Entering New Ground

Just a quick update,

I have recently got a new lens, a canon 400mm f5.6 which I intend to shoot birds with. As you know from my last posts I am mainly a macro photographer so this is new to me. I did indeed have a 70-300mm lens but I just loved macro too much! Now all the insects are either dead/hibernating/larvae/eggs they have become considerably non-existant. Plus many of the photographers I know are into bird photography and I now know why, it is brilliant. Now I have also found some resident owls and kingfishers so my efforts will be put into getting some shots of those elusive birds which won’t be easy.

I did go to the London Wetland centre the other day and was glad too see some grebes swimming around, so I turned my lens to them, got down low and got some shots.

Max Brown (www.500px.com/max_wildlife)

Autumn magic

Continuing with the autumn theme that has dominated the last few posts here on the blog, I thought I’d post some images of fungi I took earlier this month. I love autumn and in my opinion there is no better place to be at this time of year than in the woods. The air is rich with the smell of decomposing vegetation and splashes of fiery colours spill from the canopy. Crisp leaves and fallen acorns crunch underfoot making it impossible to pass through unnoticed. High-pitched alarm calls ring from the branches. The squirrels struggle keep pace, frantically digging holes in which to bury their stash for the winter. Jays squabble in the tree tops, dropping acorn missiles that bounce to the floor then come to rest among the leaf litter for another creature to find. Tree creepers inch their way up the rough grey bark of old oaks. Knarled, wrinkled and rough like the  skin of an elephant.

The woods is also a great place to go looking for fungi. This year there has been a good crop of fly agaric fungi (Amanita muscaria) across my local patch. Though many of them appear to have gone mouldy or otherwise been eaten before they have managed to reach their best. Leaving me with about four decent specimens to photograph. Here are some images taken a couple of weeks ago……

Pumpkins and Portraits


Forgive me for having very sparse posts lately. Over the past month I’ve had some amazing photographic experiences and have been exceedingly busy. Two weeks ago I was able to attend Scott Kelby’s Light It Shoot It Retouch It seminar and yesterday I had the exhilarating opportunity to visit one of the greatest places in the world to learn photography: The Hallmark Institute of Photography.


 Here are a few images I’ve recently gotten by taking advantage of the last fall colors in Michigan. The top image was shot as soon as I returned to Michigan from Massachusetts. The tree in my front yard finally has some pleasing colors so I used it as a soft painterly background for this pumpkin.  I shot at 300mm at f/5.6 to get the shallowest depth of field possible. It was lit using the nice ambient lighting. After taking this image I realized that my Nikon D200’s sensor was getting quite dirt. To remove these specs I used the healing brush tool and clone stamp tool in Photoshop. The dust spots are starting to get to evident so I’m having my sensor cleaned at the local camera store.  This will save me a lot of time in post processing. One last image is not technically a nature image but it is a nice photo which incorporated Michigan’s beautiful fall colors. I great way to improve your portrait photography is including the fall colors in your background. Also adding fill flash to get a nice catch light in your subjects eyes will greatly improve your portrait and wildlife images. Keep shooting!

 – Ryan Watkins (to read more how to articles and see more of my photography visit my website ryanwatkinsphotography.com or find me on flickr)

Post Processing Tutorial

B&W At the Swamp

B&W At the Swamp

I put together a short post processing tutorial to show you how I process my images. I edited the image shown above, so it should be interesting to see how it started. Enjoy!

To view more of my work, please visit my personal blog at www.jlounsburyphoto.com


REMINDER: It’s the last day to start an entry in the Best Backyards Photo Contest! Start an entry before midnight tonight, Monday, October 24. Anyone who has signed up will still have one more week to complete uploading your best photographs taken in your yard, garden, or parks. Judging will start in November. Winning shots will appear in the next Spring/Summer issue of Nature’s Best Photography.

