Some of you may not realise that I have another life in photography. For years now I’ve been running a wildlife photography business known as Wolfshead Photographic. I often run training days for people and photo tours (which are really popular) to various places around the world. One of the most popular of these is our annual ‘Eagle Experience’ held each June on the Isle of Mull.
It’s been running 3 years now and this year was the wettest week I’ve spent in the Highlands since I was a kid! The ironic thing is the rest of the UK was basking in a heatwave! The only reasonable bits were when we were sitting on a boat watching sea eagles, something Im really thankful for, as there isn’t a lot of shelter on an open decked boat!
However, this year was a little different as I planned to take a few days extra to try and get some personal work done on the way home via Glen Coe. I’ve been trying to find the time to head there for nearly two years now, so I was determined to give it a go! I also had a 1-1 training day to teach there too, so I watched the weather like a hawk & suddenly became religious. After all, what harm can a few prayers for a bit of blue sky & some dry weather do?
The first week went past and progressively got wetter. The forecasts weren’t promising anything much better for the second week either. I shot a few nice moody landscapes on Mull and promised myself it would get better. It didn’t. Fortunately the clients were reasonably happy as they’d got some fantastic eagle shots during the week & anything else was proving to be a bonus, albeit a really wet one…
The trip over to Glen Coe wasn’t great. It rained pretty much the whole way and I ended up putting up the tent in the rain (yet again). As it was Fathers day, the dog & I headed off to the Clachaig (she needed a walk & I needed a beer or three) but when we came out, it was dry! I began to secretly nourish hopes of some good shots the following day….
First thing in the morning it was really misty. It definitely wasn’t a day for walking up anything! But then it started to clear & slowly got better and better. To the point of being able to see the whole of Rannoch Moor!I finally got one of the iconic shots of Buachille Etive Mor that I’ve been after for years. There’s still cloud on the top but I like that, it adds a sense of foreboding to what’s without a doubt Scotland’s most iconic mountain. What I didn’t get, however was the panoramic I wanted to shoot of the valley leading up past it. there were two reasons for this.
1) Its a long walk to where I needed to be & I hadn’t really allowed myself enough time at the end of the day. and 2) Echo started limping. She’d hurt her paw somehow & as we were on rough terrain I thought it best not to push her too hard, so we stopped halfway & I took something to whet my appetite for next time (its really a snow scene anyway)
As I drove home that night, with the weather getting warmer and warmer it suddenly occurred to me that, as I packed my campsite up, Echo’s limp had miraculously disappeared…..
Often, as I’m stood there at a craft fair, I end up having conversations about photography. Now I don’t mind this, in fact if it’s a slow weekend it can make the day go faster, but the one thing you rapidly discover is that the world is full of ‘experts.’ Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate that there’s people out there who are better at this than me and have a lot more experience than I do. But I’ve always found that the real experts don’t feel the need to shout about it so much. For example, a few weeks back I was at a fair with my usual stall set up including a few of my A1 sized prints on easels. These always draw quite a bit of attention (mainly because they’re so big!) but of course not everyone likes the same image. That’s okay by me, after all it would be a REALLY boring world if we all liked the same things. What I didn’t expect was a woman to stop at the stall, look closely at one of the images and then proceed to tell me i’d processed it wrongly and what I should have done
The image can be seen here. It’s a classic waterfall shot, I’m really happy with the whole black on white effect of the water and fortunately so are the customers who bought it later in the day. But in her opinion, you couldn’t see any detail in the sides,(which is kind of the point) therefore it was wrong. At this point she took off her tinted glasses, had a closer look, said ‘oh..’ and left…
I’ve been selling prints for a number of years and I’m not really easily offended by people who don’t like my work, as I said before, we’re all different. But this was something new. And I’ve got to admit, I was a little annoyed.
I wasn’t alone. A couple stood behind her were horrified and actually apologised. And then one of them said ‘ If that’s how people behave, I’m surprised you do it!’ This set me thinking, why do I do this? And it’s occupied my thoughts now for several weeks.
I started in photography a long time ago, in fact nearly thirty years(!) ago. I’ve seen a lot of changes in equipment & styles. At first it was an offshoot of another hobby, scuba diving. It slowly took over and became a major part of my life. I’ve spent a lot of time outside in the mountains and it rapidly began to encroach onto my climbing and mountaineering trips. I enjoyed it. As the years passed I became more & more interested in wildlife photography and still run a successful business in it to this day. I went to college, got my degree in Wildlife photography, and worked in a camera store for a while. but at no time did I stop to ask myself ‘Why?’
