There can be few wildlife photographers in the northern hemisphere without at least one decent puffin picture. The bar is probably higher with puffins than with any other bird. It is then even more important to find just the right place – lighting, background and viewpoint all play a part in just the right place – and our recent Puffin Bootcamp took us to the far north to just the right place: Fair Isle. Continue reading “Puffin Bootcamp”
You would think that even in these days of meteorological uncertainty, snow above the Arctic Circle could be relied upon in February. Alas no. The normally snow-laden Lofoten Islands in northern Norway were bare this year; naked; bereft of their white mantle; lacking in the wow factor that I’ve become accustomed to. Still, there’s no point in griping (although I’ve always found it helps), one has to do one’s best. Continue reading “Languid Lofoten”
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.
From Headlands to Headspace.
Almost 2 years ago to the day I pressed the shutter with my camera pointing at a pure white ptarmigan high in the Cairngorms and in doing so bagged my first shot for the 2020VISION project. Last week I took my final images for the collection and what a difference in habitats. The Cairngorm Mountains are high, rugged and remote. Morecambe Bay is low, flat and surrounded by industry. As such, it’s not the easiest place to work, but with the expectations of the project itself, my colleagues within it and the height of the nature photograph bar generally set very high anyway, it’s been a long time since I’ve found anywhere, or anything, that is easy to put your own stamp on.
The forecast was mixed and with a short window of opportunity, I have to say I felt a wee bit pressured. The likes of Chris Gomersall, David Tipling, Danny Green and Mark Hamblin had already fed fantastic images into the story I was following – that of the UK’s estuaries and saltmarshes being ‘More than just mud’. So my task was simple : evocative scenics in dramatic light. Sounds straightforward on paper – trouble is I don’t know the area very well so I had to hit the ground running.
One of the great things about the internet is the ability to research locations and to see what other photographers have done where. Morecambe Bay is seemingly not a landscape photography magnet and I found little online that suggested obvious starting points. I sat in my campervan with a cup of tea and pondered. What were the key elements I needed to articulate here? The only word I could come up with was ‘Bigness’. Morecambe Bay is Big. Big skies, Big views…just Big. But also flat, so I needed some viewpoints and assuming dramatic skies – a pre-requisite for this type of work – I needed to get close to water to show that light to its best effect.
With these types of jobs I tend to find that working and then re-working the same few locations is more productive than charging around trying to cover everything. And so it was that over 4 days I began to gravitate towards the area around Arnside and Silverdale (fantastic cafe at RSPB Leighton Moss by the way) with dawn shoots further west at Grange.
Through a set of contacts I managed to coerce a couple of cockle fishermen to ‘model’ for me. The cockle beds in the Bay are closed presently so I’d like to point out that no cockles were harvested during the making of these pictures. The shoot however, did in many ways reflect the backdrop to why 2020VISION had chosen this location. There’s a big project underway in the area appropriately called Headlands to Headspace. This is an ambitious undertaking with the objective of rejuvenating the productivity of the Bay. I don’t just mean economic productivity, I mean ecological, cultural and even social productivity: allowing the world-class wildlife of the Bay to prosper and to allow people to benefit from improved ecological integrity – this very much includes those who make their living from harvesting natural resources.
Morecambe Bay is ostensibly a land of contradictions where natural beauty struggles to shake off the shadow of heavy industry. But it’s by no means unique in that respect. The secret perhaps – and it’s a tricky one – is not a war between one or the other, but an imaginative and sympathetic accommodation of both. Headlands to Headspace is just about right. Standing out on the mudflats at dawn with a peregrine calling nearby and with Bigness in my viewfinder, Headspace was what was offered and we all need to take up that offer when it’s made available. It’s fair to say that over 2 years working on 2020VISION I’ve had plenty of Headaches but when that memory fades, it will be the magical Headspace moments that stay with me.
Favourite images of 2011: No.1
The great thing about the still image is that it transports you back to the time and place you shot it. I try to discipline myself not to let that experience influence my objectivity when evaluating images, but in reality it’s damned difficult.
This was a moody broody evening on top of Sumburgh Head on Shetland and if truth be told there was an air of disappointment within our tour group as the cliff tops were almost bereft of puffins. Where there’s mood and brood however, there are pictures and as the sun peeped through the billowing clouds I could see gliding fulmars silhouetted against the golden sea. I like this type of picture and I like this particular picture because it was a something from nothing situation. Despite my pleas I’m not sure too many of our group shot it. Perhaps they didn’t like it – which is one of the other great things about photography!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief look back at 2011. The images I chose are not my best necessarily but represent a personal emotion, a memory. That for me is what photography is all about.
Have a great 2012 shooting new memories!
The (very) Wild West.
Any photographer visiting Scotland’s Western Isles will set off with two surefire expectations: rain and wind. They’ll also have in the back of their mind a nugget of hope: exciting light. Of course the latter is largely dictated by the former. It is the constant stream of Atlantic weather fronts which bombard these low-lying islands, that give rise to some of the most dynamic light anywhere.
And so it was with expectation and hope in mind (plus a decent set of waterproofs) that I recently set off for Lewis, Harris and North Uist (in that order). It had been 10 long years since I last visited the Outer Hebrides and apart from re-acquainting myself with some favoured sites, I was charged with the task of capturing the essence of the Hebridean coastline for the 2020VISION project. Now the deal is quite simple in these remote islands: wait for long enough (normally in horizontal sleet) and you’ll get good light. And so I did.
It was windy, in fact at times it was extremely windy and of course it did rain. But between the showers, the light at times was sublime. It’s not always a pretty place; it’s not always comfortable. But when it’s good, it’s very, very good.
And now for the capitalist sting in the tail: did I mention we’re running a tour to the Hebs in 2012? No? Well I’m mentioning it now! If you’d like to join me, view the tour here.