Off-Camera Flash

 Alright technically this isn’t a nature image but it can help teach some off camera flash tips. Most people think of using flash for portraiture or study work, but it really improve our nature images as well. Without adding flash to this still life the cross would have been completely black. My adding a bit of fill flash it made the image engaging and detailed. Adding flash to a variety of subjects – macros, intimate landscapes, or even foreground elements in wide vistas – can add emphasis to you nature images. Keep shooting!

– Ryan Watkins (to read more how to articles and see more of my photography visit my website ryanwatkinsphotography.com or find me on flickr)

Fall Colors- Kent, CT.

God Beams

God Beams

First off, I’m sorry for the lack of a post for me this week. Between school work and other work with my business and chores around the house, I had little time to have the camera in my hand, more or less type up a post! I did get to go to Kent, CT. to photograph the fall colors this weekend. The colors were less than spectacular with only a couple of areas showing their full potential. I also think some of the leaves suffered from Hurricane Irene. Nonetheless, I did get some amazing photo opportunities. One of which was the God Beams shown above. I had been longing for a shot like this,and when I saw those fingers reaching down, I knew that was exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t able to recover any detail in the foreground, but decided I still liked the silhouette look just because of the drama in the sky.

Kent Falls

Kent Falls

I also visited Kent Falls. The cloudy skies were perfect for lowing down the shutter speed and blurring the water. I was generally shooting at 1-2 seconds. I have found that range to do the trick. It was just a matter of framing it up and pressing the shutter! Well, its time for me to get back behind the camera! There are pictures to be taken!

To view more of m work, as well as some more photos from Kent, please visit my personal blog at www.jlounsburyphoto.com

The Fall Colors are Finally Here!

I’d like to start out by apologizing for not posting my weekly post last week. Due to shooting several portrait sessions and school I didn’t have any new images or tips to share. The fall colors have started to show their full potential here in mid Michigan. I’ve decided to share a few of my favorites and tips for getting shots like this with all of you this week.


The image on the top of this post was shot on the edge of the woods near my home. The sun was shining though the vibrant leaves. I composed the image so that sun was shining through the crack in the trees. To get the sun to become the distinctive star shape I had to stop my lens down to f/16. Shooting at very narrow apertures into the sun will convert the ugly sun spot into an intriguing star. Just having the dark tree with a sun spot would have been a boring image, so I found a nice leaf in its peak color. I taped it to the tree using Shurtape 672 professional grade gaffers tape. Gaffers tape is a strong non-reflective heat resistant tape which doesn’t leave residue and can be easily peeled off of a variety of surfaces. Many portrait photographers use this in studio to attach different accessories – like colored gels or grids – to studio strobes. I always carry some Shurtape gaffers tape in my camera bag. I use it to tape accessories to my hot shoe flash or occasionally for more unconventional uses like this. Next I had to add some flash to the leaf and tree. Without flash the tree and leaf would have been black, but by adding fill flash it made the detail and texture of the leaf and tree visible.  I set my Sunpak PZ42X Hot shoe flash with a LumiQuest Softbox III on a tripod to the left of the camera to light the tree. The LumiQuest Softbox III helped make the quality of light better and softer than strait flash. By using the flash off camera it helped bring out the shape and texture of the tree unlike if I’d used my on camera pop up flash. The only editing was contrast adjustments, sharpening, and the removal of some lens flare.  

This next image may appear like a crazy Photoshop concoction but it isn’t! This was created by using rear sync flash combined with a long exposure. I covered the topic of rear sync flash a few weeks ago but here’s a quick review to reiterate. Rear sync is simply setting your flash to fire at the end of the exposure. This makes it so whatever the flash lights is sharp unlike if you fire the flash at the beginning of the exposure. Even if you move the camera during the exposure what the flash lights will stay sharp as if you shot that part of the image with a quicker shutter speed. For this image I set my Sunpak PZ42X hot shoe flash to the right of the tree which I again taped a leaf to. I got close to the tree with my Tokina 12-24mm f/4 lens. I zoomed the lens and moved the camera during the long exposure. The flash fired at the end keeping the tree sharp but keeping the background colors blurred from the camera movements. Playing around with rear sync flash can create some truly unique and creative images whether they be tame low light images or chaotic surreal images like this.

