I thought long and hard whether to buy my DJI Mavic Air drone; “can I justify the expense?”, “will I use it enough?”, “will I be able to operate it?”. These are just a few of the questions running around in my mind before I finally committed to investing in this amazing piece of kit.
Since that purchase back in April 2018, I’ve definitely got my money’s worth and still continue to be blown away by this fantastic little gadget. In this blog I’ll explain how my drone has helped enhance my landscape photography offering an alternative perspective on our beautiful countryside and showcase the conditions where it really comes into its own.
My journey into nature photography has made me aware that it really pays to get to know the equipment you possess inside out. The subtle tweaks you can make with the camera’s settings can help maximise the opportunities that present themselves when the conditions are favourable; as a landscape photographer I am in endless pursuit of the perfect conditions. Chasing that beautiful moment where all the elements fall into place, it really is a reactive process as a scene can change in a matter of seconds. I still think the most beneficial technique I have learnt to date was manual focusing, it really has helped take my photography up another level.
I love standing looking out over a beautiful landscape, the camera planted on my tripod with my bag of lenses and filters close to hand but I often found myself longing for different perspectives on the gorgeous landscapes I explore. My fascination with seeing land from the air naturally sparked a bit of curiosity in drone photography. As I said earlier, I thought long and hard about purchasing a drone but I eventually bit the bullet and bought a DJI Mavic Air for just shy of £1000 once you take into account additional batteries and memory cards etc. What I love about the drone is its simplicity; unlike my camera there are no lenses or filters to change, no tripod to set up, you simply turn it on, plug your phone into the remote control and away you go. Within moments your drone is up in the air and you see the landscape before you from a completely new perspective.
One of my early drone projects was to capture an image of my favourite lonely tree located near Chadstone, Northamptonshire. From the ground, my average shot captured here consists of a featureless foreground with the tree often silhouetted by an interesting sky behind it. With the drone the scene changed completely, including the tractor tracks around the tree, which I particularly love. As the tree is located on private property and in the middle of a crop field you can only photograph it looking west from a path that lies in an easterly direction to the tree. With the drone I can now photograph it from any angle as with the shot below which was shot looking east. I think this shot would look better if the sun was lower as it would enhance the shadow from the tree… a project for a future date perhaps. But as you can see, the drone opens up new possibilities.
Another project where the drone came into its own was a recent trip to The Welland Viaduct, in Northamptonshire. This kilometre long viaduct is an amazing feat of engineering and from the ground it looks impressive enough but with the help of the drone I was able to get above the viaduct which really helped to showcase its scale as it stretches out across the valley below.
One of my favourite occasions to photograph is the harvest and as summer comes to an end you’ll find me driving along the country roads in Northamptonshire in search of harvest scenes. It’s a time of year I cherish as the summer slowly starts to wind down and we get the first glimpses of autumn. With my drone I am now able to observe and capture the harvest from the air and the shot below is one of my favourites captured on the drone so far. It’s such a simple yet powerful composition as the combine harvester munches its way through the crops leaving a harvested path behind it. The animal tracks in the scene also add interest to the shot and from the ground these tracks were not visible.
Without a doubt it is my weather photography that has benefited most from the purchase of my drone. I’ve always been fascinated with extreme weather, so I’m constantly tuned in to the weather forecast looking out for the days where dramatic skies and changeable weather are predicted. I get such a thrill when I’m out in the countryside and a storm front begins to move in. Capturing these moments on the drone really shows you how localised downpours can be. A pot of rain will be falling on a small portion of the landscape whilst the surrounding area is dry. It can be unpredictable and chaotic but it is such a rush when my drone is way up above me and I’m watching the rain move in photographing it, waiting for the moment I have to quickly land the drone and get packed up and back in the shelter of my car before the heavens open. It’s such good fun. Luckily this year we’ve had many days where conditions like these have been present and although on a couple of occasions, I’ve pushed my luck and have got a good soaking, I’ve never got bored of capturing it all on camera.
For now, I’m patiently waiting for the misty autumnal mornings to come our way so I can capture the misty landscape from above and then as autumn turns to winter I have my fingers crossed for a day or two of heavy snow as the prospect of drone photography above a snow covered landscape would be an incredible sight. Another project I’m yet to chalk off is to capture a complete rainbow using the drone. I had a good opportunity one evening this week, but the rainbow faded before I was able to get the drone to a suitable height. I’ll keep trying and will strike it lucky one day!
