Base of Svartifoss taken in 1981 crashing onto broken black basalt columns, with a 200mm lens using a 1 second exposure.
If you like shooting waterfalls, you should visit Iceland. Without doubt, they are the jewels in Iceland’s crown. In this land of the midnight sun, you have light 24/7 in high summer in the high latitudes and the indirect light after the sun dips below the horizon is perfect for some falls. Also, the prolonged winter ensures there is a good chance that waterfalls will freeze partly if not completely, with the added interest of icicles forming.
A vertical format captures the complete fall, narrow lip and basalt columns
If I had to choose an Icelandic waterfall it would have to be Svartifoss. Probably because it was the first one I photographed more than three decades ago using Kodachrome 25 filmstock. To reach the most famous waterfall in Skaftafell National Park, it is accessed from the southern ring road and requires an hour’s uphill hike.
A horizontal panoramic format on an XPan camera shows the basalt columns dominate the setting.
Unique is often misused, but Svartifoss IS unique with the black curved basalt column wall forming a spectacular partial amphitheatre behind it. The first time I saw it, I was with a botanist who never hinted about the breath-taking sight of the relatively narrow fall crashing down onto broken black columns.
Detail of sombre basalt columns behind Svartifoss with little vegetation.
Using a slow shutter speed to capture large volume waterfalls does not work since they discharge so much water, there is no subtle rendering of the solid white mass. On the other hand, a small volume appears as a thin veil of water creating a see-through curtain with a slow shutter speed.
A Hasselblad square format incorporates the largest area of green on any image.
Each time I visit Svartifoss I try to find a new viewpoint. By varying the focal length and using every format possible from square to landscape, portrait and panoramic, it is possible to capture images that can be used for different purposes including a book cover, a website banner and to illustrate web and print articles.
A Hasselblad shot shows a full frontal of base falling onto broken columns and was the front jacket for my book How to Photograph Water.
Facts and figures
Height: 20 metres
Location: Skaftafell National Park
Fed by: ice-cold meltwater from Svinafellsjokull in the Skeiðará River
On one trip when travelling with my son, Giles, we decided to specialise in waterfalls. Jon Kr Gunnarsson’s book Icelandic waterfalls was a godsend for planning our route as it features 237 falls marked on regional maps. This invaluable source of information is no longer in print. However, I have discovered the informative website covering European waterfalls features 184 in Iceland, each with the location, height and rating, plus several photos and further information.
A long lens homes in on the black basalt rocks, but it does not have quite the same quality of my first image taken face on with a greater volume of glacial melt water.
On one trip when travelling with my son, Giles, we decided to specialise in waterfalls. Jon Kr Gunnarsson’s book Icelandic waterfalls was a godsend for planning our route as it features 237 falls marked on regional maps. This invaluable source of information is no longer in print.
However, I have discovered the informative website covering European waterfalls features 184 in Iceland, each with the location, height and rating, plus several photos and further information.
I shall be returning to capture Svartifoss in other seasons.
Thanks for reading!
My latest book – Pollination Power – was published in September 2015 by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Signed copies are available (UK customers only) from the Shop.
It was a Finalist for Book Photographer of the Year in the Garden Media Guild 2015 Awards
“Pollination Power is a beautiful and informative insight into the hidden secrets of plant pollination” BBC Wildlife Magazine January 2016
“Heather Angel has over the course of a long career written her story in hundreds of thousands of images that have served to inform us, enlighten us and elevate our spirits.” Gray Levett, Editor, Nikon Owner Magazine
Below is a selection of images taken at Kew, in my Surrey garden and overseas.
In addition to honeybees, many different types of insects pollinate flowers. They include bumblebees, solitary bees, wasps, beetles, hoverflies, flies, bee-flies, butterflies and moths. Below is a selection showing how pollen is transferred to varied parts of the body. Another post will show some vertebrate pollinators.
