Andrew McCarthy Photography


New role for the Royal Photographic Society

I was incredibly honoured recently to have been asked to join the Royal Photographic Society’s distinctions process as an assessor on the Natural History panel for Associate and Fellowship distinctions.

I have now been through the induction / training process, and am very much looking forward to  getting properly involved with my fellow panel members during the next set of assessment sessions in the autumn. 

I never cease to be amazed at just how much thought, effort and passion applicants put into their submissions, so being a member of this panel is not only prestigious for me, but it’s a big responsibility too.  Cant wait for the next session!

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Publication in The Iris – Journal of the RPS Nature Group

Following a successful application to the Royal Photographic Society in October 2022 for my Natural History Fellowship, I have written about my distinction journey in this months’ copy of The Iris – the (excellent) journal of the RPS Nature Group and have recently been invited to join the RPS Associate/Fellowship judging panel, which is a massive honour. If you are not already a member of the RPS I highly recommend their distinction route as an superb way of improving your photography.  Do check out my Iris article here:

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Dippers On Dartmoor

We are now nearly mid-way through January and it will only be another few weeks before the dippers on my local stretch of the River Teign begin to start pairing up and holding territory again, in preparation for the new breeding season. 

I will be running 1:1 workshops with these lovely birds again in 2022, but in the meantime here is an article I had published in Outdoor Photographer magazine in mid-2021.

Click here to download the full article as a PDF.

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Photographing Bats in flight with Sabre

I am a UK-based ecologist and nature photographer who has been surveying bats for over 20 years, and photographing them in flight since spring 2020. My UK bat survey license allows me to use flash at roosts as an incidental part of my ecological survey work. 

I began by photographing the lesser horseshoe bats at a small ‘night roost’ on our property.  I used an infra-red camera system to avoid disturbance and photographed the bats as part of my ongoing roost monitoring work. Lesser horseshoe is a rare species in Britain and numbers in this roost are low – usually between one and three individuals per night – but the bats visit regularly so the site was perfect for initial experimentation.

Continue reading the article on the Cognisys website…

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Photographing spring insects

After what seems like a very long winter indeed, spring is finally making its presence felt here in Devon, and my thoughts are finally turning to insect photography again!

One of my first targets in spring will be the lovely, but sadly now quite rare, Pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly.  This specialist insect of heathy woods is on the wing from around mid-April onwards, and it can make a great photographic subject, since temperatures are often quite cool at this time of year, which makes for prefect photography conditions.  This species tends to fly in air temperatures from around 14 degrees, which means that there is a good chance of insects stopping to rest during the day, allowing a close approach.  This is in contrast to butterflies of mid to late summer when, as any novice macro photographer will tell you, butterfly photography can be very frustrating.  When the weather is warm insects will often not remain still for long, and a combination of hot sun and harsh light often sees me returning home from an early morning session in time for breakfast!

Other good spring subjects include the stunning Orange-tip butterfly (which can be found in marshy pastures from mid-April onwards alongside its larval food plant Ladies-smock).  Green hairstreak is a beautiful little insect of heaths which is on the wing from early May, whilst the stunning Brimstone can be seen from March onwards along woodland rides and hedges with Buckthorn and Alder buckthorn.  Dragonflies and damselflies also begin to emerge from April onwards.  The widespread Large-red damselfly is one of the earliest species to emerge and it offers a colourful spring target around ponds and wet flushes.  Of the spring dragonflies, Broad-bodied chaser is by far and away my favourite during May – in part because both males and females reliably return to the same perch time.  This means I can position myself in exactly the right place to obtain the perfect composition and background, whilst waiting for my subject to return.

In terms of field-craft, even the cooler conditions of spring demand the right approach.  I move very slowly when approaching wary subjects, keeping low and positioning myself so I don’t form a silhouette.  If I am using my Olympus 60mm macro lens I’ll often pair it with the STF-8 twin-flash to lift shadows or provide ‘punch’ to images on a dull day.  I like to keep the effect of flash subtle though, so I use manual low power settings – generally around 1/16th or less. I don’t use auto flash as a pre-flash will spook wary insects and the subject will be out of frame before the flash fires!  

Insects in crisp focus against soft, clean backgrounds have great impact for me, so I generally try and align the rear of the camera (i.e. the sensor) with the plane of the subject in order to maximise the zone of sharp focus.  This can take time, so I’ll often use a tripod for precision. I use a combination of initial autofocus (for speed) followed by manual over-ride with focus-peaking to make careful final adjustments.  If there is any breeze, I often use clamps on a small second tripod or ground spike to stabilise perches.  Don’t attach clamps to the camera tripod as your vibrations will transmit through to the subject. 

The alternative to using a tripod is to go mobile and get creative.  For hand-holding I like a bright overcast day with minimal wind – diffused lighting helps reveal colour and detail (and avoids risk of clipping reflected highlights) and bright conditions give a good shutter speed.  By contrast dull conditions dictate wider apertures and slower shutter speeds, which can make it difficult to stop wind-induced movement.  In such conditions I’ll often hand hold and use a shallow depth of field to create something more ‘interpretive’.  The Olympus 300 f4 lens is perfect for this – the lens has a great close-focus capability and is tack-sharp wide open.  I use the lens at its widest aperture setting to obtain a razor thin depth of field.  I will often shoot from directly in front of the subject, or through a gap in vegetation to create a soft out-of-focus haze around it. 

Regardless of approach I like to keep my compositions simple.  If I need to ‘garden’, I use clothing or equipment to gently (and temporarily) move vegetation out of the way.  I keep trampling to an absolute minimum – revealing stationary insects makes them much more visible to predators so it is important to leave as little trace of your presence as possible.  Second, I keep a watchful eye out for signs of insects getting stressed.  With mating butterflies for example I often see photographs of mating pairs with their reproductive organs revealed.  This is caused by stressed insects trying to pull apart, so move away if you see this.  Remember that the welfare of the subject is far more important than your shot!

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