Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit – Wildlife Photography on the Outer Hebrides

Rabbit Kit in a sea of green
Rabbit (Orytolagus cuniculus) Kit in a sea of green

Wildlife Photography on the Outer Hebrides

I love wildlife photography and it is a passion of mine. I thought I’d write a quick blog about a fantastic session I had photographing some adorable Rabbits whilst on my recent trip to the Outer Hebrides. I realise there are far rarer and more exotic animals to be found than our common Bunny but if the conditions are right I enjoy photographing anything.

Rabbit (Orytolagus cuniculus) outside its warren.
Rabbit (Orytolagus cuniculus) outside its warren.

Staking out a Warren

What made these Rabbits so perfect was the design and position of their warren. Most Rabbit warrens have multiple entrances and exits to allow the Rabbits to move around safely. This warren appeared, after watching the animals for a while to not have interconnected tunnels. The rabbits would always appear out of the burrow they went into. So by quietly getting into position the Rabbits should come out roughly where you’d expect.

My Photography Environment

I’ve created a very very basic graphic of camera/rabbit/background positions, for any camera techies out there.

My very basic diagram of Rabbit warren.
My very basic diagram of Rabbit warren. (Side view)

The other fantastic thing about these Rabbits was the position. The warren was in a steep field. So by positioning myself at the bottom looking upwards, shooting with my 400mm wide open was like looking into a sea of green. In the middle of the field it levelled off briefly and this was where the burrow entrance was. If a Rabbit sat in this section it would be perfect.

Usually the first indication that a Rabbit was coming out of the burrow was a pair of ears. I captured quite a few images of ears as I think they really work as a photograph. You don’t always have to show all of an animal.

A Rabbit Kitten just venturing out of the warren.
A Rabbit Kitten just venturing out of the warren.

Having Kittens

After a while there were up to 4 Kittens around the burrow, most moved away from the very small photographable space, but at one point there were 3 lined up perfectly. The only technical issue was that because I was relying on the shallowest depth of field, giving this wonderful dreamy bokeh, I wasn’t able to get all 3 sharp so chose the centre Rabbit as the in focus animal. I still love it as a picture but wish all 3 Kittens were in focus.

3 Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) Kittens
3 Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) Kittens

I’d tried to photograph Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) earlier in the week but with little success, as they are renowned for being a little skittish. Whilst sat motionless waiting for the Rabbits to emerge I noticed a Wheatear much further up the field. It seemed either unaware or not bothered by my presence. I watched it for a good 20 minutes, gradually it moved down the field and I hoped would come into an area that I could photograph it. Thankfully it did and here’s the result.

Male Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Male Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Back to the Rabbits and here’s a Kitten as it makes sure there is no danger in the area. Ears standing up tall and sniffing the air.

Looking and listening for danger.
Looking and listening for danger.

Overall Thoughts

I took 100’s of images of the Rabbits during this session, it was fantastic. I would have loved some images of the Rabbits preening and cleaning, which can look so cute! Alas they didn’t, it’s the luck of the draw. My favourite, I think, is another shot of just a pair of ears! Shooting downhill this time, late in the day, backlighting through the ears with the light catching the hairs on the tips.

Backlit Rabbit Ears
Backlit Rabbit Ears

It just goes to show that sometimes the more common animals we have around us can give so much enjoyment.

Thanks for reading my Blog, there are others from my trip wildlife photography trip to North Uist, just visit the Vivid Photo Visual blog. Please share to others if you think they’d like to read it.

Wildlife Photography on the Outer Hebrides – Vehicle Hide

Sunrise on North Uist, Outer Hebrides
Sunrise on North Uist, Outer Hebrides

I hope you enjoyed my first Outer Hebrides blog  featuring images taken on the beach as well as a brief introduction.

For this blog I thought I would show images that were taken from the car. A car can make a great hide and with care, if a subject is approached slowly, can get you really good views. Whilst I was on the Outer Hebrides I made sure I made the most of each day, so I was up before dawn to try and capture subjects in the wonderful morning light. My opening sunrise photograph was shot with my 400mm 2.8 lens, not the usual choice for a landscape picture but the flattened perspective that you get can be stunning.

