Better Call SAAL

This weeks blog is going to be a little different.

I will admit I have no new photographs to share, the headaches I suffered the previous week, which had started to subside, returned with a vengeance after last weekend and just knocked me for six. I have not had the camera out or been anywhere all week, which is the first time in ages. I am missing it dearly.

So, instead of having a break week I am going to talk about a photo album I recently tested. This isn’t an ad, I hope this comes across as me being authentic and just giving credit where credit is due.

Background: Since I started my Instagram page I had seen SAAL Digitals sponsored posts asking for people to apply to test their photo books. The premise being you apply to be a tester and you receive a £100 voucher to create a professional line photo book.

I avoided it, it looked to good to be true. I can be quite cynical about these things (which isn’t a bad thing, as for every genuine offer there’s probably 100’s of scam ones). So when I saw a few other Instagram pages I follow (people who I respect for their craft and opinion) review the books and say that it was legitimate, I thought I would give it a go.

So I applied and was accepted.

I have thousands of photos that I have never printed. To be honest, the world of printing is another art form in itself. If I were to ever sell my pictures I would not know where to look for quality prints. I had nothing to lose by testing SAALs product.

I decided upon creating a macro focused portfolio book. Throughout all the recent lock down and surreal times it has been my macro photography that has been my saving grace. It is the photography I am most fond of, also something that I don’t usually say about myself, it is the genre I feel I have most improved in.

Down to the technical, to create a SAAL photobook you need to install their software which is easily found on their website : https://www.saal-digital.co.uk/

It was pretty easy to create the pages, the hardest part for me was picking what pictures I wanted to use.

A feature I really appreciated when creating the book was when you added an image to the book creator it would state what the image quality would be like for printing. This meant I could ensure all the images would be the absolute best quality and that the sizing of the images was correct.

You can get quite creative with layouts, backgrounds, adding text or patterns. I kept things quite simple.

All done and ordered (for full clarity my photo book was a 30″ x 21″ Professional Line XT, with matte photo paper, 20 pages which was cost at £94.99 for which I used my voucher, I paid for delivery) I just had to wait to for my creation to be made, dispatched and delivered. It was not a long wait, I received it within a week.

I love it!

It makes my photographs look professional (which I guess it should for a professional line photo book). I have included a flick through video to show how nice this album looks. The print quality is amazing, the pages are thick which I like personally as it feels more durable.

I will say if your looking for a standard photo book for family pictures then you probably wouldn’t go for the professional line book I got, SAAl do sell standard photo books, prints and other products but I can only comment on what I tested, if your looking for a company to create wedding/special occasion albums, or portfolio books for your work then I cannot recommended them highly enough.

So thank you to SAAL Digital for the voucher and a chance to test the product (I will add I would absolutely love to test any other of their products, my shameless plea).

I now own a fantastic portfolio of my macro work, I have to say I am proud of myself when I look through it. It’s a reminder of the effort and excitement I got when I captured those images. It is something to look at when I am lacking confidence, to show how far I’ve come in my skills and what I have achieved so far.

So in the theme of giving credit where credit is due, what products would you recommend to me?

Next week I am hoping for things to return to the status quo with my health and photography. I hope you don’t mind the slightly different blog post this week. I hope you are all well, until next time, take care.

Look at my photo book

Tatton Park and Leighton Moss

Last week was a complete and utter write off for me. I felt poorly for more of less all of it. A constant migraine and the accompanying side effects had me out of action all week more or less. I honestly thought that this week I would not have any content to blog with.

Fortunately for me, the weekend brought with it a lovely night away with my partner. A much needed break to hopefully reset.

Like many others this year, any travel plans we had booked previously for this year, had been cancelled, including what was meant to be our very first family holiday. I try not to get too disheartened by its cancellation, as with what is happening all over the world with covid it was the right course of action for the time.

This night away was much needed. A change is as good as a rest, as the saying goes.

