Whilst I was at the Little Big Cats workshop, I did have one go at using the video option on my Nikon D90.

I’m not a dab hand at using the video option yet, which means there is a little blurring in the middle, but I thought you might all like to see the one I shot.  This is ‘Tiny’ washing his paws.  It’s just like our Phoebe – but forty-five times heavier.

Little Big Cats – Lions from Richard Gillin on Vimeo.

Whilst I’m at it, a video of Mum & Dad’s cat visitor from when we were down there a few weeks back.

"Thomas" from Richard Gillin on Vimeo.

81/365 Bawa

Click on the picture to see it large – it really is worth it!

A great day out at the Wildlife Heritage Foundation care of Chris Weston Wildlife Photography. And of course of my lovely wife who bought the day for me as a birthday present!

The WHF isn’t open to the general public; they do, however, open up to small groups of photographers. This makes funds for their conservation work; there’s no merit in us aggravating the animals because they’d just hide away from the camera; so it’s win all round.

As a result, you can get far closer than you would ever get to big cats in a zoo – they let you inside the barrier so you’re right up against the fence – being careful to watch out for a paw reaching through to snag you or your camera…  We saw (and shot) lions, tigers, Amur leopards, snow leopards, cheetahs, pallas cats, pumas and a lynx!  The day started with a few of the cats, then lunch, more cats, and tea. Then, in the wonderful early evening light, we had time to wander round on our own to catch whatever we wanted rather than being in a group of fifteen photographers – great light, not tripping over each other, but with the background to know what you’re doing let us get some great shooting opportunities.

Our instructor (in this case Chris’s colleague Pete Watmough) was there to give advice when needed, but didn’t poke his nose in when it wasn’t; in my case, a few helpful suggestions about catching a cat in motion and some great observations about the cat’s characters, which is vital to spot their behaviour and hence catch them well.

More to come just as soon as I can get the rest of the pictures processed to a suitable standard…

In preparing for my big photographic day out on Sunday 22nd, I’d rented a big monster lens from the lovely people at Calumet PhotographicHere it is – the snappily titled 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR NIKKOR.

These Nikon lens names take a little unpicking.  In order:

  • 70-200mm. That’s the easy bit. It’s a zoom lens with a 70-200mm focal length; on all but the top end Nikon cameras there is an effective adjustment of 1.5x, making this equivalent to a 105-300mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • f/2.8G.  The maxiumum aperture of the lens is f/2.8 throughout.  Which means very shallow depth of field when fully open – ideal for wildlife tomorrow when I’ll want to blur out both the fence in front of the lens and the one in the background.  The G is more difficult.  It means that the lens has no aperture ring; so it’ll only work with a camera that has auto-exposure or some way of setting the aperture from the camera body.
  • ED. Extra-low Dispersion.  Lenses bend light of different colours by slightly different amounts.   What this means is that you may see some slight colour fringes – extra-low dispersion reduces this effect.
  • IF. Internal Focusing.  In the old days lenses used to change length as they focused. IF lenses move internal elements, meaning that they stay the same physical length (in this case some 215mm long) wherever they are focused.
  • VR. Vibration Reduction.  This one passes the Ronseal test – it does exactly what it says on the tin.  In practice it means that you can take pictures using a shutter speed up to three stops slower than you would normally be able to without noticing camera shake.

I also rented one of these:

A TC-20E II Teleconverter – basically doubles the focal length of whatever lens you attach it to – so turning the 70-200mm into 140-400mm; or in effective terms meaning a stonking 210mm-600mm.

So I had to go practice – another trip to the Watercress Wildlife Association in St Albans.  Sadly it was getting a little dark by the time I got there, but to show you how close you can zoom:

80/365 Dinner on the wing
Long-tailed tit Little Grebe

Despite the late hour, I did manage to catch a few birds – a collared dove, a long-tailed tit and a little grebe.

Would I recommend Calumet Photographic?  Yes! They were helpful on the phone to a first-timer renter like me; their weekend deal was particularly good – pick up Friday afternoon, back Monday before 10am and you only pay one day’s rent; pick-up took 3 minutes, return 2 minutes; and renting a lens like this is clearly a good plan if you don’t fancy stumping up to buy one – it’s not what you’d use every day and you need a lot of £35+VAT rents to justify a purchase somewhere north of £1500!