A bumblebee forages for pollen in an oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) with a large load in a pollen basket, RBG Kew, Surrey
When a female wool-carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) enters a rusty foxglove ﬂower (Digitalis ferruginea) the anthers deposit pollen onto her head and thorax, RBG Kew, Surrey
Bee-flies (Bombilius major) emerge as primroses open – one of several spring flowers pollinated by these insects, Surrey
Bumblebee scarabs Amphicoma (Pygopleurus) vulpes meet and mate in Tulipa armena flower, where pollen is dispersed inside the flower and some on the beetles, Turkey
When a marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) feeds on sticky lily pollen, some gets picked up on its feet, from where it is transferred to the stigma of another lily that the insect visits, Surrey
Carrion flies are attracted to the foetid smell produced by this pineapple lily (Eucomis bicolor) from South Africa and pick up pollen on each side of the thorax as they reach for the nectar, Surrey
As a swallowtail butterfly sips nectar from a hibiscus flower in China, the vibrating wings pick up pollen on their undersides
Signed copies are available (UK customers only) from my Shop
A mother white-cheeked gibbon pauses on a branch with her two-week-old baby that clings to her immediately it is born.
Photographing fast moving animals in tropical rainforests is never easy; with high temperatures and high humidity after rainfall. There are also assorted invertebrates waiting either to clamp their jaws into your flesh or leeches to suck blood, not to mention mosquitoes. Nonetheless, rainforests support such a rich and diverse flora and fauna, with exciting flowering plants that attract spectacular butterflies and well as colourful hummingbirds or sunbirds, that they never fail to lure me back.
Left: Shade loving torch ginger (Etlingera elatior). Right: Mrs Gould’s sunbird sips nectar and this is the flamboyant male.
Whilst I was working on my book Exploring Natural China, I earmarked a reserve within a tropical rainforest area in southern Yunnan to feature as one of the must see locations. Having visited twice before, I was confident I could get most of the species on my wish list.
Sunlight and shadows with shrubs, trees and lianas in the tropical rainforest at Wild Elephant Valley, Yunnan, China
The speediest way up to an area known as Wild Elephant Valley is to take the cable car. Each morning I rose early to make sure I was at the front of the queue. When my guide Sam, discovered from a ranger that a family of white-cheeked gibbons (Nomascus leucogenys) had been spotted with a newborn, I abandoned my wish list, so I could spend three whole days tracking back and forth across the forest in the hope of glimpsing the family.
A white-cheeked gibbon family relax on top of a shelter in the rainforest. The black father clasps his mate suckling their newborn.
You invariably hear the gibbons before you see them. Rustling foliage up in the canopy is a sure sign these natural gymnasts are on the move as they swing from branch to branch using their powerful arms with the four fingers curled around the branch like a hook. They can cover 12m (40 feet) in a single horizontal leap and even more if they drop vertically. Early in the morning, the haunting calls of the male-female duets are unforgettable.
Male white-cheeked gibbon has long arms that provide the momentum to swing through the canopy & distinctive white cheeks.
These gibbons exhibit a strong sexual dimorphism.The adult males are jet black with white cheek tufts and a black head tuft; whereas the females have a golden coat with black eye patches. The babies are the same golden colour as their mothers, then the youngsters become black like their father. Later on, adolescent females develop the same coloured coat as their mother.
I spent most of each day trekking through the forest, gazing up to the canopy whilst hand-holding a camera, long lens and flash. Virtually as soon as it is born, the baby clings to its mother’s fur with long fingers on the end of spidery arms. Only when the mother rests on a branch to groom or feed on leaves, flowers or fruits does the youngster release its grip with one hand and turn its head to absorb the surroundings.
A female white-cheeked gibbon with her tiny baby, uses one hand to hang from a branch.
When the gibbons are on the move, a tripod was more of a hindrance than a help. All day long, I carried a Nikon D3 camera with an 80-400mm lens, with an SB800 Speedlight fixed to the camera to use as a fill-flash for animals backlit from gaps in the canopy and to add a glint to the dark eyes. Even so, it was necessary to push the ISO between 1,000–2,500 to gain a fast enough shutter speed (at least 1/500 sec) in the poor light beneath the canopy.
It was a hard grind hand-holding my camera at the ready all day, spending more time gazing skywards than down at the ground, but I knew this was a chance in a life time. The number of images taken each day was limited, but I was rewarded with several good sightings of the mother gibbon with her newborn baby, the male on his own and just once a good clear view of the complete family.
