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Natures Home magazine uncovered

Read about the general goings on of those interested in the natural world around them, and the work we do here at Natures Home Magazine.
  • Wild phone-tography

    I’m delighted to welcome back guest blogger Tom Mason this week with a fascinating look at iPhone photography. With photography the flavor of the month in the Nature’s Home mailbag and a record submission of reader photos on the back of the Autumn issue, I hope this will encourage even more readers to get snapping. As someone who regularly finds himself in a position with a great species in front of me, and no camera, my trusty phone has helped me with many a retrospective ID - and also the occasional decent shot! Here’s Tom and some more of his superb photography…

    Wild phone-tography

    The modern age is a wonderful tech filled place. We have more technology now than ever, and each year it develops with mind boggling pace to deliver sci-fi dreams of past generations, into the pockets of today. With this, I’m always annoyed when people say “my camera isn’t good enough”… That’s why in this month’s blog, I’m going to kick out the DSLRs and bring it back to basics. Nature photography on an iPhone.

    The advantage of always having your phone with you is that great nature moments don't get missed. Photo by Tom Mason.

    A little disclaimer first. I know that an iPhone in most situations will not be as good as a DSLR for nature photography, but it doesn't matter. Whether you are just starting out or a full time pro, photographing on your iPhone (other brands are available…) is simply great. It’s good for developing as a photographer, it’s attainable for all and of course its a boatload of fun! I’m lucky enough to shoot with some top class equipment day to day but I still always shoot images on my iPhone. It’s my visual diary, a way of taking inspiration as well as putting photographic power in my pocket no matter where I am, and as wildlife enthusiast, we all know great wildlife sightings can turn up at unexpected moments!

    The basics of iPhone photography
    Pretty much everyone knows how to use a phone camera…Open it up point it and shoot, right? Well if you want pretty blurry, poorly focused images then yes, but actually there are a few things you can do to ensure you get a much better shot. First up, let’s get holding the phone in the right way. Stop holding it in one hand and treat it like a camera! Using both hand securely round the frame will majorly increase the strength of your grip giving you instantly better results. To add to your technique keep your elbows tucked into your body to sure up your position even more.

    When shooting an image make sure to tap focus, not only to get everything sharp where you want it, but additionally to get the exposure reading from that section on the frame. Often clamping the phone in your left hand, between the thumb and forefinger and then placing your right middle finger along the back gives the best holding position. It also leaves your forefinger free to press the shutter button (up or down volume control) and your thumb for focus. Now already your phone will start to feel more like a camera.

    A great shot for a DSLR, but amazing for an iPhone. Photo by Tom Mason.

    If you want to get really fancy and take iPhone photography to another level you can of course get hold of a small tripod to help hold your phone even more securely. Some special phone clamps are available that are excellent if you want to sure up your camera in low light or remove vibrations. An extra tip is to use your phones headset as a remote release to reduce vibrations even further. Excellent for trying some macro or close up photography.

    Subjects to try
    Now with your technique sorted its time to get out and shoot.

    In terms of subjects especially when related to wildlife you are going to be limited by what you can get close to due to the wide focal length of the camera. Often the best results come from shooting landscapes, close up macro of insects or plants and abstract or patten images.

    Never miss a great aerial moment by taking Tom's tips. Photo by Tom Mason.

    Subjects of course can certainly present themselves, whilst walking home one evening from a party I found a toad crossing the road. With none of my camera gear with me I simply used my phone to get some close up images, adding the light from the camera to act as my primary source of illumination in the dark. Phone photography really is all about adapting and using your initiative. Something that will pay dividend when you go out shooting with your normal kit too.

    Another subject that I have always enjoyed shooting is that of aerial landscapes and patterns. When flying my gear is often all tucked away for travel but the iPhone can pick out some excellent images out of the cabin window, something to keep you entertained when heading home or off on holiday, especially if there are delays when you are coming in to land!

