Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category

Canon EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM

Sunday, January 8th, 2006

I haven’t written much about photo gear so far. My main working cameras are Canon 1DIIs. I love working with the 1DII but it’s not the best choice when the main focus of the day isn’t photography. Especially when you’ve got a bag of L lenses to go with it.

I’ve spent a lot of time playing with small point-and-shoot cameras for general goofing around and travel use. Unfortunately, pretty much everything I’ve tried so far has had at least one problem that made me hate using it. Either the camera was too slow (in terms of shutter lag), wouldn’t shoot raw or had generally horrible image quality. I’d been so disappointed with images from point-and-shoots that I started lugging around my 20D and a bunch of lenses. However, with a 1.6x crop, I’d often carry my 16-35/2.8L just to get wide angles and my 24-70/2.8L. Oh, and the 50/1.4. And other lenses. The end result was that I ended up juggling with lenses much more than I wanted to and carrying a lot more than I really needed to.

Recently, I’ve compromised and bought a Canon EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM lens for my 20D. The combination of the two is now my default “point-and-shoot”.

The size of the 20D and the 17-85mm isn’t truly ideal but it’s a lot smaller than my usual travel bag (1DII, 24-70/2.8L, 50/1.4, 135/2L). I’ve found it’ll fit into one of my existing small Kinesis bags, which is very handy. And, of course, the real bonus is that it takes relatively high-quality images that fit into my existing image workflow. And I can always smuggle my 50/1.4 along with me for shallow DoF and low-light work.

Downsides? Well, the 17-85mm isn’t without it’s niggles. I owned a Canon 28-135mm f4-5.6 IS lens for a while with my D60 and the 17-85mm shares some of the same issues. For starters, it’s not as sharp as any of the L zooms, especially at the wide end. It also suffers from fairly strong CA at the wide end. Shoot something like tree branches against a bright sky and the corners of the image have quite noticeable CA problems. Thankfully, this can be removed in Camera Raw but it’s definitely something to watch for. If you’re used to an L zoom, the 17-85mm has one other gotcha. Just like the 28-135mm, the zoom and manual focus rings are reversed from an L zoom. The end result is that I’m often zooming when I want to manually focus and vice-versa. None of these are show-stoppers tho’.

Used sensibly, it’s a fine walk-around lens. I’ve been surprised at the quality of the results, especially in the middle of it’s range. The IS is very handy and seems to work better than the version of IS on the 28-135mm. In fact, I’ve been very happy with IS on the 17-85mm and I’ve been able to hand-hold reasonably well down to about a 1/4 second.

The end result is that I’ve been able to take some camera gear along on trips that would have been awkward with a 1DII and lens bag and managed to make some images that would have otherwise passed me by…


Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

Sunset At Rising Tide

I had planned to go out to Leighton Moss yesterday afternoon to do a bit of bird photography. However, after getting myself cosy and all set-up in a hide, I realized that the direction of the setting sun was going to make things really awkward. Which was a shame, as the quality of the light was beautiful. After a quick change of mind, I packed everything up, hiked back to the car and headed to nearby Arnside to see if I could catch the sunset.

The tide was just coming back in, which meant there was enough water in the channel to catch reflections and show the sky color. With a clear sky to the west, the sunset was one of those gorgeous, golden affairs that you sometimes get when it’s cold and still.

Portfolio Update

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

The summer months are usually pretty tame for landscape photography. With the longer hours you get the choice of either getting up earlier (as early as 4am here in the Lake District) or heading out much later. And the light isn’t usually that interesting outside of a few key hours during mid-summer.

However, even by the usual summer standards, I’ve been lax in updating my online Portfolio. Never mind autumn, it’s now edging into winter here. Trying to make amends for this, I’ve added a few assorted updates (with more to come soon):


Reservoir Sheep

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005

Curious Lambs

We’re fully into Spring here in Cumbria and that means only one thing. Lambs. And lots of ’em. If you’re one of those folk who’re nervous about livestock, this isn’t a good time to be out and about in Cumbrian fields. Every single square green mile has sheep and their lambs on it at the moment.

When they’re just born, lambs peg an 11 on the Cute-O-Meterâ„¢. However, they soon bulk out and get a little bolder. I was working on the River Mint last week and looked around to find these 4 bulky lambs behind me, trying to look tough. Then I realized I was between them and the last bit of long, juicy grass in the field. 🙂

Of course, once they heard the camera shutter, they fled. They’re really not that tough.

St Catherine’s Estate

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

Fence In Warm Sunlight

One of my photographic sources of inspiration for the past few years has been the St Catherine’s estate, a National Trust property located outside of Windermere. The estate nestles between between Orrest Head and the main Troutbeck road.

The property itself doesn’t have any visitor center and general public access is only via a couple of public rights of way across the property. School groups do visit, though, for educational programs.

In late 2002, I obtained permission to work around the estate, documenting the woods, wildlife and environment for a personal photography project. As a result, I spent the end of 2002 and most of 2003 working in and around the St Catherine’s estate. It was an experience that completely re-awakened my love of landscape photography (in all of it’s many forms). I was lucky enough to be able to spend many quiet days wandering the beck, woodlands and meadows. As the seasons rolled by, I became intimately familiar with the estate and the photographic possibilities it offered.

It takes me ages to get comfortable with a location and start to see the images I want to make there. Often I find myself dashing around, unable to decide where to work first. As a consequence, it usually takes me two or three long visits to a location to really start to settle down and see the possibilities.

I return to the St Catherine’s estate from time to time to recharge my photographic batteries. When you’re really familiar with a place, it’s often refreshing to step back into it after a while. There’s no pressure to find new photographic sites in the time available – you simply wander familiar paths, soak up the changes since the last visit and appreciate it for what it is.


Sunday, April 17th, 2005


When I”m in the UK, I spend my time in Kendal in the Lake District. We’re pretty close to the River Kent, which flows from the top of the Kentmere Valley (to the north of Kendal) down into Morecambe Bay to the south.

The River Kent has a surprising amount of birdlife in and around it for a river that passes through an urban area like Kendal. In addition to the usual litany of ducks, we regularly see goosanders, grey wagtails, pied flycatchers, grey herons, kingfishers and dippers. As you walk north up the river (and out of Kendal and into the surrounding countryside), the Kent and it’s tributaries become ideal territory for dippers in particular.

I became interested in photographing dippers a few years back. They’re fairly challenging as a photographic subject: their white bib blows out easily and the rest of their natural color is dark enough to be 3 or 4 stops below the bib. They’re also very small, always on the move and can be quite easily spooked by movement on the bank.

They’re absolutely facinating to watch though. When they’re feeding, dippers spend a lot of time underwater and are forever in and out of the fast-moving sections of water looking for insect larvae and other food. I often find myself working to track them as they float down with the river current, completely submerged.

I’ve recently started to try to photograph dippers again during my walks up the river. Most of my dipper photographs from 2003 and 2004 were taken with my Canon 300/4 IS lens, 1.4xII convertor and my D60, which wasn’t an ideal combination for small bird photography. The 300mm lens is a little short for small birds and the D60 can have horrible auto-focus in the low light conditions you often find working along the river.

I’ve now got a Canon 500/4 IS lens for wildlife photography, which with the 1.4xII convertor and Canon 1DII lets me start to fill the frame with a dipper when working from an opposite bank. The image quality from the 500/4 is pretty astonishing and, when paired with the 1DII, it’s quite amazing how quickly you can focus in on small birds. I’ve basically run out of excuses for bad dipper photos now. 🙂

You’ll find most of my dipper photography in my River Kent and River Mint (a tributary to the Kent) galleries in my portfolio.