Orphaned Babies – Dunnock

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This week’s ‘behind the picture’ is from a personal project, which is close to my heart. Of course, all my personal projects are passions of mine, but this one involves creatures that are completely helpless and dependent on humans to survive.

Orphaned baby birds are bought to the UK’s animal rescue centres every spring in the hundreds. Blackbirds, chaffinches, owls, blue tits, sparrows and dunnocks are just a few of the species that are handed in. Many are from nests destroyed by gardeners or pets and so are only helpless, homeless and parentless because of mankind’s effects of the environment.

They are taken into heated rooms and looked after by a group of dedicated staff. They require feeding every hour or so from sun up to sun down a level of care way above most other creatures. It takes a huge amount of time, effort and money to rear them from babies to being ready to fledge when they are released back to the wild.

I decided I wanted to do something for the rescue centres and so hatched (pardon the pun) a plan to photograph them as if I would a model.

So far my favourite picture is this Dunnock. It exudes confidence and personality. It was photographed with the permission and under the guidance of the rescue centre staff. I am, in another part of my life, used to working with wild animals and work with them very delicately and sensitively. I must stress that these were all taken in controlled conditions with birds that had been assessed and As well as being an expert myself, I was surrounded by experts. Under no circumstances should anyone attempt to do this sort of photography without experience.

I constructed my own mini studio and lit it with two flash units. One on the background and the other lighting the subject. I got the lighting right before placing the model into the frame and then I waited for it to get used to the surroundings. The most crucial element to getting a good shot in this situation was not blasting away with the camera hoping to catch a good look. I had to wait and wait. When I saw the look I wanted I grabbed the shot. At most I took 5-6 pictures of each subject. How many modern photographers would take so few shots of a subject?

I have now turned the pictures into prints and sell them to raise funds for the rescue centres. You can see my online shop at www.gavinparsons.co.uk/shop/shop.html

 

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Wanting life, given death

sundew and common blue damselflyThis week’s Behind the Picture was taken a few miles from my home in Dorset. I love the idea of nature being turned on its head and was intrigued by the UK’s population of carnivorous plants. They are the sort of thing you expect to find in the tropics, but each summer Drosera rotundifolia, known to us as either the common or round leafed sundew rises from the bogs of lowland heaths.

They are beautiful plants, but what makes them fascinating is their ability to destroy beauty as well. Their leaves are covered in tiny nodules of a sticky substance which clings strongly to any hapless insect which lands of it. Dragonflys and damselflys are always looking for a perch to land on and some like this Enallagma cyathigerum or common blue damselfly are quite often caught out.

I found this individual just after he’d (I know it’s a him because he is blue, the females are a yellowish colour) inadvertently landed on a tall sundew plant. He was struggling to get away, but to no avail. He’d fought so hard that the sticky nodules had been shaken off, but the plant had its prey and wasn’t letting go. The damselfly was going to die and then be dissolved by the plant. But, and this is the reason why I think it is a powerful image, the damselfly is born with a permanent smile on its face. It looks like its happy and the vibrant colours create a sense of happiness until you realise what is actually going on. They say nature can be cruel, but she can also put on a hell of a show while she is doing it.

To get a low angle I had to sink my camera down into the damp spongy ground and I used a macro lens and a Zigview view to see the image without having to lay down on the wet earth.

The stories behind some of my favourite images

Big fish little fishes

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A few years ago I returned to an island called Mafia off the coast of Tanzania. I’d spent several months in the early 90s there as part of a team studying the feasibility of creating a multi-zone marine park. It was created in the late 90s. I went back 13 years later to write an article about how the place had faired.

Usually when I return to a destination, it’s a disappointment. The world sadly is deteriorating before my eyes. But Mafia Island was different as it was better. The corals, the fish were all healthier and more prolific than my first trip.

There was also an added bonus: whalesharks. Mafia Island is one of the world’s whaleshark gatherings. They come to the shallow water in front of Kilondoni, the main settlement on the island. At the time I took the picture it was a pretty new discovery and the only way to get out to the sharks was to hire a local fishing boat. I have to use the term ‘boat’ fairly loosely because the one we hired was more holes than boat. The captain though was bailing just about enough to keep his planks of wood afloat so it wasn’t all bad.

