In Search of the Northern Lights

Last week I was able to hunt for the Northern Lights. I had seen them previously near to Tromsø in Northern Norway in December 2011 and more fortuitously near to Inverness in October 2012, but I was in search of a more spectacular display. While the previous views were an experience to remember, I wanted to be able to see the colours with my naked eye, not just in the resulting photographs.

After some searching, I had decided to opt for Northern Finland, as while I have liked Norway since living in Oslo and had a certain affinity for the country, Finland offered better weather, which can be the enemy of the Aurora hunter, with a much better chance of clear weather, than Tromsø could offer, due to its assault by the gulf stream weather systems. I also decided to travel with a company called Aurorahunters.

While Aurorahunters is a fairly new company, having been established just two years ago, they are fast growing in their reputation. The company is owned by Andy Keen, with support from Marti Rikkonen, a nature photographer with many years experience photographing the nature of Finland, including the Aurora Borealis. Operations are ably managed by Andy’s son Alex and they have the support of other seasoned aurora hunters.

One thing that struck me on the first night, was the enthusiasm that they all showed. It was obvious that they would do everything possible not just ta find the Aurora, but also the gaps in the cloud cover. And therein lay the problem. We arrived from our over night stop in Helsinki to see heavy cloud cover with constant snow. The plan was to hunt for the Aurora on three of our four nights and the decision was made by Andy to call it a night, which meant everything was resting on the only three nights remaining. Of course, that was also the best night for predicted Aurora, but there simply wasn’t any chance of finding a gap in the cloud cover.

Aurora near Suolisjärvi.

The second night also didn’t look promising at first glance, as it was snowing yet again in Inari. However, the weather forecasts were suggesting that clearer weather was coming from the east, across the Russian border, so our team headed northeast, towards the Norwegian border south of Kirkenes. After a few brief glimpses of activity, just south of the border and some tantalising glimpses of cloud-free skies, we continued north, eventually crossing the border into Norway. However, as we got closer to Kirkenes, it became obvious that the clouds weren’t going to clear, so we headed back to our original location in Finland. Just before we reached our destination, a fox crossed the road in front of us, which excited Alex, as previous sightings had preceded good views of the Aurora. There us a Saami legend that Aurora is produced by the snow that is flung up by the tail of the fox and the Finnish name for the Aurora, Revontulet, actually means Tail of the Fox. It did indeed seem like an omen too, as when we approached our chosen spot, the clouds started to clear and an Auroral band became visible. It wasn’t the most spectacular of displays, but it was as strong as anything I’d seen and it had some structure to it. The Tricky Lady had made her appearance at last.

Northern shore of Lake Inari.

The third night also looked less than promising. Not only had the cloud returned after clearing for a time during the day, it had started snowing again and the temperature plummeted from around -8 C to -14 C. This time we headed east with Andy, towards the Russian border, as again it looked like the skies may be clearing from the east. As we drove, the temperature dropped further to -22.5 C until we reached the border post, after a slight detour to visit the Saami church at Nellim. We stopped for some hot cranberry juice, courtesy of Marti and his family and some biscuits, until we got a call that Aurora had been spotted on a nearby bridge across the Paatsjoki river, which forms the border between Norway and Russia after leaving Finland. While the temperature rose near the river, a mist had started to form, making the atmosphere damp and bitterly cold. It also masked the Aurora, making it difficult to see, even though it was just about visible.

Aurora near Inari.

