Before I moved to Scotland, more than 10 years ago now, I really, really wanted to know where was the best place for photographing Ptarmigan? Since that day I’ve tried to help others by writing the guide on how to photograph Ptarmigan.
My first trip took me up Carn Ban More on a beautiful day in June. Dotterel were singing and, after what felt like an eternity, I finally stumbled over some Ptarmigan. I think I spent about 30 minutes getting some shots before starting the long trip down. Now, with more experience, I would know to spend three or four hours with them. Getting a range of shots. Waiting for better, or a least different, light. And so began a decade of photographing Ptarmigan.
Ten years on, probably over 5000 Ptarmigan pictures later I find myself wondering… what next? Are there any more pictures of Ptarmigan to get? Do I need any more? What other Ptarmigan shots can I get that are better or different to the 5000 I already have? Am I mad? Obsessed?
Well many questions are more rhetorical and relate to photography as a whole. Indeed, why bother to take any pictures? That topic is too big for a simple blog and certainly needs several hours discourse. Preferably in a pub with a nice single malt. The truth is I love being up with the Ptarmigan. To me the hill encapsulates everything that is great about wildlife photography. Often alone, on a mountain, feeling the world around. Colder days than I ever thought possible. The wind tearing into the flesh. Looking for this charismatic wee grouse. The satisfaction of finding one that leads to the approach. Using field craft and understanding behaviour. The enjoyment of letting the Ptarmigan accept you into their environment (and this is their environment). Watching them feed, breed, sleep and squabble. It’s magic. The photograph becomes its own reward. Its almost not necessary. The enjoyment is in the process.
So when will I stop? Well I guess never. I’s not about the photograph any more – probably never has been. Thinking things over it is about getting out into the mountains. Seeing what is up there and what is happening today. Is it the same or is it different? Trying to understand and observe. Being thankful that its all still possible and I am healthy enough to enjoy it.
It’s about the experience. The isolation. The cold. The birds. Bring on winter.