The whalesharks were used by local fishermen who would find a shark, surround it with net and draw it tighter. It’s not what you think though as fishermen would be in the water and allow the shark to escape and they would harvest the fish that swam with the sharks.

The fish seemed to the drawn to the sharks probably for shelter as the seabed was barren sand so the sharks were a kind of moving reef. We found a shark that had just been released by a fishing boat and sat a while until it settled down. It didn’t take long. The shark swam directly towards our boat, it submerged slightly as it got to us and I watched it go beneath us. It never came out the other side so I dipped my head below the water and saw the shark vertical in the water within the shadow our boat created.

Slipping below the surface I could understand why. The glare created by the sun, bright white sand and suspended particles in the water was horrendous. The shark was using our boat as sunglasses.

She stayed under the boat for several minutes, enough time for a shoal of small fish to gather around her. I watched them swirl and anticipated when they’d get between the shark and me. The moment lasted no more than a second, possibly two.  Back on the boat I reviewed the images and knew I’d got a special shot, but didn’t realise quite how special. “`the images earned me Specially Commended in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

If you’d like to see more of my work take a look on www.gavinparsons.co.uk

 

 

 

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At the end of January whether it snows or not, tiny bursts of life appear in the English countryside. Snowdrops, or Galanthus nivalis as they are known to men in white coats.

They are a very early flowering bulbous plant, which are the harbinger of the coming spring. For photographers they are a god-send, a beacon in the blandness of the mid-winter countryside. They can be found all across the UK and I happen to live near one of the best places to see them; a small village known as Compton Valance.

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This is one of the locations I run snowdrop photography workshops – one of my winter series. And this year while preparing, I was lucky enough to do a recce on the day we had a lovely dumping of snow. Actually, it was the day after it snowed and it wasn’t particularly easy to reach the village which is in a steep valley.

The snowdrops were just starting to flower and a few were pushing through the snow cover which gave me the chance to get the shots I’d been after for several years. Snowdrops and snow are not as easy to find as you might expect. As a subject I love them. They don’t move for a start which enables me to work with interesting angles and compositions.

I work mostly with a 60mm micro lens, which gives me the reach to provide soft foreground details and compress the background plus work in close with the small blooms.

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I also, as I do with the fungi I shoot, work with a ZigView viewer that allows me to keep the camera on the ground and still see the image I’m taking. The low angle get’s the view at ‘eye level’ with the subject, but creates an intimacy with the image that a straight snap shot never achieves. It’s one of the most valuable techniques in the natural history photographer’s arsenal.

If you’d like to learn more about my approach consider booking either a course or a workshop. Details are on my website at www.gavinparsons.co.uk/pages/workshops.html

rain in Egypt

I’m not sure what happened to the text in the original post, so I thought I’d redo it. I made this post a couple of days ago just after I got back from Egypt.

I’d left a snowy UK and spent a week under the desert sun, but on my last day it rained for over 12 hours. It was the first time it had rained for longer than about half an hour in 5 years and the most significant rain in a decade. If I was better at maths I could probably work out the odds of being unlucky enough to get rained on in Egypt.

It’s rained so much in the UK over the last 12 months that I’m beginning to think firstly that I need to build an arc and that I am the proverbial man with the perpetual cloud over my head.

snow

Yesterday and today have been a rarity. Snow has come to my little part of Dorset and when that happens, work on the renovations stop and I head out with a camera.

I haven’t had time to think about what to photograph or set anything up this year as I’ve been busy trying to finish the house so I went after my favourite plant which I’d already seen starting to blossom – the snowdrop.

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For many years I’ve hoped to find snowdrops in flower at the same time as snow and this was finally my year. There is a small patch which grows about 5 minutes walk away so that’s where I went first. I’d seen them the day before and knew they were almost ready. So at 9.30am I was kneeling in cold snow as large flakes fell from the sky. As they hit my face I could feel pinpricks of coldness. It was a lovely feeling.

