Author Archives: Words

Backlighting Foxes

The longer I’ve left blogging about our garden foxes, the more difficult it has been to work out what to talk about. I had been hoping for fox cubs, but despite clearly having given birth to a brood, Wolfy (our semi-resident vixen) has thus far not brought any of her offspring into the garden. Given the amount of time that has now passed, I doubt we’ll see them. So, instead I’ve spent the past few months developing new ways of taking the same old photos of a garden fox.

The main innovation (for me) has been finally to get the flash off the camera. This creates a more realistic sense of shadow and depth in the final image. Here’s an example of what I mean. The fox is Stumpy, a year old male who is missing half his brush. Apart from that though, he is very handsome and has a fine coat.

young male fox

Young male fox. The flash was set to my right – his left.

For that kind of photo I’ve had the flash positioned at about 45 degrees to my right, but I’ve recently gone slightly more extreme.

It started a few nights ago when Wolfy took a close interest in the remote flash unit which, as you can see, is positioned at ground level.

fox and flash

Wolfy and the camera flash

A day or so later, she wandered in front of the flash, allowing me to get this shot of her her, almost entirely backlit.

backlit profile of a fox

Wolfy the vixen, backlit

Given my liking of dark backgrounds and backlit photography, I decided to push it a step further by placing the remote flash at the rear of the garden. This meant I would be facing the flash, with the fox (hopefully) in the middle. My first attempt was last night, and – as seems to be her habit – Wolfy’s first reaction was to go and investigate the flash unit.

fox looking at flash unit as it fires

Here she is looking at the flash unit as I take the shot.

Having decided that it wasn’t a threat she started to ignore it, and moved forward to the scattered food scraps and peanuts. That placed her nicely between me and the flash. These are the resultant shots.

Backlit fox

This one works well, but I would have preferred her ears to be pointing forward to give a stronger silhouette. But it’s definitely on the right track.

Backlit fox

You can’t beat a fox with open mouth. She’s probably trying to bite on a peanut!

Backlit fox

In this final shot, she’s turned slightly towards the camera. Her expression isn’t perfect, but one ear is at least pointing in the right direction.

Those were all a first attempt at this and I’m certainly happy enough with the results to know that it’s something to develop. The main refinements will be in positioning the flash and adjusting the strength of light. Plus of course persuading Wolfy to point her ears forward!

Camera note: all photos taken with the Canon 1DX Mark II and EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS II USM lens. I used a Canon 580EXII flash unit as the controller and a 430EXII unit for the actual flash

Posted in Foxes, Wildlife Tagged |

Garden Flowers

Well the lockdown has given an excuse to potter in the garden, and there is certainly plenty out there to keep me occupied. There’s weeding to be done and shrubs to be cleared. That said, there are also lots of flowers to be photographed, which has given me the opportunity to develop this aspect of my photography. Most of these were taken with a macro lens, or the long end of my 100-400 zoom. And I got down low to take them, occasionally using a tripod and remote trigger for the very small close-up shots. They were all photographed in natural light.



I shot this in strong light, but deliberately under-exposed to kill the background. There was a small amount of tidying up needed in processing (stray leaves and bits of light on the ground), but less work than you might expect. It’s fairly typical of a lot of my photography, with the background providing a strong contrast to the subject.





Our ‘lawn’ is more like a meadow, part of the problem (or benefit) of being on the South Downs. I do like the buttercups and daisies though.

Herb Robert

Herb Robert

Herb Robert

Herb Robert

This tiny flower is Herb Robert, which has sprung up all over the place. It’s very pretty, but quite invasive, but it adds a nice splash of colour.

grape hyacinth and anenome

Grape hyacinth and anenome

These have also seeded themselves. The grape hyacinth is dying back now, but was everywhere in late March. Same with the anenomes, which have now faded.




Cornflower on textured background

The cornflowers are steadfastly appearing everywhere but the flower beds. They are pretty and I had a bit of fun with processing the second shot with a textured background for a more ‘artistic’ feel! Maybe a touch of lockdown fever got to me, but I’ve been learning a lot about processing during the past few weeks courtesy of Foto-Buzz, the photographic learning community run by Andrew James and Jon Adams.

The final shot for the moment is another plant that has ‘taken over’ – a very pretty cyclamen coum. And as with the first photo I’ve made use of the strong light and under-exposed to get the dark background.

cyclamen coum

Cyclamen Coum

Posted in Plants, Wildlife Tagged , , |

Starling Murmuration

Last week I finally made it down to Brighton seafront to watch the starlings perform their magnificent murmuration display. Currently they are roosting under the Palace Pier, and they start to gather around 20 minutes before sunset. I joined many other photographers setting up on the pier and the beach to watch this amazing free show. The display started slowly, with small flocks of starlings beginning to circuit the pier, but these slowly grew and merged into larger groups, and then into a massive swarm of birds. That’s when the fun really starts.

starling murmuration

Murmuration of starlings at the Palace Pier, Brighton.

The shapes and patterns slowly merge and transform as new flocks join the mass.

starling murmuration

A second flock of starlings appears

starling murmuration

starling murmuration

Starlings over the sea with the Rampion wind farm in the distance

starling murmuration

Detail close-up of starling murmuration

starling murmuration

Starlings skimming the surface

The whole display lasted about 45 minutes, ending just before 5.30pm. But it’s a nightly event until the end of February (approx.), when the birds finally move away on their summer migration.

Photographically the main challenges are: (a) not taking too many photos, especially if you use burst mode, as I do; (b) managing the light, which is fading rapidly across the hour; (c) keeping the shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action and avoid camera shake; (d) having sufficient depth of field to keep things in focus. I used my 70-200 lens (which is plenty long enough), and set it at around f/11 (this reduced to f/9 as the light dropped). I tried to keep the shutter speed above 1/250s which meant slowly increasing the ISO (it started on around ISO 800 and ended up on ISO 6400). I also dialled in about -1 exposure compensation (this improves the contrast and helps keep the shutter speed up).

Overall I was pleased with the results (though I did take too many shots). If you are in Brighton just before sunset then it is well worth stopping to watch.

Camera note: all photos taken with the Canon 1DX Mark II and EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS II USM lens.

Posted in Birds, starlings, Wildlife Tagged , , , |