Would I recommend this lens? It handled well. I’m not sure I’d want to walk around for it too long without a tripod or at least something to rest it on. But it was perfectly practical to use – assuming of course you can get far enough away to merit 70mm. I found it easy enough to use – although I’d had a little practice I didn’t really need it. The key to using it well was aperture priority – that way you could force f/2.8 to knock the background out of the depth of field and let the camera handle the shutter speed; with VR turned on I could still shoot at ISO 200 in reasonably low light and get tack-sharp shots.  And with the teleconverter I could get as closer still – worth it when you saw the teeth on what I was taking on Sunday.   The only drawback is that you’d not really want to walk round a strange city sightseeing with this lens – it’s not what you’d call inconspicuous; and probably not needed as f/2.8 isn’t needed really for general landscape shots except at dusk or dawn.

Still catching up… but there’s a treat for you in the next post. No more same old same old.  In the meantime…

75/365 Fellow traveller 76/365 Shore thing
75/365 Fellow traveller 76/365 Shore thing
77/365 Tap 78/365 Stern warning
77/365 Tap 78/365 Stern warning
79/365 Last day 80/365 Dinner on the wing
79/365 Last day 80/365 Dinner on the wing

A little background may be in order:

78 – this somewhat stern warning is on the Clock Tower in St Albans.

79 – The Thameslink train route stopped serving Barbican and Moorgate on 20 March – eventually the tracks will be lifted so that the platform at Farringdon can be extended to allow for 12 carriage trains (up from the current maximum 8).  I was there in the morning; there were a few photographers there snapping away.    Apparently the evening was very busy with people hoping to catch the last train.

80 – another shot at the wonderful Watercress Wildlife Association.

Down to Chichester for a sunny weekend with Sarah.   Mum & Dad’s cute cat visitor came to visit again and seemed to welcome some fresh faces to cuddle him – not to mention fresh laps to sit on.

"Thomas" "Thomas"
"Thomas" "Thomas"
"Thomas" "Thomas"

After that, a trip round the Cathedral:

Chichester cathedral Budgies in Priory Park
73/365 Doorway Candles
On the walls Choir

Dinner that evening at The Earl of March in Lavant.  I recall this place from my youth as being a scruffy sort of pub, with little reputation, then as an empty boarded up place.  I’d not really paid it much attention since 2007 though when it was acquired by Giles Thompson, the former Executive Head Chef of the Ritz. And now the food is delicious and tasty, the place is well presented, and service attentive and polite.  I had fillet of West Sussex beef with rosti potato, spring greens, wild mushrooms & peppercorn sauce followed by sticky toffee pudding with toffee Sauce and vanilla Ice Cream. Recommended.   That just left us with time on Sunday morning for a walk from Emsworth to Langstone, finishing with a pint (well, Sarah had an apple juice – she was driving) sat on the wall by the Royal Oak soaking up the sun and watching Muffin the Westie running around. Recommended if you’re anywhere in the Chichester area looking for a good meal.

Seaside pub 74/365 "Muffin"

The start of March.  Spring has sprung, so out and about a bit more – when work allowed.

67/365 It’s been a hard day’s night… 68/365 Murphy nose
67/365 It's been a hard day's night... 68/365 Murphy nose
69/365 Blossom 70/365 New specs
69/365 Blossom 70/365 New specs
71/365 Rooftops 72/365 Red red nose
71/365 Rooftops 72/365 Red red nose

After the fun and frivolity of Red Nose Day (limited, sadly, to sitting and watching on TV rather than doing anything particularly funny!) we headed down to my parents…

To the London Transport Museum depot on 7 March for the museum’s third Flickr scavenger hunt. For the uninitiated this involves scurrying round with a set of cryptic clues looking for what the answer might be, then snapping a shot of it.  And in case that wasn’t hard enough, three group photos were required of each team doing something, plus we had to find five pictures and recreate them.  We didn’t do badly, all in all – Scot, Melinda, Ian and I.  This was the first time I think that their hunt was set in the depot – which made things harder as it’s a real hodge-podge of different stuff, not arranged in a visitor friendly order – and the crowds were massive for some reason!

