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January 2011    Photographers Resource - Monthly    Edition 85

Wetland Spaces and The Elements of Exposure

Open Wetland Spaces include Rivers as shown here

Image taken with Nikon D100, with 80-400mm lens @ 80mm, ISO 400, 1/500th, F11
In This Issue:-
  • Editorial

  • Feature - UK Wetland Spaces

  • Photographic Feature - Getting that Perfect Photo - The Elements of Exposure

  • Photographers Diary

  • January Wildlife Diary

Welcome to our first edition for 2011. A new year is upon us and hopefully it will be a great photographic year once more. Of course one of the most lavish photographic events of the year, for some, will be the Royal Wedding in April, but I am sure there will be many more highlights in your coming calendar that will inspire you to take hold of your camera and embrace what nature and the area around you has to offer.

At this time of year many take on a new set of tasks or put together a New Years Resolutions list and hope to stick with it, until the goal they have set is achieved. In reality most probably don't achieve their aims and as everyday life takes control of our situations we do exactly the same as before and go around in a loop until next year when our resolutions list is created yet again. There is much to photograph both indoors and out, in the UK and when visiting abroad and hopefully while you have been following the pages in this newsletter you have been inspired to have a go and to try out new things, or have learnt how to control your camera rather than it controlling you.

If you haven't been using this site, then where have you been. We have a wealth of information here to help you get the most out of your photography, whether you want to brush up on existing skills or learn new ones. However we are not only a photography site, our location guides on many places around the UK are a huge source of information for photographers yes, but also for anyone who is interested in visiting the vast amount of places around the UK that you can explore. These guides will continue to grow over the coming year so you should make sure you have us listed in your favourites to come back and see us again and again to find out what new places we have added. Our Galleries are also an important resource as they not only show you what locations have to offer, but also will hopefully inspire you to have a visit and have a go yourself.

So while the darker nights are still upon us, January is probably a good month to look at and try something new. In this edition, we are taking a loot at UK Wetland Spaces, where you can go to get good views and close to the Winter visitors who visit us each year, or to just visit the coast for a different view of how our coastline and the weather has an impact on it. For our photographic feature we have decided to once again look at Exposure and to show you what elements you need to be able to control to get the right exposure for that perfect image.


UK Wetland Spaces

Throughout the UK there are many wetland spaces. For one we are a collection of islands so our biggest wetland space is our coastline. We all think of visiting the coast in the summer, okay perhaps not as a full holiday our weather isn't always the best, but many do visit to make use of the sea, sand and freedom the open space can give us, whether it be to surf, fly kites, boating or to just take in the sea air and marvel at the landscape around us. But how many of us bother to visit in the winter months, if we don't live there.

Well although during the winter the homosapien may be lacking at our coastline, it does become the winter home to many visiting Winter Migrants. This time of year our estuaries and shorelines are full of these visitors as can be seen in our wildlife section below. Of course there are many other opportunities to photograph at the coast and some of these are controlled by the weather, such as stormy seas, waves crashing against sea wall defences, or at places such as Dover, Portsmouth, Southampton, Weymouth there are the large ferries and cruise ships coming and going. Or at fishing ports there will be fishing boats and paraphernalia to look at and photograph. There are also buildings and landmarks such as Lighthouses where the winter sun gives a softer image with no harsh light or sun to contend with. Lighthouses with waves crashing around them can also give a more dramatic image that can tell a story. Dungeness in Kent and Hodbarrow in Cumbria  are two places which combine a nature reserve and a lighthouse.

Our coastline does not shut up for the winter, their communities continue to function and their landscape also changes and makes for a different experience to that of the summer months. So is well worth a visit.

As well as the coastline we also have many rivers, canals, lakes, ponds in parks, wetland nature reserves and wetland centres that also become home to many winter visitors. A lot of these wetland spaces are free to visit such as the Cemlyn Nature Reserve and Bay on Anglesey, the Exe Estuary in Devon, Old Hall Marshes Essex,  the Holkham National Nature Reserve,  Norfolk, and RSPB Otmoor in Oxfordshire and a wide open water space at the Cotswold Water Parks in Gloucestershire as well as many others.

Winter Visitors taken in January at Slimbridge WWT in Gloucestershire

At these places of course, you're visit will have to coincide with the birds being there, as Geese particularly will go off to nearby fields and grasslands to feed during the day, so to get a glimpse of something you may have to get there very early at dawn, or at dusk in the afternoon when they return for their night time roost.

There are also of course many places that have been created for us to visit like those centres provided by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, at Martin Mere in Lancashire,  Welney in Cambridgeshire, Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, the London Wetland Centre and in Arundel, West Sussex. In Scotland they have Caerlaverock in Dumfries  and in Northern Ireland there is the Castle Espie WWT centre.

