Post archive

Oban Sportive 2014 - by Paul

The 28th September 2014 will be a day long remembered, it saw the end of Kenobi, and... No wait hang on, that was a different day. 

Don’t ask, it didn’t end well for my side.

The 28th of September 2014 was actually the date of the 2nd annual Oban Sportive, a charity cycle event organised by North Argyll Cycling Club and Oban Rotary Club, running through the stunning Argyll scenery surrounding that beautiful town. 
There were mountains, glens, lochs and rivers, towering trees and wonderful wildlife.  There was lots and lots of rain. 
There was also a hog roast though, which makes up for any amount of weather in my opinion.

If you’ve had a look at the PFG website before you’ll no doubt have been amazed by some of our previous sports photography.  Or indeed the lack of it.  Sports photography in general, and cycling in particular, is something that we’ve never really had much of a go at before, so we were delighted to volunteer our services when we heard the Oban Sportive needed some photographers at the last minute.

Oban is a 3 hour drive from our base in Central Scotland so unfortunately we didn’t have as much preparation time as we’d have liked – in fact our total preparation consisted of a quick drive around the course the day before. 
Normally for something like this we’d have had a proper recce, going over the course a couple of times, probably forwards and backwards, looking for the most beautiful views and the top spots to set up our gear and working out the timings in order to catch the competitors at their best. 
Unfortunately there wasn’t time for that so it was a case of make do, and get on with it!

Last year’s event was undertaken in glorious sunshine (the usual of course for Scotland in September), this year’s was... different.  The heavens opened and the clouds descended making for conditions more normally encountered by surfers than cyclists (I kept a careful watch out for sharks creeping up the sodden hillside behind me throughout the day). 
We had decided that we would make our first stop at the start line, hoping to catch all the cyclists as they made their starts, with gleaming bikes and looking bright eyed and bushy tailed.  The PFG team (or at least this part of it) was still a bit bleary eyed, having been made to get up at a time on Sunday morning they had previously thought was only suitable for coming home at from a Saturday night out.

I’m pleased to say that the competitors however didn’t disappoint and they were all full of enthusiasm as they set off.  My plan for the morning had been to try and grab some general scene setting stuff and panning shots as everyone made their way over the start line. 
This was slightly thwarted by the weather conditions as the sun failed to break through the dawn mists making for some really challenging lighting conditions. 
The high ISO coupled by the demands of low shutter speeds, low light and panning motion left my shots with a fair bit to be desired in most cases but I managed to get a few working and caught a few (deliberately!) blurry looking bikers as they sped on their way.

Having worked out some approximate timings for the faster competitors we finished up at the start and made our way to our planned first stop, on the shore of the lovely Loch Avich above Kilmelford.  We were hoping for some great views of the cyclists coming along the side of the water with potential for reflections and moody shots of towering clouds over the still waters. 
Unfortunately Argyll and Bute council had other ideas and we were stuck behind a slow moving roadworks vehicle for most of the route along the narrow twisting roads.
This threw our already tight timings completely out and we were nowhere near our intended destination as we caught sight of the first of the competitors coming towards us.  The best laid plans...

We quickly abandoned car in a lay-by and attempted to make the best of it.  This was where we got our first real soaking of the day as the relentless rain simply drenched us and our equipment.  It was a real challenge keeping the water off the front of our lenses and the innards of our cameras (Fi was a little too smug about the water resistant qualities of her Pentax at this point in my opinion!).

Having caught as many of the short course (short! Only 52 miles...) cyclists as we could, we got back into the car and headed off along the back roads to our next stop, where we hoped for great photographs of the cyclists in among the hills with some of the big Highland Beinns in the background.
 
What we got was lost.

Our lack of preparation caught up with us big time here as we made a wrong turning on a back road and drove off in completely the wrong direction. 
It was only after 15 minutes of having seen no hide nor hair of cycle course signs that the truth began to dawn on us and we were forced to make a rapid u-turn (not easy on single track roads!) and head back the way we’d come.  We did come across a couple of people on bikes, but luckily had realised they weren’t competitors before we started taking photos of them!

We eventually arrived at our stop and began getting some shots of the cyclists.  The towering distant mountains that we’d been hoping for as a backdrop unfortunately never emerged from the clouds and mist so we were forced to improvise once again, whilst coping with the real lack of light, giving the same mixed results as at the start, some good, some... not so good! 

We made a couple of dashes along this road to new spots in between groups of cyclists to try and vary our shots but we could really have done with some more time to scout the route and have picked them in advance.

In the end I think we both managed to get a number of photos that we were reasonably happy with for a first attempt, though I’d say that we both still need a fair bit of practice at this new art. 
There were a huge amount of lessons learnt in both practicalities and technique and I think we’d be much more confident in applying these next time. 
Overall it was a great experience, and definitely one I’m going to try again in the future if I get the chance.

Our thanks to the cyclists who (for the most part!) were relentlessly cheery as they sped past us, many managing a smile and a wave, others settling for an understandable grimace of effort as the water poured down their helmets and the effects of the gruelling course took their toll. 
I am lost in admiration for them all, I found it hard enough driving the course never mind cycling it - there was one hill in particular (and I bet the cyclists know which one) that I actually took a detour around because I didn't want to drive up it it was so steep! 

It really did look as though everyone was thoroughly enjoying the experience though; I guess there’s no point being a fair weather cyclist (or photographer) in Scotland! 

You can see our pics of the day here - Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3

If you want to buy or use any images please contact us and we'll get you sorted out.

Photography and emotions

Hi There,

As you may have noticed I've been quiet on the blogging front for a while now, over two years to be exact. This was due to two major influences in my life leaving me in devistating cirumstances, on the same day, due to unrelated illnesses. This left me without the spark to take creative art or even the will power to get outdoors. What has got me through this time though is the old pictures that rest in the back of a cupboard or in the drawer, the family snaps. These are a powerful medicine turning a bad day into a good one. When my gran was unwell we were advised to take a old photograph album up to the hospital to look through with her. Ever day we would review these pictures as a family each of us smiling even though the suituation was as far from being good as anyone could imagine. These photos weren't taken with a high end camera, they weren't framed using the rule of thirds, I'm not even sure they were taken by anyone that took up photography as a hobby, no these pictures were taken by people that loved their subjects and were just trying not to cut their heads or feet out of the picture.

Images are a powerful tool, these are brought to us by film makers and news reporters everyday turning our emotions from one way to another however, there is no more powerful image than that of a lost loved one that can bring a smile back to your face.

Gavin

How time flies -- by Fi

I haven't posted a blog for ages so consider my wrists well and truly slapped. In my defence I have been squirrelling away in the background adding a code to each image to make it easier for you to tell us which images you want to buy or obtain the rights to use - an update of our shop with a clearer pricing structure is the next job so keep your eyes peeled for this over the next week or so.

It's been an interesting year so far for me. The monthly photo challenges have tested both my imagination and my photographic skill, quite often with less rather than more success!

Februarys hot or cold challenge wasn't too tough... until I started trying to take the photo that is! I had envisioned a very creative photo to showcase the shapes of the peppers I had bought however that failed miserably so with only 30 mins or so left in the month I ended up resorting to just writing the word "hot" - inspired! Not my finest work I must admit.

March went a little better for me with my inspiration coming from images I've seen of foreign spice markets. I attempted to recreate this on a smaller scale and feel this was quite successful. The focus is not quite as sharp as I wanted it to be but other than that I'm quite pleased. An awkward angle led to me using my live view for the first time which was really helpful and while it's not something I'll use all the time, it's good to know that it does have it's uses.

April promised so much but I failed to deliver unfortunately. Following Paul's revelation that our Glasgow gallery is the only one with no photos in it (and I live in Glasgow!) I decided that the fair city would be the best subject for my themed triptych. Unfortunately I just didn't get round to it so I ended up taking three photos of myself in an attempt at a rather abstract self portrait. This was SO much more difficult then I thought it would be. I did manage to get some shots and quite like the effect I've created but most of them are slightly soft and the lighting isn't right. I think there's a lot of potential there though so I'll save this idea up for another day when I've got more time and see if I can come up with something slightly better.

May saw me pick out one of the subjects I was least looking forward to and my inspiration was sadly lacking. I did have an idea about photographing Glasgow again - something to show the personality of the city. Unfortunately, as always, the best laid plans didn't work out so I've had to resort to a photo I took during the month of a peacock. Another, not quite perfect, shot from me.

June was somewhat of a disappointment as I was really looking forward to the wildlife challenge. I was very busy at the weekends and so didn't manage to do any wildlife photography at all. I did cobble something together in a last ditch effort on the last day of the month - definitely need to try harder though!

All in I have to say I'm enjoying this challenge although I definitely need to concentrate on spending more time working on my photos instead of leaving them to the last minute. I can't remember all that we've still got to go but there are definitely some good ones in there which should produce some interesting results.

In other news Paul and I spent  a Saturday on a workshop run by Laurie Campbell a couple of weeks ago. This was a fantastic day and we both learnt so much. It was run in association with the Scottish Ornithologists Club and was based at their headquarters at Aberlady in East Lothian. The day started with a look at some of Laurie's work with a commentary from him and some hints and tips. Once I'd changed a lot of the settings on my camera and changed it to manual focus (it felt a bit like losing a limb to start with!) I was ready to go and we headed out into the garden at the front of the building to practice some shots. Laurie came round us one by one and gave us some expert advice to help out with the shots we were trying to take. We had a quick lunch break and then headed off to the woods around Gosford House for the afternoon. I'd never been before but it was a fantastic place to spend an afternoon taking photos. Everyone went their own way and found there own subjects with quite a number of people heading into the woods to do some macro work. Laurie spent the afternoon going between us all individually offering us useful advice. My afternoon was mainly spent trying to photograph the old curling house beside the water and Laurie was fantastic at helping me to photograph it in a totally different way to how I would normally have approached it ... from behind a bush!! I would love to take the credit for the resulting masterpiece below but as Laurie set up my camera, sorted my focus (it was still on manual and I was struggling) and figured out where my mirror lock was I feel that all the credit is his! I did press the shutter myself but that was most definitely the easy bit. We then headed back to the SOC HQ where Laurie gave us a quick run down on hides and what works best. All in all it was a fantastic day out and I learnt masses - too much to remember it all to be honest! Big thanks to Laurie and the SOC for organising such a brilliant workshop.

 

Loads of food for thought from the past few months so over the rest of the year I'm going to try and manual focus a lot more, even though it pains me, spend longer taking the photo properly where possible and be more ruthless about the photos I keep - if they're not perfect then they're getting deleted! Now just need to find the time to get on with it!

February photo challenge -- by Paul

Didn't February go past in a flash?  Think someone needs to count the number of days in February, I'm sure I remember there being more of them in the past.

This month's photo challenge was another of Fi's choices - Hot and Cold. (isn't it odd by the way that it's always Fi's choices that come out of the hat when she's picking them?  I'm beginning to suspect she uses the same system the SFA uses to keep rangers and celtic apart in the cup draws.)

I found this one a bit easier than last months - well I found it easier to come up with ideas...  Making time to actually take the photos was another matter!

In the end I don't think I managed anything earth shattering but I'm quite pleased with my results.  All of them are a bit cliched but they're projects I've been meaning to have a go at for years but just never got round to.  The gas one in particular is something I've been going to do since I last lived at home with my parents (and their gas hob!) and that was a long time ago!

In the end, as usual all my photos waited til the last minute and were taken between 7 and 8pm on the last day of February.  I think my folks thought I was a bit odd, coming round to visit them to take a photo of their cooker and then take my camera into the bathroom.

Of course I'd also forgotten to bring my tripod, my filters or any lighting!

Its been a decent month for photography for me however, I've managed a few trips out, though as ever the light hasn't always been agreeable, staying flat and grey for the most part. 

I managed a wander round Hopetoun House with my 50mm lens on taking photos of their wonderful snowdrop displays (during which I managed to come across three beautiful Roe deer which stood in the middle of the path watching me as I slowly and stealthily replaced my 50mm lens with the 250mm... and then bolted as soon as I raised the camera to my eye.  This is typical wildlife behaviour around me.)

My lego star wars project is going well... sort of!  I'm a little bit embarrassed about my lego photos to be honest - I'm a bit old for lego! -  but I'm having a lot of fun doing them.  I'm now combining them with my love of history and making some WW1 and WW2 style propaganda posters.  I'm a bit disturbed however by my tendency to keep casting the Empire as the good guys!  I never did like those scruffy rag-tag rebels...

March Challenge

And the topic for the PFG Challenge in March is .....


.... spend 1 hour photographing food

February Challenge

The PFG Photography February photo challenge subject is ....


.... hot or cold!


Interesting!!

January Challenge -- Fi

You know how sometimes you have ideas that seem like a strike of genius until you actually start to try and implement them?? Well, that's the best way to sum up my idea of setting ourselves a photography challenge every month. Challenging has certainly been the right word to describe the January installment.

I hold my hands up and confess that this months idea to photograph the weather was one of my suggestions. I admit I put things in that I thought would either challenge me in ways I was comfortable with or were totally within my comfort zone. This one I thought would be easy. I had idylic ideas of blue skies, ice creams, crashing waves, fluffy white clouds but what I hadn't planned on was pulling it out of the hat for January!

Initially I thought it might not be so bad after all. Again, my slightly overactive imagination kicked in, and I envisaged so much snow that I'd get sent home from work early and could spend my free afternoon in the local park photographing trees and ducks on frozen ponds. The reality was somewhat different to say the least. Whilst the rest of the country seemed to be bathed in snow we had NONE. I actually mean NONE. I mean I live in Scotland for goodness sake, why no snow??? Both the boys had snow but I strolled about in trainers with no worries about slipping on ice and breaking my neck!

As you can imagine this somewhat ruined my plans and meant I had to think a little more creatively and I did a fair amount of thinking but very little action. It's now January 31st and time has come to put my photo(s) up and I have taken a grand total of 2! This is not unlike me to be honest - I work on the theory of why take loads of photos when 1 will do but even I have to admit I felt I was really chancing my luck this month. Luckily the photo isn't too bad. If I'm honest I'm actually quite pleased with it.

I happen to work on the fourth floor of a building which overlooks the River Clyde in Glasgow. It's great for seeing what the weather is doing but bad for showing me lots of gorgeous sunrises and sunsets that I manage to miss by being at work (also the periodic recovery of a body from the river isn't exactly a high point). I woke up one morning to fog in my area of the city and was quite encouraged by the presence of weather instead of just long, cold, nothing days. Unfortunately it was pitch black and I was in a rush to get to work so photography was somewhat out of the question. Normally the streets and buildings of the city centre mean that any significant weather doesn't hang about but this day was different. By lunchtime it was difficult to see across the river from my work so I headed out with one of my friends in tow and my small camera that I keep in my bag at all times for anything exciting I see when I'm out. My friend only gets a 15 minute lunch so time was tight and it meant we couldn't go too far. Also when I got down to ground level I realised the fog was nowhere near as exciting as it looked from the fourth floor. To be honest it was all a bit against me so it's no wonder I'm quite pleased with my shot - not perfect and I could have done better but given the circumstances I think it's pretty good!

I'm looking forward to seeing the boys photos too - I think this challenge has made us all have to be really creative this month so I guess it's definitely done it's job. I shall pull out the next challenge shortly and will let you all know what it is - I'm hoping for something indoors and easy - doubt that's going to happen though!

Lego!

Well so far the PFG monthly photo challenge (check out Fi's blog below) isn't going all that well (at least for me, the others might have their own opinions!).  Despite the rest of the country being coated in a layer of photogenic snow, there isn't very much here, just enough to make it too cold to go out but not enough to give the landscape that cool snow blanket look. 

This going to require a little creativity!  Which was the point of course, the challenges aren't meant to be easy...

In the absence of any spark of genius in the weather photography direction I've been playing about with my own photo project for the year.  Inspired by some great Lego canvasses I bought last year I've decided to indulge my love of macro and shoot some Lego inspired scenes this year.  Actually I decided to do it last year, but you know how long it takes me to do anything!

I've been picking up bits and pieces of lego for the last year, mostly from the Lego Star Wars range but a few other odd bits and bobs too.  I've got quite a little collection now so I guess there are no more excuses!

My first attempts have been mostly based around photographing scenes from the frozen ice planet of Hoth - mainly because I have a couple of Imperial Snowtrooper figures, and Snowtroopers are cool.