    What are you waiting for?
    Phones are a fantastic photographic tool, allowing us to document our day, record visual reminders and shoot opportunities as they happen. Wildlife can appear at a moments notice but even a smart phone can be a wonderful photographic tool to create some excellent images. Photography isn't all about the best gear, the big shiny lenses and cameras, its about taking images and having fun. So next time you see something awesome and you don't have a camera, pull our your phone and give it a go. Of course on top of all that with todays great apps and social media, you can edit on sight and share it with the world!

    Don't forget to share your shots. Photo by Tom Mason.

    I would love to hear your thoughts, do you use your phone for shooting images out in the field, have you got any great images on your smart phone? You can tweet me @tommasonphoto or find out more about my work on www.tommasonphoto.com

  • In pursuit of butterflies

    I’m delighted to present a guest blog from butterfly expert Matthew Oates. You can read about Matthew’s new book, “In Pursuit of butterflies: a 50 year affair” in the current issue of Nature’s Home (pg 87) and I cannot recommend it enough! Here’s Matthew with a blog that I hope will have you heading out next time the sun shines...

    Midsummer sees the butterfly season at its zenith. The pinnacle is reached in the southern forests, where the big three take to the high summer skies – white admiral, silver-washed fritillary and purple emperor.  These have to be seen to be believed: the white admiral is grace personified, the giant silver-washed fritillary epitomises the joy of being alive, and the elusive purple emperor is simply the ultimate butterfly – possessing unrivalled power and majesty. There used to be a fourth cousin, but the high brown fritillary is now restricted to a few hillsides in the West Country, South Wales and along the Cumbria – Lancashire border. I am desperately found of all four, though unravelling the mysteries of the purple emperor is really my life’s work. 

    "His Majesty" feasting from an unsavoury deposit (photo by Mark Ward)

    The heaths also come alive with butterflies during July. The tiny silver-studded blue bejewels many southern heaths then, basking communally on heathers in the evening sun, whilst cryptic graylings bemuse us by disappearing whilst settling on sandy paths.

    In midsummer, the dark mountain ringlet rules the Lakeland high fells and the Grampian mountains, necessitating long and tiring journeys up north, weather permitting. The large heath, a grey denizen of northern bogs can be seen on this exhausting trip.   

    The downs then come into their own, hosting often huge populations of various blues. Theirs is the month of August, in heady marjoram-scented air. The chalkhill blue and, later, the tropical-looing adonis blue can occur in profusion, making the turf shimmer with electric blue hues as the males patrol the breeding grounds during the morning, seeking to have their will with newly emerged females. The shortest turf, where sheep’s fescue grass abounds, put on a different show, for the swift silver-spotted skipper dashes about there - the hotter the weather, the faster it flies. In hot summers, clouded yellow males patrol south-facing slopes, at pace, having colonised from the Mediterranean. 

    July is a great month for butterflies. Be quick and you'll catch the last of the purple emperors (photo by Mark Ward)

    The brown hairstreak is the herald of autumn, living diffusely around blackthorn entanglements.  It is active early in the morning, then lazes through late summer days, comatose in Ash trees.  It winds the season down, which ends in our gardens, where familiar species like the small tortoiseshell and red admiral feed up communally prior to hibernation. 

    No two summers are truly alike, each revealing its own peculiar mix of butterfly winners and losers, highs and lows, and giving the patient observer new lessons and experiences.  One learns so much, in terms of butterfly ecology and field craft skills that it is impossible to feel remotely bored when out in pursuit of butterflies. 

    2015 hints at being a painted lady summer... (photo by Chris Gomersall)

    Do the Big Butterfly Count
    We’re also promoting our friends at Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count. I did my first count over the weekend in my local wood where I was pleased . It couldn’t be easier and I recommend the App as an easy and fun way to record your sightings and submit them to Butterfly Conservation.

    Buy Mathew's book
    And do buy Matthew's fantastic book and read all about his amazing life with the UK's butterflies. 

