Blog. Shutter Up!
My blog, Shutter Up, will feature a behind the scenes, snapshot of my personal experiences as I adapt to rural living and set up my nature photography business. From time to time I will write photography specific blogs including instructional tips for photographing out in nature. I hope to invite some guest bloggers as everything develops.
Capturing the majestic Osprey.
The rugged and picturesque landscapes of the West Coast of Scotland are a paradise for nature enthusiasts and wildlife photographers. Among the many fascinating species that are found here is the majestic Osprey. In an age where the theme is rewilding and reintroduction of species to our landscape, the osprey is stand out as it did so of it's own accord! Back in 1954 Osprey started to relocate here from Scandanavia and began to breed. With it's impressive wingspan, and supreme hunting abilities photographing the Osprey in it's natural habitat is both an enthralling and exhilerating experience. I have been photographing Osprey for a decade and never cease to find them captivating. Now living rurally on the west coast of scotland and having recently launched my nature photography business (read about it in Blogs 1 and 2) I was keen to find an ideal location closer to home. Ironically, it was when I was concentrating on landscape locations that I found what I was hoping for. In today's blog post I will touch on the world of osprey photography along with a few tips for capturing unique images.
Understanding the Osprey.
Before embarking on your photographic journey it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with some basic information about Ospreys. The Osprey, also known as the "sea hawk" or "fish eagle," is a large raptor that specialises in hunting fish. It has a wingspan of up to five feet. Female Osprey are bigger than their male counterparts. Ospreys generally mate for life and return to the same nest site.
Prime locations in Scotland.
Scotland is home to several prime locations where you can observe and photograph Osprey. Some of these locations include Loch of the Lowes, Isle of Mull and Loch Garten. I personally prefer, where possible, a wilder and perhaps less commercial experience. That way I can really focus on my subjects behaviours that unfolds watching them in their natural habitat. It's the same with the Osprey. It's fair to say that the most recent location I've used is simply that. I am at pains to point out that I'm not a glory shot at all cost photographer. For me nature and animal welfare always comes first. I will vehemently protect it. Crucially and of note, Osprey have the highest level of protection in the UK. It is an offence to injure, disturb any bird, nest or egg.
Equipment and Gear.
To capture stunning Osprey Images it is essential to the right equipment. A lens with at the very least a 400mm capability is highly advisable in order to get close up shots of this magnificent raptor. I personally use a 500mm lens. Some people recommend using a sturdy tripod or monopod to add stability to camera and lens which at a distance, and for birds in flight can indeed be useful. For me, I prefer, rightly, or wrongly to sit on a rock! I'd also recommend carrying a spare battery and perhaps a memory card -you just never know!
Timing and weather conditions.
Osprey are present in the UK from the end of March to roughly the beginning of September. I personally like to start my photography around the second week in April. This tends to coincide with the start of the breeding season. Consequently there is so much to observe. I have been lucky enough to witness nest building, mating, hunting and diving for fish, young osprey scouting for spare mates and vacant nest sites and the rearing young to name but some. Indeed it is this aspect of being in nature I find incredibly fascinating. As you can see there are ample opportunities for capturing images. I would also suggest a bit of pre-planning by keeping an eye on the weather forecast and also choosing what time of day's best. Softer lighting can add an extra dimension to your photographs.
Composition and techniques.
When composing your Osprey photographs it is worth really observing what they're doing. It maximises your shooting potential. I know what it's like, you arrive full of enthusiasm and instantly want to start photographing the action. But, if you take more time and begin to anticipate their moves, it will undoubtedly improve your images. Try to capture their grace, power and behaviour eg. in flight, landing, perching etc. Above all don't be scared to experiment.
Like photographing any wildlife, it's imperative to prioritise the Osprey's wellbeing. I mentioned before about the glory shot. Please don't fall into this category of photographer. Capturing your images should, in my opinion,not be a tick box exercise; we have a duty and responsibility to protect all species. Therefore to avoid encroaching on their space, minimise any disturbance, maintain a safe distance, use a telephoto lens but enjoy your time in nature. Be mindful and vigilant of any stress or agitation your prescence may be causing and reposition yourself accordingly.
Photographing Ospreys in the wild offers a unique opportunity to capture the power and grace of these incredible birds of prey. By understanding their behaviours, choosing the right equipment, applying proper techniques, you can create captivating images that tell part of the story that unfolded before your lens.
Why not consider joining me at one of my osprey locations?
The Set Up.
Part 2: Setting up my nature photography business.
