Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Up & Coming Events


Just wanted to share a quick update on events happening in the next few months.

Pop-Up Shop at the Black Swan Arts in Frome
16th June - 28th June
We will be open every day 9am - 5pm.

Sunday 22nd June we have booked the Tower room for talks and drop in sessions:
Talks are 30 minutes with time for questions, limited to just 20 people and tickets are just £2 each or £3 if you buy for two different talks and will be available from the shop from Monday 16th June or you can pre-book by contacting us direct on or the drop in sessions are completely free.

10am - 11am Free Drop In Session with Victoria Hillman
11am - 12pm Rosemary Hillman "Quilts To Snuggle Up With"
12pm - 1pm Victoria Hillman "Somerset"
1pm - 2pm Free Drop In Session with Victoria Hillman
2pm - 3pm Rosemary Hillman "Quilts For Decoration"
3pm - 4pm Victoria Hillman "Around The World"

To keep up to date with the Pop_Up Shop we have our own brand new Facebook page where you can also see some of the items we will be selling, many of which are one-offs or limited editions.

Manfrotto Takeover Days

Great in-store days with free talks and one-to-one sessions, exclusive offers, competitions and much more. I will be presenting a brand spanking new talk on Thursday 24th July at Clifton Cameras in Dursley at 12:30pm with some never seen before images and will also be available for one-to-one sessions. For more details click on the link below.

Autumn Workshops

Saturday 27th September or Sunday 28th September (both days will be the same)
Shepton Mallet
£60 each, limited to six people per day, for more details and to book click on the link below and select Autumn workshops, I have 6 spaces left on the Saturday and only 3 left for the Sunday.

Mid Somerset Camera Club Talk

Creative Nature
Tuesday 30th September, 8pm
Tor Leisure, Street Road, Glastonbury, BA6 9EF

Castle Cary Gardening Club Talk

Natural World Through My Lens
Thursday 2nd October, 7:30om
Methodist Schoolroom, Caslte Cary

And finally, I would like to share with you my event photography page (which I have finally got around to setting up!) and blog. I am running the event photography under my married name to keep the two areas separate, although I take my creativity that I use in my wildlife and nature photography over to my event photography to be able to offer something different.

Well, that's it for now, don't forget to pop in and say hello at our shop in Frome if you are in the area. Coming soon will be an update on the adders I have been photographing, some wonderful orchids and of course plenty of bugs! 

Bye for now!

My Thoughts On The Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 DG OS HSM Lens

I was lucky enough to be able to use this lens during my two week trip to South Africa where my subjects would range from penguins to lions and everything in between. There are numerous in depth technical reviews out there about the lens complete with comparisons, but I would like to offer my thoughts on this lens in terms of use for creative wildlife photography so I will not be covering all the techy bits and bobs, purely my thoughts and opinions on how it handles for producing different images. The reason I have written the article in this way is that I know when I am looking for a new lens, I want to read about how it handles in the field when used by a photographer, see some results and get a personal idea of what the lens is really like rather than reading all the technical reviews (which are great) but they don't give real situation reviews.

If you would like all the technical details for the lens, click on the following link that will take you to Sigma Imaging UK website:

I like to do things a little differently and am always looking for new and creative ways to portray wildlife and this includes foregrounds and backgrounds as well as the main subject when composing my shot, so I was itchy to get out and put this lens through its paces.

One thing that really sparked an interest was the f2.8 aperture through the range of the lens and the internal zooming which means there is no change in the length of the lens making it ideal if you are working in potentially dusty/sandy environments. On receiving the lens the first thing that struck me was the weight, it certainly is a beast in that department and I wondered if it would be possible to use it handheld. I received the lens a couple of days before we were due to leave so decided that I would pop out for a couple of hours to get to know the lens before heading off to South Africa.

I took myself to a favourite haunt to see if I could find some snakes, on finding an adder hiding in the gorse bush I decided this would be a good place to start. I wanted to show the adder in its habitat so this meant trying to compose a shot that is looking through the thorns of the bush. Both these shots are handheld, taken in colour and black and white. The focal point is the eye of the adder and with an aperture of f4, the thorns just above the adder are in focusing showing their sharpness whilst all surrounding thorns are out of focus giving the looking through the bush into the snakes world appearance. 

I really wasn't sure if it would be possible to get a sharp image handheld given the weight of the lens, but I am incredibly pleased with these first images and it really started to get my thoughts going about what I could produce during my time in South Africa. Although it is worth mentioning that I only worked handheld with the lens for around 5-10 minutes, any longer I would recommend using a tripod. With these great initial results it was time to go and put this lens through its paces properly. The first stop was the Western Cape for penguins, baboons, lizards and whatever else we could find and time to start getting really creative.