My set up basically consists of a cardboard box with the front cut off, some baking powder (for snow!) and a couple of lights.  The lighting has been the trickiest bit so far but I feel like I'm learning a lot about how home lighting set ups work.  I don't have any sort of budget for lighting unfortunately but its been fun making do with what I can find about the house.  Initially I started off with a desklamp and a daylight bulb but this was far too harsh a light - though I think it will have its uses later.  Next was an LED headtorch, which gives a good directional spotlight but tends to make the figures look like they're standing on a theatre stage.  My final addition has been a small lightbox which I acquired back in the days when I was still shooting slides!  Its been reborn and has turned out to be an excellent light source giving off a nice diffused glow.

I'm going to keep experimenting with lighting, and with different props (I'm hoping to do some sand instead of snow next). 

Check out my project pages to see how I've been getting on so far

2013 PFG Photography Project

I'm pleased to be able to announce the launch of the 2013 PFG Photography project.

Instead of us all working on our own projects this year we're going to all work together on the same thing and see just what we manage to come up with.

We will be setting a challenge every month which all three of us will work on individually. The results of that month will then be posted on a page on here and we'll be able to see just how differently we each approach the challenge.

Some are going to have time limits on them e.g spend 1 hour taking a photo of ..., others will just ask us to focus on a specific theme or topic during the month and then each pick out our best shot.

We've each input 4 suggestions which are currently in a plastic food bag (it was the nearest thing to a hat that I could find!) and one will be pulled out at the beginning of each month.


DRUM ROLL PLEASE ................................

This months challenge is .....................


to photograph the weather.


We'll be regularly updating you with our progress on here or on twitter so keep an eye out for those during the month and then check back at the beginning of February to see our best weather shots and see what we're going to be doing in Feb.

Fi

2012 - Fi

Well, that's 2012 been and gone so it's time to reflect on how it went.

To be honest it felt as though it passed in a flash and when I look back at all the things I did I'm not surprised it feels like that. I'd hoped to buy a house and this meant I didn't go on holiday which was a bit of a shame but other than that I had a pretty good year. Saw various comedians, went to see Rob Zombie (dragged Paul with me - I'm sure he'd mark that as one of the highlights of his year ... or maybe not!) and had a somewhat interesting year photography wise.

I started 2012 with a photo project - taking photos of feathers. This lasted about a month at best before I came to the conclusion that this wasn't for me - mainly because someone told me how dirty feathers are! I've never had any qualms about picking up feathers before but after someone told me that I got a bit squeamish and even after I'd thoroughly cleaned them I couldn't quite bring myself to handle them so my project was abandoned!

My project didn't work but I did set myself another photography aim which I was more successful with - entering my photos in competitions. I think I managed to enter at least 3 competitions which was a pretty good start. Unfortunately I didn't manage to win or even get placed in any of them but at least I entered them in the first place which is a start. I have used all the photos that I felt were good enough for competitions now so I guess that means I need to get out there and get taking more photos!

My big photography story of 2012 has to have been my event photography. This meant I had to buy a new lens and flash for my camera and I also used this as an excuse to upgrade my actual camera too!! My new camera is great and I think I might love it more than my old one which is really saying something. Also love my new lens and who knew I would ever be enthusiastic about having a proper flash!

My first event was the wedding of a school friend and she only wanted photos at the actual wedding itself. I enlisted another school friend who is also a keen photographer to help me out with it and all went well. I was amazed at how quickly the day passed and hardly had a second to look at my photos as I took them, let alone time to think about what I was doing or what was happening. I have to say that I've never felt as ill as I did when I was standing in the carpark waiting to be picked up and it dawned on me that I was done and if I hadn't got the shots that the bride and groom wanted then there was no going back. Thankfully all my shots were good and so were my friends so I had a wealth of photos to choose from and, most importantly, the bride and groom seemed pleased with them too.

My second one was the wedding of another school friend who had travelled all the way over from Australia to get married back in Scotland. She wanted photos of the whole day, including when she was getting ready, and I was also invited to the wedding as a guest too. Paul kindly stepped in as my support photographer for the day and again all went well. The day had it's moments though including me having to get ready for the wedding in a toilet in a supermarket, the ipod with the wedding music getting misplaced and me drinking too much wine at the meal without having eaten all day and then wondering why the photos I took afterwards were a bit squint! The photos turned out well though even though we did have an awful lot of them - I would never accuse Paul of taking 25 photos when 2 would do but he really does do that!!

My third and final event for the year was an awards ceremony at my work where I was asked to photograph the evening and then produce a framed print of each winner getting their award on the stage. It was a good night but this was the first event I did on my own and I really noticed the difference with not having someone there to help me. The lighting was terrible because it was in a casino where it would appear the mantra is the less light the better but I feel as though I did ok and managed to get all the shots I needed to.

All in all I think I quite enjoyed the event photography thing but there's definitely room for improvement. It's quite difficult to change from taking photos leisurely, waiting for everything to be perfect, to taking them within a specific time frame and just having to make the best of the circumstances you're in. I'm not sure that I did make the best of every situation and I definitely didn't get to be as creative as I'd wanted to be but I suspect these things come with practice.My experiences in 2012 certainly wouldn't put me off photographing events again so I guess that counts as a success!

Anyway, onwards and upwards and into 2013 now. We've got a PFG project for the year (see my next blog for more details) and other than that I just want to get out there and take more photos, hopefully some will be good enough to enter in some more competitions this year.

All the best to all of you. Hope you all have a fabulous 2013!

Fi

Time to relax

The second of PFG's Autumn wedding shoots is past and all seems to have gone well - there was a bit of a scare with a corrupted memory card but luckily it was spotted before any damage could be done! 

It brought home an important issue though - as technology marches on memory cards are getting bigger and bigger and holding more and more images.  This is great for convenience sakes, but what happens when things go wrong?  It would be totally feasible these days to shoot an entire wedding on one memory card, but should that card be corrupted, then you've lost everything.  Its an inevitable fact of life that technology fails - if you haven't had a memory card go bad on you yet, then be aware its only a matter of time.  For this reason I don't like using memory cards larger than 4gb.  This gives me 140 odd RAW shots and I feel its a good balance between convenience and risk. 
Of course there was one point during the wedding shoot when I slightly regretted this fact as I found myself frantically deleting images to make space on my card during the actual ceremony!  My spare cards were up the front of the room and I felt the wedding party may be a little miffed if I asked them to stop everything while I went and collected a fresh one.  Lesson learned there, in future memory cards will be kept in my pocket, not in my bag!

Second lesson I learned is that its definitely worth paying the extra for a good quality memory card.  Most of the cards I use are Sandisk Extreme or Ultra models and I was as usual very pleased with these.  Towards the end of the shoot however I tried out a much cheaper Transcend memory card (which actually came free with my camera), the difference in write speeds was night and day, the Transcend card locking up after only two or three shots while the Sandisks allowed you to keep shooting as long as you could hold down the shutter.  The Transcend card may be fine for situations where speed doesn't matter but I certainly wouldn't trust it on a shoot like this again.

Fi was the lead photographer again on this one and did a great job, she's now hard at work with her nose buried in the laptop going through the 700 odd images that were taken.  She'll probably surface sometime around Spring.

While she's doing that I've turned my attention towards my winter projects.  I'm determined this year to get a bit more creative so with that in mind I've got my eye on doing much more home studio type shots.  I've been building up a wee collection of lego which I'm hoping will look interesting when combined with my Sigma 105mm macro lens... Well it'll be fun trying anyway!

On top of that I'm looking to get a bit more creative with photoshop.  I don't like photoshop, I don't like the idea of changing what was actually present in the frame when I pushed the shutter but I'm wondering if maybe I'm restricting myself too much.
To test this out therefore I've been playing around with colour popping.  Now I hate colour popping, ever since it first became popular a few years ago I've always sworn it would be something I'd just never do, but am I being too harsh? 

Check out my project pages over the next few weeks and let us know what you think



Too much like hard work! By Paul

Hmm, well that New Years resolution went as predicted then didn't it?  At least I can say I'm nothing if not consistent.

Despite the lack of updates to my project page I have been surprisingly active with my photography this year, I just haven't been very good at getting them on the website!  Truth is there's nothing I like more than being out with my camera - and nothing I like less than sitting in front of a computer screen processing shots.

It bears pointing out here that none of us at PFG-photography do much in the way of photoshop with our images.  We all come from the dim and distant pre-digital era where you really had to get your shots right in camera and couldn't rely on a computer programme to save a bad shot.  This is no bad thing of course, in my opinion it makes us better photographers, but I suspect we're rapidly becoming photography dinosaurs with this attitude.

Unfortunately, despite our good intentions, the very nature of digital photography means some post processing is almost always necessary.  Most DSLR's don't have a 100% vision viewfinder, meaning you'll often have to do some cropping to remove stuff you couldn't see when you took the shot.  In addition all DSLR's come with manufacturers presets of what some suit in corporate headquarters believes colours should look like.  They're almost always wrong and most photos need a bit of colour or saturation tweaking to bring them to life.  Finally, we all love black and white but since we can't load ourselves up with some good old Ilford film we have to do a conversion on the PC.
I like to justify all of this as nothing that you wouldn't have been able to do back in the good old days, either by working in the darkroom or by being careful with your choice of filmstock - is boosting the colour saturation by 10% in photoshop any different than deliberately choosing to use Fuji Velvia film which you knew would give a good 'pop' to your colours?
Or maybe I'm just kidding myself?

Fiona has been a bit more busy than the rest of us, with her first two weddings to photograph this month.  I'll be helping her with the second and her good friend Nicola helping out with the first.  Fingers crossed!  She's nervous but confident at the moment - long may it continue!  Of course the fact that the weddings have given her an excuse to invest in some new toys in the shape of a Pentax K5, a Sigma 18-200mm zoom and a new flash may have helped to put a smile on her face!

This is where the real work of photoshopping begins.  In order to get the best quality images all the wedding photos will be taken in RAW format.  I don't think most amateur photographers, used to snapping away Jpegs on their compact cameras and instantly seeing them online, realise just how time consuming properly processing RAW files can be.

Between the two photographers, there are likely to be 500 or so photos of each of these weddings.  In order to get the best results - and here at pfg-photos we wouldn't accept anything else - each of these photos has to be individually processed using RAW converter software.  Every single shot has to be hand analysed, the exposure, colour balance and sharpness checked and tweaked.  This is a really laborious task but doing it individually by hand makes such a difference to the result.  Afterwards each file is saved as a TIFF and then each has to be worked on again, this time using photoshop in a creative way, cropping, cloning out blemishes and distractions, converting some to black and white and of course - the bane of the photographers life - colour popping where appropriate! 
Its fair to say that we're not huge fans of colour popping here but thats mainly because it has been such an overused effect over the past few years.  When done properly it can be really effective.  When done badly... well hopefully you won't see any of those here!

Fi's got all this to look forward to over the next few weeks.  Hopefully actually taking the photos will be fun for the photographers and for the most important people, the bride and groom. 

New Years Resolutions by Paul

Well its a new year, so as has become traditional its time to come up with a new list of resolutions so I have some goals that I can abandon by the end of January.  This year I want to make photography my focus.  For a variety of reasons I'm probably going to have a lot less spare time to burn after the end of this year so I want to make the best of the time I have doing something I love.

The first sign of this that should become evident is that I want to start updating my projects page much more frequently - I'm not going to attempt to replicate Fi's feat of a photo a day but I'd like to try and get out at least once a week, every week and take some photos for my page.  Obviously this should mean that I ought to come up with a coherent theme for my project but I'm not going to do something as silly as that!  To make things easier I do have a sort of overarching theme in mind but its a pretty loose one.  It struck me last year that I spend a large portion of my photographic life chasing after exotic animals and locales.  This is pretty counterproductive, the truth is I'm just not a good enough photographer to turn up somewhere unfamiliar, sit down for half an hour, and come away with cracking images.  When chasing animals like Sea Eagles, Capercaillie, Dolphins etc this is compounded by the fact that the animals themselves usually don't co-operate and often only turn up for fleeting glimpses, making it even less likely I'll get a good shot.  Last year I was sitting in a hide trying to get shots of Red Kites when it suddenly occurred to me that I don't have a really good picture of a Swan, or a Rook; I've been out looking for photos of Otters and Pine Martens but I don't have a decent picture of a Red Deer - an animal I see several times a week. 

So this year I've decided that I'm going to try and focus on the 'mundane' and local sights that I see around me every day.  This doesn't mean that I won't be joining the other two in any trips to see puffins or madcap excursions out on boats looking for seals but it does mean that I'm going to rely on these trips much less for my photos.  This doesn't even need to be a hardship, I live on the doorstep of one of the most beautiful cities in the world and am surrounded by wildlife and nature almost every day, I just don't take advantage of it.  For my first local trip this week I went to Linlithgow - a beautiful town that tourists travel literally thousands of miles to see but which is a five minute car ride for me.  I took a wander around the Peel and took loads of photos of the Palace and the Loch, I found new views of the town I'd never noticed before and took note of a few likely spots to come back to.  At the end of the day I stood with my tripod and photographed the sun setting behind Linlithgow Palace and realised I had really enjoyed myself.  I'll be sticking most of the pictures from these trips on my project page but hopefully the odd one or two will be good enough to make it onto the full website. 

My second resolution is a little different and actually comes in the form of a bit of a challenge for both Fi and Gav... I've decided that 2012 is the year I'm finally going to enter some of my photos in some competitions!  I know Fi has decided she's going to do the same (in fact it was her idea) but I'd like to take this opportunity to throw down the gauntlet to Gav and see if he'll join us... watch this space!


Linlithgow Palace

I did it ... 365 days = 365 photos!! Fi

There's nothing like a bit of self congratulations to start a new year so I'm delighted to report that my 2011 photo project has been successfully completed!

If you'd asked me at the end of February 2011 I would have appeared fairly confident that I could complete my project but inside it was a different story. I'd be lying if I said it was all plain sailing ... some days I forgot to take photos, some days I couldn't remember which photo I had taken for which day and other days I had to force myself to do something just so I could take a photo.

There's no denying I'm delighted that I've managed to stick with it and see it through. It's been lovely to look back at the them and remember all the things I did during the year. Although 2011 disappeared in a flash it's been good to look back and see that I did achieve some things during the year and it wasn't as much as a write off as it seemed to be. The next step for these photos is to put them in a book so I've got a visual diary of what I did in 2011 and also so I can make sure I keep the output of my first ever proper photo project - at the current rate of progress I estimate this will take at least 6 months if not longer!!

I have to be realistic though, although I achieved what I set it to do it's important that I acknowledge that I have been a little disappointed about some aspects of it. The quality of my photos isn't always consistently good although I did start to address this towards the end of the year by investing in a decent new compact camera to carry about with me which did make a big difference to the quality of the shots I took.

I'm also a bit disappointed that I wasn't more creative with my photos. I had the odd spark of genius and there are some decent shots in there but initially I'd intended to do some real creative photography which just didn't happen. There's no doubt that I felt a little pushed for time trying to fit creative photography into my daily life so I guess I've learnt that I need to set aside more time to dedicate to this to make the most of the skills I have and to do them justice.

So, that was 2011, what does 2012 have in store for me??
I suspect a lot, but here's my photographic plans for 2012:

  • I am going to take a photo of every film I watch during the year and every book I read so I can make these into a kind of photographic diary of 2012
  • I am going to be taking the official photos at two different weddings in September so I need to spend a lot of time practicing between now and then ... I'll be there before I know it!
  • Taking more photos this year than I did last year (still need to do the tally of what I took last year to see what my target is)
  • Entering photo competitions. I've got a couple in mind already so please keep your fingers crossed for me and I'll report back any successes

Following the success of my 2011 project I couldn't let 2012 go past without having another one on the go so this year my project is "Feathers". I am going to photograph feathers in as many different ways as possible so expect to see some photos of birds, some shots of feathers I've found on my travels and probably the odd abstract feather here and there. I will still aim to update my project page on a regular basis even though I'm not going to be taking a photo every day so please keep checking back for updates on how things are going. If you've got any feedback for me or any suggestions of subjects for my new project then feel free to get in touch.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and wish you all the very best for 2012 for yourselves, your family and friends!

I'll get to bullying the boys over the next week or so and see if we can get some updates on how things are with them ... don't hold your breath!


It's been a while! -- Fi

Winter is just around the corner, the clocks change on Saturday and it's already dark when I get up in the morning and pretty soon after I get home at night. I'm contemplating hibernation as a valid lifestyle choice over the winter months!

I've been meaning to blog for ages but just never managed to get round to it so I need to figure out how to summarize the past few months in the space of a few, concise sentences - being concise is not something I'm known for so this really could be a challenge.