I spent the final day photographing the landscape around the western end of Lake Inari, as the skies had cleared, producing a beautiful dawn light on the snow-covered lake. It was still -16 C outside and I needed something to cover my face, so went shopping ready for the final night, which was set to be even colder. Yet again, the snow came in, in the afternoon around Inari, but it looked like it would be clearer at the Norwegian border. We started off heading north, this time guided by Marti, but after travelling a short distance, Marti changed his mind. After a quick phone call to a friend, he told us the skies had cleared, so we headed northwest instead. Along the way, he regaled us with some stories of his time as a nature story, including a story of a beautiful bear, which had us in stitches. In fact we were concentrating so much on the stories, we almost missed the main event. One of the fellow guests nudged me and asked if it was an Aurora to the right. I had a look and thought that it was an Aurora just poking out over a hill. We frantically tried to get Marti’s attention, who found a clearing in the trees to next to the road, switched off the car lights and we were met with one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. Not only was it an Aurora, what I thought had been a hill, was in fact the sky, with a huge arc. As we watched, the arc was moving quite quickly, making the perfect subject for a timelapse movie. We viewed the same arc from two more locations along the road, before heading back to the hotel, ready for our early start to the airport the next morning. Marti had another surprise for us though. When we were about 20 kilometres from Inari, he decided to head off on a small side road. By this time the temperature had dropped to -28.5 C, but the display we saw was well worth the extreme temperature, which even challenged our thermal suits. We didn’t really feel the cold though, as the adrenaline was rushing through our veins. The arc was forming right across the road, almost above our heads, in a beautiful curve and the movement and changing forms were otherworldly. The Tricky Lady had done us proud.

For anyone who wants to see the Northern Lights, then I can thoroughly recommend Aurorahunters. The whole team exudes enthusiasm and is willing to go that extra mile to find the Aurora. That is probably why they still have a 100% record in finding the Aurora for each group.

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Winterwatch 2013 now Over

In early Autumn last year, the BBC announced that instead of the usual format for Autumnwatch, it would be cutting it to a single week, with a second week scheduled for January and would therefore be the first series of Winterwatch. Both weeks were to be set at the Aigas Field Centre, a place that has become my second home over the past five years. The large estate is a real haven for wildlife, including the rare pine marten and a family of beavers. The studio was located in a fishing cabin, next to Loch Cuil na Caillich, affectionately called “The Illicit Still”, after a story told to Sir John Lister-Kaye.

“The Illicit Still”, the log cabin used as the Winterwatch studio in 2013.

Autumnwatch was a great success, with good views of a wide range of wildlife and showed unexpected behaviour, not least in one of the beaver lodges, when a water shrew was seen on one of the cameras. Now that Winterwatch has ended, it can be viewed with equal success, with more footage of previously unseen behaviour, including beavers swimming under the ice on the loch. In fact, the timing of the week of programmes was fortuitous, as it coincided with the advent of cold weather, in what had been a mild winter up to that point. Also featured were pine martens and red squirrels, with some experimentation to examine their behaviour. The final programme was followed by Winterwatch Unsprung. The whole half an hour slot was based in the studio, instead of outside. It was good to see some of the rangers I have grown to know of the past few years, even though a number of them have left since Autumnwatch to take up new challenges. However, behind and above Chris Packham’s right shoulder, placed in prominent view, was a print of one of my images, in fact it was very appropriate, as it was a view of the very cabin they were in, from across the loch following overnight snow.

Female blackbird feeding on Pyracantha berries.

Further south, winter even gripped the southwest of England. Snow is uncommon in most winters, but we have had snow in three of the last four in Somerset now. Parts of Somerset had several inches, but in Bridgwater, the snow was preceded by a spell of heavy rain, which limited the snowfall to a just a couple of inches. However, it was enough to alter the behaviour of the local wildlife, due to the scarcity of food. The public area at the front of my house was full of blackbirds, but when the children were playing in the snow, they were forced into my garden, where they fed on berries on my Pyracantha and Cotoneaster bushes. At a couple of points, two female birds were present and this resulted in some territorial disputes. Lighting was pretty awful, but I was able to get some ok images of them perched on the bushes and some of them feeding.

 

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Somerset Levels Two Weeks after the Heavy Rain and Flooding

During the few days from the 20th of November, through to the 23rd of November, the UK and Southwest England in particular, where hit with a large amount of rain. On the 21st alone, up to 60mm fell in some areas. Exeter, in Devon, used to flood badly in the areas around the River Exe, until the building of a flood prevention scheme was built in the 1960’s; this only just held back the flood waters, resulting in a raging torrent in the flood prevention channels. Just outside of Exeter, upstream, the river burst its banks flooding the mainline railway into the Southwest. In Tiverton, to the northeast, the Grand Union Canal had a partial collapse. Cornwall and Dorset were also badly hit and two red alerts were issued in Cornwall, with a major threat to life. The flooding was exacerbated from the extremely wet spring summer, causing the ground to be saturated, therefore being less able to absorb the rainfall.

