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Thursday, 30 December 2010

My 2010 Top Five

In this post I'll review my favourite 5 shots from 2010.

In reverse order then...

5. Blue Eyed Lizard. D700 + 200mm f4 micro @ f/5.6, ISO 1600, 1/180th.

Photographing lizards using a macro lens is great fun - it's basically macro photography without the hassle of short working distances and slow shutter speeds.

Even for smaller Lizards, 1:3 is already plenty of magnification, and working distances are measured in feet rather than inches. I've found that as long as you don't make any sudden movements, or approach to quickly, it's easy to photograph these creatures while keeping well outside their circle of fear.

It's also not really necessary to stop down very far when photographing Lizards as compared to insects - some people may prefer a little more depth of field, but to my taste as long as at least the whole head and some of the body is in focus that's fine. Their tails are so long anyway that to get the whole animal in focus it would have to obligingly lie pencil straight while you photographed it side on (=a bit boring anyway). This shot was taken at f/5.6, which made it easy to shoot hand held, even in the shade.

This chap was sitting on a log near the front door of our chalet in Antigua. If you look closely (click the image for a larger version), you'll see that his eye is a rather striking blue colour. It's such a shame there are so few Lizards in the UK (although common lizards can still be found on heathland like Thursley Common).

4. Damselflies Mating. D300 + 200mm f4 micro @ f/8, ISO 200, 1/500th.

This shot of Damselflies mating was shortlisted for the British Wildlife Photography Awards in 2010, and that's why I've included it in my top five. To be honest though, I have to admit that I only entered it to make up the numbers (you're allowed a fixed amount of entries for your entry fee). Personally I think it's a bit boring (after all, there are hundreds of pictures like this one on the internet). But there you go, there's no accounting for taste!

One thing I'd like to mention is that this shot (like all my macro efforts) was taken hand held. You will often read on the internet that it is not possible to shoot macro without a tripod. My opinion is that this is simply wrong, as it is largely based on the incorrect assumptions that cameras only shoot noise free at their base ISO, and that all macro should be done of an aperture or around f/16. Try it out - set your ISO to 800 and your aperture at f/8 and walk around a pond on a sunny day taking "snaps" - you'll get a lot more shots than you would have gotten dragging a bloody great tripod around. Hint: insects don't stick around for tripods.

3. Gull with his Lunch. D300 + 500mm f4 VR @ f/4, ISO 400, 1/3200th

Oftentimes, you don't get what you came for. This was taken on a morning standing on Chanonry Point in the Moray Firth in Scotland. We were there to photograph Dolphins, but there wasn't much action that day.

This gull though was looking for lunch on the shoreline, and when he found it he did something interesting with it. What he is doing here is dropping a shell from a height of about 40 feet onto the pebbles below to break it. It took him a few drops to smash the shell open, so it was possible to get more than one chance at getting the bird and the shell (mid-drop) in the frame at the same time.

2. Dragonfly. D3100 + 300mm f4 AF-S @ f/5.6, ISO 400, 1/2500th.

This shot was taken near Devil's Bridge in Antigua. It was very windy, and the Dragonfly kept taking of a re-perching every few seconds. Even when he landed, his perch would sway around wildly. To avoid any motion blur, I upped the ISO a bit - but it wasn't necessary to go any higher than 400 - it's so nice to be able to work with plenty of sunshine (not something we get a lot of in the UK)!

The background is one of my favorite aspects of this shot. It's a complete fluke, of course - most of the time you have to accept what's available when it come's to backgrounds - but this fella decided to perch on a tall free-standing twig about 5 feet in front of a large green bush. Perfect.

1. Humming Bird. D3100 + 300mm f4 AF-S + 1.4x TC @ f/8, ISO 1600, 1/1250th.

This is one a a large number (perhaps hundreds) of shots of hummingbirds taken from the balcony of our chalet in Antigua. A good 90%+ of these hundreds of images had to be thrown away, the main reason being that they were out of focus, or that they contained only part of a hummingbird - these birds move incredibly quickly (and erratically).

I like the sharpness of the focus, the slight movement in the wings, and the clean blue background, but mainly the lighting. As luck would have it, these hummingbirds were most active at sunset, when the light is at it's best. Our balcony was also just at the right angle to be able to shoot right until the sun had dipped below the horizon.

The camera used for this picture, the D3100, has been something of a revelation to me since I bought it in October. The fact that such a small, lightweight, cheap, crop sensor camera body can produce pretty much noise free images at ISO 1600 (as long as the light is good) is amazing and welcome, to say the least. £400 for a camera with a 14MP sensor that is clearly better than the one in the flagship D300? Brilliant.

So there you go, that's my top five. Hope you enjoyed it.

In my next post, I'll take a look ahead at the coming year.

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