The first day out we planned was Tatton Park. I had picked this particular place due to the residing deer within the park land. Autumn always means rutting. I had missed out on the rut last year and was determined that I would not miss it again.

Tatton park has many things to see, we started the day in the gardens and around the arboretum. In particular the Japanese gardens were stunning. A gorgeous early autumn scene greeted us as we ambled around and I could not resist getting a snap.

Then onward to my goal, off around the parkland to find the red deer.

You could hear the bellowing males before you saw them. I have to admit it is not something I had heard before, a deep, almost roar like sound from these magnificent animals.

We came across one specific male that was surrounded by no less than 25 does! At first when we came upon this group the male seemed to be on alert, making sure his harem stayed where he wanted them and keeping an eye on who or what was around.

After a while, he became quite calm and relaxed, considering there were plenty of people walking around the grounds and you could hear other males bellowing not too far off in the distance. Once he had settled, he seemed to take it all in his stride, even lying down with the rest of the herd at one point.

I didn’t get to see any fights for mating rights or territory, but I was so happy to be near them and get pictures, demonstrating just how beautiful they are.

The following day we picked Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. I have to admit I wasn’t sure what I would see there, picking it on a whim as it was close to where we had stayed.

I was pleasantly surprised by the variety on the water and around the grounds.

Leighton Moss is a great place to see bearded tits. Rare and very beautiful birds, there are only approx. 630 pairs currently in the UK. They are usually seen within reed beds feeding on insects and reed seeds. Leighton Moss has the biggest reed bed in the north east of England, you can see why the bearded tits would love it there.

Unfortunately it was not our day to witness them, they have gone onto my bird bucket list. A great excuse to return in the future (like many other places I have visited)

For the lack of bearded tits the day was made up with chaffinches, coal tits, blue tits, robins, dunnocks, nuthatches and my very first sighting of a marsh tit.

I may not be completely over my migraines but the weekend did offer some respite and great experiences to be positive about.

I hope your week has been a great one, until next time, take care.

A Helping Hand

Over the past week I will admit, I have hardly been out with the camera. A slight change to my weekly routine and experiencing a few days of feeling poorly (not mental health for a change) just threw me off my game.

So this weeks blog will be short and hopefully sweet.

The first picture is that of the smallest spider I have ever snapped. They must of been only 3-4mm long. At first I thought they were a money spider……until I saw a lot of other spiders the same size, coming from the same space. I think they were baby spiders, even smaller than the garden spider babies from earlier in the year.

I have not been able to positively identify them yet, any help would be appreciated.

Crane flies seem to be in abundance at the moment in the garden. They have taken over the lawn and I have even found the odd one around the house. They are quite skittish when you approach them, flying off almost immediately (not very well, they are not the most natural looking flyers)

The one I did manage to snap was resting on a watering can left out in the garden. I struggled for a while to get a decent shot, the way their face protrudes makes it hard to get all their features in focus (if not stacking the shots). The snap provided below is the best I managed to get.

The final two images have a bit of a story to go with them. As I’ve mentioned in numerous other blogs I am currently having the garden renovated. So at present there are lots of tools and kit that have been left outside, including a Hi Vis jacket.

Looking around the garden at the work that has been completed, I noticed on the jacket there was a common drone hover fly. I have to say I did think they were dead, they were very still and in such a strange place. I went to move it and there was the slightest movement from their leg.

I have seen over the summer on other people web pages, demonstrating bee rescues. Where bees had become fatigued from their work and needed an energy boost or they would perish. The advice is to offer them sugar water (as simple as it sounds, its just water and sugar, not honey).

I thought it was worth a try, so off I went to get some sugar water to offer the hover fly. It did take a little while to get the hover fly to take the water solution (I kept reassuring them it wasn’t poison). Eventually they got the idea, and started to drink.

It only took about a minute for the hover fly to start moving around. From not moving at all to then suddenly flying away, it definitely just needed an energy boost.