In Somerset, flooding is an annual event on the Levels and the whole landscape is built around flood defence. There are many spillways from the network of rivers that wind there way across the moors and marshes, not to mention hundreds of man-made Rhynes and even river systems to help drain the floodwater away. These spillways divert the water away from the rivers onto the low lying moors, deliberately flooding the farmland to protect the major towns of Taunton and Bridgwater, but also to help protect some of the small towns and villages directly on the Levels. This event was different however. The spillways worked as normal and the pumps were pumping water further downstream into the River Parrett, where it could pass out to the Bristol Channel. However, the whole system simply couldn’t cope with the rainfall and the water volumes involved. There are four main rivers, flowing down from the Quantock Hills, Brendon Hills and Blackdown Hills onto the Somerset Levels, converging on the Parrett before flowing out to the Bristol Channel. The Rivers Isle and Yeo meet the Parrett near the town of Langport and the Parrett burst its banks, flooding one of the trading estates. Further upstream, the Yeo also burst its banks, as did the Parrett, cutting off the village of Muchelney.

Further downstream, at the convergence of the Rivers Parrett and Tone, more chaos ensued, as the Athelney Spillway and the various pumping stations and other Spillways were overwhelmed. North Moor, Curry Moor, Salt Moor, Stan Moor and Southlake moor all flooded as normal, but the flood water kept rising, until it breached the raised A361 road in a number of places, resulting in closure of the road, as well as the nearby A372. The villages of East Lyng and Burrowbridge were also cut off for a time. The amount of rain was so great, that the water levels on the Levels and Moors were still rising a week later, thanks to the runoff from the surrounding hills. At one point, the water was rising at a rate of 3 centimetres each day, over a huge area. Extra mobile pumps were installed to try to pump out the flood water, but the rivers were so full, that pumping downstream became an issue, particuarly as the heaviest rain coincided with a high tide, putting the large town of Bridgwater at risk from sea encroachment.

Two weeks after the event, water levels are beginning to recede, but the village of Muchelney remains cut off and the A361 is still closed, although some drivers are attmepting to drive through. High sided vehicles seem to get through ok, albeit slowly, but it is still impassible for cars. After looking at maps, trying to determine exactly where the road was closed, I decided to drive to Burrow Mump, near the Tone and Parrett convergence, yesterday to view the extent of the floods. Even two weeks after the flooding and despite receding, the flooding is extensive, with water up to the base of the hill at a couple of points.

With winter only just arriving, the chances of more heavy rain, falling onto the flooded landscape makes it look pretty bleak for those living in the flooded areas. With the floods not expected to recede for a few months, any rain will just exacerbate the problem.

 

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Bridgwater Carnival 2012

Saturday night was carnival night. For the first year, Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival was held on a Saturday, to try to increase the amount of money collected for local charities. For those who don’t know, the carnival procession is held in the evening and is considered to be the largest illuminated carnival in the world and in fact only Notting Hill in London and Mardi Gras in Rio de Janeiro are probably bigger. The reasons for the procession are two fold, local heritage and culture (not to mention entertainment) and to raise money for charities.

Last year, the carnival was beset by drama and tragedy, with the collapse of the wall by the river and the later serious accident on the M5 near Taunton. Following the accident, carnival-goers held a mass minute’s silence the next day, during the traditional “Black Sunday” celebrations and a significant amount of money was raised by the various clubs. This was recognised by the emergency services during this year’s procession, thanking all the clubs for their help.

The entrants were as spectacular as usual, although I felt that there was a reduction in originality, with a number of entrants having very similar themes to recent years and even some with the exactly the same name during the procession, for example two or three clubs named their entrants “Circus”. One of my favourites was “Be our Guest”, by Wick Carnival Club. It wasn’t as spectacular as some of the big clubs, but they have improved noticeably in the few years I have been watching, plus it was one of the more original ideas. Sometimes I think originality should be rewarded as much as the amount of money that is obviously put into making many of the carts. I also find the entries from Huckyduck and Pentathlon to be quite interesting, but I was slightly disappointed by Huckyduck’s entry this year at the time, although looking at the photos, I like it better. It certainly wasn’t in the same class as their “Spirit of the Blitz” entry a couple of years ago, but was still good.

