When I started out offering guiding about 12 years ago the photography world was different and the majority of ebirder travellers were nature lovers wanting to take better photographs of the marvellous nature we have here in Scotland. Back then we were running trips to Mull to look for Otters and spending time in the forests looking for Crested Tits.
Zoom forward 10 years and the ‘guided’ photography market is saturated with various guides and hides offering most species imaginable. Things I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of way back then; Pine Marten, Water Rail, Sparrowhawk, Black Throated Diver, in fact you name it and a hide probably exists. Over the same time the market has changed to embrace the ‘pay and display’ type of photography. Nice, neat subjects on carefully selected perches with stunning backgrounds. I have no issue with this. In fact I have enjoyed using several hides from many others – with pleasing results.
BUT, and its a big but, for me this doesn’t really feel like wildlife photography. Taking shots that are virtually guaranteed at a prearranged set up is effectively just pressing a button. I barely need to think and rarely need to understand the subject. It is all about the photograph. Which is fine, if all you want is a photograph. But, I don’t. I want the experience. I want to become part of nature and enjoy the feeling of sand, rock, heather or bog under my feet. I want to take in the vista. I have no issue with ‘pay and display’ hide photography (when the subject’s welfare is put first), but its just not for me.
So I’ve decided to focus on what I love doing – photographing raw nature – and if you want to come along for the ride that would be great.
What does this mean?
Let me start with a brief story. I was on the Outer Hebrides photographing Short Eared Owls. It’s a ‘tough’ gig, with long hours, sleep deprivation, midges and endless frustration! But, the rewards make it worthwhile. In order to get a fantastic shot of an owl you have to be either extremely lucky, or dedicated to the cause. You need to get to know individual owls, track them and watch them. Eventually it all comes together. It is very challenging and rewarding.
In 2018, on the last evening, in golden light, a Short Eared Owl sat in the Heather whilst we took photographs for over an hour. It was perfect. Happy with our lot we headed back to base with a small detour to another owl territory en route.
It was now 9.45pm. As we approached the area we could see an owl in a high territorial/defensive flight pattern. It didn’t seem unusual. We see this behaviour every time a Buzzard or large Gull passes by a nest site. This time was different. To our disbelief they were mobbing a GOLDEN EAGLE that had caught a goose. Soon after wards the Owls were joined by a Hen Harrier as they tried to push the Eagle away. for the next 20 minutes we sat in disbelief. We filled our memory cards. We photographed the lot. More importantly we watched and witnessed something magical. All in the dying embers of the June sun. What a moment!
And that was when it sank in. This is what I want to do.
The risk is massive. The reward is immense. I want to take unique pictures of wildlife behaving totally naturally, and so I’m prepared to put the time and effort in. I like the challenge and I like the reward. I love the fact that the wildlife is doing its own thing. I’m not interfering. I’m not tying mice to posts or putting fish in a tank to get a perfect image. The animals are going to do what they want, and if it happens within range and I get a shot then perfect. If it doesn’t then so be it.