A Grand Day Out

It was that time of year when Gala Camera Club members go on their annual adventure. Last year it was North Berwick this year, Wallington Estate, Northumberland.

This year we again opted for car-sharing rather than a minibus mainly due to the numbers wishing to go. Twenty members met up around noon on the green at Wallington. The forecast was for showers and wind, it was correct, but it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits so off we went exploring the estate. There is something there for all photographers, nature, architecture, landscape, flora and macro and people. The place wasn’t very busy, probably due to the weather forecast, but other than a strong breeze and the occasional heavy shower it was quite a nice day.

Some members opted to visit the main house whilst others headed for the river walk and walled gardens. Whilst a few members had some success at the Wild Bird Hide others grabbed some superb flora shots at Wallington’s spectacular walled gardens.

We drifted back to the clock tower area in dribs and drabs from around five o’clock. After a catch-up and blether and of course, the obligatory group shot, we headed for the Redesdale Arms near Otterburn for our evening meal. I can thoroughly recommend the Redesdale. The meal was excellent and the staff very friendly and efficient, we’ll be back.

 

May meetup at Harestanes

4th May – Star Wars Day

At last, the weather was favourable for one of our summer meetups. We meet on the first Wednesday of every month from May to August, excluding June. Usually at a local spot of photographic interest. The bluebells would be out as it was May, so we headed for Harestanes and the woodland at Woodside. This is usually carpeted with bluebells and wild garlic in the woods above the burn.

 

Five of us turned and sure enough, there was a proliferation of the flowers where expected. Unfortunately, we were just about thirty minutes too late to catch the rays of the setting sun on the blue patches. It was a lovely evening though and we did manage to capture a few nice shots.

It was a pity our meet up clashed with the Tour series Cycling on in Galashiels that evening other a few more members may have shown up. Never mind, there is always next year.

 

The next meet in our summer outing on Sunday 12th June to Wallington. I’ll do another blog on the event.

Gala Town Trail – A club Project

Many camera clubs have a club project. Something for all members to contribute to. For example, Beeslack/Penicuik camera club did a year-long project to photograph and document the old railway routes around Penicuik. The end-product was an Audio-Visual presentation which is now used by Visit Scotland (I think), or maybe it was the local tourist authority, to promote walks in the area.

Gala camera club needs a project too. It would involve all members who can become involved by as much or as little a degree as they want.

An idea muted by Mike Gray to have Gala Town Trail as a competition theme prompted me to think why not use this as a club project? Members could take images following the town trail and upload

them to a folder. From there we can collate and edit the images using some as demos for practical nights or online videos. Creating an AV or book or both could also be part of a practical exercise for our members.

The final product may be useful to the likes of Energise Galashiels, or Galashiels Heartland of the Borders. We might even be able to persuade the town bands to provide some music for it.

Make the images something a little different, not just snaps. Think of it as you may want to see in a magazine. You can practice all sorts of techniques too. Panoramas, Long Exposures, B &W, etc, even abstract images. Name the file in such a way so we know what it is e.g. Old Gala House or Scott Street. They should be full-sized .jpg files at res 240 dpi (in case we need to print them later) Don’t upload the RAW file yet. If there is potential for a post-processing demo, then we may ask for the RAW file.

Members have been sent an email with the above-mentioned upload links.

Download the Town Trail

Two-way competition – Gala CC vs Kelso CC

For those of you who couldn’t make it virtually to Kelso last night, Gala won the competition by a small but decisive margin of 354 points to Kelso’s 345.

Thanks are due to Kelso CC for their efficient hosting of the event and to the judge, Doug Berndt, ARPS for his constructive comments.

Kelso had two out of the three 20 scores, but Gala had six of the nine 19s. Gala also had the judge’s choice for the best image of the contest, which was Alison Lomax’s “The Winger”.

Congratulations and thanks to all our authors, and particularly to our high scorers, who were:

SCORING 20

Alison Lomax: “The Winger”

SCORING 19

Alison Lomax: “Penguin Shower”

Fiona Jamieson: “Tunnel Vision”

Fiona Kilgour: “Super Squirrel”

Fiona Kilgour: “Chaffinch”

Ford Renton: “Scorpion Fly”

Kevin Lomax: “Red Squirrel”

SCORING 18

David Graham: “Chamonix – Aiguille du Midi”

David Graham: “Evening at the Water Hole”

Mike Gray: “Frog Forum”

That’s a clean sweep of wins for Gala in all three battles this season.

From Ron Bell external comp.sec

A GRAND DAY OUT

I would like to tell you a little about one of my favourite places for photographing birds of all kinds. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) centre at Washington near Sunderland is an unexpected oasis in the middle of a fairly built up area beside the River Wear.

