If you photograph in northern latitudes it will only be a matter of time before you become an obsessed weather-watcher. It’s tempting to be put off in the face of ostensibly poor light and I’m as guilty as anyone for using less-than-perfect conditions as an excuse to crack on with office work. But a photo-tour takes away that choice – you have to go out, there are expectant guests eagerly waiting to exercise their trigger finger. And so it was on a recent tour in Shetland (renowned for its fickle weather) that I was reminded of the opportunities available in less than optimal conditions.
With the exception of one morning when it rained very, very hard (did I mention it rained hard) we ventured out to photograph every day. I dare say that had I been at home I probably would have stayed there for much of the time, but forced to innovate and work with whatever the weather gods offer, it’s amazing what can be picked up.
Shetland is one of those places. It can be very grey – indeed it is very grey for much of the time. One of the major benefits of working in a digital age however, is that grey is the new bright. Kicking off our tour in south Shetland we visited a thriving colony of arctic terns. I could tell the group were initially less than inspired but with a little encouragement, white birds against a white sky started to produce some nice results and importantly, I hope, persuaded our guests that sunlight isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
Moving north via Mousa and on through Yell and Unst (with most of our group enjoying close encounters with otters at various locations en-route), we came to focus our efforts on the swirling cacophonous seabird colony at Hermaness. This is a place that never fails to take my breath away and with confiding great skuas providing camera fodder on the lengthy walk up, it’s one of Britain’s must-see wildlife spectacles – with or without a camera.
Ourweek-long tour flashed by in an instant as we concluded with a day on the island of Noss complete with arms-length puffins flying in at our feet.
Shetland, like many northerly locations, can be cruel to the photographer but sit out the inevitable showers and your patience will be rewarded. Yes you have to make an effort; yes you have to think a bit about how you make the most of the often challenging conditions and yes, you will be glad of your bed each night, but make the most of what you’re given and the rewards will be well worth it.
My thanks to Cheryl, Pat, Mike, Chris, Peter, John, Rudolf and Derek for your company and I hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did. In Cheryl’s case…perhaps not!
My thanks too to Brydon Thomason of Shetland Nature for his otter expertise. We’re running our Shetland photo-tour next year – same time, same place. If you’d like to join us and wallow in the photographic potential of grey skies, you’ll be very welcome. And just to prove the sun does occasionally show it’s face…