This final image is a more conventional image which is part of an ongoing personal series of mine. The forest floor became an ideal background for this image. To get the nice soft background I got fairly close to the cross statue and shot at f/2.2 with my 50mm portrait lens. The closer you are to the subject and the wider aperture you use the softer the background blur – commonly referred to as bokeh – is. My 50mm lens can use the aperture of f/1.8 which gives an incredibly smooth bokeh, but I decided to shoot at f/2.2. “Why did I do this,” you may ask if the smooth bokeh was my main priority. Because most lenses aren’t as sharp wide open. Shooting one or two stops from the widest aperture will result in sharper images than shooting at the maximum aperture. F/2.2 provided sharp results and still a wonderful bokeh where as f/1.8 would have had a softer image.


I personally love shooting the fall colors and as photographers we have a wide variety of ways to shoot these spectacular aspects of nature. Have fun shooting the fall colors and share them with the naturesbeststudents flickr group! Lastly happy thanksgiving to all Canadian readers!


– Ryan Watkins (to read more how to articles and see more of my photography visit my website ryanwatkinsphotography.com or find me on flickr)

Fungi Foray



I do like Fungi. I find them curious, but it is hard to take interesting and imaginative shots of what are static (some say boring) subjects. I still love them to bits though, there is something magical the way they burst through the leaf litter, the way they appear in the most unlikely places and the way the fruiting bodies can be any shape you can imagine. I would love to study them more closely and perhaps one day I will – they are a whole kingdom of organisms in themselves and are every bit as interesting as animals.

I was inspired by Edwin Giesbers (who appeared in the BBC wildlife magazine) and especially his fungi pictures. A link is here and well worth checking out:


My pictures are all taken from my favourite Fungi haunts and I have only scratched the surface here with these pictures. I was in fact going to blog about something else but I haven’t yet seen on this website any fungi featured, which made my mind up. Mature woodlands are the best for fungi photography, they offer the biggest biodiversity, especially ones that harbour native trees, Oaks, Birches and Beeches are perhaps the best to find many species of fungi. However I have found many fungi out in the grassland habitats, the aptly named Field Mushroom, very edible, is a prime example.

So I urge you to go out and photograph them, I hope I have inspired you a little and if I havent I am sure the link I have provided will.

Thanks for reading,

Max Brown :)



Autumn spiders

The weather over the past few days has been brilliant. We are having an Indian summer with temperatures soaring to 29 degrees celsius in some places last week. It’s just as well really because the summer itself was rather dismal! I can’t remember the last time we had so many sunny days in a row with clear sunrises and sunsets. There are still a few butterflies flitting around – red admirals and speckled wood mainly, some bees and a few different species of fly but overall the amount of insect life has fallen dramatically. It is now time for the arachnids to surface.

Garden spiders have taken over the garden to such a degree that it is now impossible to get to certain areas without the risk of walking face-first into a web; some of which are the size of two dinner plates, though most average between 20-30cm. The most successful spiders seem to be the ones that have built their webs the highest, each acting as a sticky fly trap. Tiny silver insect wings glisten in the morning light. At first light the spiders set about repairing any webs that have been damaged during the night. I sat and watched one build from scratch. Working in a spiral from the outer edges towards the centre she made it look so effortless. After a couple of hours she was finished and took to the centre of her web where she remains dormant for most of the day. Seconds later a large fly met its end. She ran down and enveloped it in silk. I was pleased to see that she had been rewarded for her efforts.

It is not just the garden spiders that appear to be increasing in number. On a few occasions recently I have seen a shadowy shape moving at speed across the floor in the house.  Although I can appreciate the beauty of spiders there is something extremely disconcerting about the way they move. House spiders can cover ground at an alarming rate.

Tube web spiders are another common sight around the garden. As their name suggests the main structure of the web is a tube/tunnel which the spider inhabits. At the entrance of the tunnel fine strands of web splay outwards from the entrance acting as trip lines. As soon as an unlucky insect touches one of the strands of web the spider feels the vibrations and pounces.



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