The advantage of these centres is that you will see something, if not a winter visitor there will be their all year round displays. Of course their other advantage, along with some of the RSPB centres is that other facilities are provided such as cafes providing warm refreshments, hides are provided for you to spy on the wildlife and although generally not heated, they make the experience a little more comfortable than sitting in the open air at the coast.

So although at this time of year we do not have the colourful splendour, hot sunny conditions of the summer, the Wildfowl & Wetland Spaces  of our 'Great' Britain can provide some fantastic photographic opportunities and should not be missed, but remember do wrap up warm and take along some hot refreshments as well as your camera.

Photographic Feature

Getting that Perfect Photo - The Elements of Exposure

Exposure is the term used in photography to determine the amount of light that hits the surface of our recording devices. In the past this was glass plates, film and now the digital sensors in our cameras. Although the recording method has changed with the advance of technology, the principles and techniques haven't and are still the same. There are six main components that control exposure and these are:-

  1. the amount of light

  2. the sensitivity of the recording device (sensor) etc

  3. the length of time the shutter is open (shutter speed)

  4. the size of the hole the light passes through

  5. the focal length of the lens

  6. the distance from the hole to the recording medium

The last two elements are often overlooked, and you may like to think of there being the same amount of light but it being spread out thinner over a larger area, or concentrated onto a smaller area. The last three of these are combined together and called the Aperture, represented by its own system of F numbers. Changing the aperture changes the size of the hole the light goes through to get to the sensor, the larger the F number the less light but the image has a larger depth in focus, however if you want to throw the background out of focus then you need a larger hole (smaller F number).

It is possible to vary any of these elements to get the effect we need with the equipment we have available. Changing the sensitivity of the recording device is achieved with changing the ISO, the higher the number the faster the speed. Changing the shutter speed can give such effects as higher speeds stop action, whilst lower speeds create blur, such as with moving water (See How to Photograph Waterfalls).  Users of DSLR cameras have the ability of using different lenses and are able to set their aperture and speed for each individual lens, but there is also an exposure button which can be used in combination in order to increase or decrease the amount of light that is hitting the sensor in smaller steps. Even some compact cameras and those found on mobile phones have an ability to change the ISO, Speed and F number and therefore increase or decrease the exposure required.

In very bright situations such as on sunny or snowy days this ability to change the exposure can help you to control the amount of lost highlights in the sky or other bright areas of the image. It is always better to have a slightly darker image that can be recovered in editing than to loose highlights which cannot be recovered.

So exposure is an important part of photography and is a skill all photographers should come to grips with and learn how to control, to help you do this we have a series of articles that look at this in more detail, in our Exposure Article Route Guide

The Photographers Diary

The February diary is now in the 'next month' slot with January moved to in the 'this month'. Both months have a lot of opportunities for everyone. 

January starts off of course with the fireworks and celebrations of the New Year. Also today there are parades, many charity activities including wheelbarrow races, football games with a difference, bath tub races and more. Hopefully you took a look at our January diary last month and was able to get out and see something today. However if not then there is much more to see this month, just take a look at our diary pages and you will find such items as:-

The London International Boat Festival held in the London Docklands from the 7th, with over 50 large boats on display in the outdoor marina as well as canal boats.


 London International Boat Show   Photo by Jay Wood

If you like the traditional side of the British countryside then you could visit the Wassailing event in Sussex on the 8th, where on the firing of a shotgun as much noise as possible is made followed by a torchlit procession and all to ward off evil spirits and encourage the 'good' ones to produce a good apple crop for the coming years cider. Plough Monday, another British traditional festival, is on the 10th where various villages, including Great Hockham in Norfolk, will be blessing the plough to encourage a good harvest for the coming year.

If you're not cold enough already, after our lovely white Christmas, then on the 13th in London the London Ice Sculpting Festival takes place, where five teams of ice sculptors will work on two metre blocks of ice to produce a sculpture based on a theme. This could be a photographic challenge! Of course some of the Winter Outdoor Ice Rinks   are still open.


London Ice Sculpture 2010 - Photo by Lili

Continuing the cold theme, Aviemore, Scotland hosts the Aviemore Sled Dog Rally on the 22nd and 23rd. Where sled dog teams compete in a number of competitions through the 'wilderness' of Glenmore Forest.


Aviemore Sled Dog Rally Photo by Julia Ballarin

January also sees the Scottish Fire Festivals and Fire Events get into full swing, with the Burning of the Clavie in Bughhead, Moray on the 11th, and the Scalloway Fire Festival, Shetland on the 14th when a torch procession ends with the burning of the galley. Probably the most famous of these is the Lerwick Up Helly Aa also on Shetland where on the 25th, over 900 people will take part in a torchlit procession following a replica Viking longship to the beach where it is then set alight and fireworks are let off. If you haven't already had enough of fireworks from the New Year Celebrations, and you can get to Shetland it is a spectacle worth seeing.