  • New Forest Foray - Hunting for Odonata

    Sometimes, convincing less wildlife inclined friends to spend hours investigating various habitats for obscure species of flora and fauna can be difficult. This certainly was the case last weekend when me and three friends went camping in the New Forest. And it wasn't just my buddies causing the weekend to not go quite to plan.

    Beautiful demoiselle, one of the species I was looking for - image courtesy of Flickr creative commons, Konstantinos Papakonstantinou

     

    It wasn't my suggestion – late Thursday evening – to go camping, but having just this summer got manically into damselflies and dragonflies, I wasn't going to pass up on the opportunity to visit arguably the place to see these stunning creatures.

    My two friends Adam and Florence are notoriously late. I’m fairly sure Adam inherited it from his mum, who has never been less than half an hour late for anything, ever, but Florence must have developed it after they got married last year. Originally we had planned to go on Friday evening, but after finding out Adam hadn't packed at 7pm on Friday, we decided to go half way to Florence’s parents’ house.

    Golden-ringed dragonfly, another one of the species I was looking for - image courtesy of Flickr creative commons, gailhampshire

     

    My girlfriend Sophie had beaten me and Adam to Florence’s house, and they had already cracked out the vino. In fairness it was a lovely evening, and we decided to leave early the next morning.

    Upon waking I found out that Florence hadn't packed either. After the inevitable lie-in she began to pack. We planned to leave by 8.30 – which was ambitious with Adam involved – but ended up leaving at 11.30. Only 3 hours late. Not bad.

    The journey involved the usual hordes of red-faced, sweating men in cars full of screaming children. The roads were either clogged up to a standstill or dodgy carnival dodgems of terrifying lane-changing maniacs. With a traffic jam here, and wrong turning there, eventually we arrived at the campsite of Roundhill in the lovely New Forest.

    Friendly (looking at least) New Forest ponies - image courtesy of Flickr creative commons, davidgsteadman

     

    Now the fun started, I thought. Dragonflies. Hordes of them. Golden-ringed, downy emerald and chasers galore waited for me just beyond that clearing near the river. But before I could demand a walk and lead my friends to the nearest body of water, along came a pony.

    We’d opened the boot of the car just after arriving – mistake. “Planning to take stuff out of your car to quickly set up your tent and get immersed in nature are we?” thought the pony, as it sinisterly crept up behind us.

    Biting and gnawing, tearing and chewing ensued as the pony gorged on the bounty of Adam’s boot. Adam cried out, “The coffee! It just ate an entire bag of coffee!” and that – as far as I was concerned – was the last straw.

    I slowly approached the pony from the front. Nervously, I tried to shoo it away. But the pony was having none of it. It turned, backed up a bit, and kicked.

    CRACK! Right in the ... leg, thankfully, else I wouldn't be writing this. It made the kind of sound that would usually mean a trip to the hospital, a sound reminiscent of playing the coconuts at my primary school nativity. After a bit of sit, a lot of swearing and a much needed Sophie hug, we calmly watched the remainder of our camping supplies slip down into the pony’s tum.

    I say calmly, but I think we all know that’s a lie. Perhaps an hour later it left, and we got the tent up. My leg had begun to recover (as if that would stop me), and we headed out for a walk along the small river near the camp.

    Me, momentarily distracted from scanning the river's edge - image courtesy of Jack Plumb

     

    Finally, I was rewarded. Immediately upon reaching the bank, four beautiful demoiselles appeared and danced around in front of us. Then a golden-ringed dragonfly whizzed past a few times showing off. We had a delicious pub lunch, lots of beer, and the worst night’s sleep in the history of New Forest camping, then got up the next day to go to Hatchet Pond near Beaulieu.

    As though gifted by the Odonata lords themselves as an apology for yesterday’s pony assault, two more new species for the year appeared in front of me at the edge of a shallow part of the pond. Keeled skimmer, and broad-bodied chaser made my Sunday, and a total of four species for the weekend. Was it worth the stress, and the (possibly permanent) leg injury?

    Yes.