In what has almost become a tradition in the past decade, Gremlins yet again were the winners, with their entry Revolution. They seem to have a much bigger budget, with so many members, when compared to many other clubs and their cart is always a mass of moving parts.

All in all Bridgwater Carnival 2012 was a success and passed without the major incidents of last year. I think holding it on the Saturday was an improvement, although only the news of how much collected will confrm that.

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Latest Visit to the Aigas Field Centre

A couple of weeks ago, I made one of my regular trips to Scotland. As usual, I had two stopovers in the way to my final destination of the Aigas Field Centre. The weather turned out to be about the most favourable so far. I’ve had good weather in the past, but it was too good, with very harsh lighting. Often though, the weather has been pretty wet, with a low cloud base. This time however, it was pretty much perfect for a landscape photographer, at least on most days. While there were some wet periods, on the whole, it was showery, with constantly changing lighting conditions, with just one day being extremely wet (complete with flooding).

As has become fairly standard over the past few trips, my first stop was at a small Lake District village called Watermillock at the Brackenrigg Inn, which overlooks Ullswater to the south. The single rooms are quite small, but the food is among the best I’ve tasted. Often, the weather in The Lakes is pretty wet and there was some flooding when I arrived, but the sun was shining, with enough cloud cover to give some interesting skies. I dutifully drove down to Pooley Bridge and walked along the southern bank. It wasn’t quite as straightforward as I’d expected though, due to the flooding. Firstly, I tried photographing the river in flood, but I couldn’t get a composition I liked, so I continued to the southern bank, where I’d photographed before, ready to capture the sunset. The path I had taken before though, was completely flooded, so I had to take the higher path, until I could find a place to descend back down to water level and away from the trees. The flooding in my chosen spot was obvious, with a number of trees surrounded by water. The sunset wasn’t the best, but I managed to get some shots I was happy with anyway.

My next stop was one of my favourite places, Glencoe. As usual, I stayed at the Clachaig Inn, near to Signal Rocks and next to the River Coe. It is a prime place for ramblers and mountaineers, so has a much more informal feel to it that I like. The food is more pub-style, than restaurant, but still pleasant to eat. Again, the weather was perfect for landscapes and I was able to get one of my favourite images of the year. The sun broke through the clouds, lighting up the surrounding mountains, leaving the River Coe in enough shadow for me to reduce the shutterspeed enough to get good motion of the water.

After just a single night at the Clachaig, I drove to my final destination, the Aigas Field Centre. I’ve seen a few changes amongst the Rangers over the years, but they are all very friendly and knowledgable. The food is also very good and there is always plenty for even the largest of appetites and the centre is worth a visit, just for that. It has become my escape from a busy and stressful working life and is now pretty much a second home to me. If I lived closer, I would probably visit more often than I do, but the drive is simply too long for more trips. As usual, my reason (or rather excuse) for going was a masterclass photography workshop that was being run by the renowned Scottish nature photographer Laurie Campbell. Even though, I probably don’t really need his tutelage anymore as such, I always pick up some piece of useful information, simply by his proximity and by seeing him at work and he has become a friend over the years. The Masterclass Photography workshop, is as much about learning fieldcraft as photography and it is this that is one of my main reasons for attending. Another important reason, is to visit areas I like to visit, have time to stop photograph and not have the stress of driving long distances. The Aigas Estate is also well worth a visit, with a large range of different habitats and wildlife. In the spring and summer, it is possible to see ospreys and other raptors on the estate, as well as many different small passerine birds, with various wildfowl and other winter birds arriving in the autumn. There are also a number of resident mammals and herpetic fauna, including pine martens and badgers, not to mention red squirrels. I have spent around four and a half years trying to get a photograph of  red squirrel I am happy with, with very little success. However, on this trip, they were very visible, with a number of youngsters running across the lawns around the arboretum. With a little judicious baiting, they performed admirably and at one point three different individuals were in close proximity.

