Inspiration and exhaustion in equal measure.

I think it’s fair to say, I normally don’t do cities and I definitely don’t do London. Unless there’s good reason. Good reason this last weekend was the Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards ceremony and the 2-day Wildphotos symposium – both inspiring and at the same time demanding.

I’m really pleased to have landed a place in this year’s competition, but I’m doubly pleased that my son Sam got a runner-up in his age category.

Following the celebrations (great to see so many photographers I’ve not seen for ages) and a few too many glasses of wine, it was onto Wildphotos where I took to the stage with my soapbox in hand. All seemed to pass off without major incident which is the first thing you hope for on such occasions. Thanks to everyone who came up to say hello and sorry it was all a bit manic.

A couple of images below – more on the Northshots Facebook page shortly.

BWPA holds a message

The results of this year’s British Wildlife Photographer of the Year have now been announced and attractive though the portfolio of images is, there is something more telling about the winning selection.  Generally the images fall into two categories:

1. Those shot at well-visited, easily accessible locations (including workshop sites).

2. Those shot close to the photographers home.

The former images rely on technical competence, creative interpretation but little fieldwork and preparation.  The latter rely on subject knowledge and a decent amount of groundwork in advance.

So does one approach hold more merit than the other?  Not necessarily unless your criteria is originality.  The winning image by Steve Young features a herring gull – not a species that would encourage many photographers to travel in search of.  It’s not my personal favourite but it is original, and as such surprises the viewer.  In an age where it takes something special to pull off that surprise, should we all be looking for herring gulls on our local patch?

The images of mine featured in the competition portfolio were all shot within 1km of my home.  That’s certainly telling me something.

Bears and more bears.

With tours to Finland and Alaska now completed, we’re already looking at bear options for next year. If we’re honest, we just can’t get enough of bears and judging from enquiry levels, neither can you!

We’ll more than likely be staging a bear (and wolf) tour to Finland, so if you’re interested, do drop us a line.

At a crossroads?

Niall Benvie’s blog is always a thought-provoking retreat (click here to read) and often allows me a cup of tea, a digestive and 5 mins. of escapism along an interesting road of parallel thinking.  In his latest post he discusses the ever-changing definition of ‘nature photography’.

The range of responses underlines our need to pigeon-hole this particular genre of imagery, something that both bemuses and frustrates me personally.

More and more photographers are thinking not about what they shoot and how they shoot it, but about what they DO with their images; how they package their product. I’m not convinced of the need to define nature photography, but of the need for it to work on behalf of its subjects. Let’s not get too hung up about what it is, let’s channel our energies into exposing our work to our audience. If in doing so we move them on an emotional level, I for one don’t care what we call it.

Extra Winter Wildlife anyone?

Our Winter Wildlife photo-tours are all now fully booked but there is a possibility that we’ll be adding a further winter tour.  Mountains & Moors will focus on the unique wildlife and landscapes of Scotland’s uplands – ptarmigan, mountain hare and red deer, as well as the spectacular landscapes of the Cairngorms and Inverpolly.

If you’re interested in booking a place, please do let us know as we’re presently gauging interest.

Dates are likely to be March 5-11 2011.

Individual or species?

This month’s Outdoor Photography magazine carries an interesting piece by Peter Moonlight on the number of photographers now visiting the Donna Nook grey seal colony in Lincolnshire – anecdotal evidence suggests upwards of 200 on a busy day. The site is managed by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and they are increasingly concerned about the impact of irresponsible photographers on pup abandonment.

So how do we define ‘irresponsible’? Every photographer I know that’s been to Donna Nook blames someone else and claims that their finely honed fieldcraft or professional status exempts them from being ‘irresponsible’. But if we define the term by the causing of disturbance – no matter how insignificant- then every photographer who visits, is ‘irresponsible’ whether they’re prepared to admit it or not. For the record, I am one of those implicated.

The ‘problem’ is not unique to Lincolnshire’s seals. Wherever there is an opportunity to get close to wildlife, it’s inevitable that a photographer/filmmaker will take that opportunity. The images find their way into the public domain and more photographers visit. Their images get seen and so on and so on. But I’m not sure we can have it both ways.

Even at a political level there is a mandate to encourage public engagement with nature. Those responsible for fulfilling that task often rely on imagery as a catalyst to cajole that engagement. That is exactly what has happened at Donna Nook – with tens of thousands of people now visiting the main seal colony each year; it’s a PR success story.

The irony of course is that the UK grey seal population has increased dramatically in recent decades – not because of over-zealous photographers but certainly in spite of them. Ditto Bass Rock’s gannets and Wales’ red kites.

I’m not condoning irresponsible photographers and for what it’s worth, I won’t be visiting Donna Nook until management changes, but we can’t expect to celebrate Britain’s wildlife through the medium of imagery and then reel at the consequences.

Prague closes to Wild Wonders.

The Wild Wonders of Europe outdoor exhibition in Prague has drawn to a close but it’s stay in The Hague has been extended into September.

To see a video of The Hague opening ceremony with Princess Irene of The Netherlands, visit:

It’s all over.

Tardy blog updates mean two things:

1. No new pictures to show.
2. No new pictures to show because I’ve not left the office.

Actually that’s not completely true but as cold air wafts through the office window, I reluctantly conclude that summer has passed me by and a new season is beckoning. To be fair August is a dreadful month in my book. Often wet, always midgy and little in the way of inspiration. So summer might have been a non-event but the wonderful hues of autumn are not far away – bring it on!

New Frontiers.

I’ll be delivering the first of a series of AV shows, entitled NEW FRONTIERS on September 3, which I’ve just realised is the evening before The Scottish Nature Photography Fair in Perth. So if you’re travelling north to SNPF, why not drop by?

The host is the Renfrewshire RSPB Group (a very friendly bunch) and the venue is The MacMasters Centre, Donaldson Drive, Renfrew (just off J26 of M8). Start time 7.30pm.

Just drop us an e-mail if you need any more details.

Feast or famine.

I feel a bit like a winter squirrel or mouse. I’ve been on a few forays of late – gathering a harvest of images to see me through the lean times. Now I’ve scurried back into my hole (sometimes this office can only be described thus) to cache my goodies. I won’t see the light of day until my next foray, such is the administrative burden of modern photography.

My plight is eased every so often as an image catches my eye – not through its rarity value but more often than not, because of unusual lighting.