Super-Resolution Imaging using a Fujifilm XT-20


Overview of Super-Resolution Techniques, What are we Discussing Here?

Super-resolution is a term with many modern meanings, but basically involves those techniques which add detail to poor resolution and grainy images. Fractal techniques for enlarging images have existed for many years, but are really just retaining existing detail, during enlargement, in a plausible way. More modern, single image, techniques however, can actually add extra detail that wasn’t there to begin with. Some techniques work by creating a dictionary of low resolution parts (for example in facial recognition) in which similar details are found (for instance an eye or a mouth) and patched together to form a complete picture. These new, but similar, parts are then substituted for higher resolution examples of the same details to create a higher resolution image overall. Whilst ingenious, this is a step removed from using the information within the image itself directly and not the subject of this discussion.

Another technique is known as resolution-stitching. In this technique a series of close-up images from a wider scene are taken and stitched together to make a higher-resolution whole. Taking the example of a landscape image, perhaps taken with a 24mm lens. The scene would be re-shot with a longer lens, say 100mm, in such a way that you have overlapping patches which can be stitched together using appropriate software. The longer the lens, the more detailed the final image will be. This is essentially the same as panorama photography and is also not the topic of this discussion. For the sake of completeness, when considering resolution stitching, there is a related technique attributed to the Wedding Photographer Ryan Brenizer called the Brenizer technique or sometimes the Bokeramah technique. This uses a telephoto lens, opened up to give a narrow depth of field, to take overlapping images to include the background such that the subject is very sharp but the background is blurred out, yet remains relatively wide angle. See Ryan in action via this B&H interview and video.

Finally, there are also artificial intelligence (AI) systems using a variety of neural networks and so-called deep learning which are also able to fill in missing detail in a range of images. One recent, well-known, example is Google’s RAISR (Rapid and Accurate Image Super Resolution) system as seen in this 2-minute papers video. For the interested reader there are a range of videos on neural networks in the YouTube Computerphile channel.

So what am I talking about? I’m talking about the super-resolution technique for photography popularised by Ian Norman from the photon collective in 2015. Take a look at Enhance! Superresolution Tutorial in Adobe Photoshop on YouTube and Ian’s excellent Peta Pixel piece A Practical Guide to Creating Superresolution Photos with Photoshop for more information on the technique and how it is applied.

Experiments with Super-Resolution

There’s little sense in me re-creating Ian’s work here, so I’ll move straight into my immediate reflections on reading his articles on super-resolution myself. I was away in Edinburgh for a long weekend and my immediate reaction was “I’ve got to try that!!” and “I wonder whether it will work with an X-Trans sensor camera” as I had my XT-20 with me. Only one way to find out, so I took a few random image bursts by way of experimentation.

Why the Worry About X-Trans?

I’ve read a great deal about the X-Trans sensor and am not sure what to make of the very partisan portrayals sometimes seen. From my own practical experience, I don’t find that the x-trans files are as easy to process when the shooting conditions have been difficult, and sharpening is often an issue unless you remember the tricks.

  1. Use Iridient X-Transformer to demosaic or..
  2. Turn off sharpening in Lightroom altogether, convert to a .tiff, then sharpen back in Lightroom or in Photoshop or..
  3. If sharpening in Lightroom has to be done, use the detail slider not the amount slider or..
  4. Use a different raw processor such as Capture One or On1 Photo Raw.

But actually, my concern was more about the green blocks of 4 pixels in the matrix. Would this effect the pixel averaging that takes place in the super-resolution process resulting in lower resolution than with a Bayer sensor? Would there be as much sub-pixel information available? This is the sort of situation where a little knowledge might be dangerous.

An Insight Into Sub-Pixel Imaging

I find it quite difficult to imagine how information can be gathered at a sub-pixel level when it is only captured at a pixel level. Looking into the research on image processing however, there are lots of different ways of extracting this information, even from a single image.

This paper by John Gavin and Christopher Jennison from 1997 called ‘A Subpixel Image Restoration Algorithm‘ gives a useful insight to the theory and practise. Indeed there are many applications in common usage including processing images of landscapes, remote sensing of active volcanos, locating and measuring blood vessel boundaries and diameters etc.

But will Ian’s process really reveal more detail, or simply smooth out the imperfections (noise) whilst placing the image on a larger canvas? Time for an experiment to find out whether super-resolution is a viable technique on X-Trans sensor cameras.


I used my Fujifilm XT-20 in manual shooting mode. The exposure was 1/250 second at an aperture of f8.0 for maximum sharpness. I used the highly respected ‘kit’ lens 18-55mm f2.8-4.0 set at 32.9mm. Several bursts of 25 images were taken, hand-held. For post processing I used Ian’s technique via specially constructed actions for 200% and 400% super-resolution. The original raw files were processed in Lightroom Clasic v7.3.1 using Auto settings, Camera ASTIA/Soft profile and the as shot auto white balance setting. Iridient X-Trans conversions were performed from within Lightroom. Final sharpening of the images was done via smart-sharpen with a setting of 300% at a radius of 2 pixels and no noise reduction. Detail shots were resized from the super-resolution images to 1200 by 800 pixels and saved via Lightroom’s export function as jpeg’s at 100% quality.

Image Results

Given the potential for artifacting in Lightroom, I generally demosaic special images in Iridient X-Transformer which, except for a single comparison just to see if there would be any difference, was the case here. So the Fuji raw files were demosaiced using X-Transformer prior to enlarging, aligning and then averaging using a smart object stack mode of mean. 5, 10, 15 and a full 25 images were enlarged to either 200 or 400%. Post enlargement, mild sharpening was applied using Smart Sharpen set at Amount 300, Radius 2 px and Noise Reduction 0%. Illustrative details from the scene are compared below. Representative details of the overall scene were selected and down-sampled to 1200 x 800 pixels for this section. This might not be the best way to demonstrate the improvements achieved by the super-resolution blending, but it does allow us to compare like with like.

Comparison results are set out as follows:

  1. Differences between Lightroom and Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing for the single image result.
  2. Differences between the 25 Image Blend at 200% size (96 mega-pixel equivalent) for Lightroom and Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing.
  3. 25 Image Blend at 400% (384 mega-pixel equivalent, Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing only).
  4. 200% and 400% with a 15 Image Blend.
  5. 200% and 400% with a 10 Image Blend.
  6. 200% and 400% with a 5 Image Blend.
  7. Please note that all blended shots are uncropped.

Single Image Results

Lightroom Demosaicing

Super-Resolution Imaging using a Fujifilm XT-20

Waverley Station, Single Image..













Car Detail..

Crane Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Super-Resolution Imaging using a Fujifilm XT-20

Train Detail..















































Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing

Waverley Station, Single Image..













Car Detail..

Crane Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Train Detail..















































25 Image Blend Results

200% Lightroom Demosaicing

Waverley Station, Single Image..













Car Detail..

Crane Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Train Detail..
















































200% Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing

Waverley Station, Single Image..













Car Detail..

Crane Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Train Detail..
















































400% Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing

Waverley Station, Single Image..













Car Detail..

Crane Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Train Detail..
















































15 Image Blend Results

200% Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing

Waverley Station, Single Image..













Car Detail..

Crane Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Train Detail..
















































400% Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing

Waverley Station, Single Image..













Car Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Train Detail..





































10 Image Blend Results

200% Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing

Waverley Station, Single Image..













Car Detail..

Crane Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Train Detail..
















































400% Iridient X-Trans Demosiacing

Waverley Station, Single Image..













Car Detail..

Crane Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Train Detail..
















































5 Image Blend Results

200% Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing

Waverley Station, Single Image..













Car Detail..

Crane Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Train Detail..
















































400% Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing

Waverley Station, Single Image..












Car Detail..

Crane Detail..

Clock Tower Detail..

