Quiet months and landscapes

So, its been a quiet few months here whilst  Ive had to focus on looking after myself, rather than photography. But I have had time to come up with a few new ventures and projects, once the M.E  is less troublesome. April, May and June have quiet due to illness then the following recuperation, but I seem to be slowly picking up, so Im doing more photography as my body allows.

Since moving back up north Ive been itching to get out and capture the local northern landscapes, which isnt easy when you dont drive. However, Ive made some lovely friends who have kindly taken me out on sunrise photography mornings. There really is nothing quite like being out at the coast as the sun comes up, its so peaceful and just pure raw nature, which I love. Its a lovely relaxed hour or so surrounding sunrise or sunset, where you can totally immerse yourself in capturing the beauty surrounding you. Mind you, there is a lot of behind the scenes planning for such trips, countless early mornings or sleepless nights, observing the tides for various locations, working out whether a low of high tide would suit the location best. Then, closely monitoring the cloud forecast and watching those skies first thing, getting used to the cloud formations that provide the best skies, and taking into account the wind speed and direction, trying to work out if its worth a long drive, plus the petrol. 

On my first morning out, with the lovely Jed Wee, a local photographer who is superb at landscapes, weddings and wildlife photography, we called it wrong, resulting in almost total cloud cover whilst photographing Charlies garden, a location I had not visited previously. But we were not detered and still clicked away, working out angles etc for a future visit. My images were nothing exciting, and look better converted into black and white to bring out the moody skies.


Our next trip out was slightly more successful, yet still disappointing in that the clouds werent the best and the sun didnt really light them up quite as we had hoped.  I think both Jed and I both have high expectations of the sun and skies, we are both chasing that spectacular colourful sunrise in stunning locations.  This time we chose St Marys lighthouse, simply due to the cloud base covering the horizon over our first choice further up north. There were only pinks in a few clouds, very briefly before sun up, and I  felt a little disappointed. Then I changed my  point of view setting the rising sun right behind the lighthouse, which gave quite a nice glow to the sky. I couldnt quite get a complete reflection of the lighthouse without walking out into the incoming tide, and my dire excuse for a tripod is certainly not up to such forces. ( Donations welcome :), mine is off to the tripod graveyard). But I feel that I made the best of what we had. Jed also took a timelapse sequence, which was an interesting aspect for me to learn about and it looks fab.

Next up, another trip out with the lovely Mr Jed Wee, we headed to Marsden rock, another first for me. Sunrise was fairly average, but I was able to work out how I would like to capture the area in the future, the tide was out this time, which Jed used to his advantage, capturing an incredible, other wordly  wide angled image, that Im quite jealous of. Do head over to his website and check out his stunning images, you wont be disappointed. http://www.essence-of-light.com/.   This is my effort from the morning. Oh and be prepared for a million noisy birds screaming and photo bombing your photos around this massive rock.

Ive also been occupying myself observing the night skies for noctilucent clouds and Im going to watching closely for opportunities to photograph an aurora. Ive had a couple of outings and managed to capture a nice couple of images of the night skies over Dunstonburgh castle in the spring.

Other things Ive been up to, Ive photographed a couple of events, tried my hand at a little street photography and more recently Ive enjoyed the challenge of photographing bands in pubs, where the lighting is pretty weak. Ive added a small selection below. 

The model photography and creative portraiture has been minimal this last 3-4 months, but Im kicking off with an interesting sghoot next week - more in my next blog. Also there have been a few changes on the reptile and frog front too, again more in another blog coming shortly :)

Tubesnake at Trillians above. Witch charmer at Trillians below

Relentless at Trillians below

How to photograph Reptiles and Amphibians

I am frequently asked how I go about photographing frogs and reptiles so put this together especially for all you reptile lovers

A guide to photographing pet reptiles and frogs at home
So you fancy capturing some nice shots of your (or your friends) pet reptiles or frogs but can’t quite get the shot that you want. Here is a quick guide packed with handy tips and ideas to help you get a nice image that you can display around your home.