There are a number of local straths and glens surrounding the field centre, including Strathconon, Glen Cannich and the more famous Glen Affric and Glen Strathfarrar. These are all good for seeing golden eagles and each has their own landscape. Glen Affric is known for the remnant caledonian pine woodland and has special recognition for its importance in the natural habitat of the Scottish Highlands. Very few other glens and straths can offer such a fine example and once the autumn colours are produced, it is nothing short of breathtaking. Sadly, we were a little too early to see it at its best, as the colours weren’t yet in their full glory, but a visit to Strathconon produce some better colours. Stathconon is the complete opposite to Glen Affric in some ways. It is a good example of imbalance in fact, as the forestry commission has a strong presence and there is alot of evidence for overgrazing by red deer, with quite alot of erosion of the slopes. However, the colours around Loch Meig, near the bottom of the glen were just getting to their best and the almost still, sunlit  evening made for some spectacular reflections, so much so, that we were late for dinner. There was just enough of a breeze to blow the leaves, without disturbing the water.

We also went a little further afield, visiting the Falls of Shin, to see the leaping salmon and trout. Numbers weren’t large, but there were enough for some photographic opportunities. Another trip took us along the Farr Road, ostensibly to look for signs of black water voles, but also to look out for red grouse and to see some ancient preserved pine roots, evidence of how the moorland once looked, before human intervention.

Finally it was time to leave and to say goodbye to some friends in their final season at the centre. Unfortunately, I had left it too late to book a room at the Clachaig Inn for a couple of nights, so I was forced to look for another stopover. I chose the Isles of Glencoe Hotel, a pleasant hotel in a prime location, on the banks of Loch Leven, at the bottom of Glencoe. While the room was very nice and the food was good, it was a little too formal for my purpose, as I wanted to eat when I was ready to eat, instead of having to plan when to have dinner, early in the day. The locale was spectacular though and the changeable weather made for some dramatic landscapes. I produced a number of images I was very happy with, but one in particular stood out for me, making it two standout images for the trip. The final day, as I was just finishing my breakfast and was about to go and get ready for the drive to Ullswater, the mist started rolling across the loch from the direction of Kinlochleven. I quickly grabbed my gear to a high vantage point overlooking the loch, deciding on a short telephoto lens, grabbing a number of shots, looking towards the nearby mist beyond Eilean Munde, before heading towards another vantage point looking towards Ballachulish Bridge.

Finally, I headed off back to Ullswater, where the weather had closed in, so it was a restful night at the Brackenrigg before I headed home, from what had been a very successful and enjoyable trip, with a number of significant images.

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Autumnwatch at Aigas Field Centre

 

On Monday, it was announced by the BBC, that this year’s Autumnwatch would be based at a location that has become my second home over the past few years. The Aigas Field Centre is set within an eighteen acre estate, centered around an old Victorian hunting lodge. Surrounding the house that has been built as a result of a series of extensions to the hunting lodge, are a formal garden and arboretum, looked after lovingly by Lady Lucy Lister-Kaye, who also runs the kitchen and serves high quality food, along with the kitchen staff. These gardens are bordered by the log cabins where most guests stay and they are frequented by the resident red squirrels and the odd pine marten and badger.

Beyond the house and gardens are where it starts to get really interesting however. Climb uphill and you reach the education centre that was opened by the late Sir Magnus Magnusson and has been designed to be as ecologically friendly as possible. Keep going though and you enter the Caledonian pine woods, where Scottish wildcats have been seen and pine martens and badgers wander, along with foxes and small mammals. Set within these woods, there is a small loch, where a family of beavers lives. These beavers were originally introduced as a pair, as a demonstration project showing that beavers can live within the British Isles, without causing serious damage. Studies of these beavers have shown a regeneration of the deciduous woodland at the far end of the loch, with natural management (by the beavers) of the wetland area. This has increased biodiversity and proven that trees aren’t killed by the action of the beavers, but are in fact effectively coppiced. Any trees or wood that need to remain, are protected by the simple application of chicken wire.