Well, I suppose like many people I have a need to be creative. My dad is an excellent artist but I can’t draw worth a damn. In fact my son finds my drawing attempts hilarious and given that he’s only two I’m probably better quitting while Im ahead! But I still feel the need to make something and photography fills that nicely. I also don’t do well in the standard working environment. I get exasperated by other people and by the shortcomings of middle management types who have a need to be ‘in charge.’ Needless to say this has landed me in a reasonable amount of trouble over the years, to the point that I was once given a t-shirt with “only plays well with others if theres plenty of room to hide the bodies” printed on it. Ive still got it somewhere..
I love being outdoors in all weathers (the colder the better) and to find something that I can do with my life that allows me to be outside, to create something that shows my appreciation of the wild, is the greatest thing in the world for me. The images I create are an extension of my own feeling of ‘self’ as in they’re how I personally view the world. That, to me, is why I do this. It allows me to express my feelings for a place when words are completely inadequate. And luckily for me, other people seem to like the way I do it.
This is what the lady mentioned at the start of this post couldn’t grasp. When you create artwork, its a personal thing. There are no cast iron rules as to how something should look, and much as I can appreciate someone not liking my work, I have every right to expect them accept that this is my personal view. And more importantly, take their tinted glasses off before opening their mouth and embarrassing themselves.
In a week I’ll be on the Isle of Mull running a photo tour. Although I don’t go specifically to photograph for myself, I will set time aside to make some personal work. Im also planning to stop over in Glen Coe on the way home to shoot some more there. The results will appear here after Im home (yes folks, more video on the way!) I’m also going to do some kit reviews, as I’m regularly asked for my opinions on various bits and pieces. I’m really looking forward to the whole trip. Now that I’ve sat down and worked out why I’m doing this I’m feeling quite inspired. Perhaps the lady in the tinted glasses did me a favour after all!
Back in the mist of antiquity (2002 to be precise) I went on a photographic trip. There’s nothing remarkable in this in itself, after all people do this all the time, but for me it was a little bit special. It involved air travel and was one of the first solo trips of this sort I’d ever done. It still sticks in my mind to this day. I was heading to Shetland, travelling light and effectively backpacking when I got there. I made all sorts of plans, I even wrote lists! However my one big problem was transporting all my camera kit as well as my backpacking kit on a plane. This was back in film days so I had the added problem of transporting several dozen rolls of the stuff in safety too. My rucksack would go in the hold, but the camera bag was coming into the cabin with me. Much to my relief there was no problem getting the stuff on board, but getting the camera bag into the overhead locker proved interesting to say the least. The internet was completely in its infancy at this time & all I had with me to record my trip was a notebook, a Garmin gps unit and a miniature tape recorder which I broke & threw away on the first day.
It proved to be possibly one of the biggest learning curves of my life, involving an impromptu 10 mile hitch hike after discovering buses don’t run on Yell on a Monday, a sheep roundup in the dark, Shetlands most haunted house, prehistoric monuments and an awful lot of memories that’ll stay with me forever……In short, I had an absolute ball.
Since then I’ve been a lot of places & done a lot of things in the name of photography. Digital has meant I no longer have to transport film, but the bag hasn’t got any lighter. If anything it’s actually bigger. And as I sit here planning the fine details of yet another trip, It struck me that maybe I should wonder why I need all this ‘stuff’ ?
Since my son was born I don’t tend towards overseas trips so much (at least not to Africa or India or any of the more ‘interesting’ destinations on the planet,) but I do tend to head towards the more remote areas in Britain. I tend to camp for several days at a time, often in the middle of nowhere and as I get older, I like my comfort
To this end I bought myself a good tent. A REALLY good tent… Its made by a Swedish company called Helsport (the model is the Finnmark) and to be honest it’s a little bit on the overkill side for what I really need. That being said, it’s stood up to force six gales, hailstorms, lightning, rodent attacks and a large dog (not mine) trying to walk over it. Whether it’ll stand up to my 2 year old remains to be seen. It has a woodburning stove in it which means it’s so hot sometimes that it’s perfectly normal for me to be sat with all the doors open trying to vent off some heat when the temperature is well below freezing outside. I love it. It’s a little large to carry on your back but it sleeps up to eight people, so I’ve plenty of room inside to move around. It’s designed to be transported by canoe, dogsled, packhorse etc and fits beautifully into the back of my 4×4.
As you can see, its comfortable inside (echo the dog thinks so, anyway….) You can even cook on top of the stove! However, as well as the usual camping paraphernalia you end up with things like axes, saws, camp beds etc etc etc. Im sure you get my meaning. And this is before I even get started on the camera kit!
