Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Emoji blog postLike many other writers on the internet I’m busy trying to create awareness of my book, and in doing so, hopefully build a fan-base. ‘Marketing, marketing, marketing,’ that’s all I’ve lived and breathed leading up to the launch of my latest novel, Saving Anna. I’ve read blog posts on how to become the best blogger, Twitterer, Pinterester, Facebooker and Instagramer: none of which comes naturally to this hermit-like author. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a call of duty. Valiantly I have pitched into battle, fighting the inner demon called shyness with vigour and determination.

As a photographer as well as an author I recently decided to try my hand at Instagram, a new platform for me. I’m @Listansus First I had to learn how the app functioned, then I had to decide what kind of photos to post. Everyone says that an author is supposed to sell the author and not the book. Hmm, tricky. I hate having my photo taken (Yeah, I know, seriously weird considering I’m a photographer), so selfies are out of the question. Okay, so what about photos of my books? Lots of authors and review bloggers do this, and their Instagram feeds are truly delightful and very creative, but there are only so many times in a day that I can get excited about seeing the same book cover over and over again.

The other marketing tool on Instagram, which appears to be very popular, is to post an image with words – lots of words! They take the form of a short poem or a passage from a novel. These posts take time to read, whereas a photo is instant gratification. I love words, I write thousands of them, but on a visual platform I prefer an emotive photograph, or informative words, such as an inspirational quote from an author. Here’s one that writeHackr magazine, which will launch next year, posted today: “You create the world, blink by blink. It is entirely yours to discover and yours to create,’ by Sophia Amoruso. I like this, it inspires me.

So, what images am I posting? Apart from a sprinkling of book promotions, I’ve chosen to post photographs that I’ve taken, especially scenic ones that relate to locations in my novels. The question is, does anything I post inspire or interest other people? At first I was uncertain, but recently I’ve had loads of likes per photo, and an increasing number of complimentary comments, which has boosted my confidence.

Some of these comments have come via the universal language of emoji. Yes, you guessed, I’m a newbie at emoji as well as a newbie at Instagram! This is a steep learning curve and a very high mountain. What do these symbols mean?

Laughing Crying EmojiRecently ‘face with tears of joy’ was voted by the Oxford English Dictionary as the word of the year. Word!? It’s a symbol, and believe it or not, I’d never seen it before it hit the news and had to read up on what it meant. It’s a completely new language to me.

Emoji symbols

On Instagram I instantly understood the thumbs up, the clapping hands and the smiley face, but stupidly posted a symbol believing it meant ‘water’ when in fact it’s officially ‘splashing sweat symbol’ used in comic books to show that someone is working hard or stressed. Ooops!

Night sky emojiThis is one of the loveliest comments I’ve received. It’s from a guy whose photos are technically amazing, hence to receive an emoji from him meant a lot to me. I don’t speak Turkish, and he probably doesn’t speak English, yet we found a way to communicate and complement each other’s work. Now, when you’ve finished laughing at me, thinking, rightly so, that he’ll never read my books, let me outline the bigger picture. For every comment on Instagram, even an emoji, my profile rating goes up. This is good. I’m also feeding all of my photos through to Twitter, via a clever app, and this has helped strengthen my Twitter profile and gained me more followers. Even though I’m posting photos, my hashtags say #amwriting and #writerslife, which has encouraged people to add me to their Twitter lists of interesting writers. This is a win-win situation and is boosting my social profile.

I haven’t acquired many followers yet on Instagram, and I refuse to cheat and go and buy false friends, but the people I am connecting with are genuine and we’re building a warm rapport with each other. If you’d like to come and join me, I’m @listansus

To my amazement people have taken this photo to their hearts, if you like it, heart me ❤


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Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs

Yesterday it was yet another dreary overcast day, threatening rain, but I was determined to take my camera for a walk. I needed time to mull over what to do with a particular chapter in the novel I’m currently working on. Once again things weren’t going as planned, and my super dramatic scene was turning out as dynamic as a milk-float with a flat battery. Hey ho, time to switch off and think about something completely different.

