One thing I do know and appreciate fully is just how fortunate I am to travel to some amazing places and enjoy some amazing sights as far as the natural world is concerned: it’s not something I take for granted at all and a genuine privilege at times. As I sat on the top of a small and isolated stretch of coastline on the island of Yell in the Shetlands last month though, once again in the course of leading a trip for Natures Images I was struck though just how much this habitat, environment and the species that we were working with over the course of the ten days or so we were there were quite frankly up there among everything I have seen and experienced in my travels to date. It was a quiet little spot that I know of old and sitting with the camera resting on the ground just listening to the sound of the waves below, the feel of the breeze on my face and the (unusually I grant) warm sun on my back watching Fulmar soar alongside me and the distant shrieks of an Arctic Tern colony it was as good a reminder that you don’t have to go that far to get both great experiences and great images: it is always about getting in tune with where you are and the coasts of the UK are probably where I am able to re-tune the quickest.
Having joked about the presence of the sun it was a particularly settled period of weather in the main on that front for us and coinciding with the longest days of the year the so-called Simmer Dim of almost perpetual daylight here, it certainly provided some great opportunities to work with the many seabirds to be found here in some great photographic conditions; the seemingly ever soaring Fulmar, the increasingly successful bully of the cliffs the Great Skua (so often a rather dull bird when it comes to portraits but not in light like this), the noisy flocks of Guillemot and their precarious cliff ledge breeding habits, the constantly active Arctic Terns with whom an enjoyable hour of experimental shutter speeds proved great fun, and the unbridled joy of an encounter with an otter, freshly swum ashore with another meal of crab to devour.
One thing I have vowed to do this year is to come back with more images that give a sense of just where I have been working rather than simply concentrating on the species that I am there to work with. Given that Hermaness, situated right at the top of the island of Unst and therefore as far north as you can go in the UK, is one of my long-stated favourite three places on the planet, then this was somewhere I really needed to try to bring this resolution to bear. The dramatic and ever expanding Gannet colonies here provide ample opportunity for this, either as tight long lens glimpses of their colonial life (as well as the array of coloured netting that forms the basis of their nests) or on a shorter lens to simply take in the sheer grandeur of where they breed.
The slow shutter speed of the next image has rendered the flight of the birds over the sea as curved white lines which adds an intriguing element to the image, and I even tried some monochrome renditions as they give a fresh perspective on the texture of the place as well.
It wasn’t all sunshine and calm seas though as some strong north-easterlies set in for the last few days of the trip but it certainly made for a different feel to the coastal landscapes, this time at Sumburgh Head, as far south in the main cluster of the islands as you can get.
Strictly speaking you can go further south than this and head to the isolated island that is Fair Isle; although geographically it is half way between the Shetlands and the Orkneys it is considered part of the former. This is one of my absolute favourite places to photograph Puffins and I have been here on many occasions, either guiding or when working on my own for The Secret Lives of Puffins. As a result I have countless thousands of images of the birds here and so coaching guests aside I tend to apply the style that is influencing me most at the time when photographing well known subjects in personally well visited locations like this. This time it was my fascination with texture and colour when it comes to backgrounds and foregrounds when working with a long lens (infinitely more creative than just the single uniform canvas), the joy that interaction between them can offer photographically and of course the landscape itself: but landscapes of Fair Isle and the iconic Sheep Rock in the background simply can’t avoid having a Puffin in it!
I do so like to be beside the seaside…..