One of the most prolific additions to most photographer’s websites these days would have to be the humble blog. We’ve always taken notes on what we do either as personal journals or in the hope that one day we’ll be famous enough to be asked to give lectures, but recently this has taken a whole new turn. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Vlog! Video blogging is becoming increasingly popular especially since DSLRs became really good at shooting movies. As we’re in an image making industry, surely photographers by their very nature should be amazingly good at this, shouldn’t they? Well, actually no. Editing video is a whole different ball game to editing stills. We can see the results in our minds eye, but can’t QUITE get it to look the same in real life. But this doesn’t stop us trying, myself included! And, needless to say this has added yet another bag of toys to my ever increasing gear locker! The biggest revelation for me was probably the GoPro. At first I bought the most basic of the models available. the idea was that if it turned out to be rubbish, I hadn’t wasted too much cash. It didn’t. In fact it was so good that I promptly bought the top of the range one. Im still buying extras for it yet. Online shopping can be a terrible thing. However, I found this wasn’t enough. One night something growled at me in my tent. As it was 2 in the morning I decided not to investigate, even with the axe, but prior to my next trip, bought myself a trail cam. The results can be seen in my lectures, blog etc. Theres also mounting poles, booms, tripods dog mounts, car mounts, sliders, rotators, etc etc etc. The list is considerably bigger than my wallet, but I’m convinced that I need it all.
The Ladies reading this are probably thinking ‘How does his wife put up with this?!?’and not without reason. However I’ll let you into a secret. I married a photographer. She complains bitterly about me buying more stuff, but whenever it vanishes I know exactly where to look! Yesterday she even said she’s thinking of buying her own GoPro!
I fell in love with wild places at an early age, and part of that is the weather. It adds to the atmosphere found in the mountains and moorlands. A better photographer than me once said that if he gets up and the sky is a brilliant blue, he goes back to bed because its boring. I agree completely. Mist, rain, snow, its all part of the magic of these places!
A little before Christmas I was about to close up the office for the day when I received a surprise phone call. It turned out to be from Phase One to tell me I’d won a day with them trying out their camera equpment. I was a little taken aback at first (my track record in this department isnt amazing) but also really pleased for one particular reason. Phase One make, in conjunction with Alpa cameras of Switzerland, the phase one series A.
Anyone whos had a chat with me about cameras recently can tell you that I’ve been seriously considering stepping up to medium format from standard SLRs. Theres a couple of reasons for this.
I’m thoroughly fed up with the whole Nikon/Canon arms race ( & dont even get me started about some of the other brands!)
100 megapixels & 15 stops of dynamic range together with a massive sensor!
And the lenses. Dont forget the lenses. In this case, they’re either Schneiders or Rodenstocks, & that’s as good as it gets.
We arranged that the local Phase One rep would get in touch & sort it out, with me just having to decide on where I want to meet.
Sure enough I received an email from Chris Ireland soon after. A couple of phonecalls later, we’d agreed a date and a place, namely Malham, which was central to both of us, and he was to arrange the apporopriate gear.
I was worried about the weather. Yorkshire is the wettest & coldest place I’ve ever lived (& coming from a Scotsman thats saying something) and this hasn’t exactly been the perfect winter either. But the day dawned cold and relatively clear which improved as it progressed. I’ll be honest, I was expecting cloud cover and had worked out how to use this to my advantage. I WASN’T expecting pure blue skies and brilliant sunshine!
Malham Cove is a beautiful place, but its a difficult one to do photographic justice to. Its just so big and if you’re using wide angles it’s really hard to get a sense of scale. I decided to ignore the sweeping vista & concentrate on looking at the bits people don’t notice. The camera was an absolute delight to handle. I’d never tried a separate digital back before but it was really easy to get to grips with. And manual focus lenses have always been a favourite of mine. All in all it was a really enjoyable day, I had an amazing time and got to use a camera that really raises the bar. I just hope my images from it do it justice. I’ve put my two favourites from the day below ( only two because they’re 600mb each!) so you can see what you think.
Would I buy one? Tomorrow in a heartbeat. But theyre not cheap.
Anyone want to buy a slightly used kidney?!?
The first time I went to Haweswater, it was to look for eagles. After all, this was the only place in England where there was a recorded male golden eagle with an established territory. I’ve been back several times & every time it feels like coming home. Its one of the few wild places I’ve visited in England where theres no background traffic hum, which is one of my pet hates.
Its increasingly hard to lose yourself from ‘stuff’ these days. wherever you go theres a reminder of modern life. However I think we all need to backtrack a little sometimes & appreciate the world for what it is. Its true what they say, most people are just on the world, not in it.
ABOUT MY BLOG
A few notes & observations from my days in the field.The idea is to show some of the processes behind my photography. I hope you enjoy them and the videos, photographs etc.