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Ambassadors Programme

Explorer

Andy Rouse

Jul10

Grebes as art

By Andy Rouse, Friday July 10, 2015
A beautiful reflection and stunning light combine to make this  one of my favourite images of recent years. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm lens and EF2x III Extender supported on a UBH45 UniqBall head.

A beautiful reflection and stunning light combine to make this
one of my favourite images of recent years. Taken on a Canon
EOS-1D X with an EF500mm lens and EF2x III Extender supported
on a UBH45 UniqBall head. © Andy Rouse

It's been quite a strange year this one, as I have been completely distracted from my usual photography obsession by the birth of our first daughter. So it means that I have been taking a lot more shots locally and as a result I began a long term project on the iconic great crested grebes in one of the town centre parks in Cardiff.

I've always enjoyed working in an urban environment; this one was not only a test of my photographic skills but my social ones too. All too often the vital moment of my photography was interrupted by a well meaning mother/jogger/rollerskating acrobat commenting, in true 'Carry On' film style, on what a big one I had and what was I photographing with it? Rather than being rude and ignore them, I always take time to be polite and explain all about the grebes, as that's my job, an animal PR agent!

Grebes have a fascinating courtship which involves several dances of vogue-like posturing, followed by periods of sleep. Not too different from human society then. I found this courtship really inspiring, so much so that I became totally obsessed by it and could not stay away. I became a regular fixture at the lake – even the grumpy bloke selling ice creams knew my name! Day by day I watched the grebes and learnt how they interacted with the light and the water. I worked out all the best angles to sit, but unfortunately since the grebes were never in the same place I had to move around a lot. Mostly to get a low angle I had my tripod in the water, keeping the big lens level with a Uniqball levelling head.

I chose to use the EOS-1D X simply because of it's amazing low light AF system and high ISO performance. My time period for shooting grebes was short as even the smallest amount of sunlight could cause their white chests to burn out. Therefore I was generally operating at ISOs above 1600 to keep a reasonable shutter speed. Bread and butter to the EOS-1D X of course.

Towards the end of the project the BBC asked me to make a short film for their Springwatch programme so I swapped my stills rig for the movie capabilities of the EOS 7D Mark II combined with the EF200-400mm lens. This produced a great quality movie file, but the only trouble was keeping the grebes in focus during their dances as they tended to move a lot. It was great to see the BBC use the 7D Mark II footage and even greater to see how well it looked on my HD TV!

I loved working with the Grebes and photographing their courtship. They inspired me to produce some of my best work in recent years, which I have made into an ebook called Crests of Fire. Grebes are cool and I hope you like these shots!

Two grebes approach each other to start the first of the courtship dances, which I called the "Head Bobber". The backlit was exquisite. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm lens supported on a UBH45 UniqBall head and underexposed by 1 stop.

Two grebes approach each other to start the first of the courtship dances, which I called the "Head Bobber". The backlit was exquisite. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm lens supported on a UBH45 UniqBall head and underexposed by 1 stop. © Andy Rouse

The most active dance this one which I called the "I've got a bigger piece of weed than you have". It was the culmination of the courtship, usually followed by sleep! Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm lens supported on a UBH45 UniqBall head.

The most active dance this one which I called the "I've got a bigger piece of weed than you have". It was the culmination of the courtship, usually followed by sleep! Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm lens supported on a UBH45 UniqBall head. © Andy Rouse