Tag Archive: landscape

No pain, no gain.

Without realising, I’ve been dashing around Scotland for the last 20 years with my head wedged firmly between my buttocks (too much detail?). I’ve not intended to be blind to the landscape in front of me but rather than look, see and ‘feel’, I’ve rather tended to simply consume. Recently however, I’ve forced myself to explore the Scottish landscape afresh; to put it in a wider perspective; to understand and appreciate it better, or more fully.

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Island Trilogy

Rain and wind are regular companions on Scotland’s west coast and so it was no surprise when on our first day on Harris, the first port of call on our recent Island Trilogy tour, dawn arrived and brought with it the wet stuff. Continue reading

Fresh or fodder?

On a recent photo tour I overheard my co-guide Mark Hamblin being asked about his favourite image. Mark replied that he tended towards images he’d recently taken, implying that ‘freshness’ equated to enduring ‘quality’. It’s inevitable that when photographers, even established pros like Mark, acquire new images, especially from a place that they’ve never before photographed, there is an emotional attachment to those images: Continue reading

Extreme Iceland

It is entirely possible that Iceland will be unkind to you. Not that the Icelandic people are unpleasant you understand, far from it, but the island can serve up copious helpings of rain, snow and wind followed by more rain, snow and wind. Did I mention that it might rain? On the plus side, it is that very changeability that makes Iceland such an exciting place to photograph. Continue reading

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.

Iceland – fifty shades of grey.

If you’ve found this blog post and are expecting comment on an Icelandic translation of an erotic novel by E.L. James, I’m sorry to disappoint and, if you’re looking for that form of escapism, I’m not sure this post about nature photography will quite do it for you. Thanks anyway for dropping by.

If I was asked for just one word that summed up our recent Iceland tour, that word would have to be Grey. Grey, grey and more grey. Fifty or more shades of it. It can work, grey, but it’s hard work. It’s even harder however, to be angry with Iceland, a place that delivers a constant soundtrack of drumming snipe, bugling swans and piping waders. And big skies of course. Grey but big.

Our recent photo tour kicked off in the south where black sand beaches with troll-like outcrops are caressed by aquamarine waters, where icebergs centuries old calve into lagoons and where on the black lava plateaux, ptarmigan, skuas and golden plover raise their young in the brief window of summer. With almost 24-hr. daylight, we were up early and out late but with just a handful of exceptions, had to make the most of indifferent weather.

Heading west we enjoyed a single sun-kissed evening photographing red-throated divers, that most primeval of all birds and a real symbol of the north. With a confiding pair with well-grown chicks, accompanied by omnipresent phalaropes, our group could indulge their passion for bird photography that would be nigh on possible to replicate elsewhere. The nearby river and waterfalls offered opportunities with whooper swans, fulmars and harlequin ducks, the latter being responsible for a severe drenching of some of our group.

Our final port of call was Iceland’s west coast where we spent a long day on the remote island of Flatey, home to tame redshanks, terns, black guillemots and the ever-present red-necked phalaropes. Thankfully the weather held when it needed to but again, failed to excel itself. The Fish and Chips on the ferry were decent though.

Iceland is one of the most dynamic and fascinating landscapes of the north but it’s charms need to be teased out, it’s secrets are not easily given up. And of course, it’s become a hotspot for nature photographers all attempting to put their own spin on well-visited locations. The bar then, is high before you even start. 10 days, 10 weeks, 10 years – it’s not enough to tell Iceland’s story and so I’ll be back. You’d think there was only so much grey anyone can take? Nah, bring it on.

Thanks as ever to our spirited group and to my co-guide Mark Hamblin who needs to invest in a proper razor (beard trimmers are just plain wrong). As usual we shared ups, downs and lots of stuff in between. If we ever find out who nicked Sue’s sandwich, there’ll be trouble!

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.

Iceland 2012

1 x obliterated 5d; 1 x smashed polariser; 2 x heavily bruised knees after a spectacular tumble and several severely furrowed brows and glazed eyes. I should also mention bruised buttocks from bumping around in the back of our minibus (that’s a different story though). This was the collective toll on our group following a recent trip to Iceland which coincided with 24hr daylight and a subsequent requirement to ignore the time and live by the light.

