Categories for Scotland

Worth grousing about

As the lekking season draws nearer, Mark Hamblin talks about his long-term love affair with black grouse.

I have a love-hate relationship with black grouse. Mostly, I love them. The hate bit comes in when the alarm goes off in the middle of the night and the last thing I want to do is get out of bed and drive for an hour and stomp across a wet moorland in the dark to sit in a cold hide. Continue reading

New Shoots

James Shooter is a young photographer and conservationist who came to our attention through the A Focus on Nature project. We were so impressed we gave him a job! A month in James tells us what he’s been up to. Over to you James…

My first month at Northshots has been interesting to say the least. Continue reading

Highland Odyssey

You can wax lyrical about the Scottish Highlands but the fact is that in autumn, it rains. It sometimes snows too but it always rains. OK, once we’re over that hurdle we can look at the positives. Rain brings discomfort it’s true; it also brings on premature insanity for landscape photographers (there’s only so many times you can wipe your filters dry) but very often, it brings spectacular light against spectacular skies. Continue reading

A.M.A.N.D.A. Sept ’13

Our vegetable garden is very special (just ask Pete). It’s been many years in the making and I’ve got to be honest, my tending it has been a bit hit and miss (just ask Pete).

It all started around 5 years ago when some friends helped us clear a patch to plant veggies. A year or so later I’d planted nothing and the patch was overgrown. I called in a ‘professional’ who did a splendid job putting in raised beds, a gravel path and even some rustic steps leading down to the now-spectacular stage for the planting of all manner of home grown food. He did charge us…quite a lot as it turned out (just ask Pete), but now I was set.

Well you know how it is, busy lives and all that. A year passed and then another and with the garden now overgrown (and still no vegetables) I had to call ‘the professional’ back to clear it once again. And once again he charged us. By this time Pete is calculating that a single potato or beetroot (still not sown) would costs us upwards of £30…each! He wasn’t happy.

This year was the turning point and after another visit from ‘the professional’, I planted my first crop and they’re doing just fine. I still haven’t harvested anything but I’m working on that. They will undoubtedly be the most expensive vegetables ever eaten – but they are organic!

So here’s the best bit. The other night as darkness fell I went outside and was flabbergasted to see not one, but three barn owls perched on my raised bed! I ran back inside and called Pete. We spent the next half hour mesmerised by the young owls cavorting around the vegetable garden. OK, I accept this wasn’t why we invested in it and I accept that it’s not been as productive as I intended but come on, three barn owls? That’s priceless isn’t it? Just ask Pete.

Scottish Nature Photography Festival

When I first started taking pictures I drew inspiration from lots of other photographers. In fact, I still do and there’s nothing like seeing the images of those you admire and aspire to emulate, projected large on a screen. Especially when the photographer is there to tell you how, and more importantly, why, he/she took the image. What better way then to spend an early autumnal day than at the Scottish Nature Photography Festival?

Image: Nick Cobbing.

This event, initiated by Niall Benvie over 20 years ago, is held at Battleby, just north of Perth in a purpose-built, state-of-the-art auditorium. It’s a one-day event and features some of the most active and inspiring photographers at work today. They will show their fantastic images and tell the stories behind them. Marcus McAdam and Mark Hamblin from Scotland; Nick Cobbing from England; Edwin Kats from The Netherlands and Sven Zacek from Estonia – a wealth of talent and experience all under one roof. And this year, we’re featuring a brilliant young photographer – Bertie Gregory, who at 19, has a bright future in front of him.

Alongside the speakers there will be book signings, trade and conservation stands and the chance to network with like-minded enthusiasts – always a great way to pick up on the latest gossip in the nature photography world.

Image: Mark Hamblin.

Image: Marcus McAdam.

All in all then, it’s a great day out and I’d go as far to say that if you don’t enjoy it…well, you will, so no need for rash promises that I’ll later regret!

Make a date in your diary – September 14th & 15th (programme repeated on both days). Tickets are £49-50 including lunch and refreshments.  Book your tickets here.

Image: Edwin Kats.

A puffin is a puffin is a puffin. Right?

Let’s face it there are lots of places to photograph puffins, so why go to what might seem like the ends of the earth to do so? Fair Isle is a remote island just off mainland Shetland and getting to and from it is fraught with logistical uncertainties. Low cloud, rough seas and erratic timetables all conspire to render boats and planes less reliable than we have perhaps come to expect. Don’t go to Fair Isle then if you’re on a tight timetable. It’s not as if there are billions of puffins there either – like elsewhere in their range, they are in decline – so what makes Fair Isle special?