I felt really happy to have helped, especially as it was such a simple act of offering sugar water. There are times where nature just needs a small helping hand.

I hope the past week has been a good one for you, until next time, take care.

Last Hurrah!

The past weekend brought with it a distinct drop in temperature. It’s the first time, in a long time, where I have felt cold while out shooting. Even with the sun shining the chill in the air was palpable.

My main focus for this shoot was a huge ivy bush which was absolutely teeming with life. Wasps, bees and a huge hornet were all bustling around the still in flower ivy.

It felt a little bit like a last hurrah for my macro. With the cooler temperatures setting in the macro season will be slowly drawing to a close.

Not many insects are active over winter, some lay dormant as adults throughout the winter to emerge again in the spring. An interesting word I learnt when reading into overwintering insects was diapause (insect hibernation).

This particular ivy bush provided an incredible bounty of pollen, still in flower, it offered a vital source for the insects that visited it.

There were plenty of wasps around, fighting over available flowers, between themselves and anything that dared to visit. One unfortunate honey bee was mobbed by a feisty wasp that appeared to sting the bee! It took me a while to realise what had I had seen. Some amazing behavior to witness, unfortunately I did not get a shot.

Honey bees were quite prevalent, as was a single, huge hornet. Its amazing how much bigger hornets are on relation to wasps and bees, seeing them side by side. They were flying too high for me to get a decent capture but were fascinating to observe, they appeared sluggish compared to the frantic to-ing and fro-ing of the wasps.

It was great to focus on my macro again, unfortunately my mental health still isn’t the best but its on the up. Positives for me to think upon were; I was motivated to be out with the camera, I enjoyed being out with the camera and I am pleased with what I captured.

Some of the snaps I managed to get over the past weekend are some of my best, in my opinion. Thinking of what I would like to achieve next with my macro photography, I would really like to learn how to stack images, this can take images to the next level in terms of image quality and how much detail can be seen in the image.

I think its important for me to keep learning on how to improve, I am not one to be complacent with my shots. If there are any tips for stacking, diffusing light, or general photography advice, I would love to hear them!

I hope your week has been a great one, until next time, take care.

My Divine Comedy

Throughout these past few weeks I have made no secret on how I have been emotionally stuck in a state of limbo. A purgatory of neither feeling up of down as I drifted through my days. I had wrongfully thought/hoped it would lead to a good phase in my mental health.

Instead of an ascent, I crashed. I had really hoped the blog would be in a more positive vain this time around, I hate feeling like all I do is moan on here. To not include it though would be fraudulent. I hope you can bear with me til more buoyant times.

In regards to the title, for those who are unaware of Dantes great work here is a brief background.

Dante Alighieri wrote The Divine Comedy, his long narrative poem, between the years of 1308- 1320 where he describes his travels from hell (inferno) to purgatory (purgatorio) then finally to heaven (paradiso).

For me there was no reaching paradiso this time, I returned to hell. I wish I knew what the trigger was, all I can express is how I feel.

Imposter syndrome has returned with feelings of inadequacy, thoughts filled with self doubt, that people see quality in me that is just not there. Self love is a church I do not attend.

Its scary just how easily it becomes for me to picture myself out of the frame, so to speak. A default I fear, one I hate to linger in.

The struggles for the day to day routines return, even with writing, words escape me and i’m chasing sentences it seems. I have to force myself to get though it all, its too easy to just give up. I hope others find comfort in me sharing these hard times. It can be very alienating feeling this way.

I’ll admit I find it hard to reach out on a personal level, but to carry the weight of anxiety/depression alone is worse. Sometimes the hardest actions are the most rewarding.

I hope if you’re struggling you manage to reach out to someone be it family, friends or an external source e.g. Samaritans.

Photography, like last week has taken a back seat. I’ve still managed a few macro shots in the garden. With the cooler weather looking set to start this week I am wandering where this will leave me and my photography. Macro season draws to a close and I am unsure of what I would like to try over the colder months.

