Stratford Photo Group | I’m not a natural history photographer! by Dick Prior

I’m not a natural history photographer! by Dick Prior

July 12, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I’m not a natural history photographer but I do enjoy my photography and will have a go at any photography challenge (at least once!). I’m not the most patient of people so the idea of sitting in a hide waiting for hours for the right picture to present itself goes very much against the grain. However, when we get a long spell of dry sunny weather that coincides with a time when there are a lot of flowers out, the opportunity is too good to turn down.

I started entering International Photo Exhibitions in 2007 (RPS International Projected Images Exhibition). In that time I have had in excess of 2000 acceptances with over 350 different images.  Just 70 of these have been with 14 ‘Nature’ pictures – 3 birds, 9 insects, 1 fungus and 1 mammal.

My approach is simple. I go armed with one of the most advanced DSLR’s as regards sharpness and noise reduction, a Nikon D810, and don’t use a tripod (except for the 1 toadstool picture). As the D810 is so good on ‘noise’, I use this to let me hand hold all my insect pictures. Typically I’ve used shutter speeds between 1/250 and 1/500 to minimise camera shake and freeze any motion, and apertures of f16 or f22 to maximise the depth of field. At f22 and a distance of 30cm you get about 1cm of depth of field. The D810 will give almost noiseless images up to ISO 3200 and, using the noise reduction features of Camera Raw, will produce good results at a further 2-3 stops. In fine sunny weather this lets me get 70% of my pictures at under ISO 6400. Coupled with this is my trusty Tamron SP90 macro lens which will produce 1:1 images (ie image on sensor is the same size as the object being photographed) at a good level of quality. The design has remained largely unchanged since 2000 and is my 2nd oldest lens having been fitted to 3 of my previous bodies. It is ‘basic’, no VR/IS, slow Auto Focus and a maximum aperture of f2.8 but a minimum one of f40. There are a lot of these out there on the 2nd hand market and you can pick up good examples at around £250 and older ones a lot cheaper (£400 new on Amazon). Image quality, as can be seen from my pictures, is good, but according to the media not the best. It is worth also pointing out that the trend these days is to use longer focal lengths (105mm to 140mm) and lenses with some form of vibration reduction for macro work. Another point also is that it makes a good portrait lens as well.

My hunting ground starts outside my front door where the butterflies and hover flies gather on my Buddleia. This year I’ve photographed a Comma, Painted Ladies and Red Admirals.

Comma Painted Lady Red Admiral

There are also many different hover flies and, having spent a lot of time on Google Images, I’ve found very few bees other than solitary Bumble and Carder bees but the hover flies do mimic their stinging relatives and just recently I’ve managed to get a shot of a Hornet Mimic Hover Fly.

Hornet Mimic Hover Fly


Down by the River Dene there are areas of meadow as well as areas which are mowed once a year by the Environment Agency. Here there are plenty of meadow flowers at this time of the year to attract insects. Right now there are a lot of red soldier beetles which Google tells me are common, veracious predators of other similar sized insects. They are often found as mating pairs and as a result are also known as the Hogweed Bonking Beetle. They can be found on flowers such as thistles and are quite photogenic.

Soldier Beetle Soldier Beetle


Also found here are many varieties of butterflies which, in the warm weather, are quite difficult to get good pictures of but I’ve managed to get some snaps of Skippers, Gatekeepers and Ringlets.

Small Skipper Gatekeeper Ringlet

Other small insects I’ve managed to get pictures of are shield bugs, and the bright, iridescent green, thick legged flower beetles.

Shield Bug Male Thick Legged Flower Beetle


Also the recent rise in the number of Harlequin Ladybirds can be seen. These are Asian in origin and have a large variation in appearance. They were introduced in Europe as a biological means of controlling aphids, something they are very good at, however they do seem to be replacing indigenous ladybirds at the same time.

Harlequin Ladybird Harlequin Ladybird


We see in photography a lot of natural history pictures of large mammals and birds but perhaps not so many pictures at the macro end of the range. Composition is always a challenge, and these days, has become a key feature with Nature images in exhibitions. Certainly you will learn a lot about depth of field and composition by having a go at macro photography.



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