WWT was set up by Sir Peter Scott, son of the Antarctic explorer Captain Scott. He established the first centre at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire in 1946 and today there are 9 centres throughout the UK. Gordon and I are WWT members and visit the centres at Washington and Caerlaverock on a fairly regular basis.

WWT Washington in particular is a great place for a family day out but also presents many photographic opportunities. There is a huge variety of birds, from captive breeds of duck and geese and cranes to many species of wild birds. The wild birds vary with the seasons but I don’t think anyone could be disappointed.

Starting from the centre where you can purchase food and drink, you come to the ponds with all the ‘fancy’ ducks. There are many very colourful species and you can walk through and get very close to them. Particularly useful if you are working with a smaller lens.

From there the natural route takes you past a large reed bed with Moor Hens and more ducks. Continuing downhill takes a route through a wooded area that has been allowed to naturalise as a habitat for insects and bats.

Passing another lake, which is home to a large flock of Tufted ducks, we come to the Hawthorn Wood hide. This spacious hide looks onto a feeding area for wild birds which is surrounded by a wide variety of trees giving natural perches for them before they fly into the feeders. Over the years, I have photographed Blue Tits, Great Tits, Long Tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Gold Finches, Nuthatches, Tree Creepers, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Siskins, Redpolls, Robins, Dunnocks and the occasional grey squirrel and pheasant from this hide. The trick is to watch for a while to see where the birds are landing before they hop onto the feeders and keep focussed on those areas.

Moving on takes us down to the Saline Lagoon hide where recently I managed to photograph a Kingfisher on a natural perch by the lagoon. It is a little small in the frame but I was thrilled to see it. There were also Shoveller ducks and Shellducks. As this hide is a bit further from the lagoons it needs a longer lens to make the best of photographing the wildlife.

Still continuing downhill this takes us to the bottom of the site and the Eye On The Wear where goosanders, herons, cormorants, curlews, redshanks and sandpipers can be seen on occasion. Also, otters have been spotted on the high tides.

This area is next to the Wader Lake. Wader Lake is a large area of water with several waterside hides. Depending on the time of year there can be a fantastic range of waders including Snipe, Teal, Wigeon, Geese, Lapwings, Terns, Godwits and my particular favourites Avocets. The Avocets breed at Washington over the spring/summer but are seasonal. There are usually 20+ pairs.

Across the lake is a large Heronry that is particularly active with nesting birds early in the year. This is fairly far away for decent photographs but is wonderful to see.

There are various ways back up to the centre from here and depending on your choice you can walk through areas with ponds for dragonflies and up through the woods and meadows where roe deer may be spotted as well as jays and fieldfares; or up past the family of captive otters or the flock of flamingos and more varieties of ducks or the large butterfly/insect garden.

Back up near the centre, you can find two European Cranes. In the centre itself, there is information about the reintroduction of cranes to the UK. I have to admit I didn’t realise that they had been a UK species until I read the information. I believe that many places with “Cran” in their names were in fact places where cranes used to be found.

It is a couple of hours drive to get there but for photographers, one of the advantages of visiting WWT Washington is that there is always something to photograph.

WWT undertakes research and conservation projects around the world and their role in protecting wetlands and wildlife cannot be underestimated particularly in the light of the current challenges that we face. Wetlands are key in helping us meet our most pressing environmental challenges. Among other things, they are the most effective carbon sink on the planet.

I can thoroughly recommend a visit. If you want to have a go at bird photography, it is indeed a grand day out.

Christine Swalwell

 

Winter Thrushes – Alison Lomax

The recent cold and wintry weather has brought in some winter visitors from Europe. We have a number of rowan trees in our garden and this year they produced a decent crop of berries. The past week has seen a few Mistle thrush, Redwing and Fieldfare arrive. One particularly aggressive Mistle thrush was chasing off anything that landed in one of the trees, hoping to keep the crop to itself. Time to break out the big lenses!

 

I could have used the car as a hide but decided to go for the more comfortable and warmer option of shooting from the bathroom window. This also gave a better vantage point that was more on a level with the birds. The thrushes are quite flighty and easily disturbed. They didn’t stay in one place for too long, regularly flying off to the safety of some nearby conifers.

I started off with a 300mm prime lens but it just wasn’t getting in close enough so added on 1.4 converter. It wasn’t practical to set up a tripod so had to stick with using a mono-pod. The light was difficult as the sun was almost directly behind the trees so it was a combination of looking out for bird activity and checking the light conditions.

 

As the week progressed more and more birds kept arriving and as the berries decreased they were forced to come to the trees closest to the house. Luckily, on the final day, there was some cloud cover which resulted in some lovely diffuse light. (By this time I also had permission to borrow the 500mm lens which was definitely an improvement!).