To avoid any undue stress on the animal I aim to keep the photography session to a minimal amount of time, only placing the chosen subject for the images when everything is in place, including the prefocused camera. It is worth considering just how many scenarios you would like to capture the reptile in, I often have two complete mini set ups ready, as well as a quick change of background or props to hand.
There are so many options for backgrounds these days ranging from professional backdrops to coloured pieces of card or material, I even hand paint the occasional piece of card for a specific effect. You will need a large enough background to cover the different angles you may use, as you don’t want to see lines where the chosen backing runs out within your image. Live or false plants can make for lovely naturalistic backdrops. Look around the house to see what you can use, sometimes a nice wall will suffice or even bedding, providing they don’t have prominent patterns which may distract from having your reptile as the main subject.

When considering the rear of your scene, think about whether you want it in focus or out of focus. These days it is very popular to have a clean, uncluttered out of focus background. Utilising a plain coloured piece of card or material could work well whichever your chosen aperture and effect. For a more natural look you could place plants quite far away in the background so they will blur, or even set up in your garden – just make sure your pet is safe first and cannot escape or be attacked by a cat or frightened by birds/ traffic etc.
Also consider foreground or floor of your image, it is best not to have anything busy which will draw the eye or attention away from your pet. Consider how it blends or meets with the background. Sometimes it can work well having the foreground and background all the same by curving a piece of material or card behind and underneath the scene.

I have such a huge array of props that it fills a large box and I’m always adding to it. I always have my eyes peeled when I’m out shopping, in a garden centre or on a walk in the countryside and often bring new bits and bobs home.
The props I find most useful are probably the more natural items such as a piece of cork bark which you can buy from most reptile shops, they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, even as hollowed out piece which can double up as a perch for birds. Other natural items that are good are branches covered in lichen, leaves, flowers, rocks or moss. It is wise to be careful where you acquire these items as you do not want to introduce parasites to your pet, if found in the wild you can sterilise some things in boiling water before use, or moss can be bought pre treated and packed from reptile shops. The attached image of a Common frog was actually a frog from my garden placed in a large bowl of water from our pond, filled with pebbles and moss for a natural appearance.
There are some plants and woods that should not be used around reptiles or frogs as they can be detrimental, so it’s always good to research the item with regard to your species before use, this can be incredibly important when it comes to a reptile that eats plant matter such as a tortoise. Some useful links to help you are:-

Sometimes I like to go for a different look and will use unusual props such as an unusual gemstone, a Peacock feather, a gift box, an ornament or household object. Use your imagination. One fun set I produced for a competition involved me sitting a frog on a pan with a misting system inside, the title was “How to boil a frog” and aimed at producing an image for a movie title. The frog was perfectly safe and not disturbed by the mister as it was the kind often used in terrariums for frogs to keep their environment humid.
Composition, settings, focus and lighting
Before positioning the star of your images it is worth thinking about how you want the image to look, what exactly are you trying to capture. A good starting point is focusing on the props and taking a few test shots, this will not only help you work out which compositions look best, but you can decide on your lighting set up and camera settings. Focusing on the eyes is very popular and works with many compositions, but don’t rule out abstracts – reptiles have the most fascinating scaly skin and patterns, not to mention stunning eyes.
You would be amazed at the amount of different lighting situations I use, depending on the species’ temperament, environmental requirements and the intended end result. Natural light from a window or two can work very well; if you have a species that isn’t particularly active, household lights and studio lights can help you create wonderfully dramatic appearances, but be careful that the lighting does not cause your animal stress either from brightness or heat. Be aware of your animal’s natural habitat, from temperatures to humidity and light; try not to deviate from this too much. Some reptiles or frogs will not tolerate very high or very low temperatures, so do carefully consider the temperature of the room and the lights, have a thermometer handy and keep an eye on it if you are unsure.
For the creatures that move around then flash is your best friend, but I would strongly advise against using strong flash and would advise against using flash with albino animals as their eyes can be damaged easily. I know of an albino snake that was blinded by a so called professional filming team and its just not worth the risk. Using diffusers can help reduce the glare for your animal or even bouncing the flash of a reflector can often give you better results than aiming it directly at the creature. If you feel the animal is displaying any signs of stress at all then stop and place them back in their own environment.

Whilst it is impossible to guess exactly how your pet will sit, you can build up a good idea depending on the species, some will sit still for a little if carefully placed, providing they feel safe and comfortable, so consider what they are resting on and ensure it is appropriate for the species. Consider your pets temperament, some pets are pretty unsuitable for studio photography, such as a Tokay gecko which can become stressed quickly and flee so quickly you miss where they jump or run too, the last thing you want is a stressed or missing pet. Others may become aggressive or may not settle with bright lights on as they are nocturnal. Having an extra person who is competent at handling the species can be very useful, so that you can concentrate on taking photographs whilst the other person can ensure the safety of your pet and assist with positioning.