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I manged a few shots of the extremely small patch of flowers and then went for an almighty walk in the snow. I photographed basically what I came across, which isn’t the usual way a pro does things, but I had no choice. Next time I’ll be prepared to photograph birds of prey, deer, garden birds and anything else my image libraries are crying out for.

Today I had to get to the small village of Compton Valance which is famed for its snowdrops. I went for a walk and found a few poking up through the snow. The light was tricky as it always is with snow, and I dialed in between +0.7 and +1 stop exposure compensation. Without doing that the camera will read the snow as 18% grey instead of white and will create a dark image.

The drive home was a bit tricky, but made enjoyable by finding a spot to photograph buzzards next time it snows. That may be later this year, it may be next year. who knows, but I’ll be ready.

Snow in Chilfrome, Dorset

A 180° image using Photosynch

A 180° image using Photosynch

Over the festive period I gave my camera and camera arm a rest and was playing around with a new Iphone app (well new to me) called Photosynth. It’s one of those stitching programmes and gives the user the opportunity of creating 180° images (or even more if you want to.

I’ve been using it a fair bit while I’ve been out and about and I really love it. It creates superb results. Down by the sea, of course, it cannot produce perfect images as the wave movement creates an impossible task for the software to reproduce, but on Christmas Day I was down at Seatown Beach in Dorset and got some very pleasing pictures.

I’ve also used it at West Bay, where the new David Tennant series Broadchurch has been filmed.

It doesn’t really have much commercial application, except when searching out new locations, but creating panoramic pictures is fun.

Photosynch is a simple app to use, its free,  and on the iphone screen you can view the pictures full size and scroll around them. They are impressive to look at on a small screen. So if you have an iphone (they probably do it for Andriod and windows too) download the App and have a play around.

Panoramic view of Weymouth Harbour

Panoramic view of Weymouth Harbour

 

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West Bay on not such a lovely day

Unknown to the majority of people in UK’s capitol, let alone the outside world, London is the host to the oldest rowing race in the world. Started in 1715, the Doggetts Coat and Badge race is as historic as it is ceromonial.

Each year up to six Apprentice Waterman of the River Thames compete for a rather plush Red Waterman’s Coat and a silver badge.

As part of an ongoing project to document the life around the River Thames, the Port of London Authority asked me to photograph the preparations and start of the race at London Bridge.

The start occurs adjacent to Fishmongers Hall on the north side of London Bridge which is where the competitors prepare their sculls (the small one person rowing boats).

It was quite popular this year with a photographer from the New York Times and Channel 4 film crews around to film the event. I can only imagine what it will be like when the race hist 300 years old in a couple of years time.

I worked in Black & White to capture the event as a small story.  It’s hard to capture the 298 years of history when essentially you are dealing with a modern scull race, so I opted to record the moment for what it was rather than what it stood for.

The day was fairly cloudy and the light was pretty flat, which suited monochrome. Occasionally we got a blip of sunlight, but also quite a few rain showers, but the build up was calm and light -hearted.

Passers by on the river must have wondered what was going on though as Fishmongers Hall, the home to the Fishmongers Company, one of London’s 12 great Livery Companies, put on a bit of a show and delighted the public with free fish and chips and London Youth Rowing held their own static Thames race on rowing machines. It was a great spectacle that even attracted the Lord Major of London (Not Boris, but the other fella who can trace his job back to Dick Whittington and beyond).

The race started pretty quickly and in a couple of blinks of an eye the competitors were gone. It takes a mere 20 minutes to row the four mile course from London Bridge to Cadogan Pier in Chelsea, but it would have taken me a lot longer by road, so I didn’t get to the finish. However the race was won by the brilliantly named Merlin Dwan.

 

With the Olympics now underway I’ve had time to process and upload a gallery of images taken during the last day of the Olympic torch relay. For those outside the UK, the organisers of London 2012 created a 700 or so mile long relay for the Olympic flame. The culmination of which was down the River Thames.

