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Life On The Edge: Story Behind The Shot – Kevin Morgans

In a new series, I’ll be sharing a few of my favourite shots and the stories behind the image, following the amazing response to a sequence of images I tweeted earlier this month. And, why not start with the most popular image from the poll: Life On The Edge. After spending countless hours with these enigmatic little birds over the past few years this image stands out like no other. In my opinion, it captures the beauty of the world these birds call home.

Check out Kevin’s Instagram and Twitter for more compelling images and exciting content!

Camera: Canon 1DX | Lens:  Canon 24-70mm @24mm | Settings: 1/320 sec @ f/8. ISO 640

 

Life On The Edge – The Story Behind The Photo

Each year, roughly mid-Summer, I grab my tent and start the annual pilgrimage north of the border to the Shetland Isles. This location is truly breathtaking – wild seascapes, rugged cliff tops, and of course seabirds. For me, it’s the holy grail of seabird photography in the U.K.

The location of this image is Fair Isle, Shetland – measuring at just 3km wide and barely 5km long it is Britain’s most remote inhabited island. It can be found marooned in the North Sea between Shetland and Orkney. Due to its location, it is not the easiest place to get to. But once you set foot on the island, it truly is a puffin paradise and with almost 24 hours of daylight during summer, it is a photographer’s dream.

The coastline that borders the island may not necessarily house the biggest population of puffins in the UK, but it is difficult to argue that it isn’t the most beautiful. Over the past few years, I have led many tours and workshops to this amazing location. Sadly in 2019, the island was hit by a devastating disaster, a fire that burnt down the Fair Isle bird observatory the main accommodation on the island. Thankfully, apart from material belongings being lost, there were no major injuries or loss of life. Efforts are now in place to rebuild the accommodation, hopefully, by 2022 the observatory should be back up and running.

Out of all the Scottish islands, Fair Isle is my favourite – I often find myself seeking solitude on the cliffs there, whatever is going on in the world seems so distant whilst sitting watching birds glide effortlessly below. The island brings back so man childhood memories, sitting looking out to sea, dreaming of what lies beyond the horizon. It is where I feel most at home

Over the years I have racked up countless full-frame portraits of puffins, showcasing countless forms of behaviour. But for me, true beauty is taking a step back and including the dramatic landscape they call home. So, on this trip, my goal was to compose a wide-angle image of a puffin, showcasing the iconic Sheep Rock in the background.

Life On The Edge – Composing The Image

When you break this image down, many elements have to come together for Life On the Edge to work. Firstly, the pose of the puffin is critical. Had the puffin being looking to the left, or away from the camera, the image would not work – the classic over the shoulder pose allows the viewer to engage with the puffin. Composing the puffin in the bottom left of the image, allowed me to frame a pleasing composition as the puffin stood tall in this wonderful vista. This image was shot at f/8, which was enough to keep the subject sharp but also keep the background in focus.

When composing wide-angle shots, you need to be constantly thinking about how the image will all piece together. This image is more than just the puffin, all the elements composition, landscape, clouds have been carefully considered before the shutter has been pressed.

First Attempts

Below I’ll highlight a few of my earlier attempts at the image and explain their flaws and why they never made the cut.

Attempt 1 – The Flaws

  • Composition is flawed, the bird is too central in the frame
  • I find the clifftops to the left overpowering. Your gaze is drawn to the cliffs and not the stunning vista beyond
  • While the birds pose is fine, it doesn’t carry the same engagement as the over the shoulder
  • Overall, I find this image unbalanced and uneasy on the eye

Attempt 2 – The Flaws

  • Composition is better, but still not right
  • The cliffs to the left of the birds are still too distracting, which overpowers the image
  • While the birds pose is fine, it doesn’t carry the same engagement as the over the shoulder pose
  • Overall, I find this image unbalanced and uneasy on the eye

Attempt 3 – The Flaws

  • Composition for this one is perfect
  • The main issue is the birds pose: by looking away from the camera, the puffin does not engage the viewer.

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About Kevin Morgans

Wilkinson Cameras Ambassador Kevin Morgans was born in Cheshire, UK. Kevin is a multi-award-winning wildlife photographer, tour leader, and photographic guide with a passion for UK wildlife. Widely published and with a formidable social media following, Kevin was last year a category runner up in Nature Photographer Of The Year and was proud to see his mountain hare image grace the cover of the prestigious British Wildlife Photography Awards collection in 2018. He’s also had multiple awarded images in international photography competitions such as the Nature Image Awards, Environmental Photographer Of The Year, Bird Photographer Of The Year & Natures Best to name a few.

Specialising in the British Isles, from the highest mountains to the coast. Kevin’s work celebrates the beauty of UK wildlife across the seasons. He is an experienced guide who has been running 1-2-1 and group workshops for many years, using his experience and passion to pass on his knowledge of photographing the natural world. You are welcome to join Kevin on a photographic tour or workshop to explore this beautiful land.

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