I would describe myself as someone who has always had a passion for nature and being outdoors. Over the years I think this passion has overspilled and I've developed a love and joy of nature photography. One of my earliest books was a flimsy paperback, 'Nature detection and conservation - a book I still have! I remember fondly as a child, trying, more often in vain, to find deer hoofprints on the ground. The passion I describe spurred me to absorb as much information as I could about the nature around me; to find out more. To use the forementioned example, I would, having found a print, then attempt to work out whether they were Roe or Red deer. This thirst to find out more has never really been sated, these days I find myself, through my camera lens really watching and observing every detail of my subject . My own observations have taught me so much and provided a greater understanding that's as valuable as anything googled or read.
Why set up In business?
For many reasons, I have thought long and hard about this. I think the final decision is ultimately two-fold. Firstly and not uncommonly I believe that we live in a time when our wild spaces and therefore our wildlife is under massive threat. A threat like never before. Therefore, I think it is the right time to share it's beauty with others. Maybe through pictures, it will be my very small part in helping spread the word; to tell a vital story. Before you think I'm on some sort of crusade, I'm not. But, where everything gets stalled and corrupted by government departments and political spin, I do think simple things- like sitting, photographing our amazing nature - can begin to create a change for the better.
I said my decision was two fold, so the second point is from recognising how busy, noisy and chaotic our lives have become. Looking inwards - without going into particular details- my own life has had it's share of battles and hardships, of burning the candle at too many ends, and, without hyperbole, consequently massive stress and strain on mental health. I was slow to realise, but by spending time in nature, a place I love, and then taking time to photograph, I found a sense of deep calm and connection. I was sceptical to begin with (like undoubtedly many of you) but more and more scientific research points to this being a real thing. So In recognition of all this I thought, why not set up in business to share this too? Where the whole experience is about being in the calm of nature, it's about slowing down and taking a breath for yourself. This therefore sparked the idea of calling it Shutter Release - Immerse in the calm of nature.....feel the shh! utter release. Shutter Release is dedicated to ethically capturing the beauty of our natural world and sharing it with others.
Readying for launch
Honing my photography skills
Before thinking about setting up my own nature photography business I knew I had to tune my own photography skills. I have for years enjoyed taking photographs of landscapes and the natural environment - usually something simple catches my eye eg after the rain, a raindrop sparkling in the sun, as it lies caught in the fronds of a plant. Over a similair time frame, I've built up a good selection of Kit that I'm content with. Countless hours have subsequently been spent out in nature, practicing my craft. My aim? To try and replicate how I see it. I do have Lightroom and Photoshop but creating "that" shot on camera gives greater personal satisfaction. I can see how my photography has grown and is developing as I've honed and continue to hone a better eye for composition, lighting and contrast. Perhaps of greater importance, I've found a confidence to experiment. Is photography an exact science? In my view, "no". There's total room for creativity and self improvement. I also look enthusiastically forwards to sharing this side of my photography business as well as giving advice-where required-with participants on my tours and experiences. I aim to continue, my own photographic journey by attending workshops and courses where I hope to learn from more experienced professionals.
Marketing: Websites and word of mouth.
I have to date never created my own website. As somene who isn't entirely a technophobe but who googles and uses social media only sparingly, the thought of doing so was daunting to say the least. Thankfully at the outset, a good friend and webinars pointed me in the right direction and the challenge has been both interesting and rewarding. In fact, I would urge anyone who feels held back by their technological know how, to think again and go for it! That said, there are so many complexities to a successful website that my creation is a work in progress and there are many more tweaks to make. In time I hope it becomes a real asset as I build my own personal brand. At the moment suffice it to say I am pretty satisfied with it.
Not being content to sit back and watch the world of the internet do it's thing- an algorithm too far for me! I also decided to design and using a local Company, print up some promotional flyers. In my opinion, there is nothing to beat a bit of person to person interaction. To those of you who know me, I, despite my love of solitude, love a bit of chat and to blow my own trumpet, I'm actually pretty good at it . To date I've met some lovely, helpful people and been wished well in my new venture. There is much still to do and patience to test but.....
The set up.
Part 1: Where we set up home in rural Argyll.
Having lived and worked in Edinburgh all my life you could be excused for thinking that a rural move might be difficult to adjust to. But, when I say that I have yearned for this lifestyle since my first holiday in Argyll, overlooking the shores of Loch Creran, aged 9, it may start to explain why it feels like I've never lived anywhere else. Of course from that age a move was impossible. There was a whole lot of life to experience too. Life itself got in the way with boys, booze and ball sports - in no particular order - minimising the rural pull.