It’s lovely to know that when the conditions are at their best, I have all the equipment I need, be it the drone or my regular DSLR camera, to capture our beautiful countryside in all its stunning glory. With all this fantastic equipment at my disposal I’m loving my hobby more than ever 😊
I had read great things about the image quality of the Canon L series lenses so when I switched to Canon from Sony back in November 2014 I treated myself to the Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens. I bought this for wildlife photography and it performed well enough initially, however it wasn't until I was photographing a kingfisher on the River Nene one evening that I realised this lens just didn't allow me to get in close enough to the subject. It was at this time that I decided to purchase a second hand Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM Lens for £680. The extra 200mm of the Canon EF 400mm lens has made a huge difference to my wildlife work and again being an L series lens, the image quality is fantastic.
After buying the Canon EF 400mm lens I thought I'd have little use for the 70-200mm lens and was contemplating selling it; a decision that in hindsight I would have really regretted. Many of my landscape photography shots were taken using my Canon EF-S 15-85mm lens so I was worried that the 70-200mm would just sit in my camera bag gathering dust but around this time my photography style started to change, and rather than capturing the big landscape shots I'd previously favoured, I started to home in on smaller sections of a landscape scene and found that my 70-200mm lens was by far the strongest lens in my collection for the job. It has now become my go to lens for my country lane shots but it is when I'm out taking woodland shots that this lens really comes into its own.
At 705 grams, the 70-200mm f4 L USM lens is fairly light and compact and the ring-type USM (ultrasonic motor) allows for faster, quieter focusing. The lens doesn't have image stabilisation which could be an issue for some photographers however this does not effect me personally as 90% of the time my camera is placed on a tripod. Because of the lens' long tele focal length you can zoom in on a section of landscape from quite a distance away; this really compresses the perspective from the front to the back of the scene producing some really intimate and atmospheric shots. I tend not to go below f8 for my photography shots but this lens will go down to f4 which enables you to blur out the background and place strong focus on your chosen subject.
Here are some more of the key specifications for the lens:
Filter thread size - 67mm
Lens mount - Canon EF
Maximum aperture - f4
Minimum aperture - f32
Size mm - 76x172
Manual focus switch
Teleconverter compatibility - 1.4x/2x
Minimum focus distance - 1.2 metres
You can buy this lens for around £500-£600 brand new and I personally think it's worth every penny. I get such joy from using this lens and it rarely disappoints as proven by the shots in this blog, all of which were taken using the lens. It's a superb low to mid focal length lens and the Super Spectra coatings give accurate colour balance and enhanced contrast. Some of my most powerful atmospheric shots were captured when using this very efficient lens.
Overall lens rating 4.5/5
Here's another harvest shot captured back on Sunday 5th August. There is an amazing story behind these harvest shots when, for the Trusler household, utter heartbreak turned into pure joy and relief.
My parents' garden backs onto this field so during the harvest I always head over with my camera to capture the occasion. I was really pleased with this year’s shots; the conditions were fantastic with a big blue sky and small white clouds to really compliment the harvest action. However, the satisfaction soon turned into despair when the day after the harvest my mum informed me that our cat Millie had not been seen since the morning of the harvest. This was out of character for her as she is a timid cat and rarely ventured beyond the house and garden. She would however, occasionally nap in the field particularly during hot weather.
Our fear was that she was in the field when the harvest had started and had perhaps panicked, got disorientated and sadly met a tragic end. Despite our fears, we remained optimistic that she had just been spooked and was lying low somewhere and would return home in the next couple of days. The week slowly rolled on and Millie was nowhere to be seen. Our optimism was fading so last Friday I looked back over the photos and videos I'd taken on the day of the harvest to see if I could spot her. My heart sank while watching one of the videos; you could clearly see a grey cat run into the crops moments before the combine arrived. There were plenty of tears as it seemed that tragically, and in a very horrible way, Millie was gone.
However, this story has a happy ending and our sadness and heart ache turned to joy when later that evening I received a text message from my sister, "James, you won't believe it...", followed by a picture of Millie in the kitchen. After being missing for more than 5 days she came home healthy (but hungry!) and oblivious to all the drama she had caused but very much enjoying all the attention she was receiving.
A very lucky cat :)
My first photography interview. Thank you Picture Frames Express for featuring me as Photographer of the Month. Click on the link below.