To the left of the loch, a path continues up through the pine woods towards a tree-top hide, that overlooks the valley below, giving good views of any raptors that may be flying. The path continues on through upland moorland towards a hill-top fort, passing some hut circles along the way, where roding woodcock can be seen after dusk during the spring months. From the fort, the views are spectacular and even the Beauly firth is visible to the east. To the west, the peaks surrounding Glen Cannich, Glen Strathfarrar and Glen Affric are just visible.

While The Aigas estate is large for an estate, there are probably very few estates with such a diverse range of habitats in what is essentially a small area. As a result, there is a very diverse range of wildlife, with many migratory birds arriving in Spring and Autumn and many more resident birds and mammals, not to mention herpetic fauna. This of course makes it ideal for its use by the BBC for its series of Autumnwatch programmes, starting at the end of October.

 

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Illumina at Hestercombe Gardens

During the nights of 7-9th and 14-16th of September, Hestercombe Gardens has a special series of events. Ulf Pedersen, having spent some time creating some artistic light shows with Power Plant, is creating his Illumina project. The gardens are being illuminated with lights shows, as well as having a series of projections, some moving.

During the evening of September 6th, a press event and preview show was staged, so that any last minute hitches could be ironed out and I was lucky enough to be invited to take photographs, along with another member of the Sydenham Camera Club.

For anyone interested, details of the show and information about entry can be found on the link below.

http://www.hestercombe.com/events-and-activities/21-september/75-illumina-hestercombes-night-of-light.html

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Canvas Prints Displayed in Somerset

For those living in Bridgwater, I currently have two framed canvas prints on display in the window of Armoury Gallery in St Mary Street. Sized at 28×18 inches, they are large enough to give justice to the images, without being too large for a normal sized house and are priced at £145. There are a further two framed prints available inside the gallery for the same price, along with some A4 mounted prints on Hahnemuhle fine art paper, priced much lower.

Photographed at Kilve Beach.

Photographed near Porlock Weir.

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Canon 5D MkIII – Thoughts after One Week of Use

Cinnabar moth caterpillar with Canon EOS 5D MkIII.

Back in March, I was lucky enough to get an invite to see the then new Canon EOS 5D MkIII at the Focus on Imaging event. I published my thoughts in my First Impressions of the New Canon EOS 5D MkIII blog entry. I have now finally taken the plunge and have owned it for one week. So far, I haven’t had a great deal of opportunity to put it through its paces. However, I have taken over 350 macro images (mostly in windy conditions) and explored how high I can push the ISO and last night I was able to test the autofocus a little.

First thoughts, are that it feels very good in your hands, as I also said previously. You definitely know you’re holding it from the weight, but (for larger hands at least), I think it fits perfectly, without feeling like you might drop it. Pretty much like the 7D in fact. I probably still need to read the manual properly, but mostly, I have been able to find out where things are. The mirror lockup is now on the first page of the menu, without having to delve into the (illogical) AF menu to find it. However, I am finding the zoom action a little difficult to get used to. In many ways, it is actually in a more logical position, but old habits often die hard. Also, the Q button screen doesn’t seem to have any access to the AF selection, like it does on the 7D, using the AF selection and M-Fn buttons instead.

Macro photograph with Canon EOS MkIII at ISO 6400.

My first concern was over manual focus, as I have always found manual focusing on the 7D through the transmissive viewfinder difficult, but despite having the same design, I haven’t had any problems with the 5D MkIII. The next step was to test the amount of noise and see how far I was willing to push it. While it was difficult, due to the windy conditions (motion blur always makes the noise look worse), my initial feelings are, that with correct exposure, ISO 6400 will work well for macro work, but ISO 12,800 is too noisy, although it may be ok for printing to A4 or even A3. That is a full two stops better than the 7D (which is actually noisier at ISO 1600, than the 5D MkIII is at ISO 6400 and probably at least one stop better than the 5D MkII.

Testing autofocus system of Canon EOS 5D MkIII against busy background.

After only being able to take macro shots in my back garden, I was finally able to get out and about with the camera last night. I deliberately left my 7D at home, so that I wasn’t tempted to go for the extra “reach”. I didn’t get too many opportunities, as most of the bids were pretty distant, but I did get some test shots. The first opportunity was a group of carrion crows on the path. There was a person coming in the opposite direction, so rather than me disturb them and I get a rear end view, I decided to wait for the other person to disturb them, so that they flew in my direction. The first thing I noticed, was the frame rate. Even though it’s only 2 fps less than the 7D, it’s obvious in use. While it isn’t critical (or even required) for most circumstances, when it is needed, it probably wouldn’t be quite fast enough for really fast moving action. However, the AF was so much more assured than the 7D and even in that short time, I had much more confidence that I could get the shot when push came to shove.