Paul and I spent a week in Cornwall at the beginning of September. It was actually quite good but I came down with the worst cold ever on the day we arrived and then was ill the rest of the time we were there and then the whole week afterwards too so that slightly put a damper on things. I tried not to let it stop me too much so we still did the things we intended to. The weather wasn't that spectacular either with it being quite rainy and misty so it proved to be a real challenge photographically with dull white skies as far as the eye could see. I spent most of my time trying to cut the sky out of my shots but it wasn't possible to do that all the time. I came home feeling very disappointed with the photos I'd taken and I really feel as though there were a lot of missed opportunities. At the weekend we started pulling some together to make a photobook of our holiday and were very pleasantly surprised that we managed to get so many shots to put in it - maybe the photos we took weren't as bad as we first thought after all!

I'm sitting here racking my brains to think what else has happened since I last blogged and to be honest I'm drawing a blank. It seems as though we've been exceptionally busy but I'm struggling to come up with anything!

More important is what we've got in the pipeline:

Gav and Claire are off to the Big Apple for a few days later in the year so expect to see loads of photos from him.

Paul has just started a digital photography course with the Open University. He does seem to know most of the stuff already but it's given him loads of little projects to do so he'll be out with his camera a lot over the next couple of months too - hopefully some of the shots will be worthy of inclusion here.

I've agreed to photograph the wedding of one of my school friends in September 2012. Having never done that before and by no means being an expert at taking portraits I'm going to have to get in some serious practice over the next 11 months! I doubt any of that will be good enough to grace these hallowed pages, but then again I might find out I've got some sort of hidden talent for portraiture!!

My photo of the day project is still ongoing and I've only really got two months left to go now. I was updating my photos last night and realised that they're mainly pretty rubbish quality because I'm taking most of them with my camera phone now so I'm going to try and up my game for the next two months and make sure my 2011 project goes out with a bang! Out with the phone camera (except in extreme circumstances) and in with my proper camera. Also I'm going to try and be a bit more creative too so I'll see if I can try and get at least one or two decent shots per month too.

I have another project in mind for 2012 so watch this space at the turn of the year for a review of how my 2011 project went and what 2012 has in store for me photographically.

The wanderers return - Fi

Well, Paul and I have just returned from our adventures in Loch Ness and the surrounding area. We had a fabulous time there with wildlife everywhere we looked (and normally when we were completely unprepared for it). We are weighed down with photos to sort through and will endeavour to share the best of our efforts with you over the coming weeks.

I will try and update my project page with my daily photos first of all and then add some others as soon as time permits.

A big shout out has to go to the fabulous lodge that we spent our holidays in - we couldn't have asked for better. The website for it is www.lochness-lodge.co uk and it comes with a big thumbs up from both of us. The accommodation was amazing and everything was really high spec - this unfortunately led us to various conclusions about how the things we own aren't good enough and I suspect a significant outlay is going to be required soon to rectify some of these shortcomings!!

The lodge sat in a wooded area and was incredibly rich in wildlife. We had spectacular views of bullfinches, yellowhammers, chaffinches, coal tits, roe deer (including a beautiful stag and a tiny little fawn), great spotted woodpecker and the piece de resistance ... the tawny owl! Like most people we've seen tawny owls in falconry displays and heard them at night but this beautiful creature managed to appear during daylight just a matter of feet away from our windows on several occasions. Paul purchased an owl call (essential a whistle made out of wood) so he could hoot back at the owl. He was somewhat pleased with himself when the owl dutifully replied to him!

Other wildlife spots included a gorgeous bachelor group of red deer with their antlers still covered in velvet, red squirrels, slavonian grebes, osprey fishing, black throated divers, little grebes and a number of dolphins.

Did you get some fantastic photos I hear you ask ....  well, umm, errr, kind of! The ones we spotted when we were out during the day were duly photographed though some were at a bit of a distance so they aren't the most earth shattering photos ever. The ones from the house where we had a much better chance of getting some good shots because they were so close are possibly even worse. It is safe to say that we are fairly inept at photographing wildlife without prior warning. One evening Paul was standing on the verandah and I was in the house. He shouted something over to me and only then noticed the tawny owl that had been sitting in a tree a matter of feet from him. Obviously the tawny owl was startled by him shouting so it then took off. The absolute best inept photography moment had to be when something (I think it might have been the owl again) appeared outside and we were completely unable to photograph it because my long lens was in the car (even though my camera was in the house) and Paul's camera was outside on the patio table (beside the owl!). Hmm, I think we need a bit more practice at this wildlife photography thing!

I guess I better go and start sorting through these photos now. Keep an eye open for some new photos appearing soon and also for tales of the boat that Gav has purchased in his plight to hunt down kingfishers and to photograph seals from the water - expect many tales of capsizing and calls to the coastguard ... I can't wait!!

The BIG game hunt ... and some random ramblings! - Fi

Picture the scene ... We're out walking through some trees when a wild creature is spotted, immediately Paul and Gav motion we should stop. We observe the creature for a minute or two, being careful not to make a noise and disturb it. The boys get their cameras out, slowly, so as not to alert it and then they start to stealthily creep forward, all the whole making sure they are as quiet as possible. As they close in on it they crouch on the ground and edge forward that last little bit until they get as close to the beast as possible without frightening it. Success! The animal doesn't seem bothered by their presence and they're close enough to get some decent shots, their patience has paid off. Unfortunately a couple of minutes later a little girl walks past with her parents and starts to feed the animal some crisps which somewhat ruins the whole thing! The animal they were stalking?? A grey squirrel!


OK, I may have slightly exagerrated the care they took approaching the "beast" but they did approach it with caution and did hunker down in order to not disturb it. As you'll see from this photo I took, it is slightly like two big game hunters finally closing in on their prey!





I was uploading my latest batch of daily photos to the site the other night when  I realised that I've almost made it to half way through the year and I've still stuck with it which really is a miracle. My main disappointment so far is that a lot of my photos are just rubbish quality so for the latter half of the year I'm going to spend a little more time and effort on my daily photos so I get slightly better results, even of the mundane things that I tend to photograph - watch this space and see if I live up to my plans!


I am delighted to report that on my walk home through my local park last week I noticed that the first of four coot nests now has young in it. I've never seen young coots before so it was very exciting. I headed to the park this week with my camera and my big lens and managed to get some ok shots though I am not 100% pleased with them so I'll no doubt be back trying again sometime soon.

Paul and I are heading off on holiday on Saturday to sunny (hopefully) Loch Ness for a wildlife and photography filled fortnight. We're going in search of dolphins, slavonian greves and obviously Nessie! There's also a rumour going around that we're going to buy a kids badminton set and play this in front of our lodge! Don't expect to see any photos of that though! I doubt we'll be able to update the website while we're away but keep an eye on our Twitter accounts (pfgpb and ldg977) as we'll probably be updating these whenever we can. We'll update you on our adventures when we return so try and not miss us too much while we're gone!

New Beginnings -- Paul

Well I finally bit the bullet and bought myself a new camera! 
Observant readers will have noticed that I've been thinking of doing this for ages, my 300mm lens broke last year and I was faced with the dilemma of just buying a straight replacement for it or going the whole hog and completely changing my camera system.  I had a few concerns about Sony's long term future in the DSLR game and so was reluctant to spend loads of money investing in what could turn out to be a dead end format.  On the other hand however the expense of ditching and replacing all my Sony gear was just too much for me to bear in the short term.  I decided to just soldier on with what I had while saving money and see what the future brought. 

Earlier this year I began volunteering with a local environmental/conservation charity and this brought me loads of new opportunities to get out there with my camera and enjoy some 'behind the scenes' access.  I struggled on with the Sony for a while but I quickly became frustrated with the limitations of my broken lens - manual focus only and with a huge 'stick' in the middle of the focus range that made actually focsussing on anything practically impossible.  It was clearly time to do something about it so I hopped on to the PFG mainframe and began the long process of actually, eventually, someday, maybe, making a decision.  The upshot was that after hours of budget talks with some top financial advisors I took the plunge and bought myself a shiny new Canon 60d on eBay.

I got a really good deal on it (so much so that I reckon I could probably resell it on eBay for a profit at the moment!) and thanks to the generosity of a certain Mr Whigham, who has loaned me a 300mm lens til I get my own, I'm back to a similiar set up as I had before.  I'm still short of a few bits and pieces, most of my filters are the wrong size for example but I've certainly got a good basic start and can unfortuantely no longer blame the equipment for my shortcomings as a photographer.  As to the 60d itself, well so far I have kind of mixed feelings.  My main problem is that I hate change and the 60d is very different from my beloved A100.  For some bizarre reason known only to themselves Canon have chosen not to just wholesale copy Sony's way of doing everything.  They have a different menu system, some of the control buttons are in slightly different places and one or two of the settings are accessed in in subtly dissimiliar ways.  Damm them and their seperate corporate identity!  How dare they have years of camera experience allowing them to have a slightly different but possibly more intuitive control system!

I like the feel of the 60d, the build quality is much improved over the sony and it just feels better to hold, its bigger and more chunky, though this does also mean its a fair bit heavier. 
The control system is fairly intuitive with all the major functions being accessible from the main screen.  The downside is that its a little too easy to change settings by accident.  I like the idea of the top plate though I have to confess I usually forget its there, having never had one on my cameras before. 
The articulated rear screen is fantastic and I've enjoyed being able to use it to get the camera right down to the ground for some more unusual angles.  I'm not sold on the idea of live view, it just seems to be an gimmicky replacement for something (the viewfinder) that already worked perfectly, but it does find a use in these situations. 
Image quality seems to be excellent, I'd say its noticeably better than the Sony especially when blowing images right up.  This of course comes at the price of much larger file sizes however, I've had to double the amount of memory that I routinely carry around with me.  I also prefer the Sony's Compact Flash memory cards to the Canon's SD ones which seem awfully small and fragile.
I'm still tweaking the image settings, so far I'd say that the Canon seems to have a tendency to want to overexpose almost every shot it takes, I'm compensating by underexposing by about 1/2 to 1 stop on most of my pics.  I'm also finding myself using the shadows/highlights controls in photoshop more than ever before.  Its rare that I'm happy with a pic straight off the camera but I'm sure I'll learn to work with this in time.
I'm really, REALLY, missing the Sony's built in image stabilisation!  On the plus side of this however I think the lack of it may actually make me a better photographer.  Built in IS has definitely encouraged me to be lazy when thinking about my shot set ups and how I'm holding the camera, the lack of it will also hopefully encourage me to use a tripod/bean bag more often.  Stranger things have happened - though not many!
I'm loving the 5.3FPS burst mode though it is a little sensitive meaning I take two pictures of almost everything.

Overall I'm really pleased with my purchase, its a fabulous piece of kit and I already find myself wanting to go out and use it more than I did with the old Sony.  Now all I need to do is learn how to use it properly!

Theres been a few things going on at PFG towers since our last update over the winter. 
Gav has completed a couple of commisions, one for some pet portraits (check out a few of them on his project page) and one for his very first wedding shoot!  I can confirm that he was incredibly nervous in the run up but he pulled off a fantastic job and ended up with a very happy client - which is all you can ask for really!
I may or may not have had a photo published in Photo Monthly magazine (no-one actually looked at a copy to check - don't ask!)
Fi has actually stuck to her project - much to everyone's surprise - and is getting some really interesting results, I believe the idea was to make her think about her photography more and it certainly seems to be achieving that.
We've begun a PFG quest to find and photograph some Kingfishers - this is Gav's project really, but we've all been roped in and become a bit hooked on the hunt!  We've been following up several local tips on locations and there have been quite a few unsuccessful trips to spot them but with no joy so far.  We're confident we're closing in however and you must remember just how inconspicuous and well camouflaged these iridescent blue and orange birds are.
Fi has learned how her battery charger works and now has the camera running for literally minutes at a time when out shooting.  She now sometimes even charges her spare battery.
I've discovered signs of Otters on the canal behind my house and am planning just how I can go about photographing these elusive animals and Fi has located some incredibly cute Coots nesting not far from her front door.
We've opened up a couple of new Twitter accounts, Gav now tweets as pfgphotos, Fi as ldg977 and I twitter (I'm fighting a losing battle to make that the accepted term) as pfgpb.  Feel free to follow us and tweet (twitter!) your comments and suggestions - or just say hi!

Keep checking for more updates on the kingfisher and otter hunts and we're also hopefully going to squeeze in a trip to see some Puffins...

Paul

In Memoriam -- by Paul

First of all apologies as usual for the infrequency of updates on the site.  Unfortunately its been a tough few weeks for the team here at PFG.  Both Gavin and I have suffered the loss of family members who have passed away after long struggles with illness.  
This isn't really the appropriate forum for discussing these events so I won't talk about it too much except to say that the World is poorer for their passing, yet enriched by the lives they lived and the people they inspired.  With apologies to Rabbie...

"If there's another world, they live in bliss;
if there is none, they made the best of this."

They were dearly loved and will be greatly missed.

One thing I do want to mention in relation to this is the power of photographs.  Photographs are so ubiquitous and easy to take, share and discard these days that they have become disposable, trivial in some ways.  Its easy therefore to forget that they are also some of the most important and precious objects we will ever possess.    

Three images brought this home to me in the last week.  The first was the digitally scanned and printed colour image of a familiar face that greeted every mourner as they took their seats in the kirk.  I'm not ashamed to say that I shed my first tear of the day upon seeing it.  I don't know when or where it was taken; other than its subject, it had no particular sentimental value to me and yet it instantly brought home the enormity of what someones passing means to all who knew them.  

The second photo couldn't have been more different.  It was black and white, the subjects grouped in a formal, posed style thats long gone out of fashion.  It had clearly seen a lot of use in its time, creased, folded and bent as it had passed from hand to hand down the years.  You'll have seen hundreds like it yourself and would likely overlook it without much thought if you happened to glance at it on someone's wall or amongst others in an old faded album; just another photo.  But it was so much more than that.  It was a lifetime of memories, of stories, of smiles and laughter, joy and sadness all captured on a scrap of paper. 
I can be (and have been!) accused of being overly sentimental at times; but if I was the only person moved to tears by the first photo then I can assure you I was joined by many others as this second, battered but much loved photograph was held aloft for all to see as a man spoke of his memories of a lifelong friend.

In the words of Fran Landesman
"If you ever find my house on fire
leave the silver, save the photographs"

Finally, it is with great sadness that I want to write of the yet another loss that has hit the PFG&C family over the past few days.  
Holly dog, Gavin and Claire's constant companion for the past seven years passed away suddenly last week.  

Holly was very much a member of the PFG&C team, and whilst officially she belonged to Gavin and Claire, I hope they won't mind if I say that I regarded her as my dog too.  She joined us on so many adventures over the years and whilst she may occasionally have been on the receiving end of the odd expletive as her presence flushed likely looking wildlife subjects away from the camera lens, any frowns were always soon replaced with a smile as her very presence lifted the mood of all around her.  
Its no exaggeration to say that Holly was quite probably the friendliest, happiest, most loving dog any of us are likely to ever be privileged enough to meet.  In some of the darkest times of my life, the sight of Holly standing patiently at Gav and Claire's door, tail wagging furiously as I arrived to accompany her on her evening walk never failed to lift my spirits and make the world seem a happier, better place.

The third image is of course one of Holly dog herself, I hope you don't mind me sharing it with you all here.  Muddy boots on, attention fixed on the horizon and tongue lolling out to try and shed some heat, it hopefuly gives you a hint of her spirit and personality.

She made us smile, she made us laugh and most of all she made me sneeze! 
She is missed and as long as our memories and her photographs exist, she will never be forgotten.



 Do not stand at my grave and weep;
 I am not there.  I do not sleep.
 I am a thousand winds that blow.
 I am the diamond glints on snow.
 I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
 I am the gentle autumn rain.
 When you awaken in the morning's hush
 I am the swift uplifting rush
 Of quiet birds in circled flight.
 I am the soft stars that shine at night.
 Do not stand at my grave and cry;
 I am not there.  I did not die.


Mission statement

Spring has well and truely landed. The sun is out the birds are singing and the daffies are only a week or so from disapearing back in to their bulbs. So what have I been up to to make the most of this time? well I have been sitting next to a river waiting on Kingfishers for one and have I got any photographs of them I hear you ask well the answer is a flat out NO, not even close. I haven't even seen one of the little blue birds never mined get close to photographing one. Anyone would think they would like their picuture taken, they are bright orange and blue for hevens sake! but no all I got for my trouble was dirty knees after a "you've been framed" style fall down the side of the river bank.

