Sheep n lambs

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About a hundred sheep were grazing on the hill today. We lost two recently to a wolf but these were relatively safe being protected by an electric fence, which gave me a couple of shocks as a reminder. Just one of the many daily hazards a nature photographer must endure. An electric fence is a simple and relatively cheap measure to protect them.

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There were plenty of lambs all sporting the latest in fashionable colourful earbuds. Meanwhile the glorious summer weather continues and it looks like warming up too in the coming days.

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Listening to Dire Straits by the look of that face.

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Sunday walk

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I set out before lunch on the same walk as the previous. It is fresher today with 50% cloud cover, but still warm. My first encounter is the same butterfly/moth as before but this time I am able to get closer to photograph it. The red butterflies I keep seeing must have been one of these as in flight the red underside of the wings is visible but once it has landed on flora the red disappears and is replaced with its dramatic black and yellow markings.

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Something about it makes me think it is a moth, though I am not sure what exactly, maybe its shape. This delta wing shape is not typical for butterflies and from behind it looks like a Vulcan bomber even down to the red from the jet engines. It does make you wonder if the Vulcan designer was inspired by such a butterfly.

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Doing my Internet research it would seem that it is some sort of Tiger moth.

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There were also a number of other butterflies to be seen today.

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… and the usual insects of course.

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The crickets are out and about today too, but hard to spot being very small and nervous. In the past I have photographed many grasshoppers but the last two years I have seen none but I am sure they are around somewhere.

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Finally, yesterday I spotted this mystery bird, which had grabbed some debris the squirrels had discarded after consuming nuts in the hazelnut tree. At first I thought it was a bird of prey, then a jay, but after seeing the blurred images I decided it must be a sparrowhawk. However on closer inspection it is clearly non of these as it has a long sharp beak and vertical stripes. Any ideas?

Nature today

Well, yesterday really.

It is quite humid today but pleasantly warm with a bit of wind so I take my camera out for a stroll through the forest. I am actually homing in on the buzzards, which are hanging out in nearby trees and hope to get a decent photo. As it turns out, I neither see them nor hear them.

A poor shot I captured early this morning (see below) does not look like a typical buzzard as there seems to be too much white and the wing feathers look more like an eagle’s than a buzzard, so I am wondering what else it might be. I have seen red kites here but they are easy to spot with their forked tails and distinctive wings. It’s clearly not a kite. Any ideas?

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I descend halfway down the mountain on a pathway overgrown with ferns. The birds are silent, it’s just after lunch and probably not the best time to venture out in search of wildlife. However once I reach the dirt track a butterfly catches my attention. Is it a butterfly or a moth, I am not sure but it is certainly not one I have seen before.

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Moth or butterfly?

It has dramatic black and white markings on top with red underneath. I decide to focus on butterflies but miss several interesting red ones, which could have been tortoiseshells or the one above. There were some small white butterflies and the ever present brimstones.

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These very small blue butterflies are out and about today, but being so small they present quite a challenge to photograph. Still, I am given ample opportunities and manage a few photos.

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They have iridescent blue wings on the top side and underneath a more traditional butterfly pattern.

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On my return leg I disturb an animal. I can tell by the noise as it flees that it is something interesting and not just a squirrel or mouse, it’s too loud for that and not loud enough to be a deer or wild boar. I peer into the undergrowth not expecting to see much but then I see it. A fleeting glimpse of a small short haired animal about the size of a small dog, rust coloured with short ears and legs, scampering away. I wonder what it could be as I have never seen such an animal before.

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I was going to ignore this cute young black restart but it seemed determined to remain on the log so I took some shots anyway and it posed nicely, changing its head position, just like a photo model. Black redstarts are more common here than sparrows and no wonder they usually have five chicks and two broods a year is not unusual.

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Finally, this was probably a young fieldfare taken a few weeks ago in the valley. There seem to be many young birds around at present, rather late in the year I feel. Even the ducks last week had chicks that looked just a few days old. Is this the result of climate change or just my imagination.

Stratos fin

Blender:File:/Users/apple/Desktop/3D/stratos-green.blend

Finally completed a homage to this 1970s classic sports/racing car and its Italian designer Gandini who created many other renowned designs. I built this model in Rhino 3D and Blender 2.8 (10%, 90%) respectively. The construction is based on rough and probably inaccurate technical drawings downloaded from the Internet so there are still a few questionable areas, if being true to the original design was paramount. However I usually do tend to modify designs here and there adding my own touch so they would never be concours winners. That’s my excuse anyway.