Two very different images both with bokeh backgrounds, this lens produces beautifully dreamy bokeh as seen in the black and white image and also slightly harsher bokeh as seen in the colour image. For me the background to an image can make it or break it so being able to produce two variations of bokeh is fantastic, the smooth creamy bokeh adds a real softness to the pair of penguins on the rock together, whilst the harsher appearance really helps set off the silhouetted penguin walking along the slippery rocks.  For both these images I used the fencing to rest the lens on. 

Away from the great bokeh that can be created, you can also have perfect smooth backgrounds which really make the main subject pop out from the photograph. 

Both of the above images illustrate wonderfully the smooth backgrounds that can be achieved perfectly at f2.8 making the main subject jump out of the image whilst at the same time giving the image depth. With the rock hyrax (on the right) the ability to blur the foliage in the foreground such that is merges with the background has truly made this image what it is, giving the real sense of the animal peeking around from behind the rocks and plants. For close-up portraits this is an incredible lens and offers so much flexibility for being creative with foregrounds, backgrounds and everything in between. 

But what about picking up a small subject in its habitat? This is where the ability to limit the focal distance using the USB hub really comes into play as you can set two custom settings, so I set one with a limited focal range specifically for photographing animals in their habitat. By limiting the focusing range, the autofocus wasn't continuously searching. The other option was to manually focus, but as there was no-where to set-up a tripod my only option was to balance on the fence and use autofocus in this situation. Ok, the penguin was a little easier, but the lens really had no problems at all picking up the rather small lizard in amongst the rocks. 

Ok, so the lens has performed beyond expectation in the above situations, now for some action shots. It's one thing to be able to have time to set up and compose a portrait, but when it comes to a penguin jumping, crashing waves or even a baby baboon on the run, then it's a different kettle of fish altogether. You need to be quick and you need for your equipment to respond in a very short space of time, with the crashing waves I had the chance to take photographs over and over...... 

But, with the penguins it was a different matter. I found one penguin standing on a rock that was being battered over and over by crashing waves and knew the image that I wanted to capture, but getting it was another matter. This is one of my favourite images, the penguin is in focus with the foam from the waves being frozen in time as it crashes over the little guy. Then there was getting a penguin jumping, something that took several attempts and several different penguins but I got there in the end! I am excited to say that this lens performed very well in both these circumstances capturing the moments I wanted perfectly. 

Baboons, particularly young ones, are definitely a challenge as the move quite erratically and fast. I was busy watching/photographing three young baboons playing when this little one came running passed eating a protea flower. I have to admit I didn't think I would be able to capture this little guy in focus, but the lens focuses quickly (and almost silently) to capture the action when you need it. 

Great, very impressed so far. Very responsive, quick focusing, so many creative possibilities to be had. However, all these shots were taken on very bright sunny days. Next stop on the trip was to be a different challenge, off to the bush in search of some bigger animals, the light would be more tricky and there would be less time and opportunity to compose the shot. I am lucky that I have visited South Africa several times, but this time I was looking for something very different from my photography. The first challenge was shooting late afternoon with animals that were constantly on the move, elephants and rhino! I have some wonderful close up shots, but the two I would like to share with you are taking a step back, showing the animal in their habitat and giving them space in the frame. 

The reason I picked these two images is because they show a different aspect to the other images in this review. I could have easily zoomed in to 300mm but opted to take a step back and show more of the habitat. Even though the aperture was set at f2.8, being further away from my subject more of the area comes into focus, but it gives me a fast shutter speed to allow a sharp image handheld. Although these images were taken late afternoon there was still enough light and luckily it was shining on the animals themselves. What happens once the sun goes down and you are left with the last remnants of light? Well, at f2.8 and with an ISO 500, I'd say the lens performs pretty well! 

So there you have it, my experience and thoughts on the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 DG OS HSM lens in the field. 

In summary:

Creative possibilities - many, many possibilities for creative images at any focal length, this is in part to the option to have f2.8 through the whole range. The lens itself will allow for fantastic bokeh effects and smooth backgrounds.

Responsiveness - Personally I found the lens to be fast focusing, very very quiet.

Ease of use - very easy to get to grips with, connecting the USB dock allows for easy customisation in several of the settings including speed of focus for autofocus and limiting the focal distances. Not being a particularly techy minded person I wondered how easy it would be to change these settings, trust me it's very easy to understand and change. You can set up two different custom settings.

Low Light - performs very well in low light levels, still picking up the subject well.

Design - personally I find the design works very well for me, having the zoom system internally so there is no change in the length of the lens is perfect for the smaller person!  

Any drawbacks?

For me the only thing was the weight, but it was still possible to achieve sharp in-focus images handheld, that is in part due to the great image stabilisation system. If you are using it on a tripod the weight would not be an issue (plus I'm only a small person!). 