Well this year I have set myself some targets to photograph kingfishers, puffins and as a bonus an wild otter if possible. So I will be looking up some local knowledge, testing my skills and charging my batteries (Fi!!!!) to try and get these images.

Also we are now in some high level talks to add an on line store to allow you to purchase some of our images There is some of finer details to be ironed out so this may not happen for another couple of weeks, however hold on to you excitement we will try to make this happen soon.

As you've heard the grade master P has also now come over from the dark side and purchased a real camera, leaving the Sony behind the grand master has now went with Canon. Or the default setting as some may say. Now I'd love to say it was me that conviced him to make the change to Canon but it wasn't it was just that if he'd purchased a camera made by the manufacturer begining N and ending in N then would would have had to rename the site FG-Photography :-).

Well I am away back out there the sun is still out and the memery card still has some room left.

Oh yes and I am photographing a wedding at the end of the month, no not that one, and I am as nervous as hell. HELP!!!! 

 

My 2011 Project - 1 month in - Fi

Well, contrary to popular belief I have actually successfully made it through the first month of my 2011 photography project.

It's been quite a steep learning curve. I've discovered my phone camera is a lot better than I thought it was, however it's rubbish in low light. I've also realised that I actually need to tell my friends about my project as they're starting to think I'm a bit crazed when my camera is brought out every time we do anything even slightly exciting! My final realisation is that I really need to stop feeling so self conscious when I'm taking random pictures - who cares what people think!

I'm actually pretty proud of myself - I can honestly say that I've never sat at the end of a week trying to desperately think of what photos I need to take for the week - I have taken them as I go along and it really has been a case of one photo a day. It's actually forced me to do things instead of just sitting about in front of my computer every night, as I need to find something to do that I can take a photo of. It will get easier as the weather gets better and I'm looking forward to that.

At some point over the next week or so I am going to start combining my January pictures. If I carry on at this rate I'm going to have used up the whole website just for my project so in order to give the boys a chance to put their photos on I'm going to have to condense mine somewhat. The plan at the moment is to combine a week or a fortnights photos into one. At the moment I'm not sure how successful this will be as it might be a little outside my technical abilities but I'll give it a shot.

If you're following my project I do hope you're enjoying it, or at least that it makes you smile every so often!

Fi

The 2011 Project has begun - Fi

Fi's 2011 Project

Aim - to take a photo a day throughout the year and post them on my project page

Criteria - the photo will either be something that I did that day (kind of like a visual diary) or a great photo that I took at some point during the day when I was out with my camera.

I figure that at the moment I don't really take enough photos. I have a brief spell of manic photograph taking during the summer and then by the time my camera comes out the next year I almost have to refamiliarise myself with how it all works.

I have been studying for a qualification at my work for the past seven years and found out just before Christmas that I'd passed my last exam and finally managed to get the qualification I had been working towards. This means that I now theoretically have loads more time on my hands so squeezing in a photo a day shouldn't be too difficult.

I do feel that I have to add a couple of disclaimers though.

  • Firstly - I'm going to be using both my DSLR and my mobile to take these photos so the quality could be very variable.
  • Secondly - my life isn't very exciting at all so don't expect anything earth shattering from my photos!
  • Thirdly - I'm not going to be physically updating the website every single day. I'll aim to do it at least once a week as if I leave it any longer I'll get very confused!
  • Finally - I'm not going to update the front page every time I add a photo so if you want to follow my "adventures" during the course of the year then you'll just need to keep checking mt project page every so often
All in all I'm just looking forward to the challenges this presents and am interested to see what results I get from it. 365 photos is quite a lot to aim for but I'm ready and raring to go.

That's the gauntlet laid down now, lets see what spectacular things Gav and Paul are going to get up to this year - could be interesting!!

Fi

A New Year - a fresh start!

First off I have to wish all our avid readers a very Happy New Year and all the best for 2011.

Secondly I have to apologise for the lack of activity on the site over the past few months. This is mainly due to the extremely bad weather which has made us all want to hibernate! I've had so many transport problems getting in and out of work recently that the last thing I want to do when I get home is head out to take some photos - snuggling up in front of the TV in my slanket has been a much more appealing prospect.

Anyway, I'll keep this brief as I'm sure you've all got better things to do with your time today than listen to me waffling on about nothing in particular (or you're nursing hangovers!).

  • So, what to expect from PFG in 2011??We're planning a bit of a reorganisation of the pages - which should make it a bit clearer to us (and you) where certain photos should be located.
  • I've got a project planned for my project page which I hope to get up and running sometime over the next week - should be exciting - and is going to be challenging for me too which is never a bad thing.
  • Not sure what the boys have planned for 2011 but I'm sure it'll be good!
  • At present we haven't got any PFG days out planned but we'll keep you updated as and when these happen.
Well, I'm off to go and look for TV's on the internet - I'm finally upgrading to a flatscreen which is very exciting - just trying to decide now how big it can be so that I can still fit it and me in my house - challenging (and has involved making a TV out of cardboard so I can get some idea of how big it will be!)

Have a fab 2011 and keep checking back here for updates and new photos whenever you get a spare 5 mins.

Fi

Reach for the stars -- Paul

Project Cloudpuncher

Time: 20100926.1400 ZULU (approx)
Location: Classified 

Mission report follows...




Your glorious leaders at PFG-photography went one step closer in their quest for World domination last weekend with the launch of the SS Death From Above (are we sure about that name? ed.) from an undisclosed location somewhere near Edinburgh. 

Its long been our aim to push the boundaries of our hobby and the launch of a pfg-photography satellite seems to be the logical next step in our plans.  To this end we have been investing heavily in rocket technology and were recently able to secure our first experimental prototype from the engineers at pfg's high tec 'skunkworks' on the 14th floor.


 





 PFG's sterile clean room assembly area










The initial intention had been to launch it from the roof of PFG-towers, thus giving the vehicle a significant headstart in its quest for orbit however this was unfortunately vetoed by health and safety as it was thought that the launch may upset the Pandas in the rooftop zoo.

We'd done our homework though (well Gav had) and tracked down a launch site but this was unfortunately occupied by model airplaners on the day and it was felt that our launching what may look to them suspiciously like a surface to air missile would be frowned upon.  Luckily we quickly switched to Plan B and soon located a suitable launch area far from any motorways or major commercial flightpaths.

Gavin and I are experts in the field of rocket manufacture and so assisted by a team of engineers with specialist equipment we soon got to work assembling the craft.







"insert tab B into rocket engine A... are you sure  the engine goes in that way up?"









In the meantime the girls got on with their own duties, Fiona as Flight Recorder and Claire as Range Safety and Control Officer in charge of watching out for dog walkers.  Holly had been left at home to continue her training in preparation for becoming the first PFG astronaut.

Once the rocket was assembled on the launch pad and the Range Safety Officer gave the go ahead everyone retreated to a safe distance for launch.  Unfortunately I was acting as Launch Control and the wire attaching the control unit to the launch pad didn't stretch quite as far as I'd have liked.  Gav bravely volunteered to stay alongside and record the launch on video while the girls showed their solidarity by retreating so far they were almost in the next county.  This did somewhat hamper the Flight Recorders photography as she only had her 55mm lens with her. 

After one ...ahem... practice attempt the rocket launch was initiated and the vehicle quickly accelerated, totally as planned,  into a controlled suborbital flightpath. 







"Which button makes it go?... Arrgh!"











The launch site had been crefully chosen to make sure the rocket would land in a safe area and Claire and Fi now quickly swung into their secondary roles as Flight Monitors and Vehicle Recovery Specialists.  The ship descended by parachute into its designated recovery area and was soon rescued from being eaten by a slightly startled looking sheep.

 







  "Keep your eye on it!"












All in all a pretty successful mission I'm sure you'll agree.  The next step is to work out a way of attaching some sort of camera to the rocket and I reckon we've got a good chance of becoming Britain's premiere space agency.

NASA were contacted about this new threat to their orbital dominance but as of going to press they had refused to issue a statement.  The ESA on the othe hand had this to say...

"Merci d'avoir appelé l'ESA. Il n'y a pas une disposition pour prendre vos appels téléphoniques à l'heure actuelle. S'il vous plaît de rappeler plus tard. Tous les appels sont enregistrés à des fins de formation. Il n'y a pas de grenouille dans mon bidet."

Luckily I got a B in higher French so I was able to make a translation

"To the brave men and women of PFG-photography we here at the European Space Agency salute you!  Your couragous attempts to push back the boundaries of human knowledge are an inspiration to us all and will go down in the annals of space history as one of the greatest achievements of mankind.  We only wish we were worthy enough to be allowed to shake you all by the hand and we look forward to renting space from you in your moonbase once it is completed."

Not an exact translation but thats the gist of it.  There was something else about frogs and bidets that I couldn't make heads nor tails of, but thats the French for you.  I reckon they're running scared.


Not our usual blog update I'll admit and not really anything to do with photography!  We just thought it might be nice to show some of the umm... "team building" exercises we get up to on our days off! 

For anyone interested a very professional video of the event can be found at :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNhXEOYpXy8&feature=youtube_gdata_player

We'd like to assure you that everyone involved with the operation has since been reprimanded and normal PFG service will resume shortly.

Just to show that we have been doing some actual work too, you may notice that the wildlife gallery has now been split into three sub-galleries as it was getting too unwieldy.  Its pretty self explanatory, just click on the sub menu for your favoured type of creature to see the pics!

Paul

Summer Update - Paul

Would you believe that that's summer over?  Where did it go?????  It has to be said that none of us have been very good at keeping the blog updated over the summer - bad us - so you'd be forgiven for thinking that we haven't been up to much.  Thats a pretty good assumption with us in any case to be honest, we're not the most active of people if we can help it!

For once, however, you'd be wrong!  Hah, shows what you know!  We've actually been out and about with our cameras quite a few times and some of us (Fi) have even managed to get round to getting the pictures we've taken off the camera!  Of course she hasn't got round to posting any of them on here, but you can't have everything.

Fi and I made it to the beautiful Isle of Skye in June where Fi had some fantastic opportunities to try out her new lens.  There were seals aplenty in the waters round our cottage and she even managed to get me out in a boat so she could get some extreme close ups.  The lens worked flawlessly, the only drawback being that everytime she got it out she was soon surrounded by people keen to ask her lots of technical questions about it.  Fi's not good at technical questions.  It's definitely a conversation starter though which is no bad thing I suppose!  We had a great trip, I'd heartily recommend Skye to anyone and can now confirm that it doesn't actually rain there all the time.  Highlights would be Loch Coruisk, the Cuillins and the fabulous wildlife of the island in general.  Seals, Golden Eagles, Sea Eagles, Dolphins, Minke Whales and more, all performing for us on cue.  Oh, and the midges!  Luckily this gave us a chance to try out the latest fashion statement, the midge net. I think we looked pretty sharp myself.













Gav and Claire have managed a few trips as well and amongst other things had their own close encounter with some Dolphins in the Black Isle.

Fi and I went on an Otter Spotting Course in Edinburgh earlier this year and were amazed to discover that these fantastic little critters are thriving even in the heart of the city.  We've been doing a little surveying of our own round the local area and have discovered signs of their presence but its going to be a tough job to get a photo, town otters being amongst the most secretive animals around.  Watch this space!  Maybe.  But only if I don't have to get up too early.  Or stay up too late.  Or get cold.  Or wet. Hmm.

We've also managed quite a few PFG trips this summer. 
Gav and I headed out to the East Fortune Airshow (ouch, sunburn even through the clouds).  It was the first time I'd been out here but Gav was an old hand and made a good job of getting us into the ideal position for photographing the air display.  We joined a couple of other photographers in blocking an elevated fire escape and thus got a fanstastic view.  Health and Safety?  Never heard of it mate.  I'll let you into a wee bit of a secret here, I'm a total airplane geek and I was in hogs heaven!  Fi very generously let me borrow her camera and 400mm lens for the day so I wasn't too outranged by Gav and I really enjoyed having a play with it.  Verdict - I want one!

Next trip out was for the three of us and we made our way to the Hopetoun Country Fair which, despite the beautiful weather (ouch, sunburn mk2), was a wee bit disappointing photo wise.  None of us are ever going to make it as candid people photographers I'm afraid, we're all just too polite!  We did all have fun at the falconry display trying to catch these fast moving birds in flight - no easy task as the Peregrines can break 200mph!  Its fair to say Gav was the best at this but luckily for us all it was more about the fun of trying than the end result!  I'd also like to make it clear here that it was in no way my fault that we turned up an hour early and had to wait in the car park.  Anyone who knows me will know I'm never early for anything. 

One other issue which unfortunately reared its head here was the first of our camera casualties.  Fi lifted her camera out of the bag in the morning to discover that the switch which controls her image stabilisation had broken off.  Eagle eyed readers will probably have noted that I was the last person to use her camera...  A bit of research seems to show that it probably wasn't my fault, there does seem to be an issue with this switch on the Pentax k10d being a little 'delicate' which is pretty surprising considering how robust a piece of kit it is otherwise.  Luckily the camera was still usable for the moment and a repair centre which could make a fix was soon located online.

Gav and I followed this up with another trip back to Hopetoun for the Italian Car Rally, the weather was stunning (ouch, sunburn mk3) and the cars were looking magnificent in the sunshine.  There had obviously been some serious efforts made to show the cars off to their best but all the owners were fantastic about letting us clumsy photographers hover round their pristine sports cars.  Braver people than me!

Fi and I headed out to Edinburgh Zoo to greet the new Sunbears who have just moved into the city and were rewarded with some fantastic views of these gorgeous creatures.  We took the opportunity to have a wander round the rest of the zoo and had a great time as always here.  Loving the zoo.

Around about this time we suffered our second camera casualty.  My Sigma 70-300mm lens began 'sticking' when using the manual focus.  Annoying but not too big a problem at first, however soon after it suddenly started making a horrific grinding sound when autofocussing... a wee bit more of a problem!  Not sure if I caused it by removing the lens at an inopportune time or if its just wear and tear.  The lens is only about 3 years old but has seen some hard use.  The upshot is that the autofocus mode is a complete write off but I can still use it in manual focus - which of course is still sticking!  I'm in two minds about wether to replace the lens or take the opportunity to change camera systems completely...  Either way will mean some serious money saving first though!

Our most recent trip was this weekend when Gav, Fi and I braved the horrific traffic to make the trip to the Leuchars air show.  Note to anyone going next year, don't even think about the park and ride!  I've never seen a more incompetent attempt at traffic management, truly horrific.  I'm still amazed that Gav managed to drive us out of the waterlogged field we'd been made to leave his car in and I'm sure a few others in there weren't so lucky.
It was a fantastic day out though (ouch, sunburn mk4 - we really should invest in some suncream) and I once again got to embrace my inner geek.  Gav's not so innocent of this himself so I'd like to say a big well done to Fi for putting up with us - especially as she didn't even have her camera!  There were no end of photo opportunties, though I have to say I spent a little too much time just gawping at the airplanes and forgetting to take pictures.  Turns out it isn't easy to manually focus on a Tornado F3 moving at 500+ knots either.  Who knew?

Finally we've also embraced some new technology here at pfg towers and have lept into the cutting edge of internet communications by joining up to something called twitter.  You've probably never heard of it as its a pretty new fad and we're right on the bleeding edge of fashion.  We're never behind the curve with this sort of thing, not us.  Look out for us "tweeting" (technical term there) as "pfgphotos".

For us thats a pretty action packed few weeks, not to mention that there were also trips to Cammo and Almondell country parks and to the Royal Mile during the festival and no doubt plenty of other places I've forgotten too.  All we've got to do now is get the pictures on the website!

Oh and I'd also like to say a quick thank you to Mrs Whigham... Looking back I hadn't noticed quite how often we'd borrowed your husband to head out for the day.  Sorry!  Though I'm sure you were secretly glad of the peace and quiet.  In fact, train Holly to catch spiders and you could get rid of him altogether...

Paul

Happy Birthday to us!

Happy Birthday to us! Yes folks it really have been a whole year that you've been putting up with our idea of art. First of all a sorry from Paul and Fi who can't be with us today as they are working hard tracking otters and eagle across the isle Skye at the moment (all for the good of these pages I am told although they didn't feel the need to invite me). I just hope the Fi remembers to charge the spare batteries this time LOL!

I hope you all enjoy using the site as much as we enjoy working on it. It has not be an easy year for us when finding a balance between keeping the site up to date and having so many changes that the site becomes difficult to navigate.

We do very much love all your positive comments and please keep them coming and please feel free to email any questions about the photographs or the places we have visited and we will try our best to answer as best as we can.

