Tag Archives: nature

A visit to the hen house

When I visit Bodenham Arboretum I love to spend time photographing the chickens on the farm.  Here are some of the images that struck me from my last visit.

The chickens are very entertaining to watch and make the most marvellous little crooning noises as they go about their daily business.   I don’t know what breed they are, but the details in the feathers are stunning, with a soft, marbled effect.

On this occasion, the hen house was providing a useful vantage point for this resident.  Having checked out the view she went inside and tested the acoustics, clucking away to herself as she paced and strutted around.

Its very easy to just say “oh look, chickens” and walk on by.  However, by taking some time to watch them, their individual personalities begin to emerge and we can see the world from the viewpoint of a chicken.  Suddenly the dust is fascinating, as they peck around looking for a juicy insect or grain of corn that was missed earlier.  In the heat of the day they all nestle down in the shade of the fruit trees, in shallow scuffs scratched out in the dirt, and snooze.  From the perspective of our chaotic, complex lives, this simplicity can seem rather appealing!


A workshop at Woodbrooke

Towards the end of August I taught on a 3 day workshop at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Selly Oak.  Our topic this year was “Looking, seeing; Doing, being.”  The intention was to explore how the different ways in which we approach life and the world around us can have a significant impact on our experience.

After several weeks of mixed weather, we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine.   This made our enjoyment of Woodbrooke’s beautiful gardens even more delightful.  We spent our time on a mixture of yoga, meditation and photography.  We explored the gardens, walked the labyrinth and enjoyed plentiful and scrumptious food.

We will be there again next August, with a similar course entitled ‘Sense and Perception’.  Details will be on my workshops page nearer the time, and places can be booked directly with Woodbrooke from April 2018.


Relax…and just Bee

My passion this year is to photograph bees with my Lensbaby,  My love affair with bees is a longstanding one.  I have photographed them collecting pollen using both long and short lenses, but stationary bees are relatively easy and I like a challenge.

I have a Canon 7DmkII with blisteringly fast AF, but why make life easy when you can use a manual focus lens?  I have actually found that my success rate for photographing bees in flight and vaguely in focus is no worse with a Lensbaby than an autofocus lens.

I have spent much of this summer crouched in odd positions (yoga comes in handy here!) waiting while the bee explores the flower. When they leave, they go surprisingly fast and in any direction Frequently they have left the frame before I manage to press the shutter!  However, with my Lensbaby sometimes they fly into focus rather than out of it and I unexpectedly get a good shot.

There are worse things to do than spend a day engrossed in nature.  Its been said that even 15 mins a day can make us feel more relaxed and positive.  It’s certainly a lot of fun!

A colourful visitor

Hanging out the washing last week, I was delighted to see this beautiful peacock butterfly enjoying the flowers of my buddleia bush.  This is the first wild butterfly I have seen this year that isn’t a cabbage white, so I just had to dash inside for a camera, any camera.  The first one to hand was of course my phone and thankfully it was behaving for a change, or else you wouldn’t be looking at this picture now.  The startling eyespot markings on the wings that make the peacock so striking to look at are actually intended to deter predators.  In this case they attracted my camera!  This beauty was happy to bask in the strong morning sunshine and by using my phone camera I had no worries about getting sufficient depth of field to focus on my subject.

Considering the delicacy of a butterfly, it is amazing to think that the peacock is able to overwinter as an adult, getting a head start  on other species the following spring.  They go on to breed, laying eggs in their hundreds on the underside of nettle leaves.  All the more reason to leave the weeds alone!  After the caterpillars have feasted on the nettles and formed a chrysalis they emerge in August as an adult to start the cycle again.  I am guessing that this fabulous visitor was one of those new adults, seeking substance in preparation for the winter to come.


Light is a directional resource, whether from the sun or a lamp.  The shadows it creates can dramatically change a scene from the mundane to the eyecatching in the time it takes for a cloud to drift across the sky.  At times my attention has been captured by the shadow in its own right.  Other times, it is the way it enhances another object that takes my fancy.  In an environment where there seems to be little worth taking a picture of, shadows can save the day.

Watching shadows offers a powerful meditation in its own right.  Watch them change from long, soft and glancing in the early part of the day to short and crisp when the sun is overhead.  See them fluctuate as clouds drift by; a subtle cloud cover that softens definition, or the dramatic passing of bigger clouds across the sun on a windy day.  Consider how we depend on the sun for light and warmth.  Let shadows be our reminder of the life-giving energy from the star that makes our very existence possible.

To take the most dramatic images involving shadows we need to be out and about early or late in the day, when they are at their longest. A bright sunny day will give the strongest shade, but we can go shadow chasing at any time of year.  The urban landscape can offer many opportunities for fascinating shadow –hunting, often creating stark abstract images through the interplay shapes formed by buildings and shadows

On a smaller scale, strong sunlight can lead to beautiful images of birds and other animals.  Although accepted advice is that flowers should be photographed in diffuse light, I also enjoy playing with the shadow patterns they make around them.  Oops, breaking the rules again!  I have also spent many of hours squatting under bushes to record the effect of shadowplay on leaves and toadstools.  But then I think I am a little odd…

A decaying beauty

I often joke that when it comes to photography, I find flowers most interesting when they are beginning to decay.  There is something I find quite beautiful in the inevitable changes that occur once they begin to fade.

As nature begins to reclaim its prize I am reminded of the impermanence of all things, however beautiful.  The aging process itself often reveals changes in colour, texture and form which give the fading blooms a certain dignity as they begin the process of returning to the earth, to return to component molecules and atoms that will in turn bring forth the new and vibrant blooms of next summer.

