds. I’d programmed the interval timer to give me exposures with one second between frames and then I pressed go. A quick calculation convinced me that an hour or 120 frames would give sufficient frames to make a pleasing star trail.

Unfortunately, everything didn’t quite go to plan. After thirty frames, the camera’s sequence suddenly stopped. I fiddled about with the Intervalometer settings but to no avail. Eventually, I just decided to reset the camera after each thirty or so frames. [Note: I eventually discovered that a D3s shutter speed is slightly more than 30 seconds and by using a 1 second interval it would ‘catch-up with itself’ and fill the buffer after 30 frames. [I have since learned that the interval between each frame should be a minimum of 3 seconds]

After an hour of listening to the constant clockwork click of the mirror and shutter, and jumping up to reset it every 15 minutes, the deed was done. I took a couple of ‘black-frames’ with the lens cap on just in case I needed them later for noise removal purposes [I didn’t], and waved my low-powered torch around the internal walls of the roofless church during a couple of exposures. Finally, I raised the ISO from 200 to 800 and opened the aperture fully to 2.8. This gave me an extra three stops additional exposure value, and so I made a couple more exposures at this setting too.

I arrived home around 1:00 am and loaded the images into Adobe Lightroom 4 before I had a beer and retired to bed. Next morning before work, I made several adjustments to the first frame in the sequence, including cropping, and then applied these changes to the rest of these 119 Jpeg images. I then exported these images to a new folder on my computer’s desktop. I downloaded a shareware copy of StarStaX for my Mac and loaded the files. I followed the instructions and moments later I was delighted to see the completed arc of stars. I quickly added a foreground layer in Photoshop [instructions here] using one of my light-painted frames. The result was Ok so I posted it on my Flickr page.

The following evening I took another look at my image. Yuk! I’d stood there for an hour or more and this image did not reflect the location or its ambience. I went back to the original files, recreated the arc of Stars and then chose one of my last frames; where I had increased the exposure by three stops. This time, the shadows were convincing and the image went some way to representing my pre-visualisation of the scene. Of course, it also removed my woefully inadequate attempts at light-painting.

So what did I learn from my adventure? Trying something different is always the key to increasing my creativity. Perhaps next time, I’ll do some research beforehand and practice in my garden first!

Finally, if you downlaod a copy of Time Lapse Assembler, then you can use your original files to make a neat little movie.

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