Thanks again to all our visiters with an extra thank you to our friends and families that have had to put up with us taking photographs when we were supposed to be on holidays or going some where nice (it can take a while to get the right picture you know).

Here to many more years of PFG and I hope we continue to grow with you on board,

Thanks again,

Gavin, Paul and Fi

 

Day trips - Paul

There's been some odd goings on at PFG towers the last few weeks.   Regular subscribers will surely have worked out by now that the three of us spend our time doing as little as possible, the mere act of getting up in the morning and switching on the kettle is generally enough to send us to the to the sofa and collapse in exhaustion.     Well thats true in my case anyway and I've seen no evidence of the other two working any harder.

The last few weeks however have seen a new burst of energy from all three of us, occasionally enough to get us out of the front door for literally minutes at a time with our cameras.   Gav and Claire have been on holiday to sunny Spain and Gav has returned with some excellent pics, particularly of his time at a local falconry display.   Fi and I were also busy, we made a trip up to Aviemore to take part in the Capercaillie watch at the RSPB hide at Loch Garten which also allowed us to pay our respects to the resident Ospreys, EJ and Odin.   Just to make sure we got our Osprey fix we also took the opportunity to head out to the SWT reserve at Loch of the Lowes and in both locations managed to see Ospreys returning to the nest, fish in talon.   The Capercallie watch meant us getting up at 4.30 in the morning in order to get in place before the sun rose.   We actually arrived a tad late as Fi was a bit worried about us being the only people there - she needn't have worried!   It was standing room only in the hide, clearly these are popular birds!   It was a bit of dreich morning unfortunately and the rain had dampened the bird's ardour a wee bit meaning we only managed distant views of them, but it was enough to show just how impressive these animals are and we'll no doubt be back soon to try and tempt them into camera range!

Now that the snow has finally stopped Fi and I took the chance to head up North to make our long delayed Christmas visit to her parents.   The weather was fabulous and we managed to make a trip to some local National Trust Gardens which were lovely in the Sunshine with their rhododendrons and Himalayan Poppies in magnificent bloom.

Gav and I also managed a trip to the SWT reserve at the Falls of Clyde in New Lanark where we paid a visit to the Peregrine watch centre set up in the woods.   Fortuitously, and completely by accident, we chose to go on the day when the SWT had brought some experts in to abseil down the cliff to the Peregrine nest in order to ring the chicks.   This caused the parent birds to spend much more time than usual flying allowing us to get some great views of these fantastic birds.   It was the first time I've seen Peregrines and hopefuly not the last!  

There was great excitement - and a fair bit of confusion - in May as Fi finally received some news on her long awaited Sigma 400mm lens.   She actually ordered this way back in August last year only to find that there were literally none available in the whole country, an absence which no-one seemed to be able to explain!   Fi got in touch with Sigma directly and even they were none the wiser suggesting perhaps that the lens was about to be withdrawn and replaced - though that was only a guess on their part!   After pretty much giving up on it I got a call from the supplier out of the blue in May suggesting that it may be coming back into stock 'sometime' in June.   Maybe.   We're going off on holiday in June so Fi was very keen to get hold of the lens before we left and after half a dozen calls back and forth a very large and shiny package arrived on the doorstep last Tuesday and she is now the proud owner of a 150-400mm OS lens for her Pentax.   Apparently the delay has been due to adding optical stablisiation to the lens - which might be a good thing considering she can barely lift the thing never mind hold it steady!   Its a very nice, substantial and shiny piece of kit and I'm more than a little jealous!

There was still a slight problem to be overcome as the lens didn't work with her camera initially, requiring her to go online and update the firmware in her pentax - it would be nice if the camera or the lens manual had suggested such a thing might have to be done!   We got it done eventually though and it was decided to head out on a PFG road trip on Sunday to christen her new acquistion.   We got together with Gav and decided to head out to the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth and see if we could get some photos of the resident puffins.   Unfortunately Fi and I were hosting a Eurovision 'party' the night before (don't ask!) meaning we were a bit the worse for wear on Sunday morning and had to make a high speed dash across the country to catch the boat.   In the end we arrived in Anstruther about ten minutes after the boat was due to sail - only to find it still in the harbour!   The boat had unfortunately been cancelled due to the rough waters out in the Forth .   Plan B was a trip just a wee bit further up the coast to Tentsmuir NNR where Fi could test her lens and skill against the huge resident seal population and Gav could scan the skies in the hope of spotting the Sea Eagles which have recently moved in here.  

Tentsmuir was absolutely beautiful, the strong winds making fabulous patterns in the sand and the surf crashing into the shore, every wave seeming to hold a seal, playing in the surf and mischeviously following us along the beach.   Seals are very curious animals and love to watch the strange two legged monkeys walking along the shoreline, we soon learned that if we turned our backs on them they would gradually come in very close.   By glancing over our shoulders and moving only when the nearest seals were submerged we managed to get ourselves very close indeed, only a few yards - surely this was the perfect chance for Fi's lens to show its worth...

Gav and I were soon snapping away but we were very surprised to see Fi putting her camera back into her bag after only a few shots.   Guess who forgot to charge her batteries before she left!   With a flat spare battery as well Fi was more than a little annoyed!  

It was possibly a good thing that Fi wasn't taking pictures as it was she who noticed that the tide - which I had assured everbody was on its way out - seemed to be very quickly coming in behind us almost leaving us stranded!  Somehow I think the seals knew exactly what they were doing and were looking forward to seeing us paddling home!   We made it back with dry feet and headed back to St Andrews for a celebratory Fish supper.   Less said about that the better!   The east neuk contains some of the very best chip shops in the world at Anstruther and Pittenweem, but as we discovered it also contains some pretty bad ones too!

Well thats about it for this blog - maybe we should be updating this thing more regularly!

Paul

Spring is in the air and its time to get back out there with the camera! - Paul

Well I've finally decided to get up off my bum, blow the dust off my camera and head back outside and it only took a massive volcanic eruption to do it!  Lured out by the prospect of beautiful sunsets due to the Icelandic volcano Monday evening was spent sitting in my favourite sunset spot but there were no real signs of anything special.  Still It was a beautiful night to sit out by the water and listen to the waves and the birds so no harm done there!  The skies were cloud free and a perfect azure blue, but it was actually a pretty eerie experience.  I live not far from an airport and am also pretty much directly under the flightpath for all the transatlantic flights from the UK and it was very weird looking up into the sky and finding it empty of air traffic.  I have heard that sunsets further North have been pretty good and it just so happens that Fi and I are heading in that direction at the weekend so you never know.

I was also keeping an eye out for volcanic activity on Tuesday when Gav and I were out for an evening walk with Holly dog.  There was a brief moment of excitement when we were suddenly inundated by clouds of white stuff falling from the sky and drifting in the wind - unfortunately it turned out not to be ash but just some typical Scottish Spring snow!  You had to feel sorry for the poor guy who cycled past us through it in his t-shirt!

Today I was out with my dad and we made a trip over to Crammond Island in the Forth.  Bearing yesterdays snowfall in mind I very sensibly wore a big jumper and my warmest fleece to make sure I didn't die of exposure in the icy winds coming off the North sea.  Its just a pity that I didn't bring sun lotion too, the sun was blazing in the sky and temperatures in the wee sheltered spot we found to have lunch must have been over 20 degrees.  I'm burnt to a crisp!  Crammond is a great spot to head to with a camera and I took a fair few photos - I wonder how long it'll take me to get them off the camera and onto the pc?  Considering I still have pictures from February's snowfall on my memory card I'm guessing quite a while!

Its also been a great week for wildlife.  Despite the snow it really is starting to feel like Spring is in the air, the fields are filling up with lambs and calves and the bird life is getting ever more active; my garden feeders have been filled and emptied twice this week with blackbirds and sparrows especially arriving in huge numbers.  Pheasants seem to be everywhere with the colourful males making a huge racket and the drab grey females scurrying out from behind every tuft of grass as you walk through the country.  Most excting of all was the sight today of my first Swallow - that means summer's here and the snow has to stop now right? 

Its definitely time to pack away the winter clothes and get the cameras back out there. 

Though I think I'll maybe keep the skis and emergency flares in the car for a wee while yet.

Paul.

All Quiet on the Western Front - Fi

The hallowed halls of PFG Towers have been slightly less frantic than usual the last few months but with the past couple of days of glorious sunshine I'm sure it won't be long until there's another flurry of activity.

I'm sure we shouldn't be fair weather photographers but to be perfectly honest who wants to go out when it's cold or wet? Now the clocks have changed it's actually daylight when I get home from work, what a revelation, so it's tempting me to get more creative and actually get out into the world instead of just sitting in my slanket (best Christmas present ever) in front of the TV!

As for what we've been up to, well things haven't been quite as quiet as we've made out. The boys have managed a fair few day trips, mainly hunting the elusive white tailed ses eagles with varying degrees of success. Paul and I have been to see some red kites (didn't take the cameras because we didn't expect it to be as good as it was - guess that'll mean we just have to go back again - shame!). We've also done an otter spotting course now so now we know how to look for evidence that otters are about which will save many wasted hours sitting on the shores of a loch asking ourselves "do you think there might be otters out there?"

I entered a competition last year with a couple of photos I took on Mull and was delighted to get an email a few weeks ago telling me that one of my photos was commended in the competition and the other one was one of four runners up. This is the first time I've entered a competition so now I'm all fired up to enter some more ... watch this space.

In other news, I'm currently studying for an exam, hence why I'm writing this, it's amazing the things I've found to do to avoid studying. My exam is Thursday and once it's over I'm off to Aviemore for the weekend in search of capercaillies, this is going to involve being at a hide for 5.30am so I'm sure I'll have lots to report when I come back ... mainly about how I slept in and missed the whole thing I suspect!

My 400mm lens still hasn't arrived ... not good. I have however been advised that it will be in stock this month so am waiting with bated breath to see if it will be here for my trip to Aviemore.

Well, better get back to the books and get some studying done I guess.

Sea eagle Vs New Canon 50d - Gavin

As you may have heard there has been a new peice of kit boucing around PFG towers of late. A shiney new Canon 50d has fallen in to my hands. I have been playing around with its many functions (a little too many than is strickly needed) since just before Christmas and am confident enough to take it with me on trips. "Why spend all that money on a new DSLR when you've got a prefectly good one already?" I heard my wife say over and over and over again! and of course she's right. However my wife being right has never stopped me doing the opposite before. So whats it like? Well it's bigger and you know about us boys and the size of their kit. Seriously though this is an improvement over my 400d when your 6ft 2 with hand the size of shovels the 400d can be a little fiddley. There is a large step up in pixels however this is not my reason for the purchase. The main reason for me was the doubling in speed in frames per second and due to my increase in wildlife photography this was a must in my eyes. So how did it do? The first wildlife trip was after a tip off on the where abouts of two of the mighty sea eagle. The sea eagle is the largest of the British birds of prey, introduced in Scotland a few years ago in the west coast and now in the east. There has been sightings of these birds in the strangest of places for example ASDA carpark Dunfermline. They are rarely in the same place for long. Their massive wings can take them hundreds of miles and back in no time. So when I got the tip off of their location it didn't take me long to think over a trip to try to spot them. The new canon was loaded into the bag, batteries charge and my biggest lens readied. We sat in the hide for hours watching 2 swans sleeping and talking nonsense when the shout came "eagle", now I will be honest here I had made the same call a couple of times when a distant buzzard had moved to a new perch however there was no mistaking this beast for a buzzard, an 8ft wing span and the beak that would open a car roof guarantees that this was the eagle that we had all been waiting for. The canon sprung into life firing off it's 6 frames per second. The eagle was a little far away even for the 500mm sigma but this is the biggest bird of prey in our skys and I wasn't going to miss the chance to get it's picture. The chase was on as it flew over our hide and up towards the hills behind us we left the hide and and now we just watched mouths open as it circled round for a couple of minutes before disapearing out of sight for the rest of the day. A great spot (P!) and it made my day. Just in case you were wondering who won the sea eagle or the canon, well on this occation I would give it to the bird. It was just to far away to get a clear picture, but I did get a picture! "I'll be back" as they say. This was a major thrill and although the eagle is 1-0 up the canon is not beat yet not by a long way!

Here is the sea eagle being sounded out by a really brave buzzard.

Sea Eagle Scotland

Gavin.

Countdown! - Fi

Just found out last week that the 120-400 lens which I ordered in August 2009 is expected back in stock in April! I'm very excited indeed. It was intended for my holiday in Mull in September but obviously missed that deadline due to, what I can only assume was, a nationwide shortage - I couldn't get it anywhere! Going to Skye at the end of June so it should be here in plenty of time for that ... fingers crossed. The best bit is that I put the money for it away last year so it's almost like I'm getting it free.

Only 2 months to go .....

Brrr! - Paul

You know sometimes I wonder what our ancestors were thinking off when they decided to stand themselves upright, move out of their lovely warm savannah and begin to migrate North out of Africa.  At the very least they could have put some thought and effort into the whole sorry debacle and bothered to evolve themselves a nice warm fur coat like those very sensible polar bears.  What were they thinking when they decided to go for the bare skin look?  Questions should be asked.  Have you been outside lately?  Its freezing!!  I hate the winter!

The upside to this recent cold snap has of course been the transformation of the landscape wrought by the recent heavy snowfalls, and I have to admit, that as long as you don't have to travel anywhere through it the snow can be beautiful.  Me and Gav made our first photography trip of the year this weekend when we ventured out to the frozen Harlaw reservoir near Balerno.  It was a bit of a hairy trip involving a drive up (and then a slide back down) a very steep hill - if I'd been driving I think the whole trip would have been abandoned, but fortunately Gav is made of sterner stuff and got us there and back again safely.  Though I did have to push us out of the car park!

Layering was the name of the game dress wise and we both had so many clothes on that it was difficult to bend our arms, but actually once we were out and about in it the cold was soon forgotten and attention turned to capturing some of the fantastic images that appeared almost everywhere we looked.  At one point I got myself so engrossed in capturing a fence line disappearing into the snow that I was up to my knees in snow!  I knew all about it once the snow started to trickle into my boot and hit the back of my heel! 

All in all it was a pretty succesful trip, we managed to formulate a couple of new rules for winter photography, number one of which is check your kit before you leave the house!  Gav managed to forget both his hat and gloves and was looking a bit blue by the time we headed home.  I was tempted to carry out some experiments on him to see just how long people could stand the cold but figured Claire would probably kill me so reluctantly decided against it.  More importantly, although I was toasty warm, I forgot my spare battery and most of my filters!  Batteries are really affected by the cold and my fresh battery was flashing red after only a couple of hours outside.  Top tip here is to remember that most SLRs will allow you to turn off the back screen to save power.  This made a big difference but it was a strange experience working without the instant feedback provided by being able to see your pics as soon as you take them.  Its amazing how quickly you get used to these modern conveniences!  My first SLR operated off a couple of watch batteries showing just how many modern electronic features it had!

Forgetting kit is a perennial problem with me, I think all three of us operate on a 'two bag system' for our gear.  One big backpack that stores most of our stuff and is used for major trips and a smaller shoulder bag which is much more convenient for everyday use but which has to be carefully packed to ensure you have the right bits and pieces with you - a procedure which I fail hopelessly at almost every time.

We also discovered that neither me nor Gav will ever be street photographers!  There were many opportunities for some great shots of our fellow members of the Great British Public out enjoying the snow, there were hikers wrapped up like michelin men, people out enjoying a rare opportunity to practise cross country skiing, parents, children and dogs frolicking in the snow and even one adventurous guy kite surfing across a field.  Unfortunately we both suffer from the British disease of being too shy/polite to ask people if we can take their picture!  I think this is a pretty common problem for photographers but it probably needn't be, most people when asked will likely be delighted to have their pics taken - in fact one skiing woman actually stopped us and was very interested in our cameras, in all likelihood angling for us to take a snap of her being so clever to have brought skis!  Something to work on?  Maybe not!

Gav upgraded his DSLR over the Christmas period moving up to a Canon 50d so this was a good test of its abilities and it seems to have passed with flying colours, hopefully he can be persuaded to come on here and give us a run down of its capabilities!  The important point here is that with Fi having used Pentax's semi pro level camera from the start I'm now the only one of the trio left with an entry level SLR!  Not that I'm jealous in any way.  Honest.  I have to say their cameras are very nice to use even just on a tactile level, they feel very chunky and well built when compared to mine with their rubberised metal chassis and weather seals.  Whether they give any better results remains to be seen of course!  Time for me to start saving up the pennies I reckon!