So I set out with my camera and macro lens, thinking I might see a grasshopper or cricket at my favourite meadow not far from home. I started by taking a few snaps of a spider, and believe me, the light quality was rubbish. Cranking the ISO up to 1600 was achieving a shutter speed of 125th of a second: not at all adequate for macro photography.

Conehead bush-cricket with egg sacConehead bush-cricket with egg sac

Seeing a few grasshoppers jumping around cheered me up. At least I had a subject. Earlier in the year, to one side of the meadow, I’d come across a colony of long-winged conehead bush-crickets, so this is where I decided to focus my efforts. Indeed, focus would have been a lot easier in brighter light and without sudden gusts of wind beating the long grass against my lens.

After a while I found the coneheads, several of them determined to circulate on one particular clump of grass. My best option was to sit down, so that I could be on eye level with them, and ensure I made as few sudden movements as possible. Then I saw her, a mature female with what appeared to be a dew drop clinging to her body near her ovipositor. I thought this very odd, as although there was moisture in the air, the grass was quite dry.

Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-1Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-2

I watched and took a few more photos, trying to keep track of the same female. This wasn’t easy as the wind was swaying the grass, she was moving swiftly from one blade of grass to the next, and each time she relocated I had to adjust camera settings to correct exposure and focus. Half way up one tall stem she suddenly started arching her back, curling round and producing another dew drop from her abdomen. Not water at all, but what appeared to be an egg sac. As luck would have it, of course she’d moved and the light was against me and the wind was blowing grass directly between my lens and my subject. It’s called sod’s law. All I could do was keep clicking the shutter and hoping for the best: absolutely no time to make any adjustments or the action would be over.

Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-3Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-5

Once her main dance had abated, I risked changing a few setting and repositioning myself to gain a better angle. By now she’d curled right round into a ball, more resembling a nautilus than a cricket. The dew drop was still clinging to her abdomen, but what she did next surprised me. She was putting it in her mouth. From this point on she proceeded to carry it around, adding something to the clear dew drop and making it slightly opaque. Several times she pressed it hard up against a blade of grass, and I assumed she was deliberately depositing it, or some of it, onto the stem of grass.

Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-7Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-8

To my mind she was laying eggs, coating them with something, and then setting them down to over-winter, ready to hatch next year.

I was pretty certain this was the case, until I came home and started researching conehead bush-crickets online. The consensus of opinion from experts online says that, ‘the females lay between their eggs in the stems of grasses in the late summer. They do this by first biting a whole into the stems of grasses or reeds and then insert their eggs using their ovipositors.’

This, of course, threw me, because my female did not directly lay her eggs using her ovipositor, but carried them around in her mouth first. I still believe that she was laying eggs: after all, this is the same meadow that I discovered a pink grasshopper in, so anything is possible!

If I have my facts wrong, please never forget that I’m a writer and photographer, not an entomologist.

The long-winged conehead’s technical name is Conocephalus discolour.

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It was an overcast day, no doubt about it. Pretty grim lighting for Unusual Mothany kind of photography, but I’m not one to give up and leave my camera at home.

So there I was, trudging along the boardwalk at Elstead, Surrey, when I saw it, walked on, then about-turned and did a double take. What had I just seen? A brown leaf resting on a blade of grass where it had fallen off…hmm, no suitable trees in sight. So, then I stared and stared, and stared some more. Would I ever be able to find that particular blade of grass again? Ah yes, there it was, a few paces away.

Approaching with caution, in case whatever it was got nudged and fell down between the slats of the boardwalk, I then crouched to investigate. It appeared to be a moth. I say appeared to be, because like so many of these clever fellas, it was cunningly disguised as a piece of dried wood or a fallen leaf. To be honest, I’ve never seen any moth like it before. I’ve seen moths that look like twigs or leaves, but never this particular species.

Excited, I took a couple of photographs and quickly enlarged them on my screen, so that I could get a better idea of what it looked like and catch the detail. How cute. Its face is almost cat like, with a dinky little upturned nose. Furry like a cat too, yet it’s got a back fin that would sit well on any dinosaur. Most unusual.