Train Detail..
















































Summary of Image Findings

Lightroom versus Iridient X-Trans Demosaicing in the Single Image Test

In this test, the first observation is that the Lightroom processing gave a darker result than the Iridient X-Trans did. Looking carefully at the individual images, the detail in the Iridient rendering is very slightly better with less aliasing and more pleasing colour in the overall image. Moving on to the single image detail shots, it is very clear that the Iridient Demosaicing is superior. There is a noticeable level of extra detail with the images looking sharper with an oveall sheen and sparkle missing from the lightroom images which look muddy in comparison.

25 Image Blends at 200%

In the overall Waverley image there was again a difference in colour between the lightroom and Iridient X-Trans renderings with the Iridient looking more pleasing with better contrast and slightly less harsh aliasing. There was less false colour though the detail was fairly similar to my eye.

Comparing the Lightroom single image to the Lightroom 25 image blend there is a very noticeable increase in the clarity of the image. The car detail images have a sparkle to them that was missing in the individual rendering and the extra details in the car number plates and the chain link fence behind the cars is remarkable. There was little noise in the original Fujifilm XT-20 raw files which were taken at an ISO of 200, but the 25x image blends are totally noise free.

Comparing the Lightroom blend to the Iridient blend, there are further gains in image resolution and quality, to me most noticeable in the appearance of the chain fence where it overlaps the train wheels in the train detail image. The similarity of the colour of the rusty chain link to the false colour shadows under the train in the Lightroom image makes the link much more difficult to see in the Lightroom image.

25 Image Blends at 400%

I think that the key question here is whether there is any extra detail at all in a 400% size image compared to the 200% images. Here we are comparing simply between Iridient X-Trans demosaiced image blends only as I did not perform the 400% blends using a Lightroom render for reasons of time (more on the time aspect later).

To my eye, the 400% results were softer with less contrast, but noticeably less aliased and artefacts were fewer around small details like the number plates in the car detail image. It looked as though the 400% images might respond really well to a mid-tone contrast boost which may reveal this extra detail more clearly. The 400% 25 image blend took six and a half hours to render (after many failures to complete and certain tweaks being necessary to my computer hardware). As such the small gains may not be worthwhile as a routine workflow.

Reducing the Number of Blended Images

Reducing the number of images from the 20s to the teens may improve the speed of processing considerably, but is the lost quality acceptable. How many images do you really need. Ian Norman likes to use about 20 images which clearly works well, so I have started from 15 images working down in 5s.

Looking particularly at the Car Detail shots at 200%, there is an improvement in detail above that of a single shot even with 5 images. The improvements in detail and contrast improve incrementally the more images you add. 15 images is quite acceptable, though 25 gives a surprising amount of extra contrast and detail.

Going through the same exercise with the 400% images there is much less difference in contrast and detail as you increase the number of blended images. At 400% even 5 blended images gives a substantial increase in detail over the single image, so given the time in processing there may be little advantage in going to much larger frame numbers.


Practical Difficulties with Super-Resolution

With a 24 mega-pixel camera sensor, at 200%, you are essentially creating a 96 mega-pixel image (12,000 x 8,000 pixels). With a 400% super-resolution image you are creating a 384 mega-pixel image (24,000 x 16,000 pixels). Each 24 megapixel layer in your super-resolution stack will be 137 megabytes in size at 100%, so for a 25 image stack that’s 25*137 megabytes. Increase to 200% size and this becomes 25*549 megabytes file size or at 400% size a massive 25*2.15 gigabytes.

Needless to say that these file sizes are problematic for Photoshop to work with. It can do it, but it needs a massive amount of memory to do so. Way more memory than an average domestic PC will have.

Out of Memory?

I have a decent specification PC even though it is now a few years old (see link). But I was unable to process 400% super-resolution images with 25 layers because I kept getting out of memory messages half way through. It took a while to work out precisely which memory was running out, but it turned out to be both the Photoshop scratch disk and the Windows page file.

Of Scratch Disks and Page Files..

My PC uses a 500 GB M.2 SSD for the operating system and programs and, by default, Windows uses the operating system drive for its virtual memory management. Photoshop also uses the operating system drive for its scratch disc. Basically, my C: drive was filling up with virtual memory files and grinding to a halt. As good fortune would have it, I have a second, empty, high speed M.2 drive in my system so I was able to relocate both the Windows page file and my Photoshop scratch disc to that 500 GB drive. Sadly that still wasn’t enough space for these gigantic files and I had to add slower hard-drive capacity to the Photoshop scratch disc list after which all was well. Nevertheless, having had to wait six and a half hours for photoshop to finish, I only ran one 400%, 25 layer, file through the process. This is definitely a major limiting factor.

Is Super-Resolution Worth Doing?

My analysis is that it is worthwhile for some types of imagery:

  1. When you are in a push, especially in situations requiring high ISO to reduce noise as well as improve detail.
  2. For architecture and some indoor shots.
  3. For landscape photography in calm weather.
  4. In situations where you might want to make a very large print.
  5. When you don’t have a high resolution camera available, or where resolution stitching is not viable because you don’t have a long lens handy.
  6. In situations where extreme upscaling is necessary (400%) the availability of 5 images or more for this process gives a significant lift to the detail of the image.

Nevertheless there are situations in which you couldn’t use the technique, for instance where there was a lot of movement in the scene, or where every image is substantially different. Notwithstanding this some authors have used long-exposures for blurring water with this technique, so in some circumstances movement per se may not be an absolute barrier. It may also be used where small changes in perspective mean that the images can still be aligned (although there will be more waste within the image).

Final Thoughts

Iridient X-Transformer does not respect the Lightroom processing settings, but does use the in-camera film simulation. I would have been better off not making any development changes in Lightroom to ensure that judgements of the differences in resolution and contrast were not colored by them.

Turn a White Background Black

Turn a White Background Black

Really, Are You Having a Laugh??

I’ve watched several YouTube videos on taking pictures in adverse circumstances, including how to turn a white background black. Have you ever tried this yourself? It may not be as easy as you are made to think.

The Basic Principles

Turn White Background Black

Underexposing for Black..

In order to turn a properly exposed, non-clipping, bright white background to black it will need to be under-exposed. How much may depend on the contrast of the light used and the reflectivity of the surface, but is likely to be between 6-8 stops. In the example at left, the bright white, non-clipping exposure was 1/4s at f5.6 and ISO 400 whereas the dark exposure was 1/500s at f5.6 and ISO 400, some 7-stops less.

The chart at left shows the incremental reduction in exposure, one stop at a time, of a small white Lastolite reflector. Although, at a distance, a 5 stop reduction looks adequate, you can clearly see the reflector in the image on the computer.

The ambient exposure needs to be reduced substantially in camera, and the subject re-illuminated, to compensate for the reduction, usually with flash. Shooting in manual, most flashes have a range of 1 to 1/64 or 1/128 power (6 or 7 stops respectively). This may sound a little close for comfort (which it may be), especially when using light modifiers that reduce the flash by 2+ stops. You can also place the flash nearer to the subject if needs be however.

What Can Go Wrong?

When trying to turn a white background black, the re-illumination of the subject has to be specific to the subject. In other words, the 7 stops of flash that you add back in must not travel to the background and re-illuminate it as well! This is awkward in smaller studios (or a mostly white painted kitchen as in this case) where flash bounces round the room increasing the ambient again.

Mitigating The Re-Illumination Light Spill

There are two main ways of managing light spill, firstly to manage the direction of the subject re-illumination light (so that it misses the background) and secondly using the inverse square law in setting the flash to subject and subject to background distances. In the smaller studio it may also be necessary to mitigate bounced spill by using flags or black reflectors or covers.

Managing Light Direction and Spread

Two main strategies will help here. Firstly, avoid front lighting if you can because the spill will necessarily hit the background. Try and use side lighting or lighting from high up and to the side so that the spill-light travels past the side of the background or down to the ground. Secondly, use light modifiers to narrow the direction of light rather than having light going off in all directions. Choose your modifier based on the following priority list (worse to better) for best directionality.

