Tag: nature

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.

Looking For More Inspiration?

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.

Many of us are still stuck in lock-down and self-isolating. But this will not last forever – hopefully we will be back out with our cameras before we know it. Whilst it feels like our lives have been put on hold, the natural world has not stopped.

Wildlife is still going about its daily routines as normal albeit under less pressure from humans. My favourite time of the year has not been put on hold: the return of the seabirds to our cliffs. At this time of year, many will be busy collecting nesting material in preparation for the upcoming breeding season.

In the post below I will set out to share 5 tips to help you improve your seabird photography – ready to be put into practice once we are all free to visit these amazing places!

 

Think Wide

The biggest mistake people make when working at a seabird colony is not stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. I understand photographers may get excited when seeing a beautiful subject such as an Atlantic Puffin and rush to shoot as big and bold in the frame as possible. But please, just for a second, slow down, step back and look at the bigger picture: seabirds live in some of the most stunning habitats in the UK. Look to combine the two, the beauty of the seabird and the dramatic coastline.

Shooting wide is a little more difficult in terms of composition, when using a long telephoto the bird is the main focus of the frame. When shooting wide the landscape is the main focal point but with a bird in the frame.

Many years ago a good friend once told me,  ‘if the habitat adds to the image include it, if not exclude it from the image.’  This quote has stuck with me ever since.

Use Light Creatively

Wildlife photography is one of the most difficult photographic disciplines when it comes to using light, as we are often exposed to the elements on windswept mountains or rocky sea cliffs. We don’t have the luxury of studio controlled setups. One of the biggest assets a wildlife photographer can possess is how too understand light and the qualities it possesses. Once this is understood you can then begin to use light to your advantage.

Yes, summer sunrise shoots mean an early alarm, but sadly that’s part of the job when shooting wildlife. Being on location for first light allows you to shoot in the most exquisite light – the same goes for the evening light.

My favoured style of photography is back-lighting. This is when the sun is in front of you, lighting the back of your subject. Birds can look fantastic using this technique, as the light shining through their feathers looks almost translucent. Ideally, this should be tried earlier, or later in the day when the sun is close to the horizon. These times of day are also known as the golden hour and will create beautiful light with low contrast perfect for back-lighting.

Think Outside The Box

Seabirds are one of our most photographed subjects and for a very good reason. They live in beautiful habitats, are stunning birds and, for the most part, are accessible to the public. The issue with accessible subjects means they will have been extensively photographed. For example, just look at the number of puffin images that appear in our social feeds each summer.

You need to look at these images and think “what hasn’t been done” – the bar has been raised higher with these species than no other. But always remember however well a species has been documented there is always a new shot to be had.

I’ll share an example of when I was working on Shetland last summer. It was 1 am and I was walking back to my tent after a session shooting the amazing gannets colonies at Hermaness NNR. It was a clear night and the moon was rising out over the sea. I thought to myself, imagine a puffin silhouetted against the moon – that would be unique. A few moments later to my surprise a small group of puffins were resting on a ledge looking out to sea. I then had to manoeuvre myself, lining one of the puffins up against the moon, with very little contrast manual focus was needed. It was difficult in near darkness, but by framing the head of the puffin against the moon I was able to shoot a unique image of a well-photographed species. Yes, I’ll admit the opportunity to shoot a silhouette of a puffin against the moon doesn’t happen every day, but always keep your eyes open because you never know when the next opportunity will arise.

Embrace The Weather

Typically with the British Summertime, if we decide to wait for the golden light we could be waiting a long time. Cloud, rain, fog – this is the norm – but don’t get downbeat when the weather isn’t in your favour, embrace it. Often the best images can be achieved in the worst weather.

Shooting in wet weather can come with its own challenges, such as keeping yourself and your kit dry. Keeping yourself dry and warm in these conditions is vitally important once you get cold and wet, well in my case you’ll be thinking about that hot cup of tea and not the photography at hand. The longer you can stay out in these conditions the more chance you have of producing unique imagery.

A few years back I headed North of the border to Shetland, the aim of the project was to photograph Northern Gannets in the autumn gales. Yes, this trip was tough, working on the cliff tops in gale force winds was a bit sketchy, but the results were stunning. The weather was wild, but these were the conditions I was after, the power of the sea crashing over the rocks as the gannets soared below. The point is getting out in these extremes of weather can lead to dramatic shots, whilst other photographers may have packed their bags. Stay out and experiment – once your home and processing your amazing images all those cold and wet thoughts from earlier will be a distant memory.

Slow Down Your Approach

Seabird colonies are bustling habitats stacked with activity, whether it’s puffins reaffirming old bonds, gannets collecting nesting material, or skuas hunting for prey. If you are new to seabird photography, arriving at the colony can feel a bit overwhelming, so when you first arrive, take a moment, step back, and just watch.

Doing this will allow you to slow things down.

This allows me to simply watch the birds: see what flight paths the gannets are taking, which puffins are bringing sand eels back to the burrows etc. By operating a so-called bull in a china shop mentality you will miss the action around you – don’t be blinkered to the one opportunity, take it all in. Enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the colony – only by doing this will you massively improve your chances of capturing unique imagery.

Looking For Inspiration

Whilst we are all stuck at home, review your archives, assess what works in the images and what doesn’t, so next time you’ll know how best to work the situation.

If you need further inspiration why not check out my Clowns Of The Sea image library, which documents the lives of the ever comical Atlantic Puffin across the U.K coastline – from the stunning Skomer Island to the most Northerly point of the British Isles, Hermaness NNR.

I’ve recently set up a Facebook group titled Coastal Worlds. This group aims to explore your connection with coastal nature and landscapes through imagery, video, stories, and conservation.

If you would like to join this fast-growing community, please search for Coastal Worlds and start sharing your favourite seabird shots.

Thanks

Kev

To see more of Kevin Morgan’s work, check out his website or browse through his Instagram feed.

 

 

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