• Ben

A Year in Miniature

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

2019 has, in my view, been a bit of a photography failure. For the last couple of years I have done a 'round up' blog at the end of December, usually finishing the year on a high. It is at this time of year that I prepare my entries to our humble photography club's Print of the Year competition, and thereafter for inter-club and national competitions. This year I simply don't feel that I have anything of a good enough standard to put into these competitions.

I don't think this is entirely negative though, there are a few reasons why this is the case, and I'd like to try and make a positive out of it if I can.

Firstly, running the photography club, as president and competition secretary takes an inordinate amount of time and effort, and can often leave me uninspired to pick up my own camera for spells. I keep trying, but without inspiration, good photos will rarely happen. It's been good seeing so many others progress and produce quality work though, and if I am nowhere near selection for inter-club competitions, then sobeit, I'll still call it a win if we do well under my stewardship.

Secondly, having dropped my camera and 400mm lens, having the camera repaired under insurance, and then subsequently discovering that the lens is also knackered, I have been forced away from wildlife photography for the most part (until a recent generous loan of a camera for the holidays). I tried to turn this into a positive, and really focus on macro and landscape photography, which I enjoy more but I also feel they are far more difficult to do really well.

With landscape photography, I have revisited favourite locations to try to better earlier images, and failed, largely due to conditions. I got lucky a few times over the last few years with tides and weather in particular, but continuing to try to better these pictures is all practice.

I almost got a better image of the Deil's Heid, with a wild spring tide battering the rocks, but relentless rain on the filters rendered it a smudgy fail. I stood there for 90 minutes in an absolute monsoon, just waiting for the rain to ease for 30 seconds, but it didn't. I've been back since, and never seen the sea close to being this wild at such a high tide.

I really hope this stands me in good stead for our honeymoon to Harris in March though. Surely I can't go there and not get some decent seascape images - I mean it's arguably the most beautiful coastline in the.... world.

So with landscapes put down to a general failure, macro was my main mission for the year. My macro lens and speed-light were rarely off my camera for 6 months, as I chased butterflies and dragonflies around Angus and Aberdeenshire. I discovered some great new places, Pitdelphin Wood (which I understand will be felled next year, which I am gutted about), 'Cowpat Meadow' just 5 minutes from my office, where dozens of lunch breaks were spent chasing Vanessids through the knapweed and avoiding said cowpats. New species for me were found too - Scotch Argus, Small Blue, Grayling.

Small Blue butterfly - REALLY small, hence the title of this blog.

Cormech Loch in Pitdelphin Wood - one of my favourite places, but not for long sadly.

All in all it was a blast, and I learned a massive amount about the subjects and the techniques for photographing them. Problem is that learning doesn't often give rise to great photos, and there are people out there who are spectacularly good macro photographers. Competition entries demand absolute perfection in this genre, and that is a tough challenge indeed.

Pair of Common Blues at St Cyrus this summer - one of my efforts for Print of the Year.

Northern Brown Argus on Bloody Crane's Bill at Cowie - endless hours I spent trying to get a 'perfect' NBA shot. Maybe next year...

The incredible Small Blue - it's hard to photograph something THIS small, all the while knowing just how rare and fragile it is.

I suppose one of the problems is that while I know the effort that went into these images, 99.9% of photography judges would see these no differently to paying to go into a butterfly house and photographing some 6 inch wide exotic species posing for the camera, and not hens' teeth rare 10mm gem in the rain atop a cliff in Arbroath!

Scotch Argus are incredibly flighty butterflies - I really am looking forward to trying again to capture the best of them in 2020.

Dragonflies might be even harder to photograph, because they rarely sit still - unless you get up at stupid o'clock in the morning and enjoy getting eaten alive by midges and deer flies. And ticks!! The story is the same though, only perfection will do for a competition entry.

Is it perfect - no, and it'll get a crap score as a result. I have an A2 print of this on my living room wall though, and I'm frankly bloody proud of it, and it's probably one of about four photos I've ever taken that I can say that about.

Emerald Damselflies seemed to drain hours and hours of my time in the search of a perfect image too - this female is as close as I got.

Sometimes you just get what you don't expect though. I have spent a few afternoons at Boddin recently searching for a photo using the fabulous array of rocks on the shore, but the old limekilns don't provide the focal point of a lighthouse or distant mountain.

However, one of the locals seemed to be extremely interested in what I was doing. Who needs a 400mm lens when the wildlife comes to you? I took this in half-darkness with a 105mm macro lens at f2.8. Treats like this don't happen if you aren't out trying to get a photo.

Mono photography has always been a struggle, and with the concentration on macro and colourful insects, this is even more the case for 2019. My choice for my entry for mono print of the year is therefore rather left field, but I think it makes a nice print. I could spend days taking images of some of the architectural details at Hospitalfield in Arbroath, but the staircase really appealed to me, with so many textures, materials, designs rolled into one.

So 2019 gave me a bunch of nearly photos, and a broken 400mm lens, and zilch to put into competitions. However, it gave me a wealth of experience and new knowledge, with which to tackle 2020. Harris in March is a very exciting prospect. I might see some butterflies before then of course......

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