A wander along the Clydeside

A lunchtime wander exploring the walkway on the North side of the River Clyde with some of my work colleagues.

Urban grey heron

While walking back home from the Glasgow Mela in Kelvingrove Park to Dowanhill, we spotted this urban grey hero fishing in the shallow waters in the park, completely unperturbed by the hustle and bustle of the festival.

Glasgow Mela

A Saturday afternoon of culture, noise and colours at the Glasgow Mela in Kelvingrove Park. The highlight of the afternoon were the Dahl Foundation Drummers. They are simply fantastic.

Hunting for prey or popping by for a coffee?

While making a coffee in the kitchen, Dowanhill Bob, our local sparrowhawk, swooped into the tree adjacent to our kitchen window, perching on a branch about one metre from the window. He happily sat there for a while, looking round for prey, not bothering with us behind the kitchen window at all.

For the first time in weeks, I did not have my Canon handy so I grabbed my little Lumix LX5 compact and took a few shots at it’s maximum zoom of a meagre 90mm. These two images are cropped a little, but not much, showing how close Bob actually was.

I then went downstairs to get my Canon and Lola ran after me barking her head off. Surprisingly, on my return to the kitchen, I found Bob still sitting on the branch. I aimed the camera but saw nothing. While I removed the lens cap, Bob had enough and flew away.

Flying high

The spring like weather made for a wonderful afternoon’s walk along the River Kelvin with (finally) some good opportunities for some photography. Not only did I manage to get some good shots of the dipper, I also got this wonderful shot of Lola in action.

The original black and white image (middle below) has become my most successful photo on 500px to date (by a mile!) gaining 33 votes, 13 favourites and 439 views overnight. Being picked by the editors as the second photo in their ‘choice of fresh content of the day’probably helped a lot.

I really love this black and white shot, especially the detail, but was not completely happy with the composition, with Lola being dead central. I played around with different compositions, even tried square, but did not get anything better.

A friend suggested editing the image, lowering Lola in the frame, closer to the log, so she would be on the bottom third. I think this change would take away from the look and title: ‘flying high’. So I decided to do the opposite, placing Lola higher in the frame, on the top third. In my opinion, resulting in an even better shot than the original.

So here are the steps I took to create the final image above. Using the lasso tool in Photoshop, I selected a band containing the tree and Lola, stopping just above the log, then moving the band upwards such that Lola is on the top third. Using the clone stamp tool, I carefully restored the edge and adjacent area as closely as possible to the original look. Using Silver Efex Pro, I then applied the ‘High Structure (Smooth)’ preset and burned the edges softly, still keeping the editing to a minimum. 

I would love to hear what you think of the different versions, especially which one is your pick of the crop and why.

Dipping amongst the scrap

It still amazes me how many people always congregate at the weir in the River Kelvin to admire the heron fishing on the far side, and how few people actually notice this lovely loud and active little bird when walking along the river.

The dippers loud call ‘zit, zit, zit’, similar to that of the wren, is a dead give away. On hearing bird’s call, it is always easily spotted due to its white chest and continuously bobbing movements.

This afternoon, I spotted this dipper on the other bank with the wreck of a car as a backdrop, making for a contrasting image. After the bird moved along the bank a little, I got the opportunity to take some shots ‘unspoiled’ by men, getting as close as possible by stepping on some stones in the water. When I turned to step back onto the bank of the river, I realised that I was the attraction of passers by. My jaw dropped when they asked me what on earth I was taking a picture of.

It’s a very wise dipper, staying on the safe and dark side of the river, as far away as possible from the walkway, busy with people and dogs. The little dipper is undeterred by the action on the other side of the river, and is continuously bobbing on the rocks and dipping in and out of the water. Occasionally, it will swim on or even below water in search of food.

Unfortunately, the river is too wide at this point to get close enough, even with 400mm, so the shots below are heavily cropped, in addition to being taken at high ISO and slow shutter speeds.

Dowanhill Bop

Dowanhill Bob, our local sparrowhawk, has been ruling the roost in the West End this winter, terrorising our garden residents, including siskins, goldfinches, robins, chaffinches, great tits, coal tits, blue tits, tree sparrows and even wood pigeons. The only birds that stand up to him and chase him away are the crows.

Our garden used to be teeming with little birds, but since Bob has appeared on the scene, it has been extremely quiet. And when the birds are in our garden, they are visibly on edge, looking round from a branch in the undergrowth, swooping into the seed feeder, grabbing a sunflower heart, and swooping off into the undergrowth to eat it. A complete contrast to last winter, when literally hundreds of birds were in our garden feasting on the seeds, fighting for a spot on the feeder.

