Friday, 7 November 2014

Kennall Vale

One of my first projects at university has been to document and study the habitat of Kennall Vale nature reserve in Cornwall; a small woodland valley owned by the Cornwall wildlife trust which sits on the remains of a granite gunpowder industrial site which ran until 1910.
The area is a beautiful place from the moment you enter; oak trees towering over the pathway, fungi glistening at your feet, the sounds of Goldcrest and Grey Wagtails calling in the trees.

Some of the trees in the Ancient Woodland are phenomenally large
The site is most famous for the river which runs through it and the abandoned ruins of the disused mill houses. I did take a few photos of the river using a long exposure but did not spend too long as it is a shot which has been photographed on many occasions. Here are a few views of the landscape including the river:

River Kennall flowing through the woodland
The moss on the trees emphasises any light which shines through the canopy
The fibrous roots which grow out of the entire length of the stem of
Common Ivy allow it to grow to extreme heights on buildings
I was keen to try and find as much fungi as I could in the woodland area. The damp and mild conditions and the autumn season make woodlands perfect for fungi. I found in total around twenty different species and photographed the best ones.

Sulphur Tuft Fungi, Hypholoma fasciculare
This was my favourite picture that I took of fungi. The Sulphur Tuft is a common woodland fungi, most commonly seen in periods of heavy decay such as autumn. It is a toxic fungus which if eaten can cause you to feel very sick. I used a shallow depth of field (f2.8) to achieve a nice blurred background to seclude the fungi. I then used a reflector underneath to brighten the stems and I shaded the tops to reduce glare and overexposure. 

Mycena spinosissima
Although not the best photo I took, it took me just over an hour to get this image right. I added leaves to the base of the fungi and to the background to get rid of any distracting green patches of moss which were common in the woodland. I then had to get the exposure right. I ended up underexposing the photo by one stop so that the background would be much darker. I then used three separate reflectors to light up the fungi to make it stand out. 

Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
I loved the colours created by the autumn leaves on the floor in this photo. I wanted to throw them out of focus by using a wide aperture of f2.8. I then reflected light onto the fungi to make it stand out. 

Candlestick Fungi, Xylaria hypoxylon
Unidentified species
 The plants of Kennall Vale can also not be missed. Ferns, Ivy, Moss and Bracken cover everything in the woodland, from trees to old buildings. I tried to experiment with different angles when photographing a lot of the plants as I didn't want to stick with my usual small aperture photographs.

I got right underneath this plant and used a fish eye lens in order to get as much of the landscape around it in the photo as possible. I wanted to make the plant look huge, when in actual fact it was only ten centimetres off of the ground. I exposed for the highlights in the sky and waited for the sun to shine through the trees so that the greens in the plant would stand out even more.

As well as it's beautiful landscapes and huge array of Fungi and plants, Kennall Vale is home to many birds including Grey Wagtails and Dippers. I was very excited to photograph Dippers in particular because I had never seen them before.
I had to arrive to the site early to photograph the Dippers. I arrived just before sunrise so that I could get myself into position and set up my equipment before the birds became active. I was using a Canon 500mm lens and a Canon 6D. Around twenty minutes after sunrise the Dippers began to show. I saw two in total.

Dipper, Cinclus cinclus
The light was very poor when this Dipper was hunting. I was forced to use an ISO of 2500 which my camera did not cope very well with. The photo is therefore very grainy. However, I still really like the photo that I took. The composition works well and the dark light kind of represents the elusive nature of the bird. I watched a pair or around ten minutes before they flew off and did not return.

The Grey Wagtail showed a lot better. The individual in the photo below was in front of me hunting and cleaning for around forty five minutes. At many points it was within my minimum focus distance...

Grey Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea
I am very happy with this photo. The eye is perfectly in focus and the shallow depth of field has made the background a very nice tone and brown which compliments the yellow and grey of the bird. There is still detail in the wall that the Grey Wagtail is on which I like. You can see the fallen leaves which indicates to the viewer that it was taken in Autumn.

Overall, I am very happy with the photos that I have taken at Kennall Vale. It is a magical place and is most certainly one which I would recommend visiting if you are ever in Cornwall.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Shetland 2013 - Otter family

During the summer of 2013 I visited the Shetland Isles as a photography trip. This was the first holiday which I had planned solely for wildlife photography.
Shetland was been a place I had wanted to visit for many years; the first BBC wildlife magazine I ever read had a picture of an Otter on the front - and subsequently inspired me to get into wildlife photography seriously - and Charlie Hamilton James, one of the first photographers I begun aspiring towards, is well known for his work on Otters and his countless hours of film and thousands of photos on the species greatly attracted me to the Shetlands.

I'll admit that I wanted to go to Shetland to photograph Otters. I will also admit that this was very naive of me. Otters are not easy to find and certainly not easy to photograph, so I was going to need a lot of luck to do so. I knew however that even if I didn't see any Otters during my trip that it would be worth it. The bird life on Shetland is incredible and I was bound to get some good photos and experiences out of the journey.

Now, I don't want to bore you with a lot of writing so I'll get straight down to the business of weather I found any Otters or not...
I spent 10 days on Shetland and spent each say searching and waiting for Otters. I saw my first on the second day, I was in the camper van with my mum, parked next to an inlet and I spotted and Otter pop its head out of the water and quickly dive back under. I was in complete shock and grabbed my camera and went to get into a better position. Unfortunately it didn't return but I was amazed to have seen one and know that they are definatley around.
I then saw one the next day, this time it was a Dog Otter - read my previous blog for more on this.

After that I spent the rest of the holiday searching for good locations, in between photographing Puffins, Terns, Razorbills, Guillemots, Seals, Dunlin and a whole lot of wildlife. I decided on the last day - after no great views or photographs of Otters - to go to the Isle of Noss. The Isle of Noss is a haven for birds, particularly Puffins and as I was soon to find out... Otters.

I went onto the island with my Mum and as soon as we got off the boat a lady said to us that they had seen a family of Otters on the island recently and if I was lucky, I may see them. So I led down by a kelp bed (up wind of course) and waited. My patience over the trip had paid off at this moment when a female Otter burst out of the sea onto land with a crab in her mouth. I was ecstatic and couldn't help but take as many photos as possible to treasure the moment. Soon after, two pups came out of the water and begun biting the female... I was watching a family of Otters... me, a 17 year old boy. I didn't think in a million years that this would happen but it did. It was the single best wildlife encounter of my life and I don't think I will ever forget the moment.

Here are two of the photos that I took on that day: