Going to seed

Work and other things have kept me from doing what I like best, going out with my camera and making pictures; but earlier in the week, while walking the dog, I spotted some thistle heads going to seed and thought how lovely they looked so yesterday I went back.

Armed with my Canon 5DMk3 and a 180mm macro lens I spent a most enjoyable hour or so in a field hat is part of the growing Nation Forest here in Leicestershire. Conditions for this type of photography were pretty much perfect; bright overcast and very little wind. What little wind there was was just enough to spoil one or two pictures which I had to re-shoot but any more and the job would not have been possible.I started with the thistles which I hope I have identified correctly as Creeping thistle, Cirsium arvense.

Creeping thistle heads.  iso 800 f13 1/60
Creeping thistle heads.
iso 800 f13 1/60

After a few shots of these I spotted a clover near my feet and, just at the moment I achieved the composition and focus I desired a hoverfly landed on it!

Red clover with hoverfly. iso 800 f 6.3 1/200
Red clover with hoverfly.
iso 800 f 6.3 1/200

Much of the field was a soft, light yellow from the grass and it was such a complimentary colour to many of the seed heads I took some more pictures of the cow parsley and the grass seed heads. I am not sure what the attraction is of working in a single colour palette but it certainly produced a most pleasing result.

Grass seed heads of Cocksfoot - Dactylis glomerata. iso 800 f3.5 1/1600
Grass seed heads of Cocksfoot – Dactylis glomerata.
iso 800 f3.5 1/1600
Cow Parsley seed heads. iso 800 f3.5 1/1600
Cow Parsley seed heads. iso 800 f3.5 1/1600
Late summer. iso 200 f3.5 1/500
Late summer.
iso 200 f3.5 1/500

Finally, job done it was back to the van and there at my feet were plantains and the lovely yellow blobs of pineappleweed and nearby were plantain seed heads.

All in all a most enjoyable time spent quietly with nature.

Techniques used

For best results I recommend the use of a tripod any time you can and the heavier it is the better. For this I used a substantial aluminium tripod with a ball head, if you can stretch (both financially and in the weight involved) to a geared head, then all the better. Ball heads tend to shift the composition when you tighten up after composing, although this can be minimised by adjusting the friction knob to the optimum setting.

The aperture used should be the widest that will render sharp the bits you want to be sharp. The more you stop down the more background detail, especially highlights, will distract and in addition you will need a longer exposure allowing more chance for any wind to move the subject resulting in an image which is soft. This can only be overcome using a higher iso and image quality will suffer as a result; although I can and do use higher iso when I have to I prefer to keep to iso 200 whenever I can. For some of these shots I moved up to iso 800 to optimise the result.

For accurate composition and focusing I recommend using live view but when you have set up correctly switch off live view and switch on mirror lock-up which cannot be used with live view. Using a remote release (cabled or wireless)  press the release, wait for any camera vibration to cease, two seconds should be fine, and while keeping an eye on the subject to make sure it has not moved press a second time to make the exposure. This sounds tedious when you write it but in practice is quite quick and ensures the best possible results.

You may also find it interesting to read my post on “An outdoor photographers mental checklist.”

The camera was a Canon D Mk3 and the lens Canon’s 180mm Macro.

To see more of my images and to buy a print please visit http://www.billallsopp.co.uk

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