  1. Shoot through umbrella
  2. Bare flash with wide spread
  3. Shoot back umbrella
  4. Bare flash with narrow spread
  5. Softbox
  6. Deep Softbox
  7. Softbox with grid
  8. Grid Spot
  9. Snoot

Finally, you may need to control spill by reducing reflections from large reflective surfaces. This can be achieved by using large black panel reflectors (or non-reflectors) or covering with black sheets or a roll of black paper. Obviously, if you have these to hand, I have to question why you are trying to turn a white background black in the first place!

Inverse Square Law

What is it?

What is the inverse square law, and how does it help? Basically the inverse square law states that the intensity of light from a source falls off with the square of the distance from the light source. So if the intensity of light is X at 1m from a light source, at 2m it will be X/4 and at 3m it will be X/9 and at 4m X/16. This has some interesting implications for the photographer. Firstly it means that every doubling of distance from the light source delivers a 2-stop fall in light. So, for an example, if you had a subject lit by flash at 0.5m then at a background set at 4m there would be a reduction of 6 stops of light, and at a background set at 8m an 8-stop reduction. A small increase of flash to subject distance from 0.5m to 1.0m doubles the necessary flash to background distance to get the same reduction in light (namely 8 and 16m respectively – better order your new kitchen extension now!!).

How is it Used?

Secondly, and perhaps rather confusingly, the proportional light fall off with distance is greater close-in than it is far out. This is because the light intensity is the reciprocal of the distance squared so that, for larger distances, the difference between the fractions is necessarily less than for shorter distances. So light intensity at 2m is a quarter that at 1m, ie a 3/4 (0.75) reduction between 1m and 2m. At 4m the light intensity is 1/16 reducing to 1/25 at 5m. So the difference in intensity between 4m and 5m is 9/400 (0.0225). This is useful where subjects are at different distances from the flash. Moving the flash back to say 5m from the subjects would mean that there was virtually no difference in illumination between subjects at 4m or 5m (for instance in a wedding group shot).

Other Confounders

Managing light spill can be harder where you have, for instance, a white tiled floor, or a low white ceiling. The floor can be covered in extremis (beware the trip hazard though) but there is very little you can do to mitigate a low white ceiling.

Production Images and Results

Here is the setup for this shoot. You get some sense of the restricted space and can see the camera, subject and strobe positions clearly.

Turn White Background Black

Kitchen Studio..

Post Processing

The three wine bottles shown below were all straight off the camera card and, apart from a small crop, completely unedited! So I’d have to say that the morning spent trying to turn a white background black was a complete success. I’m bound to also say, though, that I’ve no intentions of abandoning my beloved black velvet Lastolite panel background anytime soon.

Equipment Used

Equipment used was a Lastolite large panel Black/White reversible background, a Lastolite black velvet background to control spill (out of shot), 3 x Nikon SB900 Speedlights, 3 x Bowens Light Stands, assorted cold shoe clamps to attach the Speedlights to the light stands and a Gary Fong Collapsible Snoot with Power Grid for the key light. For convenience I was using 3 x Pocket Wizard Flex-tt5 radio triggers, with the mini-tt1 and AC3 controller on the camera. As you can see there is much white and silver in this room to bounce spill light around. The main kitchen lighting is daylight balanced and camera left sits a large kitchen window and patio door.

Camera and Flash Settings

The eventual camera settings were ISO 200, f11, 1/125s. The key light was set to full power and the rim lights adjusted to give a pleasing result at a much lower power (around 1/32).

Turn White Background Black

Key Light with Grid Fitted..

Use of the kitchen studio was only possible in the absence of other family members, so thanks also to them for leaving me with the house for the morning too. I think that it must be so lovely to have a permanent and dedicated studio where you are not hunting round the house for your equipment because it is all in one place. Or having to move chairs and furniture to create sufficient space. Perhaps when I retire.. You can only dream I suppose..

I feel a large man-shed coming on..


Final Thoughts

Small Kitchen Woes..

To pull this off in my kitchen studio I had to use all available space and had to keep the subject size down as I was rammed against the range cooker. You can’t see it in the production shot, but I had to manage some light spill with a large black panel reflector out at camera right. For me this was a technical exercise, just to see if I could do it. I have tried without success previously as I could not manage the light spill effectively enough. The subject to background distance, for me, was only about 3m so control of light spill was essential as I couldn’t afford to only rely on the inverse square reduction.

Controlling the Spill..

If I had needed more control of light spill, I would have thought about reducing the light from the white floor tiles and used flags on the rim light flashes to stop light getting onto the ceiling. Finally it might have been necessary to use another black panel reflector on the wall behind the camera to further reduce spill.

Could do Better..

As a technical exercise, I have added to my own difficulties by using my Fujifilm XT-20 travel camera instead of my Nikon kit. I don’t have a full flash setup dedicated to this camera system so I was working with manually. I was, however, very pleased to find that my flex-tt5s and SB900s could be used on my Fujifilm XT-20, controlled by the flex-mini tt1 and AC3 controller combo on camera in the usual way. The only concession was that I had to drop the shutter speed on my XT-20 to 1/125s in order to get reliable syncing. The XT-20 maximum sync speed is 1/180s which I am confident would have worked ok with optical syncing, but didn’t with the radio kit. Since my Flex kit is for the Nikon, I’m pleased that I was able to use it on the Fuji at all, so this was a small sacrifice to make.



Photographing Osprey

Photographing Osprey

Photographing Osprey

Full Gas: Osprey Leaves with Trout..

I’m just back from an osprey shooting workshop in the Scottish Highlands. Photographing osprey is a new experience for me, and there are a number of differences in approach to assimilate. But first let me describe the workshop in general terms, before moving into the particulars of the photography, and telling you a secret or two about my personal journey in photography!


Images In Nature

My long-time shooting buddy Geoff and I had booked the Osprey Workshop with Images In Nature earlier in the year. Images in Nature, run by Lee Mott, offers small group nature photography workshops and tours. We stayed in the Osprey Hotel where we were very well looked after by proprietor Sue and her husband John. Lee is a hugely personable, experienced and knowledgeable photographer. He talked us through what to expect the night before, showing us pictures of the venue, describing the hides and, of course, discussed camera settings and the itinerary.

Itinerary and Venues

Photographing 0sprey involves an early start as you ideally need to be in-situ before sunrise. We were to meet outside the Osprey Hotel at 4:40 am and drive the 11 miles or so to the Rothiemurchus Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, Aviemore. The purpose built hides are based in the Rothiemurchus Fishery where they look over a purpose built pond, well stocked with rainbow trout, for the osprey to dive for and catch. You can book the hides at Rothiemurchus independently if you wish, and the Wild Scotland link gives you a sense of what is available. I can, however, unreservedly state that these are the best designed hides that I have shot from in the UK.


View from the Hide..

On arrival at the fishery, we had a quick coffee and were installed within the hides by 5.30am. There are 4 hides around the fishing pool. The best hide choice depends on the prevailing wind direction because the osprey prefer to take off into the wind (as it helps with lift) and, hopefully, it also helps the photographer to be positioned to see the bird moving towards the camera rather than away from it. During our time at Rothiemurchus the conditions were very still, so we picked one of the middle hides to see what happened. The scenery is spectacular giving multiple possibilities for decent backgrounds and different shot styles. Osprey are not the only visitors to the pond, we had a visit from a field mouse, a family of mallard, rooks, kingfisher and several heron so there is always plenty going on in-between the drama of the osprey diving shots.

After the morning shoot, it was back to the hotel for a fabulous full Scottish breakfast (thank you Sue) and then back to the Rothiemurchus estate to shoot red squirrel, and more traditional garden birds, in the forest in the afternoon.

Key Technique Issues for Photographing Osprey

There are a number of issues to consider, namely, camera settings, fieldcraft and good lens technique.

Camera Settings

Ok, we are only talking Nikon here (I can’t speak for Canon shooters, but if you do shoot Canon you may find these Arthur Morris links useful – Getting the Right Exposure, Camera Settings, Tele-Extenders).