On the camera front, when I returned from our trip and reviewed my images it quickly became obvious that it was time for me to bite the bullet and finally get round to cleaning my sensor!  Right smack in the centre of every frame was a big dirty spot of dust.  Nothing that photoshop couldn't handle, but it was going to get very annoying very quickly if I had to clone it out of every shot I took from now on!  I suppose it's not bad being the first noticeable spot in the 3 years or so that I've been using this camera but it was definitely time to get it dealt with.  It was an operation I'd been dreading, having read some horror stories of people getting this badly wrong, but in the event it was actually very easy and painless.  One button push on the camera flipped up the mirror to expose the sensor for cleaning and revealed the very obvious spot of persistant dust.  A couple of seconds work with a brand new, very soft and dust free paintbush later and it was gone.  Job done!   Hopefully the Sony's anti dust mechanism will keep it clear for another 3 years but if not then I think its a task I'll be much happier to attempt in future.

I think thats about it for this winter update, hopefully you'll have noticed that we have one or two of our pictures from our trip up in the Winter gallery.  Its looking much healthier now that its got a few shots in it! 

Paul

Missed Opportunities - Paul

Well its nearly Christmas and so far my photos taken total for the month of December stands at... zero.  I am, officially a wimp.  Its cold out!

Not that there haven't been opportunities mind you!  I've been up Calton Hill, enjoying the spectacular views of Edinburgh available from the top of the Nelson Monument; I've stood and drooled over the beautiful soft light playing over farmlands, with the Pentlands in the background and a stormy sky above; I've visited an abandoned RAF/USAF airbase with rusting hangers and crumbling runway; I've watched the diffused glow of the sun setting behind a veil of fog with a stunning foreground of trees and walls drifting in and out of the mist; I've been lucky enough to witness a Sparrowhawk catching a sparrow and then drowning its prey in a birdbath not ten feet away from where I was standing.  Looking back there's been some fantastic opportunities... its just that I haven't had a camera with me for any of them!  There's a lesson here - you never know when a photo op will appear, carry your camera!!

This is really unusual for me, I've ALWAYS got a camera to hand, I'm not sure what the cause of the recent lack is but my early new year resolution is to correct it.  Tonight will be spent going through my camera bag, cleaning it out and sorting all of my equipment back into its proper home.  I should probably have a go at cleaning the dust of my sensor too but thats a job I've never actually attempted yet and I'm a bit reluctant!  My Sony Alpha has a self cleaning mechanism which I've relied on so far but a few suspicious blotches on recent shots means I'm starting to think its time to bite the bullet!

Or I could always put it off for a while - its snowing an absolute blizzard outside, time for some wintery shots... or time for a mug of hot chocolate... I told you it's cold out there!

Winter Blues - Paul

"Every mile is two in winter."  That's a statement I can agree with!  You may have noticed there haven't been many updates to the site lately, I'm afraid this is due to the pfg team all suffering in their own ways from the winter blues.  For me its difficult to work up enthusiasm for photo opportunities at this time of year, the days are short and getting shorter, its cold, wet, dark and miserable outside and Call of Duty 2 has just been released for the x-box!  This is the time of year for snuggling indoors round the open fire (or radiators as they're known here at pfg towers) and settling in to hibernate the next few months away.

It doesn't have to be like that.  Hopefully you've spotted that the website has recently expanded its seasonal page with galleries for all four seasons?  Go have a look now if you like I can wait...  Looking a bit bare aren't they? One of the purposes behind this move is to force the three of us to actually get out there in all four seasons and find pictures to fill those pages. 

The irony is that this shouldn't be the struggle that we're all making it to be, this is actually a great time of year to be out there with your camera. 
Photo opportunities abound almost everywhere you look; this is the best time of year to photograph squirrels as they scurry about stocking up their winter larders - look out for the reds in particular with their winter ear tufts and tails;  likewise foxes, amongst others, are looking at their best as they put on their own winter coats - and of course due to the short days they are visible much earlier foraging in the dim light at dawn and dusk;  there are legions of strange and exotic birds flying to us from all over Northern Europe and beyond to spend their winters in our relatively benign climate, some local lochs are home now to thousands upon thousands of wintering geese;  the trees have shed their foliage leaving it heaped in colourful piles by the roadside and along country paths, the now bare branches standing starkly against a winter sky now offer a fantastic opportunity for structural shots and silhouettes that you just don't get at any other time of year;  now is the time to look for candid shots of people wrapped up in their winter scarves fighting the cold outdoors, villages, towns and cities everywhere are setting up their winter lights and attractions to lure people out of their cosy homes and offering up a myriad of images in themselves; soon (too soon!) there'll be snow and ice making a dramatic impact on landscapes and allowing for beautiful frosty details.

And that's just scraping the surface!   Not to mention that if its just too cold outside to bear then this is the season to finally do something about those long put off indoor projects.  There is endless fun to be had with a few props gathered from round the house and a convenient light source or two - a couple of daylight bulbs for the lamps, a cheap lightbox or even just your on camera flash.

I have to confess that I thought I'd easily fill my quota of winter photos from images on my hard drive.  This however has highlighted that the cataloguing system I have in place is pathetic!  So there's yet another winter task begun, I'm going through every picture I own, cataloguing them, tagging them with keywords - and perhaps most importantly - binning a lot of the rubbish!  I'll probably be doing further updates on this as the weeks pass, but an added benefit of this chore is that it might drive me outside to avoid it!

Start as you mean to go on.  Gavin and I have made our first PFG trip of the winter - Fiona unfortunately was working so couldn't join us - and set out last Friday to catch the sun rising over the Pentlands, south of Edinburgh.  Another advantage of winter is that you don't have to get up too early to catch a sunrise and we were in position in plenty of time.  Unfortunately the Sun hadn't been informed of our plans and put on a rather weak showing.  In fact the best photos I got were made using flash in the predawn gloom!  Pretty soon it was back to the car to try and dry out our wet feet (who decided to walk through a peat bog in the dark?) enjoy our thermos and set out in search of a bacon roll.  It maybe wasn't the most productive trip ever but there was a lesson to be learned here.  It was cold, it was damp - but it was great fun.  Roll on those bright, cold winter days.

Paul.

Site update; new Scotland galleries and days out page - Paul

Well it's finally happened - the long threatened update to the site has arrived!

Just a quick note to detail some of the changes.  The Scotland gallery was getting far too big and unwieldy so we've split it into subgalleries divided by the Scottish regions the photos were taken in.  You'll notice that some regions aren't represented yet, rest assured these pages are under construction and will be visible just as soon as we have sorted out enough pictures to put in them - time to get out there with the cameras guys!  Actually between us we've probably got enough pictures lurking around our hard drives to fill them - but its just so much more fun going out and taking new ones!

We're still experimenting to find the best way of splitting the regions so the lineup we have here may not be final but it'll probably be pretty close.  For the moment clicking on the Scotland gallery without hitting the submenus will still take you to our original metapage with all the photos on it but this likely won't remain live for long as we get used to the new system and won't be updated again in any case.

Continuing the sub menus theme we've also replaced the individual projects pages with one page containing a sub menu for each of us.  Our project pages are our wee playgrounds and will likely appear and disappear with great regularity as we come upon inspiration!  Only Gav's page is visible at the moment but mine and Fi's both exist and each of us have plans afoot to put them live soon.  These pages are mostly for fun and experimentation and the photos on them may not always quite live up to the standard we've (hopefuly!) established elsewhere!  They should be fun though, which is the main point, right?

The Days Out in Scotland page is also now live, this is intended to serve as a place for the three of us to jot down a wee description or review of some of the places in Scotland we've visited with our cameras.  With any luck we'll be able to give you some inspiration or suggestions if you're looking for somewhere to head out to.  It is split by region again, clicking on the area links at the top of the page will whisk you further down to that region's reviews. 
This page is still very much a work in progress and new articles will hopefully appear here quite regularly over the next wee while so please bear with us! 

We're not affliated in any way with any of the companies or organisations mentioned on this page, all we're doing is giving our honest opinion.  We also only review places we have personally been to so it'll be an ongoing project as we continue to explore this beautiful country of ours. 

Anyway we hope you enjoy the new layout and the new content, keep your eye out for further updates in the future!

Paul.

Photography in the Dark ... not so easy! - Fi

First off, I must apologise for my slight absence from these pages of late. Unfortunately my actual job, that I get paid to do, got in the way. I am currently studying through my work and I had an exam on Thursday, so for the past few weeks I've had my nose well and truly buried in a book. I have however now dusted off the camera and I'm back and somewhat raring to go.

As a reward for all my ahem "hard" work Paul and I took ourselves off up to Perthshire yesterday - "Big Tree Country". We had a glorious day wandering around little villages, driving along country rounds and just generally doing a bit of exploring. I was absolutely staggered by the depth of colour on display in the trees in that area, ranging from the still vivid green of the evergreens through vibrant reds to the very palest yellow shades. The most startling tree was saw was a rowan with bright red leaves and almost acid yellow berries - needless to say the car was hurriedly stopped at this point in order for some photos. I feel as though normally autumn passes me by because the wind whips up out of nowhere so quickly and before I know where I am the leaves are all off the trees, littering the pavements. This was SO not the case in Perthshire.
If you've got a spare day then go visit, you won't be disappointed.

Anyway, back to the point of this blog. Last night we went to the Enchanted Forest at Pitlochry. This is a series of light installations of varying types set in the local woods, around the edges of a small loch. Whilst the weather wasn't greatly kind to us - we managed one circuit in the dry and then the heavens opened - it was still a very enjoyable experience. We both went armed with our cameras with the intention of taking lots of atmospheric shots. An important lesson I rather quickly learnt is that my camera is not quite as sensitive as my eye. When I could see a beautifully lit tree, my camera could see just darkness! Now I do have to confess that I didn't have my tripod with me - not my finest hour forgetting that! I did manage to get a couple of shots leaning on fence posts etc, but certainly nothing that's going to be getting pride of place on here. I also got some shots of a large dragon breathing fire but even they suffered a bit from the dark. Definitely a bit more practice and a tripod is required.

One other valuable lesson I learnt yesterday is that sometimes you can spend too much of your time seeing the world through a camera lens. Last night I made myself keep my camera in it's bag for the duration of the first trip round the forest which allowed me to actually see and experience the show for myself. Earlier in the day we were standing on a bridge looking up a river with Paul taking some pictures. I didn't have my camera out, I was just enjoying the view when I spotted a flash of vibrant blue, my first ever kingfisher sighting. We didn't ever get more than a glimpse of the bird, from quite far away, but it was a truly magical moment, and something that I may never have seen if I'd had my camera glued to my eye. Another valuable lesson learnt.

Anyway, I'll be out with my camera again this weekend so watch this space for further developments.

Fi

Autumn Watch - Gavin

Hello again,

     Sorry we've been a little quite here at pfg towers of a late and the truth is we've been a little short on insperation of late. With the poor run of weather and the nights drawing in the poor camera has remained in the bag for the last few weeks. However and this is a big however have you seen the trees of late? With reds and oranges screaming back at you from the once lush green leaves, how could you not want to take a walk through a forest kicking up leaves as you go!

      Another great way to spend a day is with the rather dangerous game of conker picking. Dangerous I hear you say yes Mrs Whigham will take you to so far off places though the most over grown undergrowth in persuit of the perfect chest nut. Kicking leaves, picking conkers what the hell is this got to do with photography I hear you ask. Insperation I say. If all this change in the landscape is not enough to get the juices flowing then my camera should be taken off me and replaced with a pogo stick or something less creative. This is what is great about living in Scotland there proper seasons and a landscopes change every month you can go back to the same place 4 times a year and have a different views each time. Just now is in fact Mrs Whighams favourite time of the year and she will drag me what ever the weather out and about looking at the forest changing before our eyes, the trees lossing their leaves with every blow from the wind.

    So the camera has again seen daylight and infact sun rises and sunsets how easy are they to get at this time of year I don't even have to set the alarm clock in the morning anymore with the sun not coming our the hill till just after 7 am. This is a truely wonderful time of the year for photography so I shall be back out there again this weekend I hope to see you there.

Gavin

Site update - Paul

Just a quick post to let everyone know that there are a few changes in the wind for the site. 

We're continually adding - and occasionally removing! - features to the site, new pictures and blog posts should be appearing pretty much weekly but its quickly become obvious that we need a system to alert visitors (and each other!) to new content.  As of today there is now a news section on the homepage which will be updated with the date and a short description every time one of us adds anything, hopefully making it easier to find stuff.

In addition new photos in the galleries will be marked as NEW in their title, this will stay for approximately a fortnight after the photo is added before being removed by the lovely Fiona who has foolishly agreed to accept responsibilty for this chore.  Any complaints should be directed at her!

We're aware that the Scotland gallery is becoming a bit unwieldy and we'll be looking to revamp this section soon, probably by splitting it into sub galleries - the only question is what sort of sections should we split it into!  Any ideas gratefully accepted!

The days out in Scotland page is still being worked on and will feature on the site shortly, there has been a short delay to this due to holidays and various real life issues but it will happen, honest!

Finally Gav has been working on a wee secret project which the rest of us are so impressed with we're going to copy, so look out also for us all to have our own 'projects' page in the future.  This will be a more easygoing area than the main galleries where we can experiment with our pictures and our own photographic projects.  The content in here will change frequently and won't always be of the same standard as the rest of the site but it'll hopefully be a lot of fun!

Anyway thats all I can think of at the moment though I'm sure the others will be here to chip in with their own comments if theres anything I've missed!

Thanks for sticking with us so far!

Paul

Exposing myself - Paul

Its ok folks don't panic its not that kind of exposure!  Ever since that stag night incident in Brussels with the moose antlers and the coach full of nuns I'm officially banned from going outside in anything less than six layers of clothing.  I'm talking about finally taking control of my camera. 

Over the last few months I've been gradually taking more and more control of my own exposure settings, as the weeks have gone past the dreaded 'Auto' setting has been slowly giving way to 'A', 'S', and even, gasp, 'M'.  This really shouldn't have been such a struggle, after all my first cameras didn't even have an Auto setting - in fact they didn't have any settings at all being completely manual all the way.  Its a fact that modern DSLRs have made photography easier, the ability to just twist a dial and have a range of ready made exposure settings has taken a lot of the guesswork out of things - photographing sports?  Your camera has a setting for that; Landscapes?  That too; Sunsets? Yup, one twist of the dial and the camera's onboard software does the rest.  Gone are the days of handheld lightmeters and grey cards for the amateur photographer, nowadays you can usually just point your lens at the subject and let the camera do the rest.

Theres only one problem with that.  Did you note the use of the word 'usually' above?  I've been noticing more and more lately as I become more confident with my DSLR that I'm disagreeing with the choices that my Sony Alpha makes when it comes to exposure settings - it'd be interesting to hear what Fi and Gav think on this subject as both use different brands.  The 'Landscape' setting overcooks the greens, 'Sunset' gives everything a very unnatural orange tint and 'Auto' - whilst it rarely fails to produce something usable under even the most difficult lighting conditions, gives very flat, muted results often missing out on subtle differences in light and shadow.  This has become more and more of an annoyance as time passes until I've finally decided to do something about it - after all why should I sacrifice control of my images to what some 'suit' in corporate headquarters thinks a sunset should look like?  Maybe in Sonyland all sunsets are tangerine orange. 

So far the experiment is going well, I'm not a complete masochist so I have to admit I've rarely gone fully manual; for many subjects, particularly wildlife, going fully manual would probably be counterproductive, DSLRs don't have aperture rings on the lens like SLRs of old, so the time needed to fiddle about with various wheels and buttons in order to get set up is often just not available when chasing a fleeting subject.  On the other hand of course perhaps this could sometimes be a good thing, its a truism that one way almost all of us could improve our photography is to slow the process down, making us think more about our shots before pusing the shutter.  Hmm something to ponder there! 

Rather than full manual I've been making use of my camera's 'A' and 'S' modes (thats Aperture priority and Shutter priority respectively for those unfamiliar with the Sony).  To be honest I expected it to be a bind, the 'Auto' button has definitely spoiled me, but on the contrary I've found it totally liberating; the ability to make my own decisions has made me much more creative - yes there have been many poorly exposed shots, particularly in the early days, but I've also tried things I never would have before, playing with long exposures and varying depths of field.  I've also been combining these with liberal use of the AV controls which allow you to deliberately under or over expose shots by several stops giving the creative freedom of going fully manual without the extra hassle.  This is powerful creative tool and the decision to use it is as much 'artistic' as anything else; personally I like to very slightly underexpose many of shots, this can have the effect of saurating colours making them appear a little deeper and can often make scenes much more dramatic.  A quick look through our galleries will show you that Gav on the other hand sometimes deliberately overexposes his frames; this can lead to high levels of contrast and can be very effective, particularly in black and white.  There's no right or wrong answer here really, its all in the eyes of the beholder, what looks dramatic and saturated to one eye will look murky or washed out to another.