Shooting on motor-wind I kept thinking that I must have enough by now but then something else would turn up or there would be lots of wing-fluttering needed to access the remaining few berries. In the end I filled up my memory card (around a thousand images). Just as well too as it turns out that many of them were not sharp, tricky holding a big lens still.

If you aren’t familiar with the thrushes, the Mistle thrush is similar to a song thrush but larger and with more streaky spots. The Redwing is smaller with a distinctive eye stripe and that definitive red coloration under the wings. My favourite are the Fieldfares. Similar in size to the Mistle thrush, they have a grey head and back, with a black tail and rich brown plumage on the wings. Their breast and side flanks are speckled, as other members of the thrush family.

Some other visitors included Blackbirds, Starlings and even a beautiful male Bullfinch. Unfortunately, all images of the latter were consigned to the bin being totally blurred.

Still, kept me fully occupied for a morning and lots more deleting still to be done.

Unfortunately, there are no berries left for any Waxwings that might turn up, which I live in hope of seeing one day.

 

Opening night

‘Twas the evening of 15th of September 2021 and a motley crew had gathered online for a meeting… a bit dramatic but it was the much-anticipated return of camera club meetings and our opening night, we were all excited to be back.

Around twenty members (we now have over 40) logged in to say hello, greet new members, and listen to Ron Bell’s back to basics presentation. Ron took us through the fundamentals of camera technology and operation. Mainly aimed at beginners and especially new members it never does any harm for our more experienced gang to mull over the basics again. Perhaps clearing away any of the bad habits we pick up over the years.

Zoom has been a boon for our club and kept the enthusiasm going during the lockdowns and will continue to help until normal service can be resumed. There are other video meeting arrangements but we have found Zoom easy to use for all and at the time of signing up it gave the biggest bang for our buck. Since then of course the likes of MS Teams has expanded and is probably just as good. However, we are all used to Zoom now so why change. It may be that future sessions at the camera club could become a hybrid of in-person and online meetings. It would certainly widen our choice of presenters. That’s a discussion for another day though as Zoom isn’t for everyone.

That said, of course, we always have teething troubles sharing screens, logging in etc. and it is a bit strange chatting to a collection of thumbnails. These things will become old hat within the next few weeks and we’ll be up and running.

Ron’s presentation, “tweaked” from last year, went down very well and prompted good discussions after. We look forward also to next week’s presentation by Paul Crawford which will give us a more practical approach to avoiding those blurry images.

North Berwick – A Grand Day Out

There was no club summer outing last year for obvious reasons. This year we didn’t know what restrictions would still be in place so the club opted for just an informal gathering at a place of interest with no enclosed gatherings or evening meal arranged. Members were free to mingle as much or as little as they felt comfortable.

With the above in mind, we opted for North Berwick in East Lothian, a little over an hour’s drive from Galashiels.

We gathered outside the Seabird Centre in the morning just to say hello then all made our own way around the area cameras in hand.

Some booked a boat trip around the Bass rock whilst others wandered along the beach front or in town. The weather wasn’t particularly nice to start with and a few showers appeared throughout the morning. It did however brighten a little later in the afternoon. I think most were glad they brought a coat or jacket, as it got decidedly chilly when stood still for a while.

Undeterred though, some fully embraced the holiday spirit although none were tempted to go for a dip in the sea.

The local seafood was very popular.

Lobster and chips

Judging by the Facebook page submissions our photographers managed to grab a good few decent shots, no doubt many of which we’ll be seeing later on at club meetings.

 

Overall, we had thirteen come along which isn’t bad given the situation. Here are a few of our images.

Laowa 25 mm Macro Lens

The Laowo 25mm 2.5x to 5x Ultra Macro lens.

Having been a good boy all year my reward on my birthday was a Laowa 25 mm macro lens. I’ve had a Canon 100 mm Macro lens for a good while and it’s a great all round macro lens for a full frame or crop sensor camera. I have even used it for Astro photography so it’s a handy bit of kit to have and the macro results are superb. It gives 1:1 magnification so if you wish to go a bit beyond life size macro to extreme macro, the likes of 5x magnification, you would have use a selection of extensions tubes and reversed lenses. It is easily possible produce fantastic images but can, but not always, sacrifice a little in quality, particularly around the edges. They are very cheap rigs to make up though and will get you into the realms of extreme macro at very little cost. The other approach is to use a dedicated ultra or extreme macro lens. There are two main contenders on the market.

Pretty much the king of the extreme macro lenses is the Canon MPE-65. Image quality is second to none. It does have a couple of minus points. It is a very big lens when extended out to 5x and it is quite expensive. At £1000 new and £600 for a well-used model it’s not for everyone’s pocket.