Autofocus Settings

AF-C priority selection  = release. Dynamic AF area 9 points. AF activation = AF on only. AF Point selection = 51. AF Continuous and Focus Tracking with Lock on (3-normal). Back button focus is mandatory (well not mandatory, but certainly a lot easier). It’s only fair to say that Lee disagreed with me on the Focus Tracking setting, which he prefers to be set to 1-short or off altogether. I find that I sometimes lose the focus point on the bird and then my focus snaps to the background, or something in front of the bird, before I can get it back again, losing me time and plenty of good shots. For me Focus Tracking is best left on 3-normal or even 5-long (which I use for my red kite shots). If I had Lee’s experience and skill I could probably get away with 1-short, but that’s the benefit of being a professional, you get loads more practice! Use what works for you. It goes without saying that you will be shooting above a 1/500th second so Vibration Reduction should be set to off.

Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO

As I have mentioned in my blog before, exposure is a perennial difficulty when shooting birds in flight, especially ones like osprey with an intrinsic high dynamic range against a rapidly changing background. I like to shoot manual for this, and so too on this occasion!

At 5.30am in mid-August it is pretty dark so you are dancing a very thin line in order to get useable pictures. Lee’s, very sensible, approach is to start off wide open at 1/500th second with whatever ISO gives a decent exposure. Clearly you risk subject movement at a 1/500th second but, in a way, this can paradoxically enhance a shot with an osprey taking off from the water because it gives a dynamic sense of movement and action with blurring of the wing-tips and water splashes, but still good potential for tack sharp eyes and fish. As the light improves you can increase shutter speed up towards 1/1600 and then reduce ISO to reduce noise. I tend to make 1/1000th second shutter speed my initial priority and then reduce ISO and increase shutter speed in tandem. It’s a percentage game really. Finally, if the sun comes up (it doesn’t always) you can also increase aperture from f2.8, f4.0 or f5.6 (depending on what lens/teleconvertor combination you have) up to about f7.1 for optimal depth of field. On two of the days we had mostly dull and overcast weather and I never got out of f2.8 on my 300mm Nikkor.

Avoiding blown highlights remains something of a tricky issue, and even shooting manual, you have to take account of changing contrast levels in the scene and leave more leeway as the contrast increases. So in dull flat light you can expose further to the right than you can in bright sunlight for a given exposure reading taken from an average tone in advance. As I have said before, I will often use a patch of grass, but this is not always available, and the direction that it is lit from (and how wet it is) can all give a misleading result. I don’t think there is a hard and fast answer to this. On this occasion I knew more or less where the osprey were going to dive and I used the whole scene to take my initial exposure via matrix metering, leaving 1/2 to 1/4 of the histogram width in leeway (i.e. shooting markedly to the left) according to the contrast in the scene. On other occasions I might use spot metering, it just depends on what’s around to take a reading from.

In the interest of full disclosure, we had a heron at the poolside for the majority of the shoot and this was perfect as a cross check for blown highlights. Still, heron images beats endless photos of an empty perch by a huge margin!!

Lens Choice

The Rothiemurchus setup is really excellent and the birds are fishing very close to you. I used my 300mm f2.8 on my D4 (better for me on this occasion, given the light, than the D810, at least until the sun came out!) without any teleconvertor assistance. This was perfect! In fact, I could probably have used my 70-200 f2.8. The wingspan of the osprey can be up to 6 feet so it is really easy to get clipped wings as they fly past. It may be that a 70-200mm with a 1.4x tc would be the perfect setup to begin with – but hey, I’m addicted to sharpness, so what can I say, I used the 300mm!


Osprey Re-CC. Lighter Overal.

Osprey Landing..

The Rothiemurchus Fishery setup is particularly helpful for photographing osprey because they provide an experienced gillie to spot for the photographers. The gillie watches the osprey and keeps the hides informed on what the osprey are doing via two-way radio communication. The gillie tells you when they are circling over the pond and when they are diving. These guys are all very experienced (we had 3 different gillies over the 3-morning shoot, all excellent) and they don’t waste your time getting unnecessary hopes up. They all know the osprey behaviour well and can often recognize the different birds by sight. The heron can be problematic photo-bombers if they are standing opposite the hides. The gillies would even tell us when it was safe to leave the hide to move them away. It took me a while to realise that this was an opportunity for heron flight shots (but it was 5.30 am after all!).

It’s really important that you do not track, and photograph, the osprey in flight before they dive for fish because this tends to spook them and that bird will not return that day. Luckily, during the osprey season, there are many local pairs of birds with young to feed so you do typically get quite a few opportunities. It is crucial to wait until the osprey has hit the water, then you get focus and keep it as the bird exits the water and flies away with the fish (hopefully). The osprey will be in the water for a few seconds as it has to kill the fish and then manipulate it into a carrying position before exiting. The osprey can move through 180 degrees during this process so it’s worth waiting until you get a pleasing composition in the water, rather than wasting buffer capacity taking shots of the back of the osprey’s head. Once the osprey start to exit the water things start to happen really fast. The wings are enormous and it’s very easy to underestimate how far up the frame they will travel as the bird flies off. Using the central focus point makes sense because you have the fish to worry about at the bottom of the frame and the wings at the top, plus it is the most sensitive focus point in low light.

Gimbal Head Technique

Have you ever had that experience where something you thought you understood (and worked well for you) was completely wrong? Well this happened to me on this shoot, and here’s how! On Friday 25th September 2009, Geoff and I attended our very first raptor shoot with Mark Sisson (another phenomenal wildlife shooter and author). Arguably the very starting point of my journey into wildlife photography! I was using my new gimbal head for the very first time with my 70-200mm f2.8 VRI with 1.7x teleconvertor on my D3, and was having a great deal of difficulty getting a sharp shot! This was a tad disappointing given that I was using my best kit and the raptor wasn’t even moving! Mark came over and suggested I try a few things, namely switching my gimbal head from right facing (as I had it) to left facing. The benefit of this would be that I could lean down on the gimbal with my left hand to steady the shot.

Left-Facing and Right-Facing Gimbal Positions..

Left-Facing and Right-Facing Gimbal Positions..

This worked out pretty well for me and I’ve used it ever since. I went on to learn that steadying the lens with a hand on top was also useful, and a rubber eyecup to make it more comfortable to press the camera against your eyebrow also helped long-lens technique. Mark definitely put me on the road to better long lens technique, and I’ve been getting sharp shots with very long lenses ever since. But left facing is NOT the best for me, right facing is! Thanks Lee, for pointing this out, not least because I didn’t want to hear it, and you kept going irrespective of my arrogant unwillingness to listen! Here’s the crucial thing. I’m right eyed! This means that I sight with my right eye to the viewfinder but, if the gimbal is left facing, I cannot see a lot of what is coming in from my left-hand side because my open left eye is hampered by the locking ring and upright arm of the gimbal head.

In retrospect it’s all too painfully obvious. I have frequently been reliant on colleagues calling the arrival of wildlife subject matter that I haven’t yet seen. I’ve been amazed that they spot things so quickly when I don’t, I just thought I must be slow, or old, or needing stronger glasses, but actually, there may have been a more obvious reason all along — I was blind-sided by my gimbal head!! Actually, if you think about it, right-eyed people are at a disadvantage anyway because there is more camera body to the left of the viewfinder which tends to obscure the view from the open left eye anyway, so a left facing gimbal head just makes things worse.

I think that the proof of the pudding was that I had no trouble at all sighting a (very small in the frame) kingfisher hovering over the pool, focussing and getting some sharp shots. See them below. The other clear advantage of using the gimbal head right-facing is that you have better access to the lens controls for VR-On and Off and Manual focus adjustment. I found myself more willing to adjust manual focus in the moment as it had been quite awkward with the left-facing setup.

The Images

Heron (the Vital Bit-Player)

Osprey (the Main Event)

Kingfisher (Proof I CAN Still Learn New Stuff)

The Ducks (Who Can Resist Them?)

So, in summary, I had a great time with Images in Nature and would recommend them to anyone interested in an immersive wildlife photography experience. Thanks again Lee!