Its all a learning process really but so far its been a very rewarding one, I've also been playing with ISO settings and metering modes and just generally having fun whilst unleashing the camera's potential - of course 'Auto' will still have its place on specific occassions but whats the point of having a DSLR only to use it as though it were a compact? 

Mind you theres always a down side as this wee anecdote might show...

From previous blogs you may be aware that Fiona and I have just spent a wee holiday on the beautiful Isle of Mull and one of the highlights of the trip was an afternoon we spent in the company of a wild otter along a remote coastal road.

We’d dedicated a day of our holiday to wildlife and using our incredible animal spotting skills we soon managed to locate ourselves an otter.  Basically we turned a corner and it was there in the bay in front of us.  It really is that easy on Mull, it’s a wildlife spotters paradise!  We bailed out of the car and made our way to the rocks on the shore where we settled down in the sunshine and just enjoyed a chance to share our lives with this beautiful animal for a wee while.  He was perfectly happy, fishing in the bay in front of us, he was totally aware we were there – believe me our approach across the rocks hadn’t exactly been stealthy – but he didn’t seem to mind and just continued his fishing expedition, close enough for us to hear the smacking of his lips as he devoured butterfish after butterfish.  He was just too far offshore for my camera, my 300mm didn’t quite have the reach to fill the frame but I was quite happy just taking record shots. 
The sun was out and the sea was very bright so in order to pull some detail out of the dark otter I used the AV controls to overexpose by two full stops, I also changed from RAW files to Jpgs to save room on my memory card.  I rattled off a couple of dozen shots and we spent a good half hour with our aquatic chum before deciding to head back to the car.  Just as we turned to leave however our pal decided he was fed up swimming and turned for shore, making a beeline directly for us! 

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more exciting animal encounter than when he popped his head up through the seaweed and appeared on the rocks just 15-20ft away from us.  He was playing hide and seek amongst the rocks, his head and tail popping up all over the place as he checked us out and I rattled off another couple of dozen shots, this time with his head filling the frame of my lens, these were clearly going to be classics!  After 10 minutes or so of this we decided it was time to obey the first rule of wildlife photography – never disturb the animal.  We were worried we might be preventing him from coming ashore fully so we decided to back off and leave him alone. 

My heart was beating like a drum and the adrenaline was flowing as we reviewed the pictures in the car… of course you’ve probably already guessed the problem!  In all the excitement I'd forgotten to either switch back to RAW or reset the AV settings, all I had on my memory card were shots of a horribly overexposed mass of fur with a burnt out white sea behind!  Nightmare!  By this time the otter had disappeared so there was no chance of repeating the shots and I was just a wee bit gutted! 

Oh well lesson learned!  I hope!  And it doesn’t take way from a wildlife encounter I’ll hopefully never forget.


What other blog posts?  Nope, sorry there were never any other blog posts here.  You're imagining things.  These are not the droids you are looking for... Humph, it would have worked for Derren Brown.  Unfortunately due to some weird software/board issues the last couple of blogs were full of unintentional code mucking up their perfection for Internet Explorer users.  Those of us using Firefox can of course continue feeling superior cos it looked ok to us.  After literally seconds spent trying to fix the problem I decided it would be easier just to start again.  Don't worry you haven't missed anything!

Paul

We're back!!! - Fi

Just a really quick post to reassure you that we've all returned safe and sound from our holidays.

As for our photos they will be gracing these pages very shortly. I know that Paul and Gav took 500+ photos each so it might take a little while before they get them on here but I'm certain they'll be worth waiting for.

I didn't take quite as many and most of mine are pretty much ready to go so you should see some new ones appearing from me over the next day or so.

In case you're curious my new lens didn't arrive in time. Bit of a shame as we had some real close encounters with otters that it would have been ideal for. I did manage to smash one of my filters while I was away too - my camera fell out of my bag, hit the wooden floor and the filter smashed - at least it was just the filter and not the whole lens that I broke!

Anyway, I'll leave the boys to fill you in on our travels in more detail.

Fi

News, Holidays and other exciting stuff! - Fi

First off, I have to draw your attention to the fact that we now have a published photographer within our midst. He's keeping very quiet about it on here ... might just be modesty, but that seems quite unlikely!!

The next time you're browsing the shelves of your local newsagent keep your eyes peeled for a publication called Photography Monthly (it's orange this month, you can't miss it!). At the bottom of page 24 there's a familiar looking image of a playing card under water from our very own Gav! Whilst both Paul and I are pleased for him, the gloves are now off ... who will be the next to be published, and where ... only time will tell. Watch this space for further developments.

I'm going to take this opportunity to inform all you avid visitors that the hallowed halls of PFG towers are going to be a bit empty over the next couple of weeks as well all take off on our summer holidays. Gav, Claire (his wife) and Holly (their dog) are going to Durness for a fortnight - for anyone who doesn't know where this is just look at a map of Scotland and go as far North as you can on the mainland and it's up there somewhere. We're expecting some fabulous photos of beaches and coastal scenery from him (no pressure!). Paul and I are heading west to the Island of Mull (think Balamory) and we're going in search of wildlife - specifically otters. In fact we might be a man down afterwards as Paul isn't coming home unless he's seen an otter!! All things being well we'll all be back by the middle of September so set a date in your diary and pay us a visit to see our holiday snaps.

I am currently waiting (with bated breath) for the arrival of a 400mm lens. At the moment I struggle along with a 200mm while the boys both have bigger ones - oh what a surprise! - but I'm upgrading for my holidays. I'm currently on the edge of my seat though as the lens is out of stock so it's touch and go as to whether I'll get it before Saturday or not. Fingers crossed. If I do get it then expect lots and lots of photos of blurry animals as I struggle to hold it steady - yes I am a bit of a weakling. If I don't get it then there'll be lots of steady photos but everything will be quite far away! Upgrading my lens was a big decision, believe me when I tell you these things don't come cheap - not quite as expensive as the one Gav talks about in his recent blog though - thankfully!!

I have to point out that my photos won't be up for at least a week after I come back because it takes so long for me to sort them all and get them ready to put online. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not averse to a bit of photoshopping but I do have my limits and there are some things I would just never do. I do however check all my photos in photoshop, straighten horizons if they're a bit wonky and brighten up the colours if need be. While these tasks seem pretty simple, they're really time consuming. It might just be because I'm the most organised person in the world and have to catalogue everything very precisely to allow me to track it down at a later stage - would be interesting to hear what the boys thoughts on this are and what they do, and don't do in terms of cataloguing images - but it really can take hours and hours to sort my photos before I can start even thinking about what I want to put on here. When you read professionals complaining about the length of time they spend sorting photos after they've taken them they're really not exagerating, believe me ... then again I suspect they're not quite as organised as I am ... I don't think anyone could be!!!

Wish us good weather on our holidays ... and maybe a little bit of rain cos I've got waterproofs I need to christen!
Fi

The cost of Photography - Gavin

This may shock you however I am not a pro photographer. I do have a lot of kit. If I do get some time off I do go out with the camera bag. This does not make me a pro. The gulf in cost between amateur and pro cameras is now massive. To buy a pro DSLR you would be looking at around £2500 upwards and this is before you've added lenses! So what does this get you? a massive sensor (full frame, giving a sensor that is the same size as film 32mm),   a processor that can take   minimum   of 6 frames per second and around 15-20 million mega pixals.

This all sounds fantastic right but what does this mean to the average snapper? Bottom line a big hole in your pocket. I shot with a 10million mega pixal canon. I have had my pictures blow up to poster size and they still look good. If you get really close you can see the edges of things that are may be not as sharp as they should be but out of all the thousands of photographs I have taken, 7 have been printed to this size, most never make it any bigger then A3 and a 10milliion mega pixal camera can print that size with out braking sweat.

Then there is you lenses and I will say buy as good as you can afford I have payed money for lenses that are now door stops. However can you really be expected to pay thousands of pounds for one lens that you may print of a couple of shots with. I was doing a little research for this and today it is possible to spend £25000 on one lens. No dought this will focus in a time that would leave Mr Bolt lagging behind and it would probably send lens flair and ghosting to the history book's but we're talking TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND POUNDS. You would have to sell a lot of really good photos to justify that kind of money. I don't know what the going rate for a photograph of a lesser spotted thingy is but by the time you added you travel expenses we'd be talking a lot cash for the trips and equipment.

I don't dought for a second that all this pro gear would make a difference to the final image what I do dought is that it would make a difference to the average man or woman on the street. I believe greatly that technology is moving so fast that cameras (and they are not the only ones) are coming out just because they can.   A one up manship on rival companies. This leaves the punter on the street with last years model in around 6 months.

If you are looking to purchase a new camera look at the what you can afford, take a little off the top for lenses etc and buy the one you like the best. Here at PFG towers we all use different camers, all different brands and if you were to ask each of us we'd all say that we bought the best. Each has it's strong and weak points and is you read the comments in the magazines this or that   lessons the picture. Take a look at what we've posted in the galleries remember that there is three cameras work on display and then try and spot the differences. If you can do it then well done   I will need to think of a prize for you. I am sure you will agree that they are all good quality images and none of them cost over   thousands to take.

Photography can easily become a very expensive hobby   and I have been guilty of spending a couple of pounds on things I strickly didn't need (just ask Mrs Whigham), but what I loved the most is making a point off getting out there, seeing things that I wouldn't have normally if I didn't have pictures to take. The friendships that have been made stronger having been stuck in a hide looking out at nothing for hours and they didn't cost much at all.

Gavin

The urban Jungle-Gavin

   We have talked a little about getting out there and capturing the moment, but how far do you really have to travel to get a good wildlife photograph? Me and Paul try and get out most nights to walk my dog. This is a great way to destress after a heavy day at PFG towers and also a chance to put together our plans to take over the world. In fact this web site was first talked about on one of these walks. In the spring/summer months we walk through the country side the dog bounding away in front wishing the two over weight guys that follow her each night would keep up.

   For this hour or two in the country our eagle eyes are scouring the hedge rows and fields for anything note worthy of taking a photograph of and do you know in the couple of years we have been going there not once have we got a picture of any wildlife to shout about. Now it would be a lie if I said we didn't see anything, in fact only the other night we both saw a tawny owl however I am sure you do not wish to see any photographs of it. The little fella had been in a war with a large moving vehicle and there was only going to be one winner there. We both interupt each others words with a shout of buzzard or kestral however, and here comes the blame game, having the dog with us means these are spotted at a distance and a brown dot on the centre of a white background does not make for a prize winning shot!

   If we put our minds to it we could have had photographs of roe deer, badgers, foxes, buzzards, kestrals etc etc etc all these have been spotted. This would mean leaving behind the mut for a week or so stitting out in the damp with a old smelly army issue net thrown over the top of us and not speaking for 12 hours a night and that to me is not chocolate and not the purpose of the unwide.

   Come the change of clocks however and me and the grand master P head for the local industrial estate to strech our legs, now this is a different kettle of fish. The wildlife that can be spotted is amazing. We will start with the feathered type Gulls (various), crows, starlings, sparrows, finches (various), buzzards, kestrals, oystercatchers to name but a few but the best one we've seen so far was a sparrow hawk. We had spotted it a couple of times before, a flash as it sped of across he sky. Then one night I saw a flock of starlings speeding in front of a industrial unit and in the middle of them all was our friend the sparrow hawk. It launched upward catching a starling in mid-flight and hit the ground a few metres from our feet. The rapture protected it's catch from us and tried to fend us off, beak open and wings spred. A fantastic spot (not that we are approving of the hawks behavour).

   A family of foxes became a regular spot as well, not to preturbed by us and their tamed cousin. Going about their buisness of looking round the skips and carparks for unfinished snacks and a it's great nights enertainment for all. The heart beats a little faster the first time you see such a creature so close. We have also spotted a couple of roe deer walking around the estate and I am not going to be so bold as tell you that this was a regular thing more just a one off. You see when a young deer reaches a certain age then it is forced away by the mother and father and this causes them to crop up in strange places looking for a new home. It also, sadly, causes them to be found at the side of busy roads with the same fate as our owl friend. Mice, rabbits and even a works cat became regulars to our travels, however it's the rodents and young birds that bring in the spiky teeth. We often see the buzzard getting chased out of the flight path by angry gulls and crows. Short term friends untill the intruder is safely out of harms way. The little kestrals can be seen on top of the street lights. Rather like budgies with attitude problems they charge at the ground looking for a prey. Again allowing us to watch their moment of glory.  

  The urban wildlife is used to a human presence and looks to us for an easy feed from our scraps. The site of a passing lorry or cars speeding out a car park at knocking of time is not enough to send them charging off in the other direction it is just their dinner bell ringing and and a signal for them to move in. I have been able to get closer to wildlife in the urban jungle than I every could sitting in a hedge. I just don't have the time off from planning total world domination. So if you are a keen to take photos or to watch birds or other wildlife but can't climb trees and don't like tea from a flask, then buy a couple a cheap feeders, get yourself to a window at dusk or early morning it is really a jungle out there. Gavin.

Memories - Paul

Following on from Gav's blog below a similiar thought struck me this week.  Fiona and I took a wee trip up to Aviemore on Monday, not a photography trip really, just a visit to some of our favourite places in the area - this being us however there was no way the cameras would just be left behind!

On the way up we stopped of at Dunkeld, somewhere I can't remember having ever been before.  It was well worth the stop, a lovely wee village with a fantastic old ruined cathedral in a beautiful setting amongst some trees on the banks of the river.  It was a perfect, sunny morning and certainly there were many potential photos to be found but unfortunately we didn't really have time to explore before moving on.

Next stop was the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig, one of our favourite visitor attractions, we were there specifically to see the new Amur Tiger cubs and we got a great view of the little cuties chasing each other and mum round their huge enclosure.  Again however the pictures we took probably aren't going to be troubling the pages of this website, too many people and obstacles in the way coupled with our unfamiliarity with the new enclosure meant we were usually thwarted in our attempts to get the perfect shot. 

After the park we headed out to Loch Garten and parked in a lovely spot overlooking the loch, it was somewhere we'd been before and got some beautiful images but today the light and wind just weren't right - plus some tourists had the nerve to visit the same place and casually walk around!  How dare they!  I got out of the car and took a few snapshots and then we both sat down to review all the pics we'd taken that day.  Safe to say there were very few classics amongst them!  There were however several that raised a smile and highlighted just how good a day out we'd had.   This is what got me thinking, often when reviewing the pictures after a day out like that I would find myself feeling disappointed because I hadn't managed any great shots - but today I felt different.  I realised that we'd done a pretty good job of catching the spirit of the day, in years to come I think we'll look back at them and they'll provoke some very happy memories.

Its very easy to get caught up in chasing the 'perfect' picture, something you'd be proud to hang on your wall or show off to your friends, but this trip has made me remember that photography doesn't have to be all about perfection.  Photography as a hobby is supposed to be fun and a photograph is one of the very best methods we have of storing and provoking thoughts and memories.  Sometimes I think we have to forget the technical aspects of the hobby and just look on it as a way of recording good times, stop discarding shots because the light isn't right or the composition isn't perfect and just enjoy the photograph for what it is, a moment in time, caught forever in pixels.

Its a lesson I don't intend to forget, we've got a holiday planned for later on in the year and I'm going to make sure to capture the fun aspects of the trip as well as the more serious stuff - I think my future self looking back through my photo collection will thank me for the memories.

Paul.

Learning to take photographs-Gavin

        While I was strutting my stuff as a teenager thinking I new it all. I was taking photographs of all sorts, thinking that everyone would love what I was doing. JUST HOW WRONG CAN ONE YOUNG MAN BE!!!! As they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It was years after that I learned that. This is one of the best lessons that I've learn in showing photographs. I can remember the day I learned it. It was while taking photographs for my family of the local gala day and some of the family were in the show. I caught site of a group of youngsters brightly coloured dressed and all enjoying the day. A great picture I think you agree.

    The problem was I wasn't paying for the processing of the film and when my family seen photographs of people they didn't know questions were asked. I put on a strop and that was the end of showing my photographs for a while. It was only in the last few years that I've got back my nerve and took the chip off my shoulder and took the the knocks that people give out.