Blender:File:/Users/apple/Desktop/3D/stratos2.blend

As mentioned in my previous post, although the Stratos is a Lancia, its transverse mid-mounted 2.4 litre Ferrari Dino engine made it a Ferrari really. The compact design also filled a gap Ferrari had failed to fill. Having owned a Fiat X19 in my youth with the same layout, albeit smaller and lacking a Ferrai engine, I became a fan of this concept early on. The only downsides to this layout was a tendency to aquaplane in the wet owing to the lightweight frontend and nervousness in corners. Being short wheel-based it required quick reactions to halt a spin and over correction was always a danger, which I discovered to my cost on occasions. Access to the engine in the Fiat was also difficult, which Gandini solved in the Stratos by having a fully hinged rear end.

Blender:File:/Users/apple/Desktop/3D/stratos-green.blend

As far as construction of the model goes, I still find it easier to create the initial body shape in Rhino 3D before transferring to Blender 2.8. Still, my progress with Blender has come a long way so I hope soon to be able to complete it all in Blender using the shrink-wrap technique, which solves many of the surface issues when polygon modeling. The only shrink-wrapping I did on this model were the decals and badge logos so there is plenty of room for improvement.

Blender:File:/Users/apple/Desktop/3D/stratos-green.blend

Chasing squirrels

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I continue pursuing the squirrels with limited success. This first shot I fired off at 1/250th while at the same time keeping an eye on a buzzard perched on a treetop far away. I was hoping the buzzard would swoop down in my direction so my focus was not really on the squirrels. However this snatched shot was an improvement on the previous attempts, thanks to the afternoon sunshine. Soon after this the buzzard did swoop down and flew right past but it all happened so quickly I failed to get a single fuzzy image before it vanished behind some nearby trees.

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Meanwhile early evening I spotted a new red squirrel. Most squirrels I see in the forest tend to be red squirrels with tufted ears, white chests and bushy tails or a similar black variety with no tufts. Those seen so far on the hazelnut tree look more like dark brown rats, with bushy tails. So I was encouraged to see this new variety which looked quite different. It was a beautiful chestnut red with a long bushy tail and just a hint of tufts on its ears. It may have just been an immature red squirrel. Sadly the light was very bad being early evening, so even shooting even with flash at 1/125th all the images appeared black on the camera viewfinder. The flash had little impact as the tree was too far away, so it was only through a little post processing manipulation that anything came out at all.

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The following evening I ventured out just before sundown as it seems to be when they are most active. I was not hopeful but I notice the red squirrel perched on a nearby branch and decided this might be a good opportunity. The squirrel was so engrossed in consuming nuts I don’t think it even noticed me or the sound of the camera clicking away. I shot at 1/100th 200 ASA and this time got some reasonable shots.

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Meanwhile the darker squirrel had made an appearance on a lower branch. The red squirrel took exception to that for some reason and made huge dive dislodging the squirrel. After a brief scuffle the red squirrel shot back up the branch, maybe it was just a friendly greeting. Who knows.

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Update:

Yesterday I noticed another newcomer, this time a red squirrel with a black bushy tail.

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Lancia Stratos

3D modeling, sculpting call it what you like…

Blender:File:/Users/apple/Desktop/3D/stratos.blend

My Lancia Stratos (WIP)

I enjoy building these cars, especially replicating the classics. To most people – with the exception of car designers, 3D modelers and petrol-heads they are just boring old cars, lumps of shiny metal enveloping greasy machinery that help pollute the environment and cost a fortune in time, money and nerves.

However, only those in the above category can really understand the complexity of building or designing a car, whether that be 3D digitally or hand-building the real thing in a garage. It has many similarities to the challenge of portrait painting. Just as in portrait painting the omission of smallest insignificant detail can make or break a work. Sometimes you think you have done everything accurately but it still looks wrong. You search high and low for errors, often fruitlessly.

Rotate the car by just one degree and all the lines change, as do the highlights, shadows and reflections. Unlike most products, cars are a mix of rubber, metal, glass and fabric, which make them more complex than almost any other. Reflections on the painted metal surfaces must be perfect otherwise they indicate damaged bodywork or badly resolved surfaces in the design phase. The reason Jaguars or Porsches look like quality when compared to a Ford or Toyota has much to do with the way surfaces have been resolved. Connecting three different angled surfaces together can often require a great deal of creative skill to make it look right and pleasing to the eye.

Cars needs balance, proportions, dynamics and aesthetic lines that are in harmony with each other and there are always many additions such as wheel arches, door handles and lights etc., that can make this a challenge.

The Lancia Stratos above is possibly my all time favourite sports car and one that I had the privilege of driving once albeit for only a couple of kilometers. ‘Shit off a shovel’ comes to mind as it weaved its way from the traffic lights and no wonder it has a mid-mounted 2.4 litre Ferrari Dino engine in what is a very compact, lightweight body. It was designed specifically as a racing car or rally car to be more accurate and was only produced for the road in any numbers to qualify for the category of production rally car. The bodywork was designed by Gandini, one of Italy’s finest car designers who was also responsible for the Lamborghini Muira, among other classics and strangely enough the Citroen BX. Probably the only citroen he ever designed.