Loss of habitat has now reduced the status of this charismatic gibbon to a critically endangered level, so I shall always treasure the three days I glimpsed fleeting cameos of a high rise family. This more than compensated for losing a few plant shots.
Asian elephants were on my original wish list and I managed to see them feeding on my last day.
Thanks for reading!
East meets West: male golden pheasant amongst bluebells in the Conservation Area, Kew Gardens
As a wildlife photographer, for many years my goal was to capture animal portraits as well as their behaviour. More recently, I especially enjoy seeking ways to combine wildlife with flowers. Sometimes, this is merely using a different focal length lens or camera angle to include flowers in the shot. Wildlife on the ground can be enhanced by including flowers in focus around them. Alternatively, massed flowers can provide colourful out of focus elements in front or one or more animals or as a colourful backdrop, shown by the laysan albatross below.
Alien golden crownbeard flowers provide a colourful backdrop to a Laysan albatross on Midway Atoll
But there is a twist to this photographer’s dream juxtaposition, because the introduced golden crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides) plants became an invasive alien on Eastern Island in Midway National Wildlife Refuge. This composite covered vast swathes of valuable nesting ground to a home of 1.5 million laysan albatross (65% of the world population). An eradication programme for the plants began in the 1990s and was intensified in 2003 using hand-pulling, mowing, and herbicide application as a means of control. The hard work has begun to pay off, with near-record numbers of both Laysan and black-footed albatrosses nesting on Midway Atoll NWR in 2012-2013.
It is thought that golden crownbeard was introduced to Midway in the 1930s as seeds in more than 9000 tons of soil imported from south west USA when the refuge was used as a military base. Now all visitors have to pass shoe-cleaning stations at the boat pier on Eastern Island.
Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica) mingle amongst thrift on Lunga, the Treshnish Isles, Scotland
Seabirds that nest on cliffs where thrift thrives, can often be framed with the pink bobbles close to their nests or burrows adding a welcome splash of colour. Such an opportunity often arises beside kittiwake nests or burrows of Atlantic puffins.
Another approach is to seek out animal pollinators that visit flowers to feed on nectar or pollen. Because I have already shown insect pollinators in a previous blog I am not including them here. Animals are creatures of habit, so that once birds and mammals have discovered a productive floriferous tree, they will return the following year.
Rainbow lorikeet feeds on copious nectar produced by drunken parrot tree (Schotia brachypetala) Australia
The drunken parrot tree – so-named because it produces copious nectar that ferments resulting in some birds falling off the tree. To date, 54 species of birds are known to feast on the nectar of this South African tree.
Some animals home into flowers to feed on the petals when they may be lucky and gain a nectar reward. Whether they be caterpillars or beetles taking small nibbles or birds and mammals plucking complete flowers to munch them, they can all be lumped together as anti-pollinators, because they damage or destroy the attractiveness of the flower to potential pollinators.
An Aztec parakeet (Eupsittula aztec) plucks a mother of cocoa (Gliricidia sepium) flower, Chiapas, Mexico
In addition to many bats that visit flowers to feast on nectar, other mammals feed on flowers themselves, often plucking them from a plant or a tree. In Madagascar, black-and-white ruffed lemurs visit the robust travellers tree flower to feed on the nectar which they expose by carefully parting the petals with their hands. Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) consume the petals of both wild and cultivated flowers and may also glean some nectar. Below a lemur has plucked a large cactus flower from a plant near one of the bungalows at Berenty in Madagascar.
A ring-tailed lemur eats a petal of a large cactus flower it picked at Berenty, Madagascar
Whilst waiting to start a game drive in search of tigers at Ranthambore, an unexpected opportunity to take a monkey with flowers arose. After spotting a Hanuman langur snatch a garland from a tourist, I followed it running off to a large strangler fig tree, where it consumed the flowers.
Having grabbed a garland from a tourist, a Hanuman langur eats the flowers, Ranthambore, India
Flowering water lilies and other aquatic plants that grow in ponds and lakes, provide added interest and colour contrast to wading wildfowl and birds paddling along the surface. Dragonflies will sometimes rest on water lily or sacred lotus flowers in-between taking to the wing to capture their prey in mid-flight.
A southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea) rests on a water lily flower in a Surrey garden pond
Hopefully, this small collection of images taken around the world will inspire you to grasp every opportunity that arises to combine wildlife with flowers to add colour to your images. Like two for the price of one, it is a win, win situation! However, regardless of where the flowers appear in the frame, they do need to be in prime condition and preferably not shrivelled or wilting.
The upper and lower shadows frame the line of adelie penguins on sunlit snow South Orkneys Antarctica
Before releasing the shutter, ensuring the correct exposure and optimum white balance helps, but arguably most important of all is the composition. After all, when shooting RAW files, the white balance is easily changed and the exposure can be adjusted; whereas often the only way the composition can be adjusted after the shutter is released, is either by cropping in on the original format (which reduces the file size) or by extending a plain coloured background area.
While there are certain rules of composition, I am a firm believer no rule is so sacrosanct that it cannot be broken. For my money, I feel composition works best when it is instinctive. Rarely do I agonise over how to compose and often I visualise the final shot before I even pick up a camera. For instance, the penguins in the image above were some way off, but I instinctively picked up my 500mm lens to frame them as I visualised.
Some people – especially landscape photographers – prefer to use a composition card, which is simply a piece of black card with the centre cut out so the frame is in the same proportions as the camera format. By holding the card in one hand and moving it back and forth from one eye, the ideal crop for the best composition can be appreciated.
Here are some examples of images with explanations of why their composition works.
Curves and sinuous lines
A straight line, such as the horizon or the sea, will cut an image into two equal halves when it runs through the centre of the frame; whereas sinuous lines help to lead the eye from one part of the frame to another.
Before the sun rose on Ewe Moor in Yorkshire, I peered into the grykes in limestone pavement for a shot illustrating how the deep cracks provide a safe haven for hart’s tongue ferns to thrive beyond the reach of grazing sheep. The curvaceous line from lower left to top right was the icing on the cake.
Green harts tongue ferns add colour contrast within a curvaceous diagonal crack in grey limestone pavement
A marine paddle worm moves forward by creating sinuous body coils from the back towards the front
Having worked with both square medium format and 35mm full frame cameras, I prefer taking any radially symmetrical subject using a square format. Quite simply, a circle in a rectangle does not work well. However, with a plain backdrop, adding an equal amount of background on all four sides can easily change a rectangular 35mm frame into a square.
For a front cover of a magazine or book, greater depth above the subject provides more negative space for the title, as below.
Overhead view of spider plant flowerhead shows radial symmetry and the flowers open from below upwards
Rule of thirds
Where do you place a single object that occupies a small part of the frame within a rectangle? If you imagine the frame is divided into nine equal parts by two equally positioned vertical lines and two horizontal lines, any one of the four intersections are worth considering the position of a single object. Also, a tall object can be positioned along two intersections on one side of the frame – preferably on the left for people who read from left to right. The grid is known as the Rule of Thirds but, like any rule, it does not have to be slavishly followed.
The four intersections are shown on the graphic below, so you can appreciate how I decided to frame a pair of cockle shells stranded on a Welsh beach.
Rule of Thirds grid divides frame into nine equal parts with 4 intersections
The Rule of Thirds first appeared in print in 1797 when John Thomas Smith described a landscape painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds in his book Remarks on Rural Scenery.
Spiny cockle shells on a sandy beach lie on the lower left intersection of the Rule of Thirds grid
Find a frame
Look for a frame such as a window in a rock, cave or tree to lead the eye towards the scene or object beyond it. A window in a house can also be used to frame a garden view.
Natural arch of North Window frames view toTurret Arch, Arches National Park, Utah, USA
Repetitive patterns and abstracts
Any subject with an overall repetitive pattern, such as veins in a leaf, seeds in a strawberry fruit, arrangements of cacti spines or ripples in water are easy to compose in any format. Random abstract patterns in nature that include lichen mosaics, bark patterns and colour patterns of scales on butterfly wings also work with any crop.
Abstract pattern on a titan arum petiole mimics lichen growths shown here with a horizontal and a vertical crop
So, before releasing the shutter, it pays to consider composition by scanning the frame to check no improvements are possible. Sometimes small adjustments to the camera angle or zooming in or out can make the world of difference.
Thanks for reading!