Glastonbury Murmurations

It is Murmurations not murmations, I’ve been spelling it wrong this whole time, and had to hastily go back and swap each wrong spelling before publishing.

Try and guess the slowed down version of the song I used?

Starling murmurations are incredible in person. This might undermine the whole blog post, but pictures don’t really do justice to the scale, and the sheer amount of starlings flying over in unison. I took the video above to try and show what it was like at the time.

This was about as much colour as the sky would produce, and even that has been tweaked a little bit in post.

If you are thinking of going, the RSPB website has loads of useful information. There is a worrying section in the website about turning you away if the car park is full – this might happen over christmas – but I’ve never had a problem visiting in January/February time, there have always been spaces.

There are two main reserves – Ham Wall & Shapwick Heath. Watch out as only one of them is dog friendly, so it’s worth checking. You can phone them up, and they advise on an automated line which reserve the starlings roosted on the previous evening.

One of my main influences in venturing out to Glastonbury is the Murmurations photobook by Billy Barraclough, it a series of photos from his local reserve taken in lockdown, and the images are stunning.

Once there, I wasn’t sure how to find the best viewing spot. I found the best method was to just have a wander, and spot a few people that looked like they knew what they were doing, and just see what location they chose to watch.

Timings – they are wild birds, which means they are pleasingly random and unpredictable. I think it depends on the weather that day, but on my visits they started flying over around 30/40 minutes before sunset, and can keep flying over until dusk. Part of the fun is not really knowing exactly where and how many will fly over. Or even when you think they have mostly stopped, a massive flock will fly over all at once.

This river was so still, I like how the algae undisturbed has formed these abstract patterns on the surface.

The first time I visited, there is a long straight road that takes you to the car park. I noticed there were plenty of abandoned looking buildings. So on the next visit I made an effort to arrive extra early, and went for a wander down the road to have a (cautious) explore.

It’s hard to capture the scale of the murmurations in the photos, I think this one helps to give a little bit of scale. All these photos were taken with ‘normal’ focal lengths a 50mm & 85mm, which helps give a regular perspective. This wasn’t really a conscious choice, it was just because I don’t have a decent telephoto lens.

Even if you are not interested in photography or bird watching, I would recommend visiting to watch the murmurations. I’m sure I missed a whole load of potential photographs, because I was just enjoying watching it unfold. It’s nice to have an excuse to go out into nature, and just enjoy how peaceful and quiet and still everything is. It’s so quiet you can hear the sound of their wings when they fly directly overhead. There is something about the organised chaos of the thousands of birds, all flying so closely together, that I find quite soothing.

Heading back to the car after the sun had set, I noticed the sky reflecting in this lake, and managed to get a photo just before it got too dark.

2022 Highlights

Now that 2022 has finished, I thought it might be fun to look back through all of the photos I took last year, and add all of my favourites into a blog post. I wish I had thought of this before, as it would be great to have a condensed archive of each year, and be able to view at a glance how it has changed year on year. Oh well, better late than never.

85mm Lens

An 85mm lens is great fun to use, even if you never shoot portrait (like me). The lens has a really unique look, which I really love.

The reason I wanted an 85mm lens, was for that super shallow depth of field. I always wanted more background separation. Without buying a full medium format setup, an 85mm lens seemed like the next best option for more blur. When I first started looking at lenses for my Sony A7 I was a little bit shocked. A lot of the lenses at this focal length are aimed at pros and come with pro prices. The Sony 85mm f/1.4 is £1,750, which is way way way more than I was looking to spend.

The choice was either an older manual lens with an adapter (Philip Reeve’s website is an absolute goldmine for information on older manual lenses) or a cheaper option from one of the budget friendly brands.

I’m terrible at making decisions, and will spend forever weighing up all the options before making a decision, then overthinking that decision and changing my mind again. I saw a used Samyang on ebay, impulsively made an offer, which was accepted, then breathed a sigh of relief that I can stop spending all my time reading reviews and watching youtube videos about different lenses. It can be fun to geek out about gear, but I find the obsession of technical details like MTF charts ends up boring me to tears.

The main thing I want to know about the lens, is it any good under normal everyday use? From a price point of view the Samyang costs about 10% of the price of the Sony, so even if it is just broadly fine, for the price that seems fair enough.

All the images in this blog post were taken with the Samyang 85mm, which hopefully that gives a good idea of what the final images look like. I;ve added a few zoomed crops, so you can slide between to see what it looks like at 100%. Personally, I’m really happy with it, it’s pretty basic, and definitely has it’s quirks, but I’ve really grown to love it, and can’t see myself ever replacing it as I have a real fondness for the type of images it produces.

Lets start with it’s quirks.

Fully manual – Manual focus only, plus there are no electronic contacts so it doesn’t communicate with the camera at all. Its basically a big dumb lump of metal and glass. Which suits me perfectly, I’m sure 90% of the features on my camera are wasted on me, as long as it has Aperture mode and focus peaking, that’s all I really need. My dream camera would be the A7r I have now, but with an iso & shutter dial, I’d never have dive into the settings ever again.

Sharpness – at f/1.4 it’s a little bit fuzzy, but step to f/2 and it’s it more than sharp enough. I treat it like an f/2 lens, and avoid f/1.4 completely.

Chromatic aberration/purple fringing, you will definitely notice this if you are used to a more premium lens. You can see an example of the purple fringing in the image below. I’m not looking for optical perfection, so I can live it.

Low contrast – none of the images are what I would describe as being ‘punchy’ even in midday sun. I personally like this look, and even push it a little further in post. But if this isn’t your thing, I can imagine being a little bit disappointed

It’s pretty big – the Sony mirrorless version is even larger than the version for SLR’s, it definitely sticks out lot; plus be prepared that none of your filters will fit the huge 77mm lens ring.

But on the list of positives, the background separation is everything I hoped it would be. It really is amazing how great it is at separating the subject from the background. Once you nail your focal point, the background just seems to slowly melt away. You can isolate objects that just wouldn’t be possible with a shorter focal length. The ramp in that photo above is roughly 3 metres, but even getting far enough back to fit it all in to the frame, you can still achieve that nice separation.

The downside to this, is when I first got the lens I was obsessed with shooting everything wide open, and just trying to get the background as blurry as possible. As fun as this was, it can start to get old quite quickly. So now I try to use it in moderation, when the photo (I hope) calls for some blurriness, rather than using it for every photo just because I can. It reminds me a little but of getting stuck in the HDR hole in the stages of photography diagram.

Another problem, is that if you want to get perfect front to back sharpness, this lens is not going to do that. Even stopped down to f/8, the depth of field is surprisingly shallow.

This isn’t really meant to be a review of the lens, but more a rough guide of what it can do, ad how it looks under normal day to day use.