Pet’s temperament and requirements, plus safety
Know your species before you even start setting up or have someone who knows the creature present to look after it. Get to know its likes and dislikes, its behaviour and how it communicates. If your animal is arboreal and climbs a lot then you will need to anticipate some jumping and climbing whilst it is out, you can position a few props for it to jump between, this way it can carry on with its normal routine of exploring whilst you move around it to capture photos. Some animals will happily sit on a very narrow branch, whereas other will only feel safe with something large and sturdy to rest on.
Be aware of just how much handling the species will tolerate, delicate species such as frogs should have minimal handling and should only be handled with wet hands. Any water used should be left for 24 hours to allow harmful chloramines and chlorine to dissipate. Frogs may require spraying whilst out to ensure they do not become too dry, this misting can provide amazing opportunities for creative images (not just with frogs) if you have someone to assist. Many species will drink droplets of water off themselves or their surroundings which can be a nice natural behaviour to record in an image.
A useful safety tip is to ensure no household cleaning products or air fresheners are used in the area as they can be harmful to reptiles and amphibians. Also the person carrying out the handling should have clean hands without products such as aftershave, perfumes or hand cream on their skin.

Do remember, as with most animals reptiles and amphibian can carry pathogens, resulting in the spread of diseases known as zoonoses, such as Salmonella. This is not really anything you need to worry about provided you thoroughly wash your hands and other areas that come into contact with the creature using hot water and soap. Cleansing of the props and surrounding equipment is also prudent as these can act as vectors. Anybody who has a compromised immune system due to illness or medications, or even children under 5 and elderly people should take extra care with hygiene when around all animals.

So go and have fun and do share with me some of your results, I would love to see

Endangered frogs at Manchester museum

Last week I had the most amazing opportunity, photographing the wonderful frogs at Manchester museum. I was incredibly lucky to get to observe, learn about and photograph several frogs, some critically endangered, at Manchester museum under the guidance of Adam Bland. Curator Andrew Gray and his staff Adam, Matt plus others perform some extremely important work with endangered species at the museum. Given that I’m such a amphibian fanatic this really was something very special for me, to actually see species that I never thought I would ever get to see and for Adam to so kindly take the time to tell me so much about the various species and the work being undertaken, well lets say I wont forget the experience. Then to be able to photograph them was a dream come true for me. Only photographing them in the wild could beat this :)
I was so excited that I barely slept the previous night, and the train journey just flew by. On arriving Adam showed me their amazing “Vivarium” display, which contains a magical enclosure that anyone who keeps frogs could only dream of. A room sized jungle enclosure, with different species co-habitating in harmony, it was pretty amazing to watch the creatures all going about their own business. Then I had a lovely surprise of also meeting Andrew Gray the curator who came along to say hello and tell me a bit about the creatures, unexpected as I thought he was away. Although Ive had an interest in frogs for over 10 years, it was Andrew that really spurred my interest further after meeting him at an event in Blackpool in 2008, where he brought frogs along for people to see and learn about. Now, I’m spurred on even further and Ive decided Im going to finally attempt to breed some frogs this year.
Ive not got around to sorting through all the images yet, but here are the first. A Lemur leaf frog - Agalychnis lemur. They originate from Costa rica, but are currently critically endangered.

The museum offers the opportunity to view their frogs with a mini tour and a signed book by Chris Mattison for the small cost of sponsoring a frog, you will also be contributing to costs of conservation of this frog - see more here http://frogblogmanchester.com/about/sponsor-a-frog/

Above is the wonderful Phyllomedusa trinitatis, you can find out more about this species here

Above is the The Splendid leaf frog or Fringed leaf frog, Cruziohyla calcarifer. http://frogblogmanchester.com/about/costa-rican-frogs-2/splendid-leaf-frog/

If you would like to support frog research and conservation the do please follow the link below to sponsor a frog at the museum. http://lemurfrog.org/donate/

More to come soon, follow on my facebook pages to catch the latest photos edited.
My main page - https://www.facebook.com/AngiWallacePhotography?pnref=lhcMy reptile/amphibian photography page - https://www.facebook.com/ReptilePhotographer

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