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Isle of May

It’s currently proving difficult to find sufficient time to do anything meaningful with my camera – well, I’ll qualify that statement – I’m not finding much time to spend outdoors with a camera and therefore doing anything meaningful in the world of landscape photography.

I’m finding that work and family life are absorbing most of my time at the moment. So, when I have a bit of spare time, I’m busy thinking about future projects and experimenting with a few new ideas and items of equipment. I’ve also been dipping my toe a little into the commercial side, doing a few portraits and, more specifically, automotive based photo shoots over the last few months. If anyone is interested then they can find these photos via the commercial link at the bottom of this page.

With the lack of time for landscape opportunities – being summer I also tend to find that I shoot less, ridiculously early sunrises and late sunsets mean other parts of life intrude - however, it’s left me time to do a bit of planning for late summer and on into autumn/winter.

Now, you might be wondering where I’m going with this blog post… Well, back in April (or thereabouts) I was asked if I would be interested in joining my friend Jason Owen, and two other photographers of Jason’s acquaintance - Charles and Dave - on a weeklong trip to Fife to photograph wildlife, specifically to try and capture the seabirds during the latter part of their breeding season. The highlight of the trip was the opportunity to spend a bit of time on the Isle of May, we found ourselves there during the busiest time of the year for its seabird population.

The Isle of May sits at the mouth of the Firth of Forth. The island has long been synonymous with birds, and is relatively well known due to its large population of breeding seabirds. The human history of the island goes back some way, with its most recent inhabitants being the Lighthouse Keepers and their families. It was the first recorded location of a warning light for shipping in Scotland. The main light on the island is now fully automated and uses solar panels to keep it powered. The human residents now belong to Scottish National Heritage and the RSPB/Isle of May Bird Observatory Trust volunteers.

The island is also known for its Puffin population, these ever popular birds having a reasonable presence throughout the late spring and early summer months. The island is also home to a fairly extensive Tern, Gull, Shag, Razorbill and Guillemot population. In addition to the birds there is a large rabbit population and the southern pebble beach is used by seals during their breeding season.

Wildlife in general, and birds in particular are not something that I would ever have thought much of in the past – in fact while I have done a little on previous occasions, and written a little about it on here, I find that it’s something I have to be in the right ‘mood’. This is in contrast to my love of landscape photography which comes from enjoying the outdoors, and the process of trying to pass on to the viewer why I like exploring my country, visiting new places and experiencing everything that nature can throw at you.

I am, however, starting to realise that wildlife is just as rewarding, it also involves enjoying the outdoors and it gives you an appreciation of what a fantastic variety of animals we have in Scotland. With my landscapes I tend to have a preconceived idea of what I want – well, for maybe around 80-85% of my images I do – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and that’s fine, it’s how photography is. I’ve found that I can apply the same to wildlife, once I’ve a feel for a place I find that I start to pick out what interests me. Whether this is a subject, a composition or both - spending time becoming familiar with the area and the subject is time well spent. Observing birds is actually quite entertaining, especially when you have such a variety of species as it also lets you understand their different behaviours – with a landscape you try to understand the light on the land – the intricacies of shadow and shape, with birds (or any animal for that matter) you want to learn their idiosyncrasies, learn how they behave, their habits as well as trying to understand their movement as best as you can to aid with your photography.

Over the course of the week I found myself spending more time carefully (subconsciously) picking my camera settings to suit the final image I had in my head – so much is said of wildlife photography requiring ‘fast glass’ and high frame rates from the camera – my settings usually consisted of a single focus point and single shots on the shutter. Now don’t get me wrong, I was using a fast 2.8 telephoto prime and I still found I was shooting a dozen or so images at times but I wasn’t doing it as a burst - I was carefully waiting until I had the right expression or gesture from my subject before pressing the shutter and taking just a single image at a time. The reason for taking multiple shots was to ensure I had a choice of images, this would allow me to pick out the best – those that were sharp and in focus (which was surprisingly few even when doing single shots).

I pretty much exclusively used my 300mm throughout the trip and found I was swapping my 1.4x & 2x tele-convertors in and out to suit the subject at any given time, rather than changing lenses. The only times I found myself using the burst capabilities of the camera was when trying to capture flight shots, even in these situations I found I was only taking 4-6 frames, on average, at any one time compared to my 7DII’s max 10fps capability.

So, do I have a point that I’m trying to make? Well, it’s always worth trying something different, something that gives a fresh perspective on your goals and any future achievements with your camera. I love my landscapes but I’ve also realised that there are other areas of photography that give me as much pleasure – they present different challenges and this is a good thing in the development of my skills as a photographer.

As we move into the second half of 2017 I’m hoping that I’ll find a bit more time and energy to put back into my photography. This trip was a nice break from the day to day hubbub of life and it maybe even kick-started more of an interest in pursuing wildlife photography. We shall see…