Redshank with replication in Hebridean Loch
Redshank (Tringa totanus) reflected in a Scottish loch.

The photograph of the Curlew (Numenius arquata) was from the same morning and on the edge of one of the many Lochs on North Uist, I love the way the sun is shinning through the  bird’s primary feathers and glancing off its breast.

Curlew (Numenius arquata) taking off at sunrise on North Uist.
Curlew (Numenius arquata) taking off in the first light of day.

Ideally you need someone driving the vehicle as balancing a large lens on your lap is not recommended. Be aware of your surroundings, these methods are for locations where there is virtually zero traffic. Be sensible and drive slowly looking ahead at any potential posts/perches to see if there is anything sat on top of them.

The main rules for getting great shots from your car are as follows;

  • Make sure you’re camera is set in advance, you probably won’t have time to mess with settings.
  • Know how to use your camera with it at your eye, fumbling around with you camera will probably scare away the animal.
  • Wear clothing that breaks up your shape, you don’t want to look too human.
  • No skin on show, wear gloves and hat/scrim
  • Window already down and lens pointing in the right direction.
  • Any movements should be very slow and smooth.
  • Approach slowly in the vehicle, smooth stop.

Where possible turn the engine off to stop all vibrations. Take some shots, you’ll instantly be able to gauge how the subject is reacting. It may fly immediately, a lot do, but if you get a willing subject and are slow and smooth with you movements you’ll be able to get some great shots.

The photograph below of a Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) was taken using the methods described above. For anyone that has tried to approach a Meadow Pipit on foot they’ll know they are very flighty so using a car certainly made it easier to get closer.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) on fence post. Using a vehicle as a hide.
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) on fence post.

The best time of day is certainly early morning or late evening. The light can be beautiful and in the morning you are often the first vehicle to approach any perched up subjects. Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) are one of my favourite birds, their shape is unmistakable and the mottled pattern is always a delight to see and this one sat long enough to be photographed.

Using a vehicle as a hide to photograph a Snipe (Gallinago gallinago). North Uist, Outer Hebrides by Graham Ella
Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) photographed from the car.

With all animal photography if you can get a little catchlight in the eyes it brings the subject to life. The Snipe above is real example of this, as is the photograph below of a Starling (Sturnus vulgarise). Starlings are one the birds that often get overlooked, if you can get close enough and the sun is shining they are far from being plain. Again the car worked great for this, as I’ve never gotten this close to a Starling before.

Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) perched on a barbwire fence.
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) perched on a barbwire fence.

Sometimes you can’t get close to a subject. They may not necessarily be bothered by your presence  but maybe feeding too far away from the vehicle. If that’s the case look at including some of the environment. The photograph below of a Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) I think proves the point, we know what the subject is, the eye contact even at that distance adds a focal point and we can see the Owl’s within its moorland habitat.

Letterbox crop of a Short-eared Owl (Asio flames) within its environment.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) photographed within its moorland habitat.

Another birds that is always fantastic to see is a male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus). I did manage to get a closer image of a bird later in the week, but still loved this shot of it hunting for voles amongst the grass.

Male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) hunting.
Male Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) hunting.

It’s not only birds that you may find on your early morning drives. One morning we spotted 2 Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) that were feeding in a field, they were patrolling the fence line looking for a place to cross the road. Once they get it in their mind that ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ they can be very determined. It was then a case of sitting, waiting and hoping they would jump the fence at the section near the car.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) jumping a barbwire fence.
Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) jumping a barbwire fence.

One bird that I was really pleased to find sat on a fence post, even though it remained there for a matter of seconds was this Buzzard (Buteo buteo). The fact it landed on an older post with Lichen on it was even better. You start to find yourself looking at different posts and perches and picking your favourites. There were some lovely individual Lichen and Moss covered posts on North Uist, I’m sure if I’d stayed longer one day something would have landed on one of them…maybe next time.

Buzzard (Buteo buteo) on a fence post.
Buzzard (Buteo buteo) on a fence post.

