Whenever I go after waxwings I get distracted by thrushes. Somehow I find myself more interested in the redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds etc that are often found on the same berries. This winter in the hard frost Cannock Chase in Staffordshire provided lots of opportunities in some of the best wintery conditions for years. I am still processing the pictures and not reached the redwings and song thrush pictures yet.

Blackbird on rowan berries
Fieldfare on hawthorn
Fieldfare on hawthornFieldfare on hawthorn

Kingfisher workshops update

We were suprised how long we were able to keep the kingfisher coming to the site as the lake has been frozen over for a long time now. Finally however we have been defeated by the deep snow preventing access down the long dirt track. The kingfisher has sensibley moved on.

We hope to resume the workshops when the weather warms up and hopefully the U.K’s best trained kingfisher takes up residence again. In the end we could get him landing on whatever we wanted and even stand on one leg whilst singing Waltzing Matilda to order. More usefully we could get him to hover in front of the hide whenever we wanted.

Hovering to order

DxO Optics Pro

From time to time I try out a new raw converter and compare it to my current results with Breezebrowser. For the second time I have just given DxO Optics Pro a run out. It appeals to me a lot because it describes itself as automated and that I have always liked. Autowind, autofocus, autoexposure etc. in cameras I have always welcomed and never tried to resist by insisting I can do better myself manually, which is common with photographers.

I have been forecasting for a while that raw converting would eventually be fully automated, with an override when necessary, but with my first trial of this software was not impressed. I am this time. The way I test software like this is to convert my files in the usual way during a session at the computer. When I have finished for the day I reconvert just 2-3 of the images with the new software and compare the results. I do this over several days tweaking the settings as I go through the usual learning curve with any new program.

My conclusion was that I usually preferred the result I got with the DxO software, but if I went back and redid the conversion by my normal method I could always match the DxO version. This is what I have always found with raw converters; at the end of the day they all can give me the same output. What is important here though is that at a first attempt the DxO was giving the better result quickly and easily. I was having to boost my normal process to match it.

My trial period is now up and I am going to have to fork out £269 for it. I can not say all is perfect with the software. I would not call it simple and intuitive as I had to put an hour aside to read the manual which I detest. The icons and layout of the menus does not make it easy to look at the screen and guess what you have to do.

In fact there is still one important thing I have not been able to work out. When I convert to a 16 bit Tif file they come out at 72 dpi. I can’t set it to 300 dpi without also resizing the file. There must be a setting there somewhere. You would think it would be logically placed under output settings, but no. The PDF manual mentions it only under Image resampling (why don’t they say Image resizing), but I don’t want to resize. At the moment I have to change the dpi in Photoshop afterwards.

There are many other tweaks in the settings that can be made, but I am guessing I will never have to use them. I sometimes dabble with the contrast and exposure, but usually it gets it just right automatically. Suits me. Means I can get outdoors again quicker.


Knole deer park in Kent is one of my favourites. The fairways of the golf course within the park offer nice settings for the fallow and sika deer found here. Apart from around the car park area the fallow deer are surprisingly nervous and it is hard to get close, but the sika deer are far more approachable. I left home about 0200 hrs to arrive for dawn and packed a toothbrush in case I wanted to stay over. It was bright and sunny all day, but as ever by 1000 hrs I packed up. The sun was too high and harsh and the deer mostly in the shadows of the trees. Photography did not begin again until late afternoon, which leaves a substantial part of the day to sleep after such an early start.

Fallow deer
Fallow deer, Dama dama

At one point a line of fallow deer ran along a ridge, one after the other, but although they were moving fast they did not appear stretched. Given more time I would have tried using a slower shutter speed, but it was all over to quick.

Sika deer, Cervus nippon
Sika deer, Cervus nippon
Fallow deer, Dama dama
Fallow deer, Dama dama
Sika deer, Cervus nippon
Sika deer, Cervus nippon

The best potential was close to dusk as the sun hit the horizon as a large red ball. The backlit sika deer looked great with flies buzzing around their heads. Unfortunately they never stood in the right place during that last glow.

Fallow deer, Dama dama
Fallow deer, Dama dama

The fallow deer also did not pose so well in the last bit of light. A pity as they stood out well on the horizon. I underexposed them a couple of stops to make them more of a silhouette.

Sale of two lenses

Update. Both lenses have now been sold.

In an ungaurded moment I pressed  the Buy button on Ebay and bought myself a Canon 800mm F5.6 lens. Pulling power. I have always said I use the 600mm more than the 500mm and I expect the 800mm will be even more useful. It has 4 stops of IS and I have tried it out hand held. It works. I could never hold the 600m steady, it was just too heavy.

Only leaves me with one problem. Paying for it. I need to sell my Canon EF 500mm f4 IS USM lens for £3200 and my Canon EF 600mm f4 IS USM for £4500. Neither are mint, but the optics are perfect. Both bodies have marks on them.

500mm lens below. The worst marks on on the base of the lens hood and tripod foot.



Both lenses come with the Canon case, unused. Lens hood and front cap.

Please email me at mikelane@nature-photography.co.uk if interested. I am based in the Midlands, U.K.


