I have spent the last four days watching Redpolls. Mostly not carrying any camera kit as it has been too dull for photography, but just walking around finding them and noting where they were feeding. Today was a beautiful, clear, blue sky day so armed with the 800mm I spent my time hanging around the trees they frequented most. This is my favourite sort of photography. All the work is done in advance while the weather is unsuitable. Just long hours in the field watching and noting.

I picked on this particular area because all the trees are short and recently planted so the birds were often only at head height, giving me the advantage of not having to look upwards and usually having a distant wood or hedge as the backdrop, rather than sky.

Redpolls are often very static. Once they start to feed on a catkin they can be still for 10 minutes or so, before moving onto the next one.  This makes them difficult to spot amongst the branches and catkins. Even if there are a dozen birds in a tree they can go unnoticed at first. Once found though they are a very approachable species. Even with a 400mm lens I could have got close enough today.

Camera bean bags

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a confusing subject, but one that fascinates me. I often get emails from firms offering to improve my rankings in search engines, but what ranking they are talking about I am not so sure. Type “Mike Lane” into Google and I usually come up first so long as you are in the U.K. (Type it in the USA and a Louisiana fisherman comes first). If I do not come first then add “wildlife photographer” and I always do, although there is another Mike Lane with a web site of bird photographs.

What I really want is to come first with “yellowhammer picture for sale”. I used to do quite well at this in the early days of the internet, but no longer. As all my pictures are now in a PHP database rather than simple HTML coding this seems to be more difficult.

I have recently started selling camera bean bags again and very quickly did well in the search engines as I got all the right keywords in place. I am certainly always on the first page in Google, but have not reached the top of the page yet. To improve my chances I have bought the domain name www.camerabeanbag.com. I am now waiting to see how long it takes for that to appear in Google. It will be a one page web site that replicates my current web page selling camera bean bags. I shall join the two web sites together so it is not obvious which one you are on, but hopefully get my bean bags closer to the top of the page.

Nikon 4000 Ed Coolscan scanner

I have not used my film scanner for some time and when I have tried been very aware that the quality was poor. This morning I had another go and it was terrible. The scanned image looked like it was flared and I suspected the lens or glass inside the scanner was filthy. A quick Google to see where I could get it serviced produced two web sites on “do it yourself” scanner servicing. 12 screws later and I had it in bits on my desk and a very tiny mirror the size of my thumbnail in my hand. There was so much dust on the mirror that I could have written my name in it. A bit of soft lens cloth and alcohol solution and it was spotless.

Proud of myself I reassembled it and all is perfect now. No lens flare and back to as good as new.

Workshop for focus4nature and the Royal Photographic Society

Workshop for focus4nature and the Royal Photographic Society

On the 18th February 2012 I am giving a workshop on wildlife photography in Bath. This is organised through the RPS and sponsored by focus4nature. It runs from 10:00 am until 4:30PM.
Full details on the RPS web site at RPS

For bookings contact the RPS at;
Email: reception@rps.org
Phone: 01225 325733
Cost: £45.00. Members of the RPS Rate: £30.00

Tutor and content
This course is designed to give you an insight into how to photograph birds and mammals.  Mike Lane FRPS has been a full time professional wildlife photographer for the last twenty years, travelling to over 50 countries in search of subjects. He is happiest however, photographing his own native British wildlife, which is amongst the most challenging in the world. Mike believes that there is a technique or location for photographing most of our wildlife and on the course he will reveal many of these methods.

Camera equipment
The course begins by looking at the equipment required, from digital cameras and lenses to tripods and flash gear. More importantly what settings are the most appropriate for the subject. What ISO to use, Raw verses jpegs, which meter modes and focus modes. AV or TV mode or even manual exposure. What works best for fast moving wildlife?

Hides and other none photographic equipment
Working from hides is a major part of bird photography especially. Mike will demonstrate their use and other gear you need that camera shops do not sell.

Methods and techniques.
Kingfishers are always a popular subject with photographers, but not easy to photograph unless you know how. Even seeing one can be difficult, although they are common birds. There is a simple technique to attract them and Mike will tell you how to photograph them both perched and in flight and even diving into water.

The same for birds in your garden. How is this best done? What setup should you try to achieve? What are you looking for in the way of backgrounds and perches?

Throughout the day the locations where wildlife can be photographed with relative ease will be highlighted, both at home and abroad. Many British birds and mammals have a location somewhere where they can be quite easy to get close to. Mike has spent a lifetime finding them.

On safari
Since many of us only get to photograph wildlife on trips abroad we will look at what equipment is most appropriate here.

Post production
We will not have time for a full computer demonstration, but Mike will show how to download your pictures both at home and on a trip, store them, back them up and edit efficiently.  Keeping track of the vast numbers of pictures taken with a digital camera can be very difficult.

Selling images
Mike has made his living from his wildlife pictures for the last twenty years and will give a short insight into how to get your work published.

Course requirements
This course is suitable for those with Digital SLR cameras and lenses of at least 300mm and upwards.  Beginners and more advanced workers will find it suitable.

What to bring
Digital camera if you might want to ask questions about it. You are welcome to bring a few prints of jpegs on a memory stick for Mike to discuss.

Bring a packed lunch or use local facilities. Drinks provided.

This workshop is supported by Focus4nature

I have been baiting up for Buzzards for some weeks now. They come in and feed on the road killed Rabbits I put out, but so far not when I am in the hide. I get in the permanent wooden hide under the cover of darkness and just feel I am being unlucky. Buzzards vary a lot. Some birds are very timid and will not come near a hide and others I have done by simply putting out a rabbit, putting up a canvas hide, climbing inside in broad daylight and within 5 minutes they are down.

So far all I have at this site is a Magpie and for the last two days even they have not shown up. 800mm lens.

Sell your Canon kit now, before it is 5 years old!

Canon U.K. have just told me in writing that they can’t repair my 300mm F4 lens as they only keep spare parts for 5-7 years on all their products. I bought it new in 2004 for £1000. I am not certain what part is required, but suspect the image stabilizer module.
What a terrible service. I have always advised people to buy second hand gear as most photography equipment is under used. No longer is this a good idea. The second hand value of Canon gear is now much lower. It is a pity there are only two dominate players in the camera manufacturing  market, Canon and Nikon. It needs more competition to drive better customer service.

One of my arguments for selling my 600mm F4 IS lens last year was that it was 10 years old and if anything went wrong with it spares would not be available. My 800mm is okay for another 4 years, then £8000 could be worthless!

Red-breasted merganser at Westport Lake, Staffordshire. I was never prone to going to see birds that had turned up locally until the internet, but now that is possible to see if they are photographable I am more inclined. This bird was tame enough to do with a 300mm, but I only had the 800mm with me.

I usually find snipe to be nervous of a canvas hide put up on the day, but this is from a semi-permanent wooden hide that has been on a shallow scrape for a year now. Unlike a typical hide on a nature reserve this one allows you to poke the lens out at ground level and lie on the floor for a low angled shot. It has been productive in recent days with curlew, green sandpiper, osprey and sparrowhawk all landing around the scrape. The osprey landed twice on the same stump we had put out, but alas at the wrong end of the scrape for a picture.