The new market leader for the average Joe is the Venus Optics Laowa 25 mm 2.5x to 5x ultra macro lens. Made in China, and what isn’t? this £399 model is more reasonably priced and a very solidly built lens. The lens comes in a nice foam packed box which contains also the warranty and a brief instruction leaflet. The lens is fully manual focus and has no electronic couple for the aperture ring, unlike the MPE 65, so your subject must be well lit in order to focus with the lens stopped down a couple of stops. There is no focus ring, focusing is achieved by moving closer to or further from your subject. This isn’t too much of an issue as at magnifications of 2.5x and greater it is nigh on impossible to photograph hand held so a tripod must be used or a use a studio macro rig (see last week’s blog post). The MPE starts at 1:1, which is manageable hand held, though focusing is still manual. However, I didn’t get the Laowa lens for photography out in the field. I’ll stick to my 100 mm for that. This lens was purchased to get as close as possible for the highest quality at an affordable price.

So how has it done? Brilliantly I’d say. I have a couple of examples of a fly at 2.5x and 5x and a Bee at 5x. Each were taken with my macro rig using either LED ring lights or remote speedlites. As mentioned there is no electronic coupling to the lens aperture so its manual exposure only and of course your camera will show aperture at 00. The camera exposure meter will still work though even though an exposure simulation won’t, just disable that part.

The working distance from the front of the lens is about 6 cm regardless of max or min magnification. However, when increasing the magnification the front of the lens extends out by about 8 cm so you will have to realign your subject. i.e. move it back.

Depth of field is an issue for any macro photographer. When using a 100 mm macro lens at 1:1 at f8, the DoF will be about 1-2 mm. With extreme macro that drops to 0.8 mm at 2.5x and 0.1 mm at 5x. You don’t have much to play with so careful stacking is the key. I’m still working on that part.

Experimenting and research indicates the best compromise between depth of field, sharpness and aperture is f5.6. It seems to be working well for me anyway. F16 does suffer from excessive diffraction and probably best avoided as the gain in DoF is minimal.

All in all it is a great lens and, with practice, you won’t be disappointed. The MPE 65 is a little better quality wise but only at laboratory test level. For me this Venus optics is a winner because of it’s compactness, build quality and simple basic operation. I just love it. A lot more practice on the stacking set up is needed though but watch this space.

 

Constructing a macro table top studio

Constructing a portable table-top macro studio

Living in a house with wood floorboards, I needed a solid base for macro photography. I found that when working at high magnifications even with the sturdiest tripod there was always some relative movement and vibration between my tripod and subject due to slight movement of the carpeted floor caused by me moving, or breathing, or earthquakes. This was not desirable when focus stacking a large number of images as it makes the images harder to align. The solution was to have camera and subject on the same solid platform. Any floor movement or vibration was therefore applied equally to subject and camera as they both firmly fixed to the same baseboard. Working distances vary from 18 cm to 2 cm so there was no need for anything large.

From a piece of 120 cm x 50 cm x 1.8 cm MDF board (B&Q £10) I cut the base (30 x 40) an addition layer (30 x 30) and 2 side walls (30 x 5). Screwing the sidewalls to the additional base layer then that to the larger base then marked a centre line.

An arca-swiss nodal rail was screwed to the base along the centre line then 2 small guide batons 5 cm either side of the centre line for a cantilever stage to slide back and forth on.

 

I finally fitted a 50 x 30 baton along the back of the base with a groove routed along its length. This was to slot an A4 clipboard for holding background papers. The resultant studio base is quite heavy and very solid. I used 30mm screws through out except for fixing the little guides.

From the images, you can see the Super-Mag macro-focusing rail mounted with an arca-swiss plate onto the nodal rail which was screwed to the base. Along the sidewalls I can mount clamped LED ring lights, as shown and a magic arm for holding the subject at various distances. Speedlites fitted with small soft boxes and remote triggers can be clamped to the rail if flash is required. Particularly useful if photographing live subjects and the short flash duration is required to freeze motion. In practice though I find using 3 LED ring lights like the one shown in the image, positioned one from the side, one more from the top, and one on the background gives me all the light I need for my dead  insects and small flora. The LED lights are all USB powered from a small hub at the side of the base. White or silver reflector cards can be easily positioned where needed.

 

MkII of this may be a bit wider with extra slots to move backgrounds closer (or I may just use another clamp) and some tracks to keep the cables tidy, but for now this works a treat and I’m experiencing no vibration issues at all. I am looking forward to trying out more extreme macro stacks with this set up.

The LED clamp lights, nodal rail and other bits and pieces I found on Amazon, where else?