Lighting, background and viewpoint. These are 3 words that I encourage all photo tour guests to repeat to themselves over and over like a mantra. If you understand the importance of lighting, background and viewpoint, you will see the advantages of Fair Isle. Many of the puffin burrows and loafing areas are in areas of dense thrift, or sea pinks, making the setting particularly attractive. Most allow low, intimate perspectives and the vagaries of the weather throw up some fantastic lighting (as long as you’re prepared to wait). The best thing of all though is the fact that you have the puffins pretty much to yourself 24/7, allowing you to take advantage of the best light at either end of the day. All in all then, it’s a long way to go but from a photographic perspective, it’s one of the best places of all. Sorry, but a day trip to the Farnes just doesn’t compare.

Our Puffin Bootcamp this year focused on primarily just two colonies and we worked them hard with early rises and late finishes. In between the photo sessions we enjoyed fantastic hospitality at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory and we enjoyed lots of great banter – thanks primarily to the invention of the hairdryer and an American propensity for personal trainers (don’t ask but thank to J for being a great sport).

I hope you enjoy these images as much as I enjoyed taking them. Thanks to the folk who joined this tour – hope your legs, necks, backs and feet recover! Next year’s tour is already nearly full so if you’re looking for intensive puffin photography in a fantastic location, join us.

A.M.A.N.D.A. May ’13

Is it me? Do I look stupid? Are all photographers insincere with motives that are only obvious to the most seasoned photographic spouses? Earlier this year, Pete and I both reached the 50 mark – not something to celebrate in my book but Pete insisted on a few days away on the remote island of Eigg.

Now, here is where our respective definitions of ‘a great time’ go their separate ways. Me, I envisaged long, lazy days by the fireside, leisurely walks, wine and telly. Pete’s ‘great time’ involved in what can only be described as a military operation.

Each morning the alarm would go off at 0430 and our romantic breakfast consisted of a flask of coffee and a packet of stale biscuits on a windswept beach (Pete with camera, me with pneumonia). 15 hours later, our days would end in pretty much the same way. How many pictures can you take from the same beach?

I’m perhaps being unfair – there was one highlight. Our last evening was filled with warm sunshine so I took some nibbles and wine down to my hard-working photographer on the beach. He sat still for all of ten minutes before jumping to his feet prattling on about time-lapse or something. From my pocket, a consolation prize emerged, my secret weapon, my best buddie in the whole wide world. Here we are together during a particularly romantic moment!

Thanks to Chris and Pauline for looking after the dogs and thanks to the inventor of chocolate for looking after me.

Wolfless out West.

Robin, a very likeable tour guest with an ever-so-slightly over-active analytical gene (de-brains just about anything), recently took me to task over a comment I made in a previous blog post. Referring to our Winter Yellowstone tour, I remarked that we returned ‘wolfless’ having had no sighting of the enigmatic predator. According to Robin this suggested a trophy hunting mentality which took no account of the thrill of being in such a wild place in the knowledge that wolves were out there, somewhere. It’s a fair point, my wrists are duly slapped and it perhaps hints at an increasing tendency towards measuring the success of any trip in terms of images made or sightings bagged. A sign of something I’m sure.

Robin was one of the guests on our recent Wild West Coast landscape tour from which we returned sunsetless. Sure we had brooding clouds, aquamarine seas, sun-kissed white sand beaches and pretty much the place to ourselves but for me, the clouds were the wrong clouds, the sea was the wrong shade of sea and the sky was too clear, and then not clear enough. The fact is that the photographic bar marches inexorably towards the heavens taking expectations (including mine) along with it.

These pictures won’t win any prizes but is that the point? No, no and no again. We were based in the delightful family-owned Harris Hotel (thanks guys), enjoyed great food, good craic and the islands of Harris and Lewis as a spectacular backdrop – hardly a disaster. The fickle Hebridean weather deprived us of a decent sunset but it delivered so much more as it always does. Wolfless and Sunsetless are a state of mind, one which Robin’s analysis has helped me recognise. A good philosophical slapping from time to time does the world of good!

Thanks as ever to our group for their company, to Calmac for getting us home (eventually) and to Lewis and Harris for being such splendid places (too many sheep in my view but that’s another story). Thanks also to Paul and Andy from Aspect2i, a fellow pho-tour company who showed none of the petty rivalries that so often dogs this business – check them out, they’re good guys.

If you fancy getting your fill of the Wild Western Isles, join us next spring for our Island Trilogy tour taking in Harris, Skye and Eigg. Can’t promise any wolves or in fact sunsets, but I can promise a photographic adventure – it’s what we do.