Winter is officially over. It's felt as though it's dragged on for longer than usual (perhaps because we had snow just last weekend!) but as the days get longer, and colour slowly returns to the landscape, the wonderful sense of hope and optimism synonymous with spring grows day by day.
Looking back over the last few months, this winter actually felt like winter should with a healthy number of frosty mornings and at least 4 significant snowy periods. The mild, gloomy weather that we've become accustomed to throughout December, January and February in recent years was definitely not what this winter was about. I think I took as many snow pictures this winter as I have in my entire 10 years as a landscape photographer.
With spring upon us, here are some of my winter highlights
The bird activity in the garden was in full flow during the recent cold snap known as "Beast from the East".
We had a pied wagtail visit that before now I'd only seen out in the street, The long-tailed tits who usually stay in the trees at the back of the garden ventured down to the feeding table allowing me to get some lovely close up shots of their adorable faces, we had frequent thrush sightings and I also got my first fieldfare shots of the winter.
Here are some of my favourite shots :)
Being a keen landscape photographer, the various photography books, magazines and social media platforms I follow bombard me with impressive pictures of faraway locations. From mountainous regions, tropical beaches, vast hilly landscapes and endless forests, this beautiful planet of ours has some amazing places and in every corner of the globe there is certain to be a talented photographer snapping away.
Even here in England we are spoilt for choice in terms of locations to take scenic shots, the Lake District, Peak District, Jurassic Coast and Dartmoor National Park to name a few. With all of these beautiful locations, my home county of Northamptonshire often gets over looked as a place to capture great photographs. However, since my journey into the world of landscape photography began in 2008, I have spent endless hours exploring this little gem in the heart of our green and pleasant land.
Famous for its shoe-making and leather industry, Northamptonshire is a landlocked county in the East Midlands. With its central location and the M1 motorway running through the county, getting to Northamptonshire is relatively straight forward wherever you are travelling from.
Despite the swelling towns dotted around the county, much of Northamptonshire remains very rural. Our technology-led hectic lives seem an age away when roaming Shoe town's rolling countryside full of quaint villages, lush fields, hill top woods, brooks and streams. The never ending collection of footpaths and bridleways allows you to explore every nook and cranny of this fabulous landscape. Here is my guide to capturing the best of the Northamptonshire countryside.
You can find a number of parks just a short walk from the hustle and bustle of the town centre. The tree lined paths of Abington Park are a great place to capture autumnal shots.
Northamptonshire's woodlands are great places to explore. With its tree top walk, Salcey Forest is very popular although my favourite woodland is the quieter Harlestone Firs, a great place to visit after snowfall.
You'll find lots of bodies of water in Northamptonshire, many of which are open to the public. Ravensthorpe Reservoir (probably my favourite place in the county) is a beautiful spot for a walk. Head down there at dawn in spring or autumn and you'll have a good chance of capturing some beautiful misty sunrise shots.
One of the county's highest points, Honey Hill (702ft) is well worth a visit for spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. The lonely tree on the west side of the hill makes for a beautiful photograph.
Much of the Northamptonshire landscape consists of gentle rolling hills which can look spectacular on a misty morning.
Head to Coton Manor in the spring and walk through their stunning bluebell wood.
Agriculture is a big part of the Northamptonshire way of life. In late summer, the harvest scenes make lovely rural photographs.
The county's well maintained canal networks make for pleasurable walks and you really feel like you have been transported back to a simpler time as the canal boats lazily pass you by.
Northamptonshire is still referred to as the county of "spires and squires" because of the number of stately homes and ancient churches. My favourite country house is Castle Ashby House, the mile-long driveway is a very impressive sight and while the house itself isn't open to the public, the gardens are lovely to walk around and look stunning throughout the year.
A hidden gem; located near to the church at Great Brington is a lovely tree-lined avenue leading down to Althorp estate. This is a fantastic spot that will produce a great photograph whatever the season.
So, when planning your next photography adventure, why not consider Northamptonshire? If you're looking to visit somewhere that highlights best the simplistic charm of rural England without the influx of tourist activity, it's the perfect choice. Despite the many hours I've spent driving around photographing the county's countryside, I've barely scratched the surface and I am looking forward to what else I'll discover when exploring this beautiful part of the world.
Thanks for reading :)
Northamptonshire based nature photographer