I love Iceland because I love drama. Skies full of threat, beaches full of nothing and birds everywhere – not a massive range but in massive numbers. Working at this time of year however, is demanding and there’s no doubt it’s tough on the body clock. But hey, you only live once.

Iceland has become THE destination for photo-tour groups in recent years. It wasn’t so much a secret before, it just didn’t seem to catch people’s attention. The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull a few years back changed all that and brought Iceland global attention. And rightly so – it’s a photographer’s nirvana.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of where we went and what we shot but the images here should give you an idea of the variety on offer. Once again, we enjoyed the company of a great group of guests so my thanks (in no particular order) to Pauline & Chris, Cynthia and Wojciech, Ann and Helen, Melanie, Adrian, Richard and Cheryl for their good humour and for being in the Little Green Bus Gang. My thanks also to my co-pilot on this tour Mark Hamblin who in his maturing years, seems to have developed a talent for impersonating fast-moving locomotives in his sleep. Over the years I’ve shared endless rooms with the Snorer From Hell but this trip reached new heights.

We’ll be doing it all over again next year so if you want to join us, drop us a line.

More than just a bog…a headache.

Working up in the Flow country of northern Scotland recently, I was reminded why celebrated landscape photographers in say, Estonia or The Netherlands, are pretty thin on the ground. Capturing the essence of very flat landscapes is damned difficult. And along with 2020VISION colleagues Lorne & Fergus Gill, Rob Jordan and Mark Hamblin, I was aiming to capture more of ‘the essence’ of this wild place; to tell the story of why this is ‘More than just a bog.’

Basic ingredients: flat, wet ground and big skies – none of the foreground lochs and boulder-strewn moorlands of the classic Highland landscape; no rushing burns or mountain backdrops. In fact stripped of most of the usual contributory components, my head was sore from the constant scratching.

But work hard – and in this case, work together – and the story starts to unfold. Reviewing my initial images, I was disappointed but having secured several timelapse sequences, and knowing what was coming from the rest of the team, it all started to take shape.

This massive area of blanket bog – the most expansive of its kind anywhere – has a story to tell but it’s a story hidden in the layers of carbon-locking peat that make up its very existence. Those layers of peat draw on centuries of accumulated decaying vegetation – it’s an historical story. Yet the significance of peat bog as a carbon store is only just coming to the fore and it’s the future more than the past, that this wild place will influence. Photographically it’s not easy but the reasons for protecting it are manifest.

Juggling the kitchenware.

Plate-spinning is a clever thing. When done well it looks easy. But it’s not just a question of calculating speed and angles, it’s the ability to focus intently on several events running simultaneously. I plate spin every day and every day there is more ceramic set in motion and consequently more potential for a major calamity.

It’s been a hugely busy period with the (almost) completion of the Caledonia book, researching and designing new photo-tours, commissioning a major web site update and coordinating the not insignificant 2020VISION project. Oh, and trying to make the most of the fantastic weather with my camera!

So what’s my point? Well the other day I was checking some of our photo-tour brochures and I came across our Career Counselling service ( I say ‘our’; it was designed and is delivered by Niall Benvie) and was wondering what sort of advice we should offer to the aspiring photographer. Well certainly dedication; without doubt resolve, and perhaps the ability to accept rejection…repeatedly. But perhaps more than anything – and this doesn’t just apply to nature photography – we need to learn to plate spin; to keep lots of different facets of our lives on the boil. You need to be good at different things – and all at the same time. I admire great plate spinners and have to admit to a bit of the green-eyed monster as I don’t do it nearly as well as many. I have long concluded however, that successful (and I’m never quite sure how that is defined) nature photography has got less and less to do with your ability behind the camera. So don’t be tempted to put all your eggs in that particular basket…or on that plate. Have to be off now – a bit of a mess to sweep up off the kitchen floor.