grist to the mill


Common Crane

Common Crane (Grus grus) by Szczur

Ok… As far as quality goes, this isn’t the best shot I ever got. No sir. In fact, in terms of quality, I can honestly say I hate it. BUT… this is a truly unusual shot and, for a Brit like me, it’s a near impossible shot. In the UK, cranes are so rare that it’s pretty unusual to see a bird at all, but I’ve had the good fortune to see many of them since I moved to Poland. I’ve even seen huge groups of them gathering prior to their autumnal migration. This summer though, I found something quite exceptional, as you see here. Near my house is a swamp. Cranes love swamps. Early in the summer I heard the cranes crying loudly and frequently and I guessed they were probably defending a nest from the local fox population. Sure enough, a few weeks later, in early June, I was in the right place at the right time and captured mother crane out for an evening stroll with her chicks. There were actually two but this shot only shows one.
I am thrilled every time I look at this. At the time it was taken, I had to stand stock still for several minutes so they wouldn’t be scared away. The almost primordial beauty of the swamp, with the wild irises growing nearby, adds marvellously to the photograph, I think. The emotions involved in shooting that evening are beyond sensible description, so I’m not going to try.
Since this was taken, sadly, I have only seen the parent birds. Though I cannot say for sure, I guess it means the foxes won.

Western Marsh Harrier

Western Marsh Harrier by Szczur

This individual caused me some trouble.

I was trying to show my son a pair a cranes in a nearby field when this scary type jumped up and hovered in front of us for a few seconds – no more than 2 or 3 metres from our position. I was screaming “Give me the camera, give me the camera” but to no avail. The raptor flew some 1.5km away and there was no chance to shoot. Still, I persevered and I waited and, true to form, our hunter repeated his cycle. Many times, in fact, and eventually flew close enough to my position to get this shot. I hope you enjoy it.

Red Kite

This is a red kite (Milvus milvus). These birds are actually pretty easy to shoot in flight (as birds of prey go, that is). Kites, like other soaring raptors, spend a lot of time gliding around in slow circles. They don’t flap much as they go so you have plenty of time to get underneath them. This is probably the closest I’ve got to one of these birds as he was pretty low in the sky – another advantage in shooting kites. He was some 10 to 15 metres above me when I took this.

I used the usual colour corrections here. They somehow tend to work out a little too grey or a little too blue when you’re dealing with wide open blue sky so, if anyone knows how to fix this, please let me know.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit by Szczur

It’s winter now in Poland and I’ve started feeding the local birds. Twelve species spotted in 2 days. Here’s one of them. This is a Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus or Parus caeruleus) depending on which classification system you like.


Untitled by Szczur

I’ve been snowed under with stuff and goings-on for ages now, but at last, about a week ago, I got the chance to pick up my camera and get a few shots off. This is the result of one of those shots – a female red deer.

She was grazing in a field beside the road so I got a few shots from the window of the car.  I love cars because animals seem to be very much less scared of them than they do of the people in them.  🙂

Changes here?  A crop.  Black, white and neutral colour control points.  Slightly increased warmth and saturation and an itsy bitsy sharpening.  That’s all.

Roe Deer Doe

Roe Deer Doe by Szczur

So… There are various ways of going about nature photography and they all generally fall into 2 basic types:
1. Find a good spot and sit patiently and wait.
2. Keep your camera handy and shoot whenever opportunity arises.

The best method is probably method number 1 as this is likely to turn out good results on at least a semi-regular basis. I don’t have time for that, however, as I’m a husband and a dad and I have other things to attend to. For that reason I am generally a method 2 person and this doe was no exception. In fact, it was my wife who spotted this doe as we drove through the fields and it’s thanks to her careful positioning of the car that I was able to get this shot. The deer was wary of us and moved on a little several times which, as it turned out, was a good thing. The initial images had to be shot through the windscreen of the car, or through a front quarter-light window. The effect was that I couldn’t get a focus lock and all the photos were ruined. Finally, moving forward one last time, we came to a place where it was possible to see the animal through an open window and *click* *click* I got two good shots. This is the better one, in my opinion.
Thanks to whatever higher power it was that made animals curiously unafraid of cars… or mobile hides as I prefer to think of them.

This photo has been subjected to the usual corrections. That is, black, white and neutral colour control points, sharpening around the eyes (unsharp mask) and a delicate general sharpening of the image as a whole (high pass). Aside from that – nothing other than slight tweaks to brightness, contrast, saturation and warmth.

Ago, Filo e Nodo (Needle, Thread, and Knot)

Ago, Filo e Nodo (Needle, Thread, and Knot) by Szczur

I attended a conference and training session in Milan last week. Lucky me! There was plenty of time left over to wander about the city and get some snaps of what there is to see.

This is part of a sculpture (named as above) which is installed in the square outside the Cadorna rail station in central Milan (Piazzale Cadorna). The part you cannot see here is some distance away , and looks like the end of the thread with a knot in it. The effect is that of a threaded needle which has been passed through the ground and now stands embedded in the pavement. According the artists (Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen), the needle and thread elements you see here stand 18m tall (that’s 59 feet for our American cousins). The needlework theme is supposed to reflect Milan’s connection to the world of fashion, whilst the shape of the installation brings up to date the city emblem (a snake coiled around a sword).

This is a 3 image HDR at 1EV spacing. Tonemapping by photomatix using the details enhancer method. Colour balance corrected (black and white points, curves) and sharpened (high pass in general and unsharp mask on the eye of the needle).


Hartington by Szczur

Hartington is a village in Derbyshire, UK, very close to the border with Staffordshire. It is an odd kind of village in that nothing much seems to happen there and yet there are always cars parked in every available spot. I think it is quite a popular place to start walks in the Peak District National Park but aside from that there is little to distinguish it from other pretty villages in Staffordshire or Derbyshire.

One thing though… Hartington and its environs have long been known for making cheese and beers. To this day, Hartington features a cheese shop which sells, amongst other stuff, a particularly smelly local variety of Stilton cheese. The shop looks out on this scene.

As for the picture… Well, I had to wait a little while to get this. Weirdly, in my opinion, another guy with a camera was trying to get the opposite view for ages. That is to say that he was outside the house and shooting towards the cheese shop. I think that was a bit odd because there were quite a few parked cars around the point I was shooting from and they would all have been in his shot. Still… whatever lights your candle I suppose.

This is an HDR made with three exposures at 2EV spacing. After the tonemapping, I adjusted black and white control points, contrast (particularly on the water) as well as colour saturation and sharpness. I also made a black and white version of the image and then layered that into the original colour version. That made a big difference and brought a lot of life back to an otherwise “flat’ looking image.


Jay by Szczur

I have nothing to say about this. It’s a Jay. Nice huh?

The Alabaster Minstrel

The Alabaster Minstrel by Szczur

An Alabaster Minstrel….. Though, after a little research, it appears that the carved parts of this guy are more than likely made from bone, not alabaster.

This photo was an experiment which turned out, I think, pretty well. Having read +Glyn Dewis ‘s cool guide on “invisible black backdrops”, which you can find here: I decided to give it a try. This is an experimental shot of an art-deco figurine. It was shot indoors, towards windows, and with an electric lamp behind, and to the left of the figure. As you can see, the black backdrop worked out quite well, though I only used the camera’s pop-up flash, rather than an off-camera flash gun. I’m quite impressed by how simple this is and I’ll definitely be using it more often. 🙂

Post processing was extremely limited. Black and white control points and a little sharpening. The rest, including dust, is just as it came out of the camera.