  When showing my work I now think does this person really want to see what I'm showing? Many a time I've had "oh it just a photy a burd have ye no got any more of aunty wearing that funny hat again" (and this type of photo is priceless do get me wrong)I am a photography nut however there are some subjects that I just don't get, however there is still a place for.

    When taking a photograph I am trying to capture a moment, share the experiences that I have had, hopefully telling a story with an image, if I am really good. I will keep trying to do this, sometimes I will get it very wrong but I will never again stop trying because someone doesn't get it. I will learn the lesson and move on.

    Not everyone will like what you do but if enough people do then your doing something right, but most of all if your enjoying it then get out with your camera and capture the moment.

Gavin

Ch-ch-ch-changes! - Paul

Hi folks, you'll notice a few wee changes to the previous blogs, in response to some feedback - thanks Mr H! - we've ditched the old colour scheme as it was causing some difficulties for readers with vision problems - what do you mean "they were the lucky ones???".  Now hopefully everyone can enjoy our ramblings without the glorious technicolour of old.  For those of you now reading this in comfort for the first time I can only offer my sincerest apologies, it doesn't get any better than this unfortunately.  Sorry.

There'll be a few more changes over the coming weeks; we're planning on introducing a dedicated 'days out in Scotland' page offering reviews of and suggestions for various locations worth a visit with your camera.  Work is underway on this as we speak with a dedicated team of highly trained professionals beavering away producing the articles - well the three of us jotting stuff down whenever we've got a spare minute anyway!  Check back soon and see if we can inspire you to get out there with your camera.

In the meantime the galleries are being updated frequently so its always worth having a look to see if theres anything new.  We'll be looking for a new photo of the month soon and we're hoping to introduce some visitor participation into the process - watch this space.

Anyway thanks to everyone who's stuck by us this far, just remember things can only get better!

Paul.


The PFG Photography Weekend Trip - Fiona

Well, we've returned from our adventurous weekend. We did get back yesterday but none of us were up to a lengthy blog entry!

We had an excellent weekend with the boys successfully scaling the giddy heights of Ben Nevis. I stayed put at "base camp" along with Gavs wife, Claire and their dog, Holly. We had a lovely day, with lots of relaxing in the sunshine ...  and an encounter with a GIANT buzzing bee type creature trying to take refuge in one of our tents. It was massive, I promise, even though no-one else believes us.

I had every intention of having a productive day with my camera, however there was a lot of very serious sitting and relaxing needing done so I'm rather ashamed to admit that the camera only got a very brief outing. It was just so lovely sitting relaxing in the sun that I couldn't muster up the energy to do anything at all!

I did however manage to capture the boys both before and after their epic climb. Please take a moment to admire the amazing headware they are both sporting! Also, think yourselves lucky this isn't "smelly vision" as they were a little fragrant on their return, even Holly wasn't impressed!

Before (Gav is on the left and Paul on the right)
































After
















































Seriously though, you did really well and I'm very proud of you both, if a little embarrassed when you were both proudly modelling your matching Ben Nevis t-shirts in the campsite on Saturday night!

Watch this space for the next PFG Photography trip ... maybe we'll have more photos to show off after the next one and you never know we might even be in your local area.

Fi

Travelling light - Paul

We’re off on a trip this weekend, giving up the luxury of our five star accommodations here at pfg towers to rough it on a campsite somewhere in the deepest darkest Highlands.  I’m expecting spiders as big as my hand, locals staring at the amazing newfangled horseless motor carriages and shower facilities that only a designated medical team in full hazmat gear would dare to enter.  (I’m kidding of course there’s no better destination in the world for a holiday than the Scottish Highlands and surely the locals will be blasé about cars by now! Its been a couple of years after all!)


The purpose of the trip is to take a wee jaunt up Ben Nevis - now of course I’m fully aware that in the grand scheme of mountain ascents Ben Nevis doesn’t rate that highly, I’m pretty sure that grannies and children in pushchairs toddle up it every day but it’s the highest mountain I’m ever likely to attempt!  Just getting my own sorry carcass to the top is going be a major effort so the idea is to travel light… which leads to a problem!  Have you felt the weight of a DSLR lately??  Not to mention lenses, spare battery, filters and tripod.  I’ve got a feeling that anyone who was prepared to follow me half way up would gain a free starter photography kit as I dumped it all by the wayside! 


With the best will in the world, even if I did take all my kit with me I would never be able to do justice to the scenery.  Photographers like Colin Prior have spent their entire career in the mountains and have produced stunning images – I’m not going to compete with that on my first stravaig up a hill!  Landscape photography is about much, much more than just turning up at a location; its about being at the right place at the right time, doing your homework on the best locations, times of year, sun direction, lighting conditions, weather conditions… and being prepared, even if you’ve done all that, to climb the mountain, look up at the sky and at the landscape and say, ‘nope, not today’ and then come back tomorrow.  This isn’t a luxury many of us can afford – and the chances of me climbing Ben Nevis twice just because the clouds spoiled the sunrise are somewhere between slim and none! 


This may sound a wee bit controversial for a photography website but every now and then I think it’s a good idea to put the camera down and just enjoy the moment.  How many holidays and trips have I spent with my eyes glued to a viewfinder, constantly cursing tourists in red jackets (why do they all wear red jackets!?) who are wandering in and out of shot and basically driving everyone around me demented as I chase photographs?  Photography is a great hobby but sometimes I wonder if we’re not all in danger of taking it a bit too seriously and letting the photographs become more important than the trip.  I don’t want to spend the entire hike up the mountainside mentally calculating ideal tripod locations and light levels; I don’t want to look at a beautiful view and be able to think only of how it would look in print (invariably not as good as it does to your eyes!); I especially don’t want to get to the top and then be disappointed because conditions aren’t right for a stunning image or get to the bottom and instead of being pleased with my efforts feeling let down because the pictures aren’t good enough. 


So the difficult decision has been made to leave the camera and equipment in the capable hands of the support team at base camp.  I’ll take up a compact for snapshots at the top but that’s it.  Honest.  Well maybe just the one lens.  And a tripod obviously.  And of course I’ll need a couple of filters… 

Paul

How many is too many? - Gavin

          How many is too many? If I told you I had 6 Mars bars for lunch today you would say big Gav you should have stopped a   five six is too many. However if I had 5 numbers on the lottery I would have been one short and not so much of a fat so in so. Well I was reading a photography magazine at the weekend and it had a blurb about a pro wildlife photographer with the boast of over 250 000 stock photographs in his collection. This is too many I thought to myself. How are you ever going to find anything and how many of the same thing can you have before going mad looking at a flip book of chafinches!  

            I was once asked by a friend what it was that running across the the country with a camera that I found so attractive? He just didn't get it. Now   I should tell you that my friend is a bit of a sports fan skiing golf climbing etc etc. My view on photography is this, I am trying to get the perfect image of any object in question. This requires a few things to be perfect, first you pray to the god of light, second you check your equipment (not that equipment get your dirty mind out of there) third you you go   out to find   the moment. Somtimes you get lucky the all three come to you with out trying (only on a blue moon). Mostly though   I become Dr Dolittle the minute I leave my camera behind and and a pox carrying scare crow when I have it with me.

          I will go out any chance I get   with my camera and so far on an average day will take over   300 pictures. On returning home I will edit these down to 50 or so good ones and pick out a couple of really good ones (if any) and file these separatly. Now I should point out the 50 or so good ones are still filed, just in case. I should also point out that my couple of really good ones does not stop me taking photos of the object and this takes me back to my friend. When he gets in a really good round of golf does he stop playing? If he skis down a mountain in record time does he never ski again? If he climbs a mountain does he never climb another? So it is the same for me I told him.

              I had convinced myself. I have a collection of only 4500, I need to get out again I'm   a whopping 245 500 short!

Gav.

Wildlife Hide Etiquette - A Response - Fiona

I was very entertained reading Paul's blog entry about the dos and donts of wildlife hides. I feel he did miss a couple of minor points though.

My main piece of advice is not to constantly look through your camera. As it's field of view is smaller than your own then you will inevitably miss things, as happened the last time Paul and I were in a hide together. I was quite happily getting some shots of a lovely little robin, perched very prettily on a fence. Paul, on the other hand, was very studiously taking photos of a chaffinch which hadn't moved for the past half hour. After the robin had flown away I enquired if he'd got any good shots of it because, I have to confess, mine weren't great. The response I was greeted with was a slightly puzzled expression and a query "where was the robin?"

There are pitfalls to looking round about though. I had my camera on a beanbag in front of me and I was trying to keep looking round about to make sure I didn't miss anything. What I completely failed to notice though is that the viewfinder of the camera was about level with my mouth and I was breathing on it. Imagine the scene ... lovely little bank vole appears, I think "aha, perfect", I look through the viewfinder on the camera and it looks kind of misty, I can't see anything and I don't know if it's even pointed at the bank vole! The lesson to be learnt here is that's it great to look round about you, should mean you don't miss anything, but equally don't breathe on your viewfinder!

My final gem of wisdom is to have some notion of what you're looking at. In the same hide we spotted a "mouse". I think we both knew it wasn't a mouse, but for ease of identification at that point in time it was referred as "the mouse". We both took lots of pictures of "the mouse" as it was running about a lot and kept sticking it's head up in different places. It was only when we left the hide, over an hour later, that someone mentioned the wood mouse and the bank vole ... yes, you've guessed, we didn't have a clue we were looking at two different animals!
In case you're unsure youself of the difference between then we have photos of them both on our wildlife page, but really the main difference is EVERYTHING. They don't look even slightly the same apart from both being a bit rodenty and the wood mouse has got massive ears!

If you're ever "lucky" enough to find yourself in a hide with us just remember to take anything we say that we've seen with a very large pinch of salt!


Fi.

Wildlife hide etiquette - Paul

Dedication, dedication
Dedication, that's what you need
If you wanna be the best
If you wanna beat the rest
Oh-oh dedication's what you need;
If you wanna be a record break-er, Oooooh.

Now I’m not exactly sure if Roy Castle had the Balerno bird hide in his mind when he was composing that little ditty but I like to think its an association that would have appealed to him.  I’ve been spending a bit of time in hides lately and I reckon I’ve come up with a few basic ground rules.

Secure the best seat.  If you haven’t arrived before the crack of dawn then you’ll often find that some twitcher has managed to get there first.  Twitchers are of course a photographers natural enemy, taking up valuable tripod space with their spotting scopes, tutting at the whir of your autofocus motor, scribbling away in their little books and forever leaping up with excitement at the sight of some duck or other.  I find the best remedy is to prepare a flask of weak lemon drink and place it just outside the door, the heady aroma of this will soon lure them away – especially if you happen to mention that you think you just saw Bill Oddie in the car park.  Positioning is everything, get there early to make sure you get the best view you can.

Choose an appropriate lens.  No matter how close the wildlife is your lens will never be long enough.  If it were possible to attach the Hubble space telescope to the front of my SLR I would.  And I bet I still wouldn’t be able to zoom in closely enough on that buzzard floating serenely across the loch.  Why won’t it come over here?  Just how well hidden is this hide anyway?  Try to accept your limitations and work within them.  You may not be able to photograph that rare lesser-spotted treeweasel five hundred yards away but if you keep your eyes open and your wits about you you’ll be surprised at just what you can achieve with even a modest 200 or 300mm lens.  Look for the animals you CAN photograph – the humble Blue Tit or Starling flitting about the trees right next to the hide, a wee Wood Mouse feeding off the scraps of a discarded lunch, even the vivid red splash of a Woodpecker getting itself an easy meal from nearby birdfeeders. 

Dart about like mad getting as many photographs as you can.  This is the real killer for me in a wildlife hide – oh sure you start out with good intentions; set up your tripod, attach the camera and wait… but sure as eggs is eggs something exciting will happen just over to your left and you’ll be swinging the tripod round to catch it.  Then of course off to your right a heron will appear, majestic wings spread as it lumbers its way into the sky.  Just as you’ve got that lined up a deer will stick its head up right next to the hide and before you know it the cameras off the tripod and you’re in hot pursuit.  This is a good, fun way to spend an afternoon, the hours will fly by and no doubt you’ll end the day with a few decent images out of the hundreds you’ve taken – but you’ll be very lucky indeed if there’s a truly excellent shot amongst them. 

The real key is to pick your battles; chasing wildlife photographs is a fruitless endeavour, its better to get yourself into the best possible position and then wait for the photograph to come to you.  If you’ve never been to the hide before then set your camera down for the first few minutes and just observe – what wildlife is within your range?  How is it behaving?  Are there any patterns – does that woodpecker always perch just there on that branch before heading for the feeder…?  If you’re going somewhere familiar then plan out the shot you want to get before you even arrive, set your tripod up with your lens pointing at the appropriate location, prefocus it, dial in your exposure settings, attach a cable release… and wait. 

This is where Roy’s advice comes in, dedication is what you need; train yourself to ignore the comings and goings out of the corner of your eye, by the time you’ve got your tripod moved and your focus and exposure set up whatever it was will likely be gone anyway and in the meantime you’ll have missed the opportunity of a truly exceptional image that was right under your nose.  Wait.  The moment will come and you'll be ready for it.

Good luck – and please forgive me if I nudge your bench whilst I’m charging round the hide in pursuit of that treeweasel!

Paul

Photography in a city - Fiona

On my way home tonight I spotted a fabulous photo opportunity and it got me thinking ...

I spend a lot of time complaining, both to other people and in my head to myself, about the fact that I live in a city (Glasgow) and that there is never anything to take photos of. I'm very jealous of Gav and Paul who live close to the countryside and go out walking most nights watching buzzards and other wildlife.

While there are many fantastic things about Glasgow, not least that I only live about a 15/20 minute bus journey from the city centre, it's charms have dulled a little over the past few years as I'm getting older.

Tonight I spotted some amazingly intricate old lightning conductors on the roofs of the tenement flats. Some had bits broken off and others were pristine, in general they looked really interesting. However, they were on the roof, and not the easiest place to get to. It must be mentioned that I did find myself contemplating how I could get onto the roof, however I suspect that had more to do with the fact that I'd just been in the pub for a couple of hours than with any rational thought process!!

Don't get me wrong I do see photo opportunities in the city but they're never exactly how I want them to be. For example, the gorgeous sunrises that I'm up early enough to see in the winter. Unfortunately they always seem a little bit marred by the blocks of flats and other buildings that are on the horizon.

Having contemplated the whole thing a little further I think I should just stop complaining and start trying to create opportunitis for myself or just take a slightly different approach to things. In fact I have a plan - I like plans, not so good at executing them but I do enjoy making them! I am going to take a photo tomorrow night for our seasonal section. I'm not going to say anything more about it in case one of the boys steals my idea but keep your eyes peeled and, assuming all goes according to plan, there will be an addition to our seasonal page shortly.

Fi.

Dunkeld Ospreys - Gavin

Never Blogged before but here goes. I can recommend The Osprey centre at Dunkeld for a great day out. For only £3.50 a head you can get access to the hides to watch these magnificent birds of prey. The centre is very well run the the guy who we spoke to was well informed and spent the day talking about the birds and local wildlife never seeming to get board. The centre had hours of taped footage of the wildlife, including pine martans, recorded in HD and this could be watched on the big LCD tv's or on a couple of PC's that they had. The hides were fairly well kitted out with good scopes that could easly be turned to face in any direction. Of course the osprey's are the main attraction however the surprise for me was the woodpeckers, red squirrels and even a roe deer wading in the loch that were spotted on my visit. The hides are a little far away to get good photographs of the osprey's nest however I did see the male in flight at regular intervals returning to the nest with food for the chicks and this did get the heart racing and the camera working. The main centre has a full wall sized window which allows you to watch the squirrels and various birds come in close as there is plenty of feeders around. I would strongly recommend this place for a visit and it is only around a hour from Edinburgh so if you like this kind of thing and looking for some where different then go to Dunkeld and follow the signs to the Osprey centre. 


Gav.

Introductions and colour scheme!

Welcome to the pfg-photography blog.  Here at pfg-photography we've got a lot to say - and frankly we're fed up talking to ourselves!  Here you, the great unwashed discerning internet audience, can hear our opinions on the big photographic topics of the day.

We're simple people here and we've got a simple system to match, when you see text like this, it means that you're lucky enough to be listening to the pearls of wisdom dropping from the keyboard of Paul, the main talent, creative genius and all round good egg behind pfg-photography. 

This on the other hand is Fiona - here to add some feminine charm to the trio. I tend to ramble on at great length ... you have been warned!

Last but not least we've got Gav - The tall one and the one most likely to try to convince you the whole world is wrong and I'm right.

Click here for RSS feed