30 May 2018

Finally some sunshine and colour

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
John Steinbeck

I really haven’t had anything to say recently.  Well, don’t let that lull you into thinking I’ve been silent; far from it.  But I just haven’t had anything interesting to contribute recently.  Certainly nothing anyone would want to read about.

But I’m feeling much more inspired after some days of early summer sunshine (and quite warm some days too), extra hours of daylight giving rise to long evenings and remembering that I love photography again.  The winter with its early wetness and later cold and lack of light wasn’t one for getting out very far and I just stopped carrying my camera routinely, so didn’t have anything to show you – I haven’t taken a photograph for weeks.

I did a double take when I spotted this large red damsonfly in the garden and luckily managed a couple of photos. I've seen a couple of others since, they seem to visit every day,
I did a double take when I spotted this large red damsonfly in the garden and luckily managed a couple of photos. I’ve seen a couple of others since, they seem to visit every day,

But I’ve made up for it recently.  My husband recently bought me a pocket camera – I’d had one that simply proved too large for a pocket and we found one that was much more ‘fit-for-purpose’ and I’ve reawakened my enthusiasm for photography by getting to know it properly.  Unfortunately I’ve not been outside the garden much recently, so my pool of subject matter is somewhat limited.  But it has been a joy to have some flowers to photograph and consequently they’ve attracted some visitors too.

The large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) shown wasn’t photographed with the new camera, but with my DSLR with my close up set up – the speed of focus and subsequently taking the shot can sometimes only be achieved with a DSLR with skittish subject matter.  It still wasn’t fast enough – or at least I wasn’t – a few days later when I realised I was looking at a large chubby dragonfly at rest on one of the canes in the garden.  I had my camera in my hand at the time and as I raised it to try and get a shot, it spooked and flew straight out of the garden and I’ve not seen it again since.

The lovely weather recently has given me opportunity to get my little garden into decent shape.
The lovely weather recently has given me opportunity to get my little garden into decent shape.

I’d hardly touched the garden all winter and it was in dire need of a good sort out – it was looking positively scruffy and there seemed to be piles of dead leaves everywhere. I’d lost quite a few plants with the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap we had – plants that had previously survived several winters.  But that gave me the opportunity to refresh a few spots that were looking tired and treat myself to new things instead.  Because my entire garden is in pots, they don’t have the protection of much ground around their roots, so I’m surprised that I haven’t lost more over previous winters.

But thankfully the glorious weather we’ve had recently allowed me get a good run at it.  I think we’ve had more nice days already in 2018 than we had all of last summer – we’ve certainly eaten out in the garden more times already than we managed last year.  I really hope it continues, it’s a joy to have a leisurely weekend breakfast al fresco!

Testing the camera at full zoom:

We did escape for one evening out and a picnic – which resulted in wrestling bread and cheese inside the car as the wind was so severe it would have blown supper right down the valley.  We do have a picnic rule; that if the wind is stiff enough to blow crisps off the plate, we eat inside and this certainly qualified.  It was a favourite spot where we’ve spent many hours watching hares over the years, but last year we had hardly any sightings and I was worried that they were no longer resident in the area, so it was a real joy to watch them again.  I saw three individuals in total.  The one I photographed below got up to stretch at one point and did a large twisting leap into the air, something I’ve not seen them do before, other than when ‘boxing’.

I wanted to test the focus at distance with the new camera as it has a 30x zoom which is a 720mm equivalent focal length.  It’s really frustrating to be chasing a squirrel up a tree or something and the camera failing to focus where you want.  The hare shot below was a proper test in truly demanding conditions – late evening light (and through a car window) with wind blowing the grass about and an area of cow parsley in the foreground that periodically blew right in front of the scene and there was fencing and blowing reeds between me and the hare, yet the camera managed to lock and retain focus where I wanted it to and whilst some of the shots were dire for other reasons, in each case, the focus was at least on the hare.  If you want to imagine the scenario, the landscape view to the right of the hare shot in the gallery is the scene – the bright green patch of grass just about in the centre of the frame is where she was and you can perhaps identify the wire fencing and patch of angled reeds.  So you can see that it was a bit of a stretch for a camera that will slip into my shirt pocket.

I’ll pop my recent photographs into a gallery below, they have captions with them, should they be of any interest.  I’ve enjoyed thinking about photographs again and tinkering with settings and getting to know a new camera.  I’m hoping that we have a good summer and I can continue to bore you with flower and insect photos.  I might even get out and about once in a while too.



1 Aug 2010

Aren’t hoverflies brilliant!

And daisies are too!

And oft alone in nooks remote
We meet thee, like a pleasant thought
When such are wanted.

William Wordsworth: To the Daisy. 1807.

Flowers seem intended for the solace of ordinary humanity.   John Ruskin

I love daisies. If pressed, I might even declare them my overall favourite flowers. But they’d have a tough fight for that title, along with the likes of snowdrops and daffodils. I even love dandelions, when properly looked at, they’re quite fabulous.

But the sheer simplicity of a daisy makes it near perfect – its cheerful brightness is often all you need in a flower – something Mr Wordsworth obviously grasped. Yet it isn’t actually simple at all. It just lets you think that it is. The structure, when examined, is quite a magnificent piece of natural engineering.

Please click on the photographs for a larger view, the photos tend to look rather dark here on the page.

The white so called petals, aren’t actually petals at all, but white bracts – the flower(s) is actually the cluster of tiny yellow florets at the centre – rotating from the centre in a complex, tightly packed, geometric spiral.

So I always have daisies of some variety in the garden – I love big pots of them. This year I have one huge tub at the end of the table and despite horrendous weather for the last month or so, has had a continuous fabulous show of cheering flowers.

I went out today to do some work between showers and the garden was full of hoverflies today – lots of them busying away around the various flowers – they seem especially drawn to both lobelia and my daisies – and they do look so fabulously colour co-ordinated against the daisies, so I grabbed my camera.

I just used my compact camera as it was to hand, I’d really like to do some more with the big guns – the compact is way too slow to react to catch them taking off and landing which I was hoping to catch.

Despite a shutter speed of 1/1000 second, the wings of this hoverfly are a barely visible blur.

There are something like 6000 species of hoverflies globally, with around 300 species in Britain and I spotted at least 6 distinctly different ones today on the same plant – although all the best photos I got seemed to be of the same species, so they must move slower than the others.

I love hoverflies, they’re docile and fascinating to watch and just don’t bother with you. Quietly going about their business and despite their dangerous looking colouring which mimics wasps and the like, they’re totally harmless to humans.

If you watch one hovering quietly and gently put your finger underneath, they’ll often lower their undercarriage and rest for a moment on your finger. When they realise you’re not a source of food, they just raise their legs again and take off.

More photos with a DSLR:

I went out into the garden again when the light had supposedly improved. By the time I’d attached lenses and established focus, using extension tubes, the light was worse than ever. The hoverflies had now seemingly exhausted the food from the daisies and most were working other areas of the garden.

I managed a few shots before I decided that the exposures I was securing weren’t worth persisting with. These were all taken at 1600ISO and some with shutter speeds slower than 1/100 second. Just as well that they don’t move that fast when eating.

I hadn’t noticed their metallic jackets before.
If I had wings, I’d like them to be delicate and iridescent like these.