I spend a lot of time looking at photographs of wildlife – it’s a great way to learn more about the animals and the possibilities there are for capturing amazing images of them. But nothing beats actually being out in the field observing them in the flesh. My aspiration when it comes to wildlife photography is to stick to a few species and spend as much time as is possible watching them. Not as easy as it might seem, none of my target species are close to home, so for the time-being I have to rely on vacation time, but as I love nothing more than sitting in the middle of nowhere for hours on end watching and photographing wildlife, there is no better way I can think of to use my precious holidays.
Over the past couple of years I have remained in Scotland (and Northumbria), focusing primarily on the Eastern Scottish Highlands, the Isle of Mull and East Lothian. I don’t want to be one of those photographers who travels to far-flung places just to tick an animal off the list, not that there’s anything wrong with that. For me, the thrill is observing animals natural behaviours and taking photographs that I find emotive and interesting. The more time you spend with them the greater the chance of achieving this. Talking to other photographers is another great way to learn more, as is reading books on the subject. I’ve just finished an excellent book by Marianne Taylor on hares “The Way of the Hare” which I’d highly recommend.
My target species are mountain hares, red squirrels, puffins, gannets and, my favourite animal of all, the otter. I’d also like to spend more time with beavers as I find them fascinating.
I’m going to let the photographs demonstrate what I’m trying to say.
I spent a wonderful day in Neil McIntyre‘s new red squirrel hide on the Rothiemurchas Estate in the Cairngorms. It’s set in Caledonian pine forest and when I was there in August the forest floor was covered in purple heather – stunning. I’m going to do a full blog on this soon, but in the meantime… just as I was packing up I spotted this little squirrel lying on a distant branch, probably exhausted after all the hazelnuts it had eaten throughout the day! I’d never seen this before and finally managed to find an angle unobstructed by other branches. I haven’t come across too many similar images (although I’m sure they exist!). Neil, who I consider to be “the squirrel guy” told me he’s never successfully managed to photograph this behaviour.
So many red squirrel photographs are close-ups of these adorable animals clutching a nut in their paws – I have hundreds of those. But this is something a bit different, also from Neil’s hide. This image instantly appealed to me. I like the sense of scale and the light. The scots pine trees are huge and the red squirrels so small.
And finally, this red squirrel photo (yes, it does have a nut in its mouth) makes me smile!
This next squirrel was photographed high up a tree at the RSPB Loch Garten Osprey Centre – the benefit of having a cropped frame camera with a 150-600mm lens giving me a focal distance of 900mm. It’s the first time I have ever seen a red squirrel eating natural food, not nuts.
My priority on my highland trips is to visit the mountain hares. I wrote a blog about this a while back, so I’ll try not to repeat myself, but ever since I was first introduced to them by Laurie Campbell on the Aigas photography masterclass week I’ve been smitten. In the past year I’ve been up the hill seven times and spent many wonderful hours sitting observing and photographing these gorgeous animals. They are definitely most active in the winter months when I witnessed all sorts of behaviour.
After an extensive grooming session, this one had a snow bath…
Here are a few of it grooming – again these always make me smile when I look at them.
In August, again with the gorgeous purple heather carpeting the hillside, I was able to focus more on facial expressions. I love the look on this animal’s face.
I had hares yawning and sticking out their tongues…
And finally this pair, having a snooze.
Puffins are also fantastic to watch and photograph. I’ve written about this year’s two trips already, but here are a couple of images to show the kind of pictures I like.
The first is so romantic, the way the puffin on the left is looking up to the one on the right is lovely. The second is another one that makes me smile. This puffin spent ages trying to detach these grasses for its nest, without a lot of success, but it did put a whole lot of effort into it!
I haven’t yet really taken any photographs of otters that I’m 100% pleased with – but I’m on an otter workshop later this year so fingers crossed! I did photograph this gorgeous otter cub in the Scottish Borders but the light wasn’t great.
Finally, it is possible to find some species to photograph without leaving my bedroom! During the spring I spent many enjoyable hours sitting at the window photographing garden birds in my neighbour’s cherry tree. I can watch birds all day!