Enjoy your photography,

until next time (woodland birds and red squirrel coming soon..),



Kingfishers Fishing for Fish

Kingfishers Fishing for Fish

Nature Photography Hides Diving Workshop

Nature Photography Hides recently hosted a diving workshop for a group of 4 intrepid souls (myself included) at their new Hide and Diving Pool setup. This is so new that it’s not publicised on the website yet, but nonetheless available, and worth the trip down to Bromsgrove in the West Midlands to see Kingfishers fishing first hand, and photograph the process in detail. The set is sited down on the river bank. In the distance is a large buff coloured fence which blurs out as a background nicely. In front of the tank is a sheltered mount for the cameras, secured by four Arca Swiss style tripod heads. The sloped roof keeps the rain off, and the height of the mounts leaves the cameras in position to shoot parallel to the water surface.

Kingfishers Fishing

Diving Pool

The tank itself has a relatively shallow surface and a deeper centre portion in which the fish swim. This cuts down the area in to which the Kingfishers will dive (the rest is too shallow), which is important because of the limited depth of field. The cameras are fired by remote control from the hide itself which is in front of the setup visible here.

Just above the diving tank there is a perch holder, which is again positioned in order that the Kingfisher will dive into the tank facing backwards from the Hide. This way they turn in the tank and fly out either sideways along the length of the river, or towards the hide, for better looking shots. No one wants to see the Kingfisher’s backside as it flies away from the camera. In order to get sharp shots the cameras have to be set up in a very particular way, at their highest frame-rates. See ‘Camera Settings’ below for more information.

Camera Settings

To catch the Kingfishers fishing we need the birds to be in the correct place at the right time. You can’t alter the camera settings once you are in the hide, and you must try not to disturb the birds by going in and out of the hide too frequently. So we were using manual focus, having pre-focussed on the most likely diving spot.

Kingfishers Fishing

The Tricky Task of Focussing..

Our guide, Mick, was really helpful in making sure that we got everything right, and all came away with some excellent shots. Here Mick is holding a bar across the centre of the pool and using a handy finger knuckle placed mid tank for us to focus on (you can just see a head at a camera in the lower right hand corner). This is crucial because we were all using 70-200mm lenses at 200mm on full frame bodies. As you can see from the pictures, the Kingfishers were about 1.5m away, and this would mean a depth of field of about 2cm at f8 so there is no room for error and a certain amount of luck is still required.

F8 is about all you can afford in the dance between exposure value and ISO. To guarantee sharp shots you need a shutter speed of about 1/2500 of a second. We set auto ISO and aperture priority (i.e. to keep the camera set at f8) and a minimum shutter speed of 1/2500 s in the auto-ISO settings. We had great light and, with a 1 stop negative exposure compensation set to avoid blown highlights, the ISO ranged between a minimum of 720 and a maximum of 11,400 during the day. This said my keepers were evenly spread between ISO 800 and 7,200. No problem at all for the D4. You still need to take lots of shots however, because only some of them will be critically sharp and in frame. This depends partly on your timing, but mostly on where the Kingfisher dives and where he comes out again.

Participants were mostly shooting Nikon (1 D4s, 2x D4s and a Canon 5d MkIII). We were all using the Hahnel Giga T Pro II Wireless Timer Remote (by complete coincidence) and were able to set separate channels in order not to fire each other’s cameras. We were also able to help each other out because 3 of us hadn’t got much experience with the remote trigger, presumably purchasing them for this workshop! They worked flawlessly throughout the day though so they can be recommended as a reliable radio trigger.

Two Camera Setup

Having a perch, as well as a diving tank, gave the opportunity to shoot two cameras simultaneously (slightly tricky the first few times). This is made easier  by the remote control, but you do have to watch that the handset doesn’t time out because it defaults to single shot when you first turn it on. This can be deceptive because you do get 3 shots if you hold the button down and, with other cameras firing at the same time, it’s easy to think that you are shooting continuously when you are not. So this is me in the hide with my D810 feeling very lucky indeed (though looking like I’ve just seen an alien)!



Not the best picture of myself I’ve ever taken, but I suppose given the conditions, my old Galaxy S4 did a decent enough job with it’s microscopic sensor, lens and 8 bit jpeg files. I’d probably just realised that my shutter speed was too high!

For the perch shots, given the very short distance to the perch, from the hide, it suited me to use my 300mm f2.8 with 2x teleconverter rather than my usual 600mm f4. I have been caught out once or twice recently by the 5m minimum focus distance on the 600. The 300mm Nikkor can focus down to 2.2m, which was crucial here. I must say that even with the 2x teleconverter the results are still very sharp, but you do lose 1 stop of light (f5.6) compared to f4 with the 600. This isn’t really a problem provided you keep your brain engaged!

One of the worries, with a shoot like this, is that you will miss a crucial setting on the camera. Prior to arriving at the hotel the night before, I had set both camera bodies up for the diving shots (i.e. auto-ISO and a minimum shutter speed of 1/2,500). You don’t need that kind of speed on the perch shots, unless you want to capture an in-flight arrival or departure from the perch. It’s not that there is really a problem with auto-ISO per se, but you do need to remember to tone down the minimum shutter speed, or better still (for me anyway) move to aperture priority with a fixed ISO. I prefer to use VR on the D810 with a shutter speed close to 1/500th second for the Perch Shots. This is plenty stopping power for subject movement and camera shake, providing me the sharpest results on the high-res sensor. On the D4 my VR threshold on the 600mm is 1/160th second (I prefer 1/250th second if I’m shooting with the 1.4 teleconverter) but this doesn’t give a tack sharp result on the D810 so I like to go higher. Obviously above 1/500th second you can introduce shake with the VR so you need a shutter speed to match the reciprocal focal length (1/600th s or above in this case).

The End Result

The setup above may appear Heath-Robinson, but it is just perfect for the task. Take a look!

Until next time..



Kingfisher Diving Supplement

Kingfisher Diving Supplement

How do Kingfishers Dive for Fish?

This Kingfisher diving supplement adds to my post from yesterday A Few Days Out. I’ve examined my images from the Dumfries and Galloway shoot very carefully and I have realized something else important that I wish to share.

To recap:

  • The Kingfisher eyes up the fish from the side of the tank
Kingfisher Diving Supplement

Eyeing up the Prey..

  • The Kingfisher points his beak at the fish he wants several times
  • Then there is an extra long stretch, and you see the bird go into the water

New Insights..

Having looked at my images very carefully, here is what happens next:

  • The Kingfisher gives the extra long neck stretch then
  • Flies upwards and backwards along the line of his beak keeping the fish in sight
  • Then after gaining sufficient height, dives down and forwards again into the water to catch the fish
Kingfisher Diving Supplement

Flight Path for a Dive..

  • This allows you to aim your camera along the flight-path much more accurately because you don’t have to overlap both sides of the tank just in case.

Some Action..

This is a little better than the Gif I published yesterday as it does show part of the backward flight prior to the dive. The shot 3 seconds before this sequence (not shown) has the Kingfisher looking at the fish, but before committing to dive. Fascinating stuff!!

Kingfisher Diving Sequence..

Kingfisher Diving Sequence..

Until next time,


Rediscovering My Photography

Rediscovering My Photography

Rediscovering My Photography

My Journey Back, This Year in Pictures..


I’m sure that I am the same as every other working individual. Work-life, home-life and chores expand to fill all available time — that’s Robin’s Law, one of many! The balance of these three may change from time to time, but essentially, hobbies are squeezed into any free time that you are not too tired to use. Over the past 12 months I’ve been focused on my cycling, as this has been making me feel better emotionally, and physically, but whilst doing so I’ve had a nagging feeling that something else is missing. I’ve known that it is my photography well enough. I’ve been thinking that I may as well dispose of my cameras, and other studio equipment, because they represent a large investment and I’m not using them. Fortunately I have managed to resist the urge, and in an effort to re-balance things, have started making time to take a few images again.