Blender:File:/Users/apple/Desktop/3D/stratos.blend

This is a work in progress and some details have yet to be added. The red lines indicate errors in the topology that need fixing. The A-pillar also looks incorrect to me but it is faithful to the technical drawing but that may be inaccurate, which is why it is so important to have accurate reference drawings. Still with a bit of tweaking (not twerking) I think we can fix that.

I always felt the Stratos was the perfect design but once you begin to analyze it more carefully for a replica, flaws become apparent. These flaws are the very thing that give it character and its own special DNA. There is a temptation to remove them or make corrections but like cosmetic surgery it just removes the very thing that made it unique and special. Just as in life drawing or portrait painting you must look and observe carefully. The eye is just a camera while the brain processes the image. However the brain has a habit of ignoring details and refers back to memory to save processing time, often in error.

Focus vs shutter

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A buzzard glides on thermals rising from the valley this morning. I hear buzzards almost daily now but only see them on occasions. Once again this image is out of focus, probably due to the slow 1/60th shutter speed. I only got a couple of shots before it disappeared over the roof.

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A beautifully constructed wasps nest on my balcony. Here I used fill-in flash to help freeze the image. I am not a lover of flash as I find the images tend to be less realistic with hard shadows, but fill-in has its uses.

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I had another attempt at the squirrels this morning but little improvement despite some sunshine. Probably due to the slow 1/60th shutter speed again.

Focus, focus, focus

Well, it´s been one of those weeks. A very frustrating one in my role as nature photographer. It began after debating whether it was worth carrying my heavy D300 down into the valley. I usually do but I decided not to bother on this day. Lo and behold the unusually hot weather had forced a grey heron to land on the local duck pond and four black swans took great interest in this new arrival. It made for a great shot as the four swans inspected the heron perched on a small island. I took some shots with my mobile but with it wildlife rarely comes out in focus and it was no exception on this day. The following day I took my camera along but of course there was no sign of the heron.

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A few days later I spotted a buzzard perched on top of a pine tree. It was there for at least 15 minutes but the D300 autofocus refused to lock on despite trying everything. I even switched to manual focus but that is pretty useless on these ‘new’ DLSRs. I miss the days of SLR manual focus with split frenzel screens. A 500mm on a tripod would have done the trick but I have to make do with a handheld 18mm-270mm and the buzzard was a fair way off.

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Above: Chaffinch and buzzard out of focus shots and a jay caught in flight and in focus (sort of) but a long way off and too small to be of much use.

This afternoon I had a perfect opportunity to photograph squirrels collecting hazelnuts on a nearby tree. The sun was going down and the tree was shaded so I was forced to shoot a low shutter speed. Added to this it was hard to see the squirrels through the lens and be sure the focus point was on them. So like the buzzard this resulted in 50 or more photos that were out of focus and had to be trashed. A professional photographer would have nailed it for sure.

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A little later two jets flew so low down the valley I could almost see the pilots, I managed to grab my camera for the second jet but as usual the auto focus refused to lock on, not that manual focus would have been any better as I had no time to focus anyway.

Below this woodpecker shot shows how difficult it can be avoiding branches and such like which can play havoc with autofocus.

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When auto focus works it is wonderful, particularly for nature work but often even with spot focus it finds something in the foreground or distance more interesting much to my dismay and the loss of many a good photo. In the days of analog you would have taken more time, been more selective and only taken a few shots.

… but hell, who wants to wait two weeks for 36 expensive postcard prints to arrive and still be disappointed.

Long live digital I say! 🙂

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Nostalgia

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For me these simple old-timers are still beautiful to look at and in many ways much more harmonious than some of today’s tortured designs. SUVs that look like they were created by a frustrated designer on coke or by committees only interested in their next cafe latte. What with bland one-box people carriers and family saloon cars that all look alike, it is hardly an inspiring sector. Of course times were simpler back then and there were less people involved in creating a product. Today it is probably a case of too many cooks, or something …

… one thing is for sure design aesthetics has not really advanced since the advent of the motorcar, it has just changed fashion and adapted to form following function, which is no bad thing of course. This old Alfa Romeo is a racing car too, so it is a little unfair to compare them but I think most petrol heads would agree the heyday of car design is over and we are now entering a more rational, controlled era … and talking of racing cars there is nothing more tortured than today’s Formula One cars with their nasty spoiler add-ons, bits stuck on here and there like wind-tunnel test models or an old guy’s shaved face flecked with bits of bloody tissue paper. The driver has also disappeared from view so you might just as well be watching slot car racing for all the entertainment.