Testing image quality of Canon EOS 5D MkIII o nslow moving subjects.

In terms of image quality, it was night and day compared with the 7D. Even though many of the birds were distant, there was so much more definition. It was even noticeable in the slower moving targets, such as the mute swans, where the reach wasn’t important. The 300mm f/2.8 with 1.4x extender coupled to the 5D MkIII, produced images as sharp as the 300mm f/2.8 without extender does on the 7D and that’s without any AF microadjustment. I’ve done very little wildlife work with the 5D MkII, so I don’t have much to compare, but the AF alone makes it a much better camera in that regard and the indications so far, that it produces sharper wildlife images than the MkII, probably due to the focusing abilities rather than any sensor differences.

I thought long and hard about getting the MkIII, but in the end, it just made sense for the type of shooting I do. For landscape photography, I doubt it will make much difference to the MkII, but it has now become useful for action shots, with a much more assured focusing system and the benefits of the higher image quality from the full frame sensor. In the past, It was always a debate, which camera to take, if I had to travel light. Now it is a no-brainer. Where the 5D MkII would have let me down when photographing fast moving wildlife and the 7D wasn’t ideal for landscapes and suffered in low light; the MkIII is the best compromise for all the shooting I do. If I could afford bigger primes,  then 7D would be quietly retired, but I need the extra reach too often to sacrifice it at the moment. Perhaps an option would be a used 1D MkIV, or perhaps I’d be better off getting a big(ger) white. That’s a debate for the future though. No doubt, I will be publishing a fuller review, once I’ve gained more experience shooting with it.

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Latest trip to Scotland

A few weeks ago, I went on one of my regular trips to Scotland, via the Lake District. I only stopped off overnight in the Lakes, in both directions, looking out over Ullswater, so didn’t get an opportunity to explore photographic opportunities. I also only stayed one night in Glen Coe, but did manage to spend some time in Glen Etive, a side glen of Glen Coe, with Buchaille Etive Mor looming over the glen at its junction with Glen Coe. The weather wasn’t at its best, but it did enable me to get some shots of the real Scotland, in its more usual conditions than the calm serenity typically portrayed in photographs. This made the perfect conditions for moody black and white images. I don’t often do black and white conversions and I deliberately set out with black and white in mind even less, but on this occasion it seemed the obvious choice, so I spent more time than usual in Photoshop as a result, to get the best out of the images.

The reason for travelling this time, was to attend a special weekend at the Aigas Field Centre, where I frequently visit, sponsored by Swarovski Optics, with special guest Johnny Kingdom. Accommodation is fairly basic, in log cabins, but the cabins are heated, so are plenty warm enough, except in the coldest of conditions. The food is exceptional, with breakfast and packed lunches, followed by a three course evening meal to restaurant standard. The weekend itself was very stormy, but we were able to take a rather rough boat trip, before the conditions deteriorated too much. There were good views of nesting seabirds on the cliffs of the Cromarty Firth, including razorbills, puffins and black guillemots. The weekend was ended by a ceilidh, with story telling and singing.

For a change, I spent a few days doing my own thing after the weekend, so that I could explore the grounds. I had hoped to see a fishing osprey, in the small loch in the grounds, but it wasn’t to be. However, I did get some nice, extended views of a willow warbler, that seemed very curious of me, as it flew around me in circles, stopping off on bushes and trees to view me. I was also able to watch it try to catch some insects, if unsuccessfully. Walking through the surrounding upland moorland enable me to capture some of the views from the hill fort, with both Beauly Firth and the mountains surrounding Glen Cannich and Glen Affric visible.

While I didn’t take as many photographs as I usually do while visiting, I was very pleased with some of the results, making it a productive week, not to mention enjoyable. It was nice to be able to relax a bit while I was there, after the stresses of work.

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