Recession and the Cost of Living

In reality my retreat from picture taking has been multi-factorial. I have read a lot of recommendations along the following lines: “Take loads of pictures, it doesn’t cost you anything to experiment with digital photography”. In one way this is true, well almost, it doesn’t cost very much to press the shutter button. The only real costs, once you have purchased the machinery, are for electricity to charge the batteries. Beyond this though, if you want to keep your photos safely, you need storage space in the form of multiple hard drives (or DVD’s if you have the patience to record them), and these do cost money. If you want people to enjoy your work you may also choose to purchase a website with it’s own attendant charges etc. There may be other expenses too, after all, there are only so many photographs you can find in your garden or front room. There comes a time when you have to invest in some form of subject-seeking. This can take many forms from the full-octane photography holiday, through to purchasing multi-colored knickknacks from a stationers for your macro photography. For some of us, the true joy of photography lies in the execution of a fabulous print. These also cost money, especially the A3 and A2 ones, and if times are hard, and you can’t afford the ink and paper for your printer, some of the joy of photography is leached away. The improvement in the UK economy has therefore also been one factor in my rediscovering my photography again.

With all this in mind, I took a day out to replenish my soul with one of my favorite subjects, a variety of birds of prey on an organized shoot at a falconry center. Some out-doors in natural settings, and others in the studio. Easy-peasy..


Gauntlet Birds of Prey, Eagle and Vulture Park

If you would like to visit the Gauntlet birds of prey, eagle and vulture park I can strongly recommend it. The vulture collection is a particular treat. In addition to photography workshops they have flying displays at 12.30 pm and 3.00 pm, Vulture feeding at 12.00 pm and a meet and greet at 2.00 pm as well as other attractions.

A Photo-Walk Around Chester

Invigorated by shooting wildlife again, albeit in captivity, I next tackled a photo-walk around Chester. Not a brilliant day, in fact quite dull, so I had to keep my wits about me. Black and white to the rescue..

A Visit to Oxford

In our only city-break this year, we went down to Oxford to see Ceri, the daughter of some friends of ours, as she started her final exams. The weather was not kind to us, unfortunately, so we had plenty of time to look around the shops, and drink the occasional cup of tea and coffee.

A Visit Thurstaston

The next step in my rehabilitation occurred during a drive out to Thurstaston with my daughter. The plan was to find some coastline, and take a few pictures along the way. As good fortune was to have it, the North Wales Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club were flying, and we got a few shots of them, plus the visitor center had a photography exhibition and a public hide with views out onto some well stocked bird feeders. Heaven!

The Journey Continues

Sadly, these trips were still not quite enough, on their own, to get me taking pictures regularly again. Have you had the experience of wanting something all the more, when you knew you couldn’t have it? Well, my D300 broke! I hadn’t been abusing it, I’d just been updating the firmware to include compatibility with the 800mm f5.6 Nikkor extreme telephoto (it’s not like I will ever own one, but I like to be up to date), when to my astonishment, it just stopped working. In all honesty I hardly ever use the D300. It’s old technology now, but it is my backup camera and I do like to use it for macro shooting extreme close-ups with an old 300mm zoom and a 50mm reversed onto the end. And now, suddenly, I couldn’t. Should I buy a new camera? Probably not worth it if I’m not using my cameras much, but should I get the D300 repaired? Well probably, yes, was the conclusion I came to, if a camera that old can even be repaired? Well it turns out that it could. Nikon UK have a fabulous online system for repairs. You can say how much you would be prepared to pay without seeking permission to proceed, and even get the free postage label printed out from the website. They prepare an estimate and you say whether you want to go ahead or not and that is pretty much that.

Needless to say, once the D300 was returned to me in good working order, I couldn’t resist using it for some macro shots, and generally loving it and reminding myself of all its settings. Sad I know.. In fact, the challenge was as much to produce some good looking and clean shots with it as I could. I’d forgotten how noisy and textured D300 images could look. Sensor technology, and the supporting electronics behind them, are so much better now than even 5 years ago! Here’s how I got on:

Oulton Park Track Day

By this point I’m fully engaged with the drama and creativity, seeking new photographic experiences and subjects again. I’ve said before on this blog that, for me, it is more about the photography than the subject. Novelty and complexity are always the way for me. I’ve never shot cars or bikes on a track before, so this would be a great entrée. Is it difficult? Depends. If you want a straightforward shot, tack sharp, just set a monster shutter speed and shoot away. If you want a sharp bike and rider with spin-blur on the wheels done in camera, on a bend, yes that’s tricky first time out. Impossible? You be the judge!!

Hooked Again!!

The Inevitible Consequences..

And so it was, hooked again. Desperately fighting the urge to buy a new camera, but eventually succumbing to the temptation. A couple of years ago I blogged about wanting a Nikon D4 and a D800, but having to choose just one. That time it was the D4, this time the siren call of 36mp detail was too much for my battered psyche, and so to the D810..

More later,



The World in a Droplet

The World in a Droplet

Macro Photography can be a Challenge

The Basic Premise

My inspiration for the world in a droplet idea came as a result of seeing an image of a drop of water on a hypodermic needle on the web. You could see a thin reflection on the base of the droplet, which was very small in the frame, but you couldn’t see what it was. I had the idea that I could have the reflection of a world atlas in the droplet and, of course, larger in the frame.

Testing the Theory

Although I was confident that I could pull this off, I knew it might be difficult. I thought I could get the magnification, but I wasn’t sure about the rest. How to get a drop on a wire (I don’t have a hypodermic needle), how to get the map reflected and what about the necessary depth of field. A pilot project seemed the thing to test the theory. I didn’t take any production shots of this, so you will have to use your imagination.

Daylight seemed perfect, so I set up on the surface by the kitchen window. I took my floor stand (a light stand) and, using electrician’s tape, fixed a cardboard tube from a roll of aluminium basting foil leftover from the Christmas turkey. To this I taped an empty Bic biro carcass with a blue paperclip wedged into the end, and bent it into a sort of hook shape. Using a second biro carcass, I poured water into the open end until I got a droplet on the end of the paperclip hook. Actually, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to get this to happen quickly because it proved a nightmare to reproduce when I did the final world in a droplet image.

Equipment wise, I used my old D300 Nikon as it would give more magnification than a full frame (the droplet was only 1.5-2 mm wide). I fitted an old 75-300 mm Nikkor lens, and using a set of reversing rings, fixed an old 50 mm f1.8 Nikkor to the end. I quickly found that I had more reach than I really needed so zoomed the 70-300 to a wider setting, and took my shot.

The World in a Droplet

First Stab..

So what did I learn? Firstly, I’d have been better off setting up somewhere other than the backlit kitchen window, because I was getting a lot of flare and unwanted reflections in the droplet and had to shutter out the window. Secondly, focusing is really difficult because there is so little depth of field. If you move the tripod it can take an age to even locate the droplet again, never mind focus on it. You aren’t able to clearly see the text on the map when you focus on the droplet, so it is very hard to get it sharp (at least with my eyes). Partly because you can’t define the letters, partly because it’s hard to make fine enough adjustments to the focus (more on this below).

Secondly, the map image appears to be on the rear surface of the water droplet, so you have to focus there to get the map sharp. This means you can’t see sharp edges on the droplet itself, and the paper clip is not properly in focus. In fact the paperclip would have been better parallel to the plane of focus to avoid so many depth issues. When I do this for real, I will have to use focus stacking.

Thirdly, the map was upside down in the droplet (of course you idiot!!), so that needs turning upside down before you start.

Doing it for Real

Household chores notwithstanding, it was a few days before I got to try this again. Time to approach things more professionally and turn the house upside down in the process! Clearly this is best when your wife is out for a few hours. I wanted a more adjustable setup as I’d had real problems changing the position of the map first time round. I wanted to be able to adjust the field of view in the droplet, so that meant adjusting the position for and aft, as well as from side to side. Secondly, I wanted to be able to position the wire with the drop on it a little more precisely (there was no adjustment on the cardboard tube setup) too. Finally I wanted the droplet to be side lit to avoid flare.

The World in a Droplet

Getting the Droplet on the Paper Clip

This was the hardest part of the shoot bar none! After much trial and error I came up with the setup shown. I was able to use an old Lastolite reflector holder on my floor lighting stand as shown. This worked out fabulously because the spring grip made the perfect holder for the biro, which could then be slid backwards and forwards for perfect positioning in the frame. My only regret was it took a couple of hours, and a roll of electician’s tape, for me to realize I could do this!!