The Jarl and his Longship a the Lerwick Up Helly Aa 

At the end of the month is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Weekend where we are encouraged to spend at least an hour looking out of our windows and recording what birds we see in our gardens, or taking a visit to our local park and recording what birds we can see there. To find out what other wildlife is around during this month, read on....

Wildlife Photography In January
January to some may seem a dull and cold month, and perhaps it will be cold or even snowy again just like over Christmas. But don't despair even if you're finding it cold to venture out or think that your camera is useless this time of year, then you'd be wrong. There is much going on around you outside. Take time to venture outside and you will be amazed at what you can hear and see.

Let's start with that Christmas classic bird, the Robin, if you're lucky you won't just see one, but maybe two or more as January is the time of year when they become more vocal and start to pair up ready for their busy spring ahead. A drive along a country lane although the hedgerows will be bear of green leaves those that have any berries left on them may be a good feeding ground for Redwings Fieldfares  and Waxwings.


If you have a bird feeder in your garden then during cold weather keep them in good supply and you will be rewarded from visits from Great Tit's, Blackbirds, Robins of course and if you're lucky may be a Song Thrush or two, on sunny days listen for their singing. I have already seen this year a number of long tailed tits in a tree that is outside my office window. A walk in your local wood should also open up your ears to the wonders of the calls of these birds, some of which are normally quiet for the most part, but as there are no leaves on the trees they should be easier to see. As well as birds you should also look upwards in the branches and see the chasing each other as their courtship reaches fever pitch.

Grey Squirrels


A Snowdrops Hidden Beauty

Towards the end of the month a walk in the woods will also see things moving beneath your feet as snowdrops start to push through the woodland floor and create that special white bobbing carpet. From the beginning of February many places which have magical displays will be opening their gardens and woodlands for you to explore, Where to see and photograph Snowdrops, will give you some ideas of which woods and places to visit to see this spectacular. It starts off with RHS Wisley in Surrey holding a Snowdrop Spectacular Event on the weekend of the 29-30th January, and snowdrop walks at Rode Hall in Cheshire on the 29th. The Scottish Snowdrop Festival begins on the 1st of February and continues until the 15th of March.

An outing to our estuaries or wetland centres should now find them full of winter migrants feeding up ready for their migration back to their nesting grounds. Flocks of Avocets will be feeding on the mini wildlife. They move with the tide to feed on the exposed mud in the estuaries. Along our coasts you will also see large flocks of wildfowl, ducks and geese feeding on tiny worms and shellfish, especially at low tide. Large flocks of Knots can also be seen swooping and darting along the shoreline.

At certain sites around the UK bird flocks gather to roost in their tens of thousands, such as at the Somerset Levels where Starlings flock in wetlands and cover the reed beds like black, chattering locusts, providing both a spectacle and quite a din.

On the microscopic front, look out on mornings of early frost for pearls of ice on spiders webs that sparkle in the morning sun. They also show up quite well in the snow, over Christmas our very large hedges became a magical Christmas card, not only with pieces of snow perching on the stronger points, but also I did not realise how many spiders had made their home there, the number of webs were too numerous to count, but the beauty of nature was awe inspiring. Frosts on the ground, on objects such as gates and as part of nature do provide a unique photo opportunity to test both our macro photography skills and our use of Reflectors and other items to capture the delicate nature of the ice crystals.


 Rictor Norton & David Allen

For more on what wildlife is available during January see Wildlife photography in January.

Summary of Articles Included In This Issue

Exposure Article Route Guide 


Grey Squirrels

Macro Photography



Wildlife photography in January

Winter Migrants

Lists Updated This Issue

Where to see and photograph Snowdrops

Fire Festivals and Fire Events

Winter Outdoor Ice Rinks  

Locations Guides Updated This Issue

Forde Abbey, Chard, Somerset  

Lerwick Up Helly Aa

RHS Wisley, Surrey

Snowdrop Valley, Wheddon Cross, Somerset  

Location Guides Mentioned in This Issue

Arundel WWT, West Sussex

Caerlaverock WWT Dumfries

Castle Espie WWT, Northern Ireland

Cemlyn Nature Reserve and Bay, nr Tregele, Anglesey

Dungeness, nr Lydd, Kent

Exe Estuary, Devon  

Hodbarrow, Millom, Cumbria   

Holkham National Nature Reserve, Norfolk

London Wetland Centre London

Martin Mere WWT, Burscough, Lancashire

Old Hall Marshes, Essex

Otmoor, Oxon

Slimbridge WWT Gloucestershire

Welney WWT Cambridgeshire


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