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

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.

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.

A New Appreciation

Since I began macro photography, I have surprised myself enormously about what I now get excited about capturing in the garden, or what I really hope to shoot in the future. From discovering the joy of jumping spiders to this weeks “buzz” in achieving a wasp portrait.

Wasps, often seen as useless, dangerous and annoying are massively underappreciated. Ashamedly, in the past, I have not always been the wasps biggest fan, until recently that is.

Public perception of this much maligned insect needs to be changed, you don’t have to love them just know they aren’t as useless as they are perceived.

I can understand why these so called pests have been given such a bad press, who wants to get stung? Unlike its close relative the Honeybee, who also packs a powerful sting but provides us with honey, there is no physical trade off for a wasp sting.

Wasps (social or solitary) are great at pest control, either killing insects for feeding their larvae in a nest or using them as a host for their eggs. Who needs pesticides when the wasp is an apex pest predator, they are the gardeners friend!

Wasps also pollinate, although not rightfully credited. I recently learnt that figs are reliant on the aptly named fig wasp, one without the other cannot complete their life cycle, that’s just one example of many specialist plant/wasp relationships, where without each other they would cease to exist.

Other wasps inadvertently pollinate by transferring pollen flower to flower when collecting nectar, making them amazing general pollinators.

As you may well tell I am completely converted to appreciating these fascinating creatures. The more you read about their role in the ecosystem its hard not to. I hope that in the small snippets of what I have written here I have piqued your interest to maybe rethink your own perception of the wasp.

I was ecstatic when I managed to get the wasp portrait, they were busy drinking water off some plant leaves, I was calm and approached slowly without disturbing them. As long as the wasp does not feel threatened then you are not likely to be stung, they sting to protect themselves. As you can see in my pictures, I managed to get quite close.

The rest of my macro shots are all varieties of insects/bugs that I have managed to shoot before, but that does not lessen the joy they give me. I was very happy to discover how shield bugs eat while out snapping them, sucking up sap from plants, in one of my pic if you look closely you may notice a shield bug tongue ready to eat!

I hope your week has been as joyful as mine with my mini beasts. Until next time, take care.

A New Era

Last week, as mentioned in my previous blog, I was left bereft of my camera, as my Canon 5D Mark ii had broken. I was absolutely devastated, in my last post I spoke on how I did not have the available funds to fix or buy again, I did not see what the future would hold photography wise.

Only a few days on from posting that blog, I was extremely fortunate to have family come together to purchase me a new camera (Canon 6D Mark ii). I am beyond words to express how grateful I am for them doing such an amazing thing; for ME!

I had been planning on this weeks blog being full of phone snaps and explaining how I had got on without my camera. I just cannot fathom what I have done to deserve such an immense gesture. I must also mention the dear friend who also messaged after my post to offer me a loaner camera, their kindness was very touching.

It all completely overwhelmed me, so at a time where you would be expecting me to be excited to play with my new toy, was spent in an anxious state because I couldn’t process my emotions. The mind is a funny organ.

I eventually was able to hold myself together to get started. My first port of call was of course; the garden. Macro photography has fast become one of my favourite photography genres during lockdown.

There are so many things I have learnt from shooting small world wildlife, from watching shield bugs from 1st Instar (the beginning of their growth/moulting stages) to hard working bees whose endless work is fascinating to watch.

The shield bugs, I must mention are not far off adulthood, I will be quite sad to see them go when they are able to fly off to pastures new. I really hope to get a shot of one of them with their wings before they leave. Fingers crossed!

In regards to my shots this weeks, I will say in my view I still need to work on my focusing with my new camera, this one is quite modern compared to my previous one. Over the coming weeks I look forward to getting the best out of this new kit.

A fleeting visit to Broadway tower over the weekend as the weather was glorious. Unfortunately, a lot of other people had the same idea, a quick walk around the grounds and back home was the sensible choice. I managed a few snaps, I love seeing the deer at the tower, the stag in particular is looking quite regal at this time.

So this week in conclusion has been a reaffirming, overwhelming and grateful time. I wish to say a huge THANK YOU! for any message of support and to those that saved me from uncertainty, I will never be able to repay your generosity back fully.

I hope you all have had a great week, until next time, take care.

A Wobble

The past week for the most part has been a good one, between the rain showers I had managed to get into the garden to shoot more macro, including my favourite spider ( their charm has definitely not worn off).

Also managed another visit to Grimley gravel pits, where again I had been pleasantly surprised by the diversity of birds residing there.

Things were going well until at Grimely my camera suddenly and without warning became inactive. I have to say this threw my into quite an anxious head space. Those that have read this blog for a while will know the importance photography has been for my mental well being.

My blog began through my passion for photography. Throughout lockdown I cannot say there has been a day where I haven’t been out with the camera. The thought of being without this, in all honesty scares me.

The snapping at Grimley was cut short, luckily at home even with connectivity issues I managed to upload the picture I managed to capture onto my laptop. My camera as it is now isn’t working.

This is such a huge blow to me, unfortunately I am not in a position to fix/ re-buy a camera straight away, this leaves me in a very strange place. To say it hasn’t effected my recent mood would be lying.

It may see silly to get so worked up about an item, but my camera is so much of my sanity, my worth. Its my creative outlet, my focus and without it I am unsure what the future holds.

I endeavor to continue the blog, I will always try to include pictures (phone snaps), I still hope you continue to enjoy what I post.

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

July.

How are we already in July? The most surreal year; I think any of us have ever experienced, has definitely not rested on its laurels. In a way I am grateful for this speed as with each passing month hopefully means a month closer to getting back to some sort of normality.

An attempt to partake in some sort of pre-lockdown activity this week, I visited Croome Court. I knew that once the National trust had reopened Croome I would like to visit. You have to prebook tickets for a set timeslot, you are unable to enter the properties, but this did not phase me as the grounds of Croome court are exquisite,

The walk did not disappoint, I was even lucky enough to see a Heron in the lake hunting, unfortunately they did not manage to make a catch while I was there, although it did aid my photograph snapping; Herons stand so still while they are stalking potential prey.

Another day and another walk, this time on the Malvern hills. Views from the top, over Worcestershire and Herefordshire are breathtaking. Patchwork fields, glittering water sources and of course the hills themselves all offer their charm as you walk further up the hills.

Garden macro photography has continued to be a source of comfort when I am unable to go out. The flower beds are still providing beautiful blooms, this weeks offering being the bright orange of the Calendula.

There are still a good number of flowers yet to bloom and I cannot wait to see what has flourished from the seeds I had previously scattered (a wild flower mix). The wild mustard flowers are currently the main attraction for insects, with various hover flies and bees visiting the delicate yellow flowers.

I hope you have all had a great week, until next time, take care.