Unfortunately, my new friend, ‘dinosaur cat moth,’ was in a really awkward position to photograph at a good angle. He was resting quite close to the ground, tucked back in amongst the grass and heather. What little light there was, refused to penetrate his safe hiding hole, and even though he was sitting comfortably and had no intention of flying away, capturing a decent shot was near enough impossible. If you think the photo looks burnt out at the top of his quiff, that’s because he’s bright white on top.

Unusual Moth

Okay, here’s a really mediocre shot of his top view so that you can see what I’m talking about. I’d say he’s about an inch in height, but it was difficult to judge because he’s bent round.

If anyone knows what species he is, please let me know so that I can name him correctly. Feel free to Tweet and share these images around. Help me discover who he is. Someone, somewhere, must know the real name of ‘dinosaur cat moth.’ He sure is cute!

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Pink GrasshopperOne of my favourite pastimes is going off on a macro safari. The meadows become my jungle and I hunt through the grass and flowers for any creep crawlies I can find. Over the years I’ve learnt that there’s little point in going out with the intent of capturing a specific species, because they’re bound to be somewhere else on that particular day. I always to take photographs of whatever I see that captures my interest. It’s what’s here right now, so it becomes my subject.

I hasten to mention that I know absolutely nothing about insects and spiders. I’m a photographer, not an entomologist. But I do have this enormous encyclopaedia called the internet, so I take my photos, then try and name the bugs when I get home. The fun of macro photography is that you get to see things that aren’t visible with the naked eye, and it’s that detail that never ceases to interest and amaze me.

Last weekend I went off with my camera to a local meadow which I thought might be rich pickings for a few butterflies and dragonflies. Now, what did I say about never anticipating what you’ll see? Hardly a butterfly in sight, but I did find half a dozen different grasshoppers and crickets! I’d never seen so many different species all at the same time. By chance I’d managed to go macro-hunting at exactly the right time of day, between 5 and 7pm, and they were all busy going about their business of feeding. Most of the species I recognised from earlier photo shoots, or summer walks, and they were comfortingly familiar as an everyday sight in the English countryside during the summer months.

It wasn’t until I got home, downloaded my photos and started to trawl the net in an attempt to identity one of the grasshoppers that I realised she (or he) didn’t exist. Not officially! Most grasshoppers and crickets are green, brown, a little bit of a pinky-blush, a stripe, patches of black, creamy brown – but not this crazy lady – she’s cerise pink! Isn’t she fabulous! I’d never seen anything like her before.

Pink Grasshopper

My internet research turned up this article from the Telegraph in 2009 in which an 11 year old boy found a rare pink grasshopper that is identical to the one I photographed. They reckon that it’s a female common green grasshopper.

I’m lucky in that I happen to have a friend who’s a conservationist, and he’s taken a copy of a couple of my photos to discuss with his colleagues who specialise in entomology. So far they believe that my pink lady in quite young, and a rare variation. I’m now waiting for further feedback from other experts. From what I can gather I’ve caused quite a stir in my friend’s office, where they’re all busy discussing my pink lady.

I must admit that it’s rather fun to have seen and photographed something unusual. There’s a mystery to be solved, and the sense of the hunt goes on: only this time it’s the hunt for answers.

If you’ve haven’t tried macro photography then give it a go, you never know what you’ll find when least expecting it. Most cameras have a macro setting, it’s the one that usually has an image of flowers on it, next to the one of the mountain. All macro means is close-up. The trick is to take into account that once you start moving in closer that any tiny wobble can shift your subject out of focus, because with macro there’s such a fine line between being in and out of focus. For this reason it’s best to take several shots of the same thing, thus hedging your bets. For any animal or insect your main point of focus needs to be the eyes. When the eyes are in focus it helps us to connect emotionally and so our subject naturally feels more alive. This will give your photo more human interest and appeal to others.

Never worry about not getting the perfect shot: photography isn’t always about technical expertise, it’s about capturing an image with wow factor.


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