Andrew McCarthy Photography

Reviews & More

Kestrels

I recenlty got back from an extended period on leave in Europe and thought I had better get up to date with some post-prod work. Here are a few shots of a wild male kestrel which were taken from Danny Green’s hide in Worcestershire.

I very rarely these days take advantage of someone else’s hard work to ‘get the shot’, as I prefer to hone my skills in the field on my own, but in this instance it was worth it, as this timid raptor is really hard to get close to and shots like this (of a wild bird with vole prey) are hard to get.

Despite Danny and his colleagues hard work, though, good shots of this species are not guaranteed and it was an 8 hour wait for less than three minutes of action. The voles prey gave a touch of added authenticity I felt I had been patiently collecting cat kills over the previous few months, and put them to good use here! 

Pocket Wizard Plus X

At the outset of my trials and tribulations with the field studio set up, I realised early on that I’d need a set of radio triggers to fire my twin manual flashes, since once the rear unit is sitting behind a thick piece of opaque perspex its infrared function ceases to work (IR works fine indoors of course) so an IR trigger on camera body was out.   After a good deal  of on-line research, I invested in a set of the (fairly new at the time) Hahnel Vipers, which seemed to get good reviews and were nice and simple (ideal for me!).  After sending the first lot back to Wex Photographic (who have a great returns policy by the way) as a result of their complete non-functioning, and after having some elements of the replacement set of triggers fail on me in the field on the second trip out, I went back to the web reviews and finally settled for a set of Pocket Wizards. 

Whilst most of the PW kit is pricey compared to the (numerous) Chinese-made units on the market now, they seemed to be the best kit for the job and come well-recommended by most pros.  Importantly, the release of the Plus-X seemed to offer the lower price point (around £200) and reliability I needed. 

Paired with a couple of (really well-made) pocket wizard hotshoe synch cords the triggars seem to do the job; I have now been out in the field with them a good number of times over the past few weeks and I have to say I am really, really impressed.  They fire every time and their reliability and simplicity engender a great deal of confidence.  There is a good review of these little beauties on the Strobist blog that is worth checking out:

http://strobist.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/pocketwizard-plus-x-remotes-break-100.html

Getting to grips with Field Studio Techniques

I have spent quite a bit of time whilst recovering from my shoulder surgery getting the kit together to start a project using a macro field studio and I intend developing this work during this coming spring and summer.  I have had a couple of sessions with amphibians over the past few weeks, and this morning spent several hours photographing some stunning male palmate newts in full breeding colour, with their extraordinary webbed hind feet on show.

My inspiration for taking this technique on board is Niall Benvie (from the ‘meet the neighbours’ project) and I would urge you to check out some of his work.  The technique itself is fairly simple, but getting the kit together can take time and it can be involved. There are clearly numerous ‘tips of the trade’ to learn, which are going to take time to learn, but great fun though and the results speak for themselves.  

Post Production

I have spent the last couple of days catching up with some long overdue filing, writing and post production. I came across this little image which reminded me of a grand camper van trip we made a few years back to the Norfolk coast.  

The campsite overlooked this stunning view across a wonderful salt marsh.  The atmosphere was complemented by a barn owl hunting up and down the footpath behind me as I was taking shooting this sunset, but unfortunately I only had the 24-105 at the time…  

Macro Photography: Common Darter Dragonflies

A nice early morning session at my garden pond with some emerging common darters.  There has been a massive emergence of this species during summer 2013 as I have counted well over 40 exuvia this season.  This is unusual; whilst this species of dragonfly have bred in the pond in the past, numbers of emerging insects have been low.  

Usually our main species is southern hawker, but there have been very few of these this year.  I am not sure whether this is because of the rather odd late spring (May was very cold here in Devon) or whether it is the late successional nature of my pond, the open water areas of which are now almost completely dominated by water soldier.  

Odonata seem to love this as a plant species on which to emerge; there have been very few inspects choosing to emerge this year on the flag iris or sedges that are in abundance around the pond margins for example.  

It will be interesting to see if the Odonata fauna changes next year as I plan on having a major clearance of open water vegetation this coming autumn.  Should be an interesting experiment.

Royal Photographic Society Insect Weekend

Spent a wonderful week in Preston Montford, Shropshire in the company of John Bebbington and a great bunch of fellow macro photographers, photographing inspects.  Weather was – unusually – perfect in that winds were light and the sky hazy.  The weather changed only at the end of the last day, when the wind picked up.  

We found some really spectacular insects, such as the green and dark forms of this eyed-hawk moth caterpillar below, and also met some very nice people.  All in all good week.

Photographing Foxes in Devon (part 6)

The target for the last few sessions with the foxes has been to get some shots of the animals with food. Rabbits do the trick, but owing to the small size of the site and the presence of nearby close cover, the prey items have to be firmly fixed to the ground.  I realised this fairly early on as once a fox finds food like this, it is immediately removed offsite; literally within seconds.  

I have managed in the past to get shots of foxes with (presumably scavenged) natural prey items, but this is a really hit or miss – you could wait years to get such shots.  Anyway, the vixen played ball and the shots were quite pleasing.

Macro Photography: 6-Spot Burnets

Managed to get out this morning to photograph the common but rather beautiful, newly emerged 6-spot burnet months at a site I have worked for a while now for slow worms and adders, up on the Haldon Ridge and about 10 minutes from my home.

It is a roadside waste site and is botanically quite rich, so has plenty of ragwort, a key species for another iconic species – cinnabar moth; in this case the caterpillars.  A lesson on working in poor light again – although the wind was fairly light – at least in the morning, the light was very patchy and from time to time was pretty horrible; flash needed to be used for most of this shoot.

As I said, I have been working this side for adders for a while now; I first came across this place a few years back when I was working in an Environmental Impact Assessment for a local road realignment and needed to trap and translocate reptiles, in particular adders, to this site from a location nearby.  Since then it’s developed into a really nice grassland and scrub site with a pretty good invertebrate diversity.  

I have noticed though that recently a number of reptile heat ‘refuges’ have appeared in the grass, as well as dormouse tubes in the adjacent scrub.  Clearly a local ecological consultancy is surveying this site, which in turn means the site is likely to be subject to a planning application sometime soon; I guess I had better start looking round for another adder site! 

Photographing Foxes in Devon (part 5)

I took a friend and her two boys out this evening for some wildlife watching and you really could’nt plan for this!  The vixen and cubs are now so relaxed that they came right up to the camera and to the visitors – spellbinding.  The boys loved it.  

The vixen and cubs were so close most of the time that the 500mm was more or less redundant; just as well then that I had my trusty 70-200 f2.8 in the bag, as this was bang on the right lens.  The light was nice too and the resultant shots were unusual / a bit differnt.  All in all a great session.

Photographing Foxes in Devon (part 4)

Another wonderful session with ‘my’ foxes this evening (I am starting to think of them as my friends – strangely!!  I have been trying for a few days now to get some shots of the vixen and cubs interacting, and they really decided to play ball this evening.  

The main cub in the picture is the one my wife (who has been down with me a few times) called ‘the naughty cub’.  Its far more confident and larger than the other two and it will be interesting to see how it develops compared to the rest of the litter as time goes on.  

There were three cubs with the vixen tonight; there were five when I first saw them, one of which was killed on the road a few weeks back.  Road accidents are a worry for the vixen and the cubs, as the earth is near the road and the cubs are getting more confident…  fingers crossed they are OK till they disperse later in the year.