Last Wednesday (24 October 2018) LBPC members were able to enjoy another terrific illustrated presentation by Andy Sands APAGB, the renowned wildlife photographer (and member of XRR Photographic Society).

Following up his previous talk last year (“Secret Britain – A Journey Through Nature”), Andy effectively gave us two for the price of one.

The first part of his talk was “Birds – Then, now and how” and the second part was “Insects – Macro Photography Tips and Techniques”.  And both parts were packed full of excellent images and information.

In “Birds – Then, now and how”, Andy showed how photography had changed and developed when it entered the digital age.  He has been shooting wildlife images for many years and therefore began with film/slides before quickly realising, when digital came along, that it would swiftly take over from the old analogue ways.  Even with early digital cameras (and their relatively small sensors) it was apparent that better levels of detail could be achieved, and a greater dynamic range could be covered.  So Andy transitioned into digital quite early.  And the picture agencies went digital too because handling digital files was so much easier than scanning etc.

Andy had evidently raided his archive for this part of the talk.  By showing similar shots of birds taken with film cameras and then with progressively more modern digital cameras, he demonstrated the improvements in image quality as the technology had improved, and particularly as sensors had got larger.  He showed us images he had made using various Nikon DSLRs such as the D100 (6 mps), D2X (12 mps), D200 (10 mps), and D810 (36 mps).  It was easy to see the huge increase in detail and how higher ISO values reduced noise.  Pictures of black and white birds in particular showed how details in shadows and highlights were better captured.

Andy now has a Nikon D850 (46 mps), usually adding a 500mm f4 VR lens.  But he increasingly also uses an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II (20 mps) with a 300mm f4 lens.  (This has a “four/thirds” sensor and, if he adds a 1.4 converter, it has a reach equivalent to over 800mm on a full frame camera.)  He also of course uses a tripod, cable remote, good binoculars and various hides.

By way of illustrating his points, Andy showed us numerous splendid pictures of the capercaillie, kingfisher, short-eared owl, barn owl, little owl, peregrine falcon at the nest (explaining how to get the necessary license to photograph raptors at the nest), red kite (in Wales before they were so prevalent around the Chilterns), goshawk, kestrel, merlin with five chicks (sadly then all killed by a stoat), golden plover, woodcock, lapwing, ring ouzel, black grouse (at the “lek”), pied flycatcher, redstart, grey wagtail, mistle thrush, green woodpecker, greater spotted woodpecker, black cap, and fieldfare.  And all of these were accompanied by an informative and entertaining running commentary on when and how the shots had been taken.

In “Insects – Macro Photography Tips and Techniques”, Andy told us about various set-ups for taking images of insects, some as small as 2mm long.  In one set-up he put together a Nikon D810 with a 105mm macro lens at f22, plus a teleconverter and three extension tubes.  This contrived a depth of field of about 2mm (about 50% before and after the point of focus)!  And it also required a tripod, cable remote, focus rail, and flash light (at ¼ power with a small softbox attached).  Macro of this sort requires great precision and shooting is nearly always in manual mode.

Andy also uses his Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with a 60mm macro lens.  The Olympus is a mirrorless camera with some really useful features.  These include silent shooting, extremely fast burst rates, focus bracketing (ie, a series of shots with different focus points), and in-camera focus stacking.

The focus bracketing and stacking functions enable Andy to get the right depth of field for his subjects even at wide apertures like f2.8 or f4.  He showed us a variety of shots, of the same subjects, for which he had used different techniques.  These demonstrated how different images could be obtained depending on whether he used a very narrow aperture, a wide aperture with in-camera focus stacking, or a wide aperture with out-of-camera focus stacking (using Zerene Stacker software).  The wide aperture approaches, coupled, with either form of focus stacking, allowed incredible detail to be captured while softening the backgrounds.

Again Andy showed us manifold marvellous images of the sand hopper, spittle bug, ground beetle, sexton beetle, various bees (attracted to the “bee hotels” in his garden), various flies and wasps and spiders, numerous butterflies (wood white, marbled white on a bee orchid, meadow brown, ringlet, small skipper), black darter dragonfly, common blue damselfly, banded damselfly, grasshopper, burnet moth, and glow-worm (one of his favourites).

As in Andy’s previous talk to LBPC, so much information and so many magnificent images!  This was another extensively illustrated educational presentation to delight and enlighten the assembled members.  There was so much to enjoy.  And once more it revealed Andy’s evident passion for the natural world – not to mention his knowledge, skill, and patience.

(Click Images To View Full Size)
(Images copyright Andy Sands)