So, I love this lens and if you looking for a multi-purpose lens with good focal range and great creative potential I would definitely recommend this particular lens. I hope you have enjoyed my different take on a lens review! I will leave with one last image of a lion. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

South Africa Part 2

Hello and welcome to part two of our South African adventure! At the end of the last post I left you with a few photos from our last few quiet days in Cape Town, after which we jumped back on the plane and headed back to Jo'burg for a couple of days before heading off to Meagen and Matthew's wedding.

After gathering some food, it was time to head off to the Blue Moonlight Lodge for a couple of days to celebrate the wedding and take a game drive, so here are a few photos from the game drive and the beautiful wedding, where I took the photos of the girls getting ready.

You can see more of the photos from the day here: Victoria Woolley Event Photography

After a wonderful few days of celebrating, it was time to say good bye to the family for a few days and head of to Mongena Reserve for a few nights with mum and dad, and chance for the four of us to celebrate our respective wedding anniversaries together. On arrival we had a bite to eat and discussed activities for the next few days, then after a quick unpack it was time to head off on our first game drive and what a way to start, rhino, elephant and even a caracal!

We decided as well as the drives we should take a bush walk and tracked a rhino and find some cool bugs, which led to a conversation that would see myself and Chris take off with Jessie the following morning for the best part of four hours in search of the smaller things, insects, small mammals, reptiles, basically whatever we could find and we were certainly not disappointed. Top of my list was a chameleon, but having no luck we set off to the dam and found some damselflies, butterflies and even a mother mouse and her babies but still no chameleon. But our luck was in and as we got back to the vehicle there it was small, cold and covered in dew drops right in front of the adapted land cruiser, not entirely sure my excitement was fully understood but I could have happily spent the next couple of hours with this little fella! So, here are a few photos of that encounter and some of the other cool critters we found on that fantastic morning in the bush.

Not one to miss an opportunity, I also wandered around the grounds looking for anything else of interest and managed to find a few lizards that were very obliging when it came to having their photos taken! Here are just a couple of them.

If you would like to see more of the images from this amazing trip just click on the link below which will take you to the album on Facebook.

I would like to take the time to extend a huge thank you to the amazing, dedicated and enthusiastic rangers at Mongena and in particular Jessie and Dafnika for all their help in finding everything that they did, it was an incredible morning and thoroughly enjoyed! I think that often when people go on safari, be it to South Africa or any other part of Africa they don't take in all the smaller species that are so vital to the ecosystem, we all love lions, elephants rhinos etc, but the invertebrates, reptiles and small mammals are so fascinating I cannot wait to have the chance to go back and spend more time looking for and photographing these smaller animals.

For now though, I am back home and there is no rest for the wicked as in less than a week I will be opening up a pop-up shop with my mum in Frome and there is lots to do! More about that in my next post, for now time to go and get wrapping and pricing!

Thanks for reading, hope you have enjoyed my instalments from South Africa. In my next post I will be sharing my thoughts on the Sigma 120-300mm lens with images.

Bye for now!!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

South Africa Part 1

Hello, I'm a bit late in posting from our trip to South Africa, but things have been a bit hectic and I only had a short time at home before I had to re-pack and head out to Romania to put the Nat Geo research to bed. But now I am back home I am playing catch up with a few things before the pop-up shop opens in just a couple of weeks time here in Frome, but more about that later.

So, South Africa was calling and although I have visited many times, this time I was going with a new perspective on my photography, as well as for a special celebration for our 1st wedding anniversary and the wedding of Meagen and Matthew and to catch up with all our family out there. As mentioned in my previous post I had a new companion with me on this trip, the Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 lens, many of the images were taken with this lens (except the lizards in this post and the chameleon and butterflies in South Africa Part Two) and in the next post I will include the link to my thoughts on this incredible lens.

After a brief stop over with family, Chris and I jump back on the plane and headed for Cape Town for a week to see some penguins and visit some vineyards and to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary. I have to say it was a very much needed week and we were very lucky with the weather with only the odd bit of sea mist in the early mornings. First up were the penguins and anything else we could find, here are just a few images for that first day!

Next up we headed off to Table Mountain in search of some lizards and great views, we were certainly not disappointed especially as there was not a cloud in sight until we were back down in Cape Town to visit the aquarium and find some dinner. I haven't been to the Two Oceans Aquarium for a few years now and I have to say a lot has changed but for the better. Everywhere you looked there was information not only about the species but also the threats they face and what is being done to conserve them, there are certainly a fair few places that I can think of that would benefit from taking a leaf out of their book in terms of informative displays! Here are just a couple of photos from Table Mountain.

We had a few more days left to explore and relax which included spending a day visiting vineyards for our anniversary and some very yummy food! So I will leave with a few last images from our adventures in Cape Town and in the next post will share our adventures back up north near Jo'burg and Pretoria.