A quick update on the big garden makeover, the garden boundary is now finished and the fun of planning planting schemes begins.

I hope the past week has found you in brighter spirits than myself. Until next time, take care.

Stuck In The Doldrums

I had really hoped that with another week gone I would be sat here typing about how good things had been over the past week. That even with it being another quiet week, I could say my mood was bright and I felt well. Unfortunately I just cannot seem to shift this cloud from above my head.

Its really hard trying to explain how I am currently feeling, its not a low as such, I am carrying on with day to day life, but it is definitely void of feeling good. Just stuck in the doldrums.

The weekend I was out painting the garden fences a lovely charcoal grey (the colour of the moment I feel). Although I must say I splashed a lot of the paint on myself, I looked like a knock off Jackson Pollock painting!

With the weather staying fair, we have decided to renovate the back garden. I had previously mentioned in earlier blog posts how I had dug over new flower beds to encourage wildlife into the garden, these proved very successful. The wildflowers providing a much needed habitat for small world nature, that had been previously been lacking from the garden.

With all the boundary looking smart, our next aim is to hopefully create a wildlife garden. I would like to introduce more wildflowers and more colour to this once drab piece of land. Before I set that plan into action there are a couple of books I would like to research to get the best achievable plan possible for the garden. (Rewild your garden by Frances Tophill and Wild your garden by Jim and Joel Ashton, for those interested on what books I mean)

Photography has once again taken a back seat for me this past week. Just snapping bits here and there.

I was out in Worcester woods with a friend during the week and noticed that fungi are starting to make their presence known. I only had my phone camera but am pleased with what I was able to capture. I will always try and ID what I find but I will warn you its not the greatest, any corrections are greatly appreciated. I am more than happy to learn from my mistakes.

I have always (wrongfully) associated fungi exclusively with Autumn, its amazing isn’t it; once I started to take a real keen interest in nature, I’ve noticed so much more of what is happening around me throughout the year. Autumn, I believe, provides us with a more bountiful variety of fungi which leads to the assumption of it being fungi season. I hope as with last year I am able to discover new varieties and old favourites as the season goes on.

With the current garden renovations, I have had my dslr camera to hand on a couple of occasions, capturing the mini beasts I have disturbed. I do feel bad about changing the garden in a way, as I have displaced homes and habitats for the mini beasts. I just hope that they can forgive me, that when the garden is finished and they have their habitat returned, they too will return.

I hope the week has been good to you all, until next time. Take Care.

Sunsets, Sandwell and Galls

Another quiet week this end, with getting ready for the kids to go back to school and my own struggles with creative motivation, photography has taken a bit of a back seat recently. I’m trying not to put pressure on myself to just shoot anything for the sake of it, I love photography and I would hate for it to feel become a chore.

There are so many avenues with photography, I’m just at a bit of a crossroads in where to go next. Inspiration is much needed.

The menagerie of images this week come from my home, RSPB Sandwell Valley, Malvern Hills and a local woods.

The first image is of the stunning sunset that generated beautiful hues over the county last week, which was unexpected. It was hard to resist, snapping a quick phone phone shot of the colours that adorned the sky. Autumn and winter sunsets when the conditions are just right are very hard to beat.

Next, a lovely walk was just the right start to the weekend that was much needed. RSPB Sandwell Valley has been on my location list for a while, its a lovely urban green space in Birmingham. Although quite busy with people, as I was walked around, I didn’t feel on top of others out for their dose of fresh air.

I managed to see two Herons on the walk round the reserve, one in flight and the other on the water side, not hunting, just watching the passersby very carefully.

Herons always remind me of The Animals of Farthing Wood cartoon I remember watching as a child. For those who aren’t aware of the show/books (written by Colin Dann) the story revolves around a collective of animals dislodged from their homes because of a housing development being built, thus destroying Farthing woods. They are all on the search for a new home. It was quite harrowing t.v. for a child, I remember characters dealing with death and homelessness, not all doom and gloom though the show/book also illuminated the need for good friends and looking out for each other.