We have been seeing Bob daily, when he swoops into Athol lane and perches on the tree at the back of our garden or sometimes on top of the seed feeder in the middle of our garden. Unfortunately, the tree in the back is too far away to get any decent shots, but when he is on the seed feeder, he is within good range as you can see.

He is lovely coloured male and hopefully I’ll be able to get some shots of him in flight soon.

Goosander (Mergus Merganser)

While walking along the River Kelvin, halfway between the Botanics and Kelvinbridge, I spotted a pair of Goosanders standing on the rocky shallows in the middle of the river. The drake had it’s head tucked under his wings, probably having a well earned siesta on the chilly afternoon, but the duck was busy cleaning herself.

I think that, unlike with most ducks (and birds), the duck (female) is actually more beautiful than the drake (male). And I just love the combination of the detail of her feathers with the turned head with crown.

Our ‘urban’ sparrowhawk

We have seen this Sparrowhawk swooping through our garden for some time now, but three times this week, I’ve actually walked into the kitchen seeing it perched on a branch less than a foot away from the kitchen window. On all three occasions, it had, unfortunately, flown away by the time I got my camera from the hall and sneaked back in to take a close up shot.

This afternoon, it flew into the tree at the bottom of our garden, perched high up, waiting for prey such as the tits and finches that frequent our seed feeders. I took a few shots, although it was just too far away for a real cracker.

Now my camera is ready in the kitchen, ready for the next encounter. I may actually need to park myself with my laptop at the kitchen table tomorrow, keeping my eyes peeled, as a Sparrowhawk swooping down to catch a garden bird is a mouthwatering prospect.

Urban cormorant

While taking Lola out for a walk along the River Kelvin in the West End of Glasgow, I spotted two cormorants sitting on a derelict railway pillar in the middle of the river. Even though it was a very damp, dark and overcast afternoon, I took my camera out of the bag to make an attempt at taking some shots of these magnificent large water birds.

It was so dull that I had to crank the ISO up to 3200 to get the exposure, while still only achieving a very slow 1/80 at f5.6 handheld using my 70-200mm lens with 2x extender. Above all, it was not easy getting a clear view of either of the two cormorants due to the straggly trees obscuring my view and thorny branches swinging in my face, but I eventually managed to get a few good shots of both birds.

While taking some shots of one of the cormorants, I noticed a movement on the far bank and was surprised to see an urban fox out on the hunt in the middle of the afternoon. Unfortunately, the fox disappeared very quickly out of view after I had managed two shots with the cormorant in focus and the fox out of focus in the undergrowth. The best one of the two (above) probably qualifies for a ‘spot the fox’ competition.

The apparent stalking of the fox and vulnerability of the cormorant in the above shot is in fact an illusion. The two birds were quite safe, sitting high and dry (ok, not quite so dry) on a 10 foot high pillar in the middle of the river, with the fox merely passing on the far away river bank, as the last image illustrates.

Once again, today has proved: never leave home without a camera, irrespective of what the weather is like.

Portrait of a whippet

I have had my Canon speedlite for several years now, but have only used it sparingly as I tend to find the results too harsh when using the flash, even with a Stofen diffuser. This is more a reflection of my lack of knowledge on how to use the flash than anything else.

So when I heard another photographer saying that he always lit his models through bounce flash (when not being able to use studio lights) to create more natural lighting, I thought it is time to found out a bit more and experiment. After a bit of Googling and reading I came across the excellent web site by Neil van Niekerk, who provides a wealth of information on techniques for using on-camera and off-camera flash. A must read for anyone wanting to delve beyond the most basic use of flash.

What specifically caught my eye was the simplicity of it all, and Neil’s ingenuity to use ‘the black foamie thing’ for bounce flash. So the following day I went into town to hunt down some black foam. It wasn’t easy, but I was in luck, as the second art store I went in had Funky Foam in the kids section for £1.79 for an A4 sheet. With a couple of elastic hairbands, I had just bought my cheapest photographic accessory ever.

Time to experiment! I had a choice of two models at home, but found only Lola willing. I tried bounce flash off the wall to the sides, of the wall behind me and off the ceiling, and I must admit, it works an absolute treat.

Here are a few portraits of the super model, both in colour and black & white, hopefully showing that the bounce flash results in a more natural lighting and in giving nice shadow and detail, as opposed to bleaching everything out.

A wander to the Broomielaw

A lunchtime wander exploring the Broomielaw with some of my work colleagues.