These roses have a particular poignance for me as the year nears its end.  The days grow shorter and the solstice is barely a month away.  They are a reminder of what has been and what is to come, in the endless impermanent cycle of life.

Exploring: Edgbaston Reservoir

Despite having lived in Birmingham some 14 years now, I have not previously found my way to Edgbaston Reservoir.  Given that I was visiting on one of the first really sunny Sundays of the year, I should have expected the car park to be busy!  The path around the reservoir’s edge promises to provide a level walk of just under 2 miles; ideal for an afternoon stroll. Having managed to grab a parking space, I turned right, towards the dam at the reservoir’s eastern edge.

Built by Thomas Telford in 1827, the reservoir still serves as a source of water for the Birmingham Canal Navigations, and indeed, the Icknield Port Loop curves close to the reservoir’s dam, serving the British Waterways maintenance depot.  Beyond the port, an industrial view of canal heritage and modern developments create an historically-varied vista across the city.   The skyline beyond the dam is dominated by the BT tower, with the new Library of Birmingham glistening in the afternoon sunshine and a local temple adding in to create the bizarre mixture of architecture I have come to expect of Birmingham.  According to Wikipedia, “Birmingham City Council has plans for the regeneration of the area, including moorings, 1,150 new homes, shops, park and playground, and a ten-storey hotel”, so this derelict remnant of canal history may soon be remodelled, to change the view below the dam yet again.


Once having crossed to the far side of the reservoir, beyond the watersports club, there is a fabulous view across the open water to the city skyline beyond.  There is a real sense of space, something I find myself craving since moving to the UK’s second largest city.  To the east of the reservoir looms the imposing tower of Edgbaston Waterworks, thought to have influenced JRR Tolkien in writing The Lord of the Rings.  Close by is Perrott’s Folly, the second tower referred to in the trilogy.  This 29m tower was built in 1758, when it would have dominated the surrounding open countryside.   Today it is a Grade II listed building trapped in suburbia, reaching up for air and light as a woodland seeding might strive to survive.


I found myself fascinated by the reflections in the water, particularly the effects created by the partially submerged trees along the water’s edge and the repetitive lines of railings that protected inlet channels supplying water to the reservoir.  A pair of swans idling around the western edge of the water caught the late afternoon light to make the water droplets glisten on brilliant white feathers.  Almost back the car park, I was transfixed by the smooth surface of the water and the plaintive cries of seagulls jostling for sandwich crusts.  In my imagination the distant reservoir dam became a harbour wall and I was transported to the coast, drinking in the splendour of the open sea in this landlocked city of the middle shires.

Yes, I think I shall have to visit again.  There is more yet to see in this little oasis.

Infrared addiction

As human beings, we rely heavily on our sense of vision, basing many of our assumptions about what we see on judgements made as a result of appearance.  As a result, it’s very easy to assume that what we see is what there is to see.  However, just as our cameras produce images based on the light reflected from the subject into the lens, so our eyes receive reflected light from our surroundings.  Light in the visible wavelengths (approximately 390 – 700nm) stimulates the rods and cones in the retina to produce the image, but light outside this range does not contribute to our vision.  Some birds and insects such as bees can see the shorter, ultraviolet wavelengths and I remember learning at school about how flowers such as foxgloves have UV guide marks to lead bees to the nectar and pollen.  At the other end of the spectrum, there are insects which can see longer wavelengths, in the infrared range, and it’s said that goldfish can see the full spectrum of light.

These creatures are displaying and seeing the world in ways we cannot perceive, yet it still exists, reminding us that what our eyes see is not always the whole picture.  Over the last couple of years I have found myself increasingly attracted to infrared photography as a way of representing the unseen in the seen.  Initially, I tried using a filter in front of my lens but I found the need for a tripod to support lengthy exposures to be restrictive. This year, I took the plunge and bought a camera to be converted for infrared use.  I opted for a 665nm filter, which lets in some visible light alongside the infrared.  As a result there is still some colour in the images produced, giving the choice between colour and monochrome pictures.  Creating infrared images requires quite a different perspective on your surroundings and I am still learning to judge how a particular scene will appear to the camera’s sensor. Best of all, bright sunny days are fantastic for infrared photography, so my new toy is perfect for a day out in the summer, when other photographers are at home waiting for more suitable light!

Small wonders: a dogs nose

Have you ever wondered about a dog’s nose? I grew up with dogs and my home feels incomplete without one.  I currently live with 3 of these amazing miracles of engineering and find they frequently become a feature of my images in the warmer months when I am exploring the potential of a photographic subject in the garden. This week I found myself taking pictures of flowers which featured dog’s noses (not the original plan, as you might imagine) and decided it might be time to find out more about this ever-present phenomenon.

I knew that a dog’s sense of smell was more powerful than our own, but did you know that a dog’s nose may be up to 100,000 times more sensitive than ours?  Apparently, this is the equivalent of being able to taste a spoonful of sugar in an Olympic swimming pool of water!  Their nose divides the air flow as they inhale and channels a proportion of the air into a special area for analysing scents. They can even tell which nostril the scent arrived through.  Having a wet nose makes their sense of smell even more acute and once inside the nose, there are approximately 7 sq m of membranes which filter and analyse scents.

It is often the everyday things that get overlooked.  They become so commonplace that we don’t notice them or don’t really think about them; they just are.  In the case of dog’s noses, I’m usually too busy trying to avoid them to think more about them. Directing our attention to the familiar in our lives  and actually considering things for what they are can help us to cultivate a sense of wonder in our everyday encounters.  The world will never be boring again!