Following on from the other evening, I couldn’t resist an outing to the Malvern Hills, to hopefully catch a colourful sunset. I always marvel at the views from the hills, scenery that seems to stretch out endlessly. I was lucky, although not the hues of the previous evening, the sunset glowed with golden light and I am happy with the shots I did take.

The last find was on a local walk, while taking the dog out. The brown galls made from the Silk-Button Gall Wasp caught my eye, from the underneath of an oak leaf just above my head.

Reading into the gall wasp is fasinating. They have two generations per year. One being asexual and the other agamic (all female and needs no male to reproduce).

The “silk button” galls pictured, are caused by the asexual generation of the gall wasp. Each button contains a single wasp larva. They can be seen on the leaves from August to October, until the leaves fall in autumn. The wasp larva will mature in August but remain in the gall on the ground throughout the winter, emerging the following year from February to April.

Small world nature has really pushed me to look deeper into the world around us, there is so much activity happening all the time that I am oblivious to. Knowing more about the environment around me, I learn to have a better appreciation of each plants, animals, insects, etc role in the ecosystem, and thinking of how I can help e.g having wildlife garden.

I hope the past week has found you well, until next time, take care.

Charmouth Beach

It has been a quiet week since the last time I posted. Since my low days the other week I haven’t been too motivated to get out with the camera. Even though my mood at present seems ok, things I once found easy has become a little strained.

I guess this is natural, all throughout these strange times, since March, there haven’t been many days, where I haven’t been out with the camera. Managing to shoot things I never dreamt i’d be shooting e.g. macro, I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. Really I should cut myself some slack for experiencing this lull. Always my own worse enemy.

The one day I did get out was to the gorgeous coastline of Charmouth beach. I have always wanted to visit the Jurassic coast, as a little girl I had a very keen interest in dinosaurs and the thought of maybe finding a fossil on the beach was an exciting prospect.

I was extremely lucky with the weather, bright blue skies and glorious sun. The sea sparkled, it was just beautiful. Its a place (like many others mentioned within previous blog posts) I would absolutely love to return to.

On this occasion, unfortunately I was unsuccessful in finding any fossils, but that did not diminish my enjoyment in trying to find them or my time there. Being at the seaside always makes me feel calm, fresh sea air, the sound of the sea, even on grey days I am just drawn to it. At some point in my life I would love to live nearer the coast. Maybe, one day?

As I write this post we are welcoming the 1st of September, for all the uncertainty of this year, it has not stopped time passing so quickly. In a way I’m thankful that time hasn’t dragged its heals, I would hate to think of how my mental health would have survived if the days had felts like months and the months had felt like years. Probably best not to dwell on something that is not the case.

Another season over, the summer winding down. I look forward to the colours of autumn , with crisp mornings and cosy evenings. I know that some are not overly keen on the weather cooling down, preferring the warmer seasons but for me autumn holds a charm.

I am hoping to get back into reading books, something I once used to do a lot but has been neglected for a long while. The darker evenings make for a compelling time to read horror, thrillers or mystery. Do you find the different seasons make you reach for certain genres?

I hope the past week has found you well, until next time, take care.

To Be Brief.

This past week has been full of extremes. I must admit, its been a struggle to get to a point where I am motivated to do anything. Thankfully the situation seems to be leveling out at this point, I really hope it continues.

The week started really well, a brief camping trip to Alton and a visit to Thors Cave in the glorious sunshine, gave me no reason to worry. I didn’t take many pictures, I was just enjoying the family time and the break away. As with many people this year our first planned family holiday had to be canceled, so we compromised in what we could achieve for time together.

Returning home, again things seemed fine. A walk along the riverside in my home city was thoroughly enjoyed, even with the brief rain showers, they didn’t dampen my spirits. I took a handful of images featured here, I’m not relatively happy with them but I am still learning with landscapes.