It’s not just on the posts that you can get close to the wildlife, keep an eye at ground level too. There is a good breeding population of Oysercatchers across the Hebridean islands and they often can be found in the grass along the road sides.

Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) in the grass.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) in the grass.

One early morning, whilst driving, we came across another Red Deer. The lighting was gorgeous, just glancing over the horizon which illuminated the outline of the Deer. Red Deer are very aware of their surroundings, so I only managed a couple of frames.

Beautiful morning rim lighting on this Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
Beautiful morning rim lighting on this Red Deer

I’ll finish off with a few photographs of one of the main birds that I wanted to photograph, whilst on North Uist, the Short-eared Owl. I would have liked to have had an Owl filling the frame on a lovely old post but that wasn’t to be, a good reason to go back some day and try again.

The first image is the nearest that I got…

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) on post.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) on post.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flames) on a post.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flames) on a post.
Short-eared Owl being mobbed by Herring Gull
Short-eared Owl being mobbed by Herring Gull

Again, real thanks for reading this blog and please share it with others if you like it. I do hope it makes you get up early one morning, drive down some country lanes and see what you can photograph.

 

 

Wildlife photography on the Outer Hebrides – Setting the scene and birds on the beach.

Caution Otters Crossing sign heading up to North Uist
Caution Otters Crossing sign heading up to North Uist

As some of you will know, each year I try and squeeze in a wildlife photography holiday or as Glen likes to call it a ‘camera Geek trip’…harsh but true. I say squeeze because time for personal photography is certainly more limited when running a business as well as having 2 young children.

Anyway enough of my ramblings and onto the location for this years trip. I love Scotland, the landscape and more importantly the wildlife. Previous outings have been to the Isle of Mull and the Shetland Isles, both of which are truly fantastic places. This year I decided on the Outer Hebrides, a series of islands off the west coast of Scotland.

Base camp for the trip on North Uist
Location of the cottage on the Outer Hebrides Map

I usually go on my trips with my good mate Pete, but unfortunately this year he was shooting a wedding. So I hooked up with Dave Winnard from Discover The Wild as we’d been out shooting Fungi a few times and he’d told me a about a trip he’d arranged to photograph the wildlife on the Outer Hebrides in May 2014.

North Uist sunset at Balranald RSPB
Sunset from the garden of the cottage.

Dave had organised the trip with award winning wildlife photographer, Andrew Parkinson. Also on the trip were 3 students; Matt, Ferne & Holly from Falmouth University’s Marine & Natural History Photography degree course. It turned out to be a great mix of people, all really good photographers and all great fun. Our base for the week was a lovely cottage with a freshly painted red roof, right next to the sea adjacent to the RSPB reserve at Balranald, North Uist.

I’ve said it many times before, in my humble opinion the Islands off the west coast of Scotland have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. If you could guarantee the sunshine and turn up the temperature a little, people would be flocking there. Maybe it’s a good thing it pretty much rains all the time, haha.

Scottish beaches are some of the most beautiful in the World!
Scottish beaches are some of the most beautiful in the World!

So  what makes the Outer Hebrides special?  Well one of the main attractions during late Spring/Summer is being able to see waders in their Summer plumage, where they look so much more colourful than the Winter birds we see further south.

Sanderling (Calidris alba) in full summer plumage - North Uist
A Sanderling (Calidris alba) in full Summer plumage.

My main camera gear for the trip, as it was mainly going to be bird photography, was a Canon 7D with Canon 400mm f2.8 IS, I did carry a 1.4x extender but didn’t use it, as often I wanted to be ready for a bird in flight and the extender slows down AF performance. Looking back there were certain subjects where maybe I should have used the extender and concentrated on the bird being static but larger in the frame. We live and learn!

Sanderling (Calidris alba) in flight. North Uist - Outer Hebrides
Sanderling (Calidris alba) in flight.

By spending time getting to know the environment, tide times and the species behaviour it’s possible to put yourself right amongst the birds without them feeling at all threatened. I spent hours lay within the flocks of Dunlin, Sanderling and Turnstones, it was fantastic. There was even a Purple Sandpiper, a first for me, feeding at high tide