mosaic3942670 1. Clue 1 – Show a doubling of ticket price., 2. Clue 1 – Show a doubling of ticket price., 3. Clue 3 – A literal 2CV model that doesn’t run on petrol, 4. Clue 4 – Who showed, in his own small way, that escalators were safe, even with only one leg?, 5. Clue 5 – A Little bit of the future – going to the stars but underground., 6. Sadly not Clue 6 – You can’t put a float on rails, but you can still deliver with one of these., 7. Clue 7 – Pour aller à Brocahnt, s’il vous plait?, 8. Sadly not Clue 8 – The end of the line for this beastly neighbour is a stately home., 9. Clue 9 – The car with the most facial hair, 10. Clue 10 – Somewhere to hide when the bombs start falling,
11. Clue 11 – This is a useful place if you’ve left your umbrella on the train, 12. Clue 12 – London Transport is a much more global organisation than you’d think, 13. Clue 13 – Find this underground interloper from British Rail, 14. Clue 14 – Love me Tender, love me true. When the bus breaks down, this’ll come for you, 15. Clue 15 – A tree of convenience (and 66/365), 16. Clue 16 – This caged wonder checks coins rather than defrosts ice, 17. Clue 17 – A little big apple rolls down the avenue, 18. Clue 18 – A beatle-sized replica, 19. Clue 19 – Follow the trams along this tiny monarch’s path, 20. Clue 20 – A little orange man in a little station under a big dome, 21. Group clue 1 – Show your group sitting on a bench at a closed station, 22. Group clue 2 – Show your team enjoying the minature railway, 23. Group clue 3 – Re-enact what it may have been like during rush hour, 24. photoclue1, 25. photoclue2, 26. photoclue3, 27. Photo clue 4, 28. photoclue5

Many thanks to Jane Findlay at the museum for organising it – and our intrepid questionmeisters for giving us such a challenging afternoon!

I’ve got woefully behind on blogging my Project 365.  Although I have been posting them to Flickr, so you can see I’m still doing it!  I’m afraid work just got way on top of me… way, way on top of me – it’s the busy season for us accountants.

Some catching up, anyway… and if you’d like to see the ones I’m truly pleased with, click on 55 and 60 – the lighting came good!

More later this week…

54/365 Pen pot 55/365 Tulip 56/365 Sign of the times
54/365 Pen pot 55/365 Tulip 56/365 Sign of the times
57/365 Viaduct 58/365 Cufflinks 59/365 Book
57/365 Viaduct 58/365 Cufflinks 59/365 Book
60/365 Night flowers 61/365 Avenue 62/365 Only me
60/365 Night flowers 61/365 Avenue 62/365 Only me
63/365 Dome 64/365 Tulip 65/365 Nom nom nom
63/365 Dome 64/365 Tulip 65/365 Nom nom nom

To be honest, the earlier episodes of the 2009 series of Masterchef have been of variable quality – and variable interest!  The first few weeks were, sadly, a bit predictable.  Whilst they’ve tried to mix up the formula from earlier years, it’s resulted in a little too much of a production line feel:

  • six down to three in the first round feels like an excuse. Last year they just started with three candidates, who were generally more able.  I’m surprised – wouldn’t it cost more to get three more contestants than to do some more vetting beforehand? Or perhaps there was always this vetting and we never saw it on film – and this is just the credit crunch biting as we lose a three person innovation round?
  • the judging has been a little predictable.  It’s always two through, two out, debate the last two. Why not mix it up occasionally?
  • Gregg and John, whilst incredibly knowledgeable about food, DO APPEAR TO SHOUT ALL THE TIME!

But there have been some truly memorable moments.  As ever, these come both from the exceptionally good and the exceptionally bad:

  • the man who grated butter, instead of cheese, by mistake.  I think he was also the man who tasted one of the carrots to see if it was done, then put the other half back on the plate he presented to Gregg and John, complete with teethmarks.
  • the Australian investment banker who wore very short shorts but cooked amazingly inventive dishes with ingredients you’d never have thought to put together.
  • seeing Matt, Christopher and Chris in the semi-final, and seeing how well they’ve learnt during the series – sad to see Chris go before the final and Andy stay; not quite so keen on him.

I’ve thought that the 2 1/2 hours of TV a week was perhaps only worth 1 1/2 hours worth of watching.  But as ever, the semi-final has got me all excited again, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final this week!

53/365 T'Mill

No trouble at t’mill.  Just a grey day – we abandoned our plan to go further afield, and just popped up the road to Redbounbury Mill.  Some nice bread, a bag of flour and a wholemeal apple pie slice later…

Mystic River 1 Mill Reading
Time warp Bushel Mystic River 2