Friday, 21 September 2012

Early Start at Clapton Moor

I did not do a lot of photography at the Avon Wildlife Trust sites this summer, mainly because it was so wet, day after day, week after week. I don't mind getting wet, but unfortunately my camera isn't waterproof. While it is easy to nip in from the garden when the skies open, out at the nature reserves, away from the car, it is not so easy. And in any case, there did not seem to be many invertebrates around as far as I could tell.

Before all the wetness started I did have some sessions at the nature reserves. On 13 May I went to the Clapton Moor nature reserve, starting early to try to make the best of the forecast of very little breeze. I worked with available light all through the four hour session.

I started about an hour after dawn, at which time the light level was still quite low in amongst the long grass and low down plants I was working amongst. For photographing insects that are sitting around covered in dew, the low light level is not a problem if the air is very still. I can use the camera hands-off on the tripod, with a remote release. Moving subjects though, even slow moving ones like slugs and snails, are more problematic in that light. As usual I want a small aperture to get a good depth of field. Since the subject is moving I can't use a very slow exposure. So I end up using higher ISOs, and still have to use quite slow exposures (e.g. 1/6 sec with ISO 800) which are borderline for a moving slug or snail even in completely still air. I watch the weather forecast (or to be truthful, it is Mrs G who keeps a rather closer watch) and pick days when when wind speeds are forecast to be low in the morning.  Even so, it is rarely completely still and failure rates are even higher than usual (and they are usually pretty high), and for the successes image sharpness is often marginal. But I can live with that - for me nice content trumps perfect sharpness.

Dew drops on plants and invertebrates can be very appealing. With luck there can be an excellent period when the air is fairly still and the light level has come up a bit but the sun is still hidden behind hedges and foliage. But after that comes another difficulty, when the low sun starts hitting the subjects directly, and the dew drops too.

At the time I took these photos I was having one of my “off” periods with regard to flash. For several years I have known that there can be significant benefits in using flash, including moderating the harsh effects of direct sunlight and the blurring effect of breeze, but despite trying various home made diffusers and reflectors I never really felt at home with flash, and so had long periods where I just gave up and made the best I could of available light. I just had to accept the often high failure rates and the lack of sharpness/detail when using available light in marginal (or plain unsuitable) conditions of breeze and light. And I had to accept blown highlights or lost shadow detail in high brightness/contrast conditions of direct sunlight.

I have just become a bit more aware of the shortcomings of not using flash in low light conditions, because today I switched from an analogue VGA connection to a digital HDMI connection between my PC and my screen. I think I'm seeing more detail now (which is good) because (not so good) I am seeing that some of my processed images are more noisy than I thought. I often use ISO 800, and have been mildly surprised for a while now that I could get away with ISO 800 with the noise reduction turned right down in the camera (I always use JPEG by the way), and only occasionally applying noise reduction during my post processing. It seems that the reason I could get away with it was that I wasn't seeing some of the bad stuff, and nobody else mentioned it.  Looks like I am going to have to use noise reduction more frequently in future.

I'm using flash more now, with my reflector + diffuser approach. It is quite awkward to use though, and depending on the light level can produce results that are as bad in terms of softness (and worse) from subject and camera movement as using available light. I did think that using flash would cure that, but now realise that you have to ensure that the flash is the dominant light source, and that can be tricky sometimes for my sort of shots. And when the flash is dominant, I sometimes don't like the look of the results. I think the on/off love/hate relationship with flash has some life left in it yet.


Here are some images of invertebrates from that session. They are shown in the order they were captured.

I will do a separate post with some pictures of flies.

Click on an image to see a larger version of it. Exif data can be seen by using an Exif viewer on the larger version of an image, such as Exif Viewer in Firefox.

These images are taken from the 130 images in this flickr set. They have been processed for best viewing at their full height of 900 pixels in subdued light on a screen calibrated to gamma 2.2.



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