I've always been lucky to live outwith the city centre itself, laterally living in the heart of Colinton village. A village steeped in It's own history with a real community spirit - amongst some fabulous friends. However, and for me, sadly, the city is gradually creeping closer and closer to the outskirts, with green space upon green space being swallowed up by massive housing developments and needless retail outlets. I mean who needs all these B&M's and their ilk? The once beautiful Capital city with all it's green belt land is in my opinion, being corrupted by those in power. All it seems, in the name of carbon neutral/ net zero. A worthy cause but there are just too many evident contradictions for me to believe that's the real motive. Anyway, I digress. While all these none to subtle changes were happening I found myself, quite often when walking our three dogs, thinking about living in the country. Maybe it was the fact that by observation, nowadays people can't go for a walk in the urban countryside without a take-away coffee or disposable BBQ -along wth the litter it creates. Or maybe it's the once lovely walks along paths in the narrow your eyes a bit, 'wilderness' that are being 'resurfaced' badly and at huge cost, when they were less potholed than our sweeping roads. It all sounds scathing but the City I used to love is metamorphosing into something that no longer fits for me. Whatever the reason, I was beginning to re-join the dots and think more and more about rural life. Could my 9 year old self really know me better than I did at any point in my life thereafter?
Covid19 In 2022- another contradiction!- presented us with a huge opportunity. Derek, now it seems, is destined to permanently work from Home, and with me being self-employed, we seized the chance to make the dream a reality (sorry for the twee phrase, but it's true). With help from some great friends, we secured the rental of an old family croft house on the edge of a village near Oban. All we required to do was prepare our own house for the rental market. Other than the actual moving day, this proved to, on more than one occasion, jeopardise the whole plan and became incredibly stressful; a real trial. A lot of jumping through hoops, red tape and Gin later and we were finally, and miraculously, within our timescale ready for the off. On the 27th of October 2022 I finally moved rural!!
Is rural grass greener? Five Months Later.....
Moving at the beginning of Winter was potentially one of the more difficult aspects of relocating. Here in the UK, the clocks had changed, British Summer Time (BST) had ended. In Scotland the hours of daylight become ever shorter, with, in the depths of winter, sunrise not being until after 9am. However because over the years we had become increasingly familiar with both house and location, (Indeed we were married on the side of the Loch Etive) we didn't need time to orientate ourselves, or the dogs for that matter. In fact in many respects it felt like we'd always lived here and there was a deep sense of feeling relaxed, comfortable and belonging.
Stereotypically, it's said that British peope have a tendancy to talk an awful lot about the weather. For what It's worth I consider myself Scottish, but at this point, I'm going to fall into the trap! For starters, there is no doubt the East of Scotland is so much drier than here in Argyll. In Edinburgh you can experience four seasons in one day whereas here you can experience four days of rain in one week. It literally forgets to stop! I'm sure Tourism Scotland would thank me for that advert. We set up our hot-tub early in November, by around Christmas it was full to over-flowing - bonus right there! - never have I seen so much rain. It can seem like you're living life in black and white. But, Oh my goodness when it clears with such big sky (no concrete jungle to obliterate it), it bursts into full Hollywood technicolour. Argyll boasts some of the most stunning landscapes that Scotland's has to offer. With breathtaking coastline, towering mountains, deep green forests of both pine and deciduous tree - the Argyll Rainforest too!! and lochs it feels, at every turn, It's hard not to be inspired. For me and my passion for nature photography it is in every sense a true photographers paradise. These days when we're out exploring I rarely leave the house without a camera. Our exploring has taken us to some beautiful locations where we often have white tailed eagles flying overhead. I have photographed quite a few, and have had some near misses, but I'm aiming to get an image that I'm happy with as this year progresses. No blog about life here thus far could be complete without mentioning my continued love and study of Otters. I have spent countless hours watching and photographing this beautiful mammal in it's natural environment, just being. I find observing a subject through the lens really focuses my attention and I learn so much. What a privilege watching them fish, scent mark, crunch crabs, lie in the sun, rear young...I could go on. So much so that I feel a blog about them coming up!
Is there a novelty value to life at the moment? I'm not so sure. I just love what life here is, and the freedom it has to offer. The Dawn chorus is a veritable symphony, the garden is packed with birds. Looking out the front (or is it back windows, I'm never sure!) with an uninterupted view of Red Deer gatecrashing the sheep field, is just perfect (to say nothing of the view). Dark, dark skies filled with a myriad of stars because there's no light pollution opens a whole new World. At the end of February the Northern light were visible from the garden! The practicalities of a half hour car journey, being just that, thirty minutes - no I don't miss the traffic light sequence or should I say lack of sequence that Edinburgh stalls you with! There is no hyperbole attached to these statements, they are fact. Do I miss the banter and cameraderie of living right in Colinton village, yes I probably do. It is definitely a more isolated life than it was. Before you think civilsation has ceased to exist, It hasn't! We have met some lovely, friendly people. There are lovely pubs around that are both welcoming and don't cost the earth at the same time and Oban is a short journey for some town life. In conclusion, right now, in my rural journey, things are definitely greener.