Getting the droplet on the paperclip proved difficult, but here are a few tips. The angle of the biro carcass needs to be quite steep so that water runs out of the end quite quickly. This makes it more likely to run around the curve of the paperclip, and consequently to leave droplets. Too slow and it just drops out of the end of the tube (counter-intuitive to be sure). Don’t forget to place a cloth underneath to catch the drops! The attachment system for the clip that worked best, and I tried many, was to have a cable tie underneath the clip as shown below. The cable tie slows the water down and ensures that it is running over the paperclip.


The Photography, Getting in Close

Firstly, don’t forget to turn the map upside down if you haven’t already. Given the size of the droplet (approximately 2 mm) you need considerable magnification to fill the frame. My solution was to use a reversed 50 mm lens on the end of a longer lens. The longer the second lens, the greater the magnification. I used an old 75-300 f4.5-5.6 Nikkor from my film camera days. You will need a reversing ring to join them together, and I purchased mine (52 mm to 62 mm) from a UK company, SRB Photographic (formerly SRB-Griturn) that make and sell a wide variety of these specialist items.

Both lenses were focused at infinity, and the 50 mm aperture was set to f1.8. I’m not certain that a wide open aperture leads to the best quality/depth of field, but that will be an experiment for another day. The 75-300 zoom was set to f32 and I used the zoom control to finesse the magnification.

To focus, I moved the camera / lens setup back and forth on a Manfrotto 454 Micropositioning Sliding Plate. You can just see the lock screw poking out above the D300 on the tripod in the picture above. It can be surprisingly difficult to find an image at this magnification so be patient!

It goes without saying that to avoid camera shake you should use a remote release and mirror lock up.

Watch-Out!! Don’t Damage the Lens…

The rear element of the 50 mm Nikkor is flush with the back of the lens which is problematic. It is very easy to flick the paperclip onto it, and there is a risk of scratching the lens or getting water into the electronics. Even though this was a very old lens, I didn’t want to damage it, so after a few near misses I decided to use my smallest Kenko auto-extension tube as a lens hood for the back of the lens. I used the shortest one in order to minimize the risk of extra vignetting.

Focus Stacking

Depth of field at this magnification is very narrow and both the map, the paperclip and the edge of the droplet need to be sharp in the final image, so take separate images at each depth. The front of the droplet is unnecessary as it would obscure the view of the map. Using the 454 it was possible to get the 3 images required for the blend.

Post Processing

The images for the focus stack will be pin registered if you haven’t moved the tripod, so they can be loaded as layers into Photoshop without issue from Lightroom (or whichever way you choose). Any adjustments in Lightroom or Camera Raw should be made to each of the images before stacking them. In Photoshop, the sharp paperclip and map images can then be blended into the final image using layer masks. Here I took the opportunity to desaturate the background (i.e. the full sized map) a little to make the map inside the droplet all the more prominent. After that, some sharpening using your preferred method or plug-in finalizes the image.

The World in a Droplet

The World in a Droplet!

Cheers, R.

Red Kites at Gigrin Farm

Shooting Red Kites at Gigrin Farm

Time-off is Precious!

It’s been a while, in fact, as I think about it, I haven’t been to Gigrin since I purchased my D4. The last time I was there would have been 7th April 2011, 3 whole years ago to the day. Since I adopted cycling as a new pastime there has been increased pressure on my photography time, to a point where it can be months between structured shoots. But this week, I’ve booked in a couple of days shooting, of which this was the first.

Facilities at Gigrin

Hides for Photography & Filming

There are a range of Hides for the photographer. The ground level hides are adequate for photography for those with compact cameras and DSLRs, whilst the tower hides have been built for photographers with more professional equipment in mind. The Gateway hide is around 4m closer to the kites than the towers. The tower hides have a partial roof as protection, and a bench fitted to the rear of the hide with coat hooks on the left-hand side. This arrangement is ideal for panning overhead and gives a superb view of the kite’s surroundings. Newcomers to the tower hides should be aware that there is a green line on the floor that marks the most forward standing position so as not to frighten the birds.

Disabled Access

Four of the hides are wheelchair friendly, with ramps and internal access, and there is parking for up to four vehicles right outside the hides for those unable to walk the 100m from the regular car park. There is even a wheelchair accessible photographic hide with the same roof arrangements as the towers.

The Red Kite Shop

In the handy Red Kite Shop you can purchase a range of goods including binoculars, note pads, mugs, bird feeders and Red Kite clothing (T-shirts, Sweatshirts, Fleeces, Caps) books, paintings and videos.

The Photography


For our trip, we booked the larger tower hide, and I shot with my D4 and 600mm F4. To begin with I was using my 1.4 teleconverter as well, but, to be honest, that amount of reach really handicaps you because it restricts you to birds beyond the feeding zone where there is sufficient space in the viewfinder to pick them up and pan with them. You need too much precision to pick up birds in the middle distance, and this is unrealistic unless you are a seasoned professional wildlife photographer. Birds near-to will have their wings cropped, also not a good look! My pal Geoff was shooting with a D4 and a 200-400 F4, he had also started with a 2x teleconvertor but also found that he was better off without one.


To begin with it is very difficult to track the birds. You must practice shooting with both eyes open (to help you lock on, and see the best action coming) and over half an hour or so you will find you can pick the birds up in the viewfinder more easily. Even then you are at the mercy of your camera for finding focus. Always use continuous auto-focus and the highest frame rate that your camera can manage. To make life easier we were both shooting with Gimbal Heads. I found it best to focus on the tree line first. This makes the acquisition rate much higher when you target a bird in flight because the distance is much closer to that of the bird.

Another problem comes with losing focus when the birds dive for food. Red Kites do not land on the ground (though interestingly one did just that on Monday, and it is the first time I have ever seen it), so they dive steeply and swoop down picking up their food (or prey) in one really fast action. I found that I would lose the birds on the way down, and when I found them close to the ground again I had lost focus. I think that one technique that may help you with this is to stop focusing once the bird dives, then pick it up again on the floor. This works because the Kite will be at about the same distance from the camera and you won’t have been risking a refocus on the background as you swing the camera downwards once the bird has gone. On Nikon professional cameras you can adjust the timing of the refocus pause, which can also help you stay on the target.

I find that the best technique is to pick up a Kite in the distance, then follow it until it has filled the frame, or done something interesting. It is very tempting to take thousands of photographs of very distant birds because they seem larger to your eye than they do to the lens, but by being patient you can get some good shots that fill the frame. Make sure to start shooting just before the kite is large enough in the frame because they move very quickly and you can end up with clipped wings. Be careful to avoid shots of the bird flying away from your viewpoint or turning away from the lens. Some of your best shots will be obtained once the birds have thinned out (and the other visitors have gone home). This is because you are sufficiently practiced by then, and there are fewer birds to contaminate your shots. If possible you want to get the kite with space to fly into the frame. It can help to use the central focus point because it is more sensitive and also guarantees space in the frame, which ever way the bird is travelling, if you focus on the head.

Finally, don’t forget to try some vertical shots, and shots with more than one bird. Odd numbers seem to work better than evens for this.


In a change to my usual practice of using a couple of manual exposure settings (one for light and the other for shade) described elsewhere, I used a different technique due to the very flat lighting conditions. I set my camera to auto-ISO, with a minimum speed of 1000th of a second, then set a manual exposure of 1600th second at f4. I took a couple of test shots (repeated through the afternoon) to judge the exposure compensation that I would need shooting against the white sky. This ranged from 0.3 – 1.0 stops as the afternoon wore on, but this gave great results and I didn’t need to worry when the sun came out for the odd shot.

I usually turn vibration reduction off for shutter speeds above 500th second, but (in the heat of the moment, against the breeze, I didn’t realize it was turned on – easily done when you’ve covered up the switch with a waterproof camo-cover) I’m pleased to say that it didn’t seem to make any difference to the image sharpness.