Then as though someone had flipped a switch in my mind, my entire mood and demeanor span 180′. I was completely floored. I didn’t eat, drink, or move from my bed for a good 48 hours. Its embarrassing to say out loud, but my hope is in writing my experience, it lifts the same feelings of guilt or shame in someone else, they are last emotions you should be feeling when you are struggling.

I am a nightmare to live with, my poor family has to put up with these days where the world moves through me and I am numb to it all. All thoughts fixated on the negative, seeing no quality anywhere. This of course isn’t true, but its a hard mindset to break. I am thankful this period did not last long, currently I am ok. Another episode over.

I am hopeful for next week to be a better week all round, for my photography (which has been greatly neglected), for my mood and for the blog.

Wishing you all a great week, until next time, take care.

Big and Small

Its been a funny old week really, from eerie storms, to waterfalls and back to my mini beasts. Its hard to know where to begin, the best place probably being the first event that kick-started it all.

Weather reports had been threatening thunder storms since the beginning of July, it was very easy to assume they would never happen, as none of the previous predictions had been fulfilled.

Until one silent evening last week. There were no loud claps of thunder, no rumbling to make the ground vibrate, just enormous, looming clouds filled with lightning. There was no accompanying rain, no sound, it was quite eerie but a fascinating spectacle to observe.

Of course, I made a dash out with the camera, this was an opportunity not to be missed. I had to wing the settings, recalling on my own memory for any information I may have read about regarding capturing lightning.

I went with the long exposure method, in hopes to catch a few strikes in one shot, unfortunately due to lack of experience I left my ISO too low. I still managed to capture a few shots I am pleased with, I cannot be too hard on myself, this is the first time shooting anything like this. Next time I will be more prepared.

The storm lasted a good hour, all the time silent with glorious bursts of light. Such a change from the usual thunder and lightning, I wander with the continued hot weather, if these electrical storms will become more prevalent?

It went quiet the next couple of days, returning to my macro in the garden. Small world nature has really taken my interest, there is so much that happens in the garden that you don’t realise until you stop and really take notice.

I had the privilege to see a robber fly hunt. There had been some small flies feeding on the yellow daisies in the flower bed. I noticed something that at first I mistook for a hover fly, circling the same flowers. I originally thought it wouldn’t land as these flies were feeding, eventually I saw this “hover fly” was not interested in the free flowers, instead it would lock onto a fly, hover almost vertically above and then dive onto the fly.

I had managed to capture a video of this behavior as I saw it happen a few times as the “hover fly” had been unsuccessful each dive. Thankfully, I have a friend who helps me with IDs, who I had sent the vide to and they said that it looked like a robber fly.

Unfortunately I no longer have this footage, I would have loved to share it with you but I managed to delete it. Even I don’t know how?

It just goes to show how much of our nature we are not aware about. Another case from my week; I photographed a bee, I had no idea what family group it belonged to. I post most of my wildlife/nature pics on INaturalist (an app to document wildlife/nature), this usually helps with IDs before I pester my friend.

The app at this time was not helpful, so again I went to “bug” my friend, who helpfully pointed me to the lasioglossum bee family. Before macro I just thought (naively) bees were just bees, wasps were just the yellow and black variety and flies and such were boring, I was very, very wrong. There is so much to discover and learn about. Its such a shame that I have neglected it previously, I’m doing my best to make up for lost time though.

The weekend brought with it a visit to Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfalls in Wales. This place was beautiful, the falls looked as though Tolkien had written it off the page, that elves or hobbits would be found getting water.

I was lucky to get there when it wasn’t busy, I could appreciate the falls on its own basis. I am still working on my landscape shots, hopefully getting better each time.

The final set of macro is from a walk at Wilden Marsh, a Worcestershire Wildlife trust reserve. This place is untouched and a hard find if you didn’t know where to look. This all adds to its charm, a proper place to get back to nature. This is a place I will try to revisit often, to see what else it has to offer.

I hope your weeks has been a good one, until next time, take care.