As you will know from previous posts I do some work for the Port of London Authority. It asked me to join one of their launches as they control the river from Teddington out to the North Sea. They wanted a photographic record of their work around the torch relay and the event itself.

The torch gets up early and the 27th July 2012 as no different. A start of around 7.30am at Hampton Court Palace was the schedule. Luckily they were 20 minutes late which gave us enough time to get to Teddington Lock, where the PLA takes charge of the River.

The Gloriana, the Royal rowing barge that lead the Queen’s 60th Jubilee River Pageant was the vessel of choice to carry the Olympic flame. It was lit in a shiny metal cauldron bearing the 2012 logo. Although along the route  the flame was transferred to several torch bearers to hold.

At Teddington, the Gloriana was preceded by two passenger boats loaded with onlookers and well wishes and then followed by a flotilla of small rowing boats. After the lock the fairy narrow river was alive with small boats. It was chaos for a few minutes as everyone started to follow the horn tooting Gloriana. Soon though the field couldn’t keep up with the 18 oars of Gloriana and they started to slip behind.

For a while, the Gloriana just had its close protection team of police, PLA vessels and press boats for company on the river, but the banks were still lined with well wishes shouting, waving, clapping and cheering. I was working, but still felt a sense of being a small part of something quite special.

At Richmond, the whole waterfront was rammed with onlookers and we were joined by more rowers and the procession became a flotilla once more. As we passed under each bridge the Gloriana had to pull down its stern flag, but it also used the acoustics to amplify its raucous horn. It was a sound heard for miles I would imagine.

While photographing a torch bearer named Charlotte Fone, I saw she walked passed an elderly man rowing the Gloriana. This turned out to be  Paul Bircher, now 83, who won a silver medal in the rowing events in the last London games in 1948. In fact many of the Gloriana Rowers were Olympic medallists.

At Putney, one of rowing’s spiritual homes in the UK, there was a 21 oar salute and even more crowds there to cheer and wave the flame on. Once passed Battersea, the flotilla entered London city itself and rowed passed some globally iconic buildings such at the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, plus County Hall, The London Eye and on towards Tower Bridge.

It stopped short there though and put a stop in at the floating rings next to HMS Belfast and here torch bearer Amber Charles held the flame and waved at the crowds on the South Bank. Major Boris Johnson was being interviewed on the back of HMS Belfast at the time, but I of course had no idea what he said.

After a few minutes the flame was hidden and the Gloriana slipped under Tower Bridge and around to Butlers Wharf where the flame was offloaded and put in safe keeping to wait for the opening ceremony.

As darkness engulfed London and the opening ceremony kicked off several miles to the east, Tower Bridge exploded in a cacophony of light and sound as fireworks announced the flame was about to leave. The Gloriana was put to bed by this stage and so it was left to David Beckham and an extremely fast speed boat to carry the flame. The lit up boat shot out from under Tower Bridge and sped away to the crowds cheering in the Olympic stadium.

So that was it, the end to a special day and the start of an event that I doubt I’ll see again in my lifetime. An Olympic Games in the UK.

I have a full sized gallery on my website at: www.gavinparsons.co.uk/pages/torch.html

 

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The tall ship Belem arrives in London for the 2012 Olympics

I’m not a sports photographer, so didn’t get the chance to get into the Olympic stadiums, but I have been working on several projects around the Olympics for the Port of London Authority. Because London revolves around the Thames, The Port of London Authority (PLA) has seen a huge amount of shipping coming into and out of the Capitol.

I was lucky enough to be asked to capture the moment the French tall ship the Belem came into the city. The Belem is a three masted sailing barque from the the 19th century. She is a training ship these days, but still as beautiful.

It was due to arrive at 8.15pm and the day was clear and blue so the sunset was set to be perfect. I couldn’t have asked for better light, wind and setting. The breeze was coming from the east ensuring the Belem had her sails out, just as the sun hit the top of Tower Bridge.

In the next day or so I will put up an Olympic based gallery on my website.