Post Processing

These days I’m using lightroom for initial adjustments, then adding a quick mid-tone contrast boost to the bird itself using Tonal Contrast in Color Efex Pro, followed by my 3 or 4-pass sharpening routines in photoshop. Though I must say that the Raw Pre-sharpener algorithms in Sharpener Pro 3 are just as good and much faster to implement.

Spoils of the Day…



Boardman Team CX 2014

It’s Finally Here, My Boardman Team CX 2014

Did I Mention that I’ve had a New Bike?

The Story So Far

If you have been following my blog you will know that my Marin Bear Valley mountain bike died recently (see Alas No Cycling…), and that I have ordered a Boardman Team CX from Halfords. Well I’m happy to say that it has arrived, and after a few teething problems, which Halfords sorted out for me without any fuss, it is all set up and ready to go.

I Like to Tinker

When I picked the bike up, the lad in the store said “I’ve set the brakes up as best I can, but they are rubbing”. “This should settle down over the first hundred miles or so”. Well, as you might imagine, I wasn’t going to be satisfied with brake pads wearing out as a solution to poor adjustment, so I had a go myself when I got home. It turned out that the reason for the rubbing on the front disc brake was a warped disc, so no amount of adjustment would fix that. With the appalling weather that we have been having in the UK recently, it was a few days before I could take the bike out for a run round the block but, when I did, the gears made a lot of noise and not all of them were available. More tinkering required. The cable tension on the front derailleur was too loose causing insufficient travel, and the low and high stop screws for both the front and rear derailleurs also needed setting. The trouble was, the rear caddy was bent inwards towards the wheel, so if you made the mistake of trying to pedal backwards, the chain fell off. Time for a trip back to the store!!

In fairness when I took it back the engineer, who really knew his stuff, sorted the gears out on the spot, and was a pleasure to watch working. I hadn’t mentioned the disc brake issues, but he noticed and adjusted them both anyway. He swapped the front wheel out for one with a straight disc, and he was even dissatisfied with a tiny misalignment of the handlebars, and sorted that out too.

It disheartens me that so many things these days are not right first time, never mind first time, every time, but I suppose that the next best thing is prompt and effective remediation, and Halfords have certainly done that. The Boardman Team CX 2014 was very good value for money and the Halfords’ deal includes 3 years annual servicing.

Second Time Out

My second ride was much more successful. The gears were running smoothly and the bike was rattle-free (unlike the Marin) and pretty comfortable over the bumps. I realized that my riding position needed attention (the saddle height was too low, and needed to slide back slightly) and the front tyre pressure needed raising. The riding position is much more comfortable than the Marin ever was, with the consequence that I can now see much further down the road without hurting my neck. Just waiting for the weather to improve, and I can get back to building my fitness again.

Making the Best of a Photo Op

Purchasing a new bicycle is a rare occurrence for me (the last one being 20 odd years ago), so it seemed too good an opportunity to miss to photograph the CX. Now, had I had my wits about me, I might have researched how to do this skillfully beforehand. But hey, that’s not how to live on the edge, I can learn through doing. Better still, if I start this just before we are due to go out as a family, I can get some added time pressure and regular shouts to get a move on because it’s time to have my shower (thanks Helen!!). Perfect. No really.

The Shoot

Once again the weather was torrential and gale force, so the photography had to take place inside. I did not have an assistant, so I had to be a bit creative. Whole bike shots were out of the question, but detail shots seemed possible. I wanted an uncluttered background so I used one of my Lastolite (double sided black and white) panels. Lighting was an issue because I didn’t have time to set up flash, and because I was using the door frame between the kitchen and hallway to prop the bike up, I had to cope with a crossing cast because our kitchen has daylight balanced LED lighting, whilst the hallway has tungsten. In the event this worked out quite well because, if I turned off the hall lights, the white Lastolite panel was dimly illuminated by the kitchen lights (avoiding the cast) and which also brought the bike forward in the image, as it was brighter in the frame.

Camera and Lens

I was short of time so it boiled down to this. Do I go with my micro nikkor 105 f2.8 or my 28-300 f4.5-5.6 zoom? Given that the light was poor, plus I want to be able to play with depth of field, the macro lens gets it. So D3 plus 105. Why not D4 plus 105, with its better low light capability? Because the 105 was already on my D3 so that was quicker!

So, with no prior experience of shooting velocipedes, this is how it turned out.






Let me know what you think,


New Year, New Profile Photo for LinkedIn

The Making of a New Profile Photo for LinkedIn

The Reason Why…

I have been working on my social media profile for a few weeks now. I have a Google+ account, with a page for TDI, an Instagram account and most recently a LinkedIn account and now Twitter. I am in the process of getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of these, how they work, and how best to engage with them and will be linking. My LinkedIn account is really to support my other career as a psychiatrist but I have previously used the same (branding) image as for TDI and my other accounts. Thinking that I probably need something a little more formal, my wife agreed to help me take a fresh portrait for LinkedIn.

A New Fridge-Freezer, A New Problem

Towards the end of last year our built in Fridge-Freezer decided that it would start freezing everything in the fridge, as well as the freezer, and to make so much ice that the drawers in the freezer wouldn’t open at all. Fearing a fire, and not having enough time to source a reasonably priced built in unit, or re-fit it in the appropriate cupboard, we elected to have a free-standing unit instead. In fairness this has been a great success, my daughter has decorated it with magnets, and uses it as a noticeboard for maths puzzles for her poor old dad to write down and solve. But here’s the rub. I can’t easily move the kitchen table out to the side like I used to, because a third of that space is now Fridge-Freezer!! So using the kitchen as a studio to capture a new profile photo is a world more grief than it used to be. Still, I needed some exercise because the weather had trashed our planned cycle ride today (too much ice this morning, too much rain and gale force winds this afternoon). Plus my bike’s not well at the moment either. So moving a heavy table and running up and down stairs a lot seemed just the ticket.

New Profile Photo

The Area to Clear, Ho Hum..

So here’s the thing, that kitchen table had to go out in the hallway. Would it go out through the doors? Could we lift it? If it was out in the hallway, could we get back in the kitchen? Was I going to be able to carry my equipment from upstairs past the obstruction? Who knew, we had to give it a try. After, that is, Helen had cleaned the floor!!

New Profile Photo

Phew, That Looks Better!!

After much shoving and scraping, and even more hoovering and washing, a space was made available in the now pristine cooking and dining area. So, whilst Helen moved on to pastures new, for further housework opportunities, I set about bringing the necessary equipment downstairs, and stockpiling it into the hallway. Hmm.. That’s a bit of a mess you’ve got there thought I. I wonder how long Helen is going to stay patient with you?

Hallway Carnage...

Hallway Carnage…

So onto the setup and test shots. I went with the D4 with 70-200 f2.8. This was going to be quite heavy for Helen, but she was confident that she could manage anything I threw at her. I decided not to shoot tethered. It was just one portrait and the image on the back of the D4, particularly with the 3 channel histogram, was more than sufficient to judge framing and exposure. I used my favorite portrait set-up of the Lastolite Triflector and Nikon Speedlight fired through a Joe McNally Ezybox with soft white interior and 2 layers of diffusion. For separation I used a second speedlight (an old SB800, in SU4 mode at 1/32 power) fired through a Bowens grid-spot attached via the rather superb Interfit Strobies XS Int326 gizmo. As usual, the camera was connected to the key light using a PocketWizard Flex Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 set up with the AC3 Zone Controller set to -2/3 exposure compensation, with ISO 200, 1/160th second and f8. Finally, my favoured Lastolite black velvet panel, suspended from a suitable stand, completed the picture.

So That's how it's Done!!

So That’s how it’s Done!!

We have daylight balanced LED lighting in our kitchen, so I left those on during the shoot. The only slight problem was teaching Helen to use the back-focus button (I have all my cameras set up this way for my wildlife photography) instead of half pressing the shutter release, but she picked this up really quickly, and didn’t need reminding to focus on the forward eye.

Until next time,