I recently had the privilege of interviewing TV presenter Chris Packham for my other site: He was a very straightforward and knowledgeable chap who's clearly passionate about what he does. It was interesting to get an insight into his own garden full of birds, his photography kit and activities, and the deeper topics of the cut and thrust of modern conservation.

It's in three instalments: one, two, three. Personally I think the third is the best!

I'm getting better at keeping those supermarket pots of fresh herbs alive and well on the kitchen windowsill. The trick is to repot them into a larger pot with some half-decent compost. However I always seem to be undone by aphid infestations. I have a lovely bushy basil plant right now but it's literally crawling with aphids so I suppose it'll have to go in the bin. Either that or I accept that the basil on my pasta will be contributing protein as well as leafy goodness.

At least it makes an interesting subject for some macro photography! So it's out with the Sigma 105mm macro lens and my tripod and away we go. I have a couple of tips to impart, with photographic evidence to back them up.

When you're doing macro work the tiniest movement can ruin the photo. And I do mean the tiniest amount of movement. On the left is a photo taken by simply pressing the shutter button, which has come out disappointingly blurry, whereas on the right I've used both a 5 second self-timer and a delayed exposure: a feature of the Nikon D300 where the mirror goes up then it waits another second or so before actually taking the picture. Note that both these shots are taken with a sturdy tripod and the same exposure settings (1/10s, f11).

The picture on the right is clearly sharper. This is because the vibrations from my hand pressing the shutter button and from the reflex mirror flipping out of the way have had time to die down before the picture was taken. This is a crop at 50%, so there's even more detail to be had at 100%. A good way to appreciate the ever-present vibrations, even when working on a tripod, is to turn on Live View on the camera and zoom right in to 100%. You can see the jitter due to vibration right on the LCD screen of your DSLR, and just how much it is affected by simply touching the camera or tripod.
Here's another shot, with an evil looking beastie in the middle and a cute little one at the bottom.
BasilAphids 6552
[Incidentally, this is clearly the best title for a blog post I've ever come up with.]

I decided to have a go at photographing the moon, having noticed it being bright and clear in the sky on my walk home. This is the best I could do leaning out of my window with 400mm lens. I'm pretty sure that the blur that remains is due to the atmosphere in-between as I shooting at f6.3, 1/400s with VR. That or just soft focus! Certainly the lens will focus past infinity and turn the moon into a complete blur so you do need to focus carefully.

It's a 100% crop (at least it is if you click for the fullsize version) so that's as much as my 12.3MP D300 can do in terms of resolution. It's still tiny in the frame even with 400mm lens on a DX sensor!


A recently hectic calendar has meant no time to go to the supermarket, which isn't such a bad thing as it has shown us the back of our kitchen cupboards for the first time in a while. As we chomp through the ancient stocks a few surprises have come to light. One such was Astronaut Ice Cream, given to me as a Xmas present a year or two ago, but still good till December 2010 if you believe the foil sachet. And yes, this was in the cupboard, not the freezer.

It's real ice cream, but freeze dried, so all the water has been removed. I expected to find a powder to which I'd add water for some surreally room temperature ice creamy experience, but no. Inside the feather light pack (contents: 19g) is a single slice of Neapolitan ice cream. It looks like ice cream, but it's completely dry and crisp, with the texture of a really fine, dense foam. And apparently it's "ready to eat" as is.


So I snapped off a piece (actually the block was somewhat shattered to start with) trying not to get shards of ice cream in my eye and popped it in my mouth. It's crunchy to start with, but very quickly turns to dust which immediately combines with the saliva in your mouth to become something like ice cream. However the airy texture has been lost and there's only so much saliva in your mouth, so it's denser and perhaps pastier than the real thing. That said, it tastes the part – no doubt about it. I wonder if freezing the block to start with would add to the ice-creamy experience or just make it weirder.

I can see how the weight saving and longevity of freeze-drying are handy for trips into space, but the astronaut will still need to consume the same total quantity of water so I would have thought that vacuum packed hydrated food would take up less space overall and just be outright nicer. In fact paraphrasing from Wikipedia's article although freeze-dried ice cream was developed on request, it wasn't that popular, and was only taken into space once on Apollo 7 in 1968." It was a good present though and a conversation starter.