Water shrew, Neomys fodiens, single shrew on rock by water, Warwickshire, July 2010
Water shrew, Neomys fodiens, single shrew on rock by water, Warwickshire, July 2010

When money is tight (and it is) I revert to staying at home and photographing our common British wildlife. They do not come much more numerous than the common shrew, but there are relatively few pictures of them around. The pygmy shrew is just as common, but try looking on picture library web sites for them. Very few people have done them.

Look for images of wood mice and bank voles and you will find masses. They are easy to catch, simple to keep alive and very prone to taking up cute poses. Put either in a glass tank and quite readily they will sit upright and groom themselves like supermodels preparing for the camera. Not so the shrews.

Of the three widespread U.K. shrews the one you will find the most pictures of is the water shrew. Second comes the common shrew and finally the pygmy. It reflects how difficult they are to photograph in that order.

I have just done water shrew and found it very difficult. Hyper active and never stopping to pose it consumed a lot of my energy over five days. It took many more days to trap and the traps have to be inspected every few hours to make sure they stay alive. I do not find it true that shrews die easily. Given food and water they are not difficult to keep. I had a supply of  earthorms and meal worms and they thrived.

Water shrew, Neomys fodiens, single shrew on ground, Warwickshire,
Water shrew, Neomys fodiens, single shrew on ground, Warwickshire,
Water shrew in a shoe
Water shrew in a shoe

Now I am doing the common shrew and it is even more difficult (and it bites). I have finally worked out a method to get its cooperation, but it is still hard. I am expecting the pygmy to be even harder to get to grips with, but so far failed to catch one.You need a license to trap shrews in the U.K.

Lesser-spotted woodpecker

Lesser-spotted woodpeckers are not so much rare birds as difficult to see, spending their time high up in trees out of sight. I have only ever come across three nests, the first of which I photographed by putting a 20 foot alloy scaffolding tower up. It was a lot of work over several days and the only day I got to actually take pictures it rained incessantly. This in the days of Kodachrome 64 meant flash was the only option. Looking back it is amazing that I got any pictures at all, but they were actually quite good and I was pleased to do a species that many never do.

This year I got to photograph one in Bulgaria, courtesy of Spatia Wildlife, that was only 1.6 metres high in a fence post and completely out in the open. They are very tame birds usually and a hide was unnecessary. We were a group of 5 on the tour and could stand very close out in the open, without the birds being concerned. As they were still feeding small young both adults would go completely inside the nest, which meant when they emerged they always flew straight out and away. A great opportunity for flight shots. I tried two methods to try and get them sharp. First I manually focused just in front of the hole and guessed whether the bird would go right or left. They almost never went in a straight line. The success rate was low, but as the birds fed every 5 minutes or less I had plenty of chances. Then I changed to servo focus and kept the focus points on the tree using all the focus points or ring of fire, waiting for the bird to stick its head out of the hole. As it launched into flight I pressed the button at 10 frames per second and hoped. The success rate went up. Once again the EOS 1d Mk1v showed its fantastic ability to track a flying bird. The Mk3 bodies would never have managed this.

Male Lesser-spotted woodpecker in dull light which was better than strong sun. 800 iso. 1/200th at F6.3. Auto exposure. 500mm f4 lens. EOS 1d Mk1v
Male Lesser-spotted woodpecker. 800 iso. 1/2500th at f7.1. Manual exposure. 500mm f4 lens. EOS 1d Mk1v
Female Lesser-spotted woodpecker. 800 iso 1/3200th at f7.1. Manual exposure. 500mm f4 lens. EOS 1d Mk1v

I use 400 iso as my default setting and can see no improvement in noise levels by going any slower. The difference in noise between 400 and 800 iso is slight and I do not hesitate to use it. I switched off the ability to increment the iso settings in 1/3rds in the custom function settings. Why do I need 640 iso? I just go from 400 to 800 to 1600.  Shutter speeds of around 1/2500th catch most birds in flight and for that I needed strong sun in the early morning or evening. When the bird was just perched at the nest entrance however softer duller light was preferable.


Little owl

Wildlife photography is a time consuming game. I did 5 sessions of 4 hours in a hide to get this picture, but before that spent many hours walking around and watching the bird. Once I had it pinned down to one hedgerow where it spent most of its time I had to find one branch that it sat on the most often. I visited the site most days for 2 weeks, both early and late in the day. During that time I also watched hares, kingfishers and found a fox earth with well grown young, which might be good for photography next year.

Little owl A0385
Little owl two minutes before sunset

Once I had decided on where to put the hide I had to get permission from the land owner. For once that was an easy task as he appeared in the field one day by luck. It can take days to find out who owns a bit of land.

The photography was then easy. I did 2 early morning sessions, but gave those up as the birds feathers were damp and tatty from feeding on earthworms in the morning dew. Instead I got in the hide about 1700 hours and waited until 2100 hours. The bird would put in several appearances during that time and was totally unconcerned by the hide. Other than change the perch for another I was stuck as to what to do next. Flight shots are what I would really like, but unless I find a nest next spring that will be impossible. With a nest and a regular flight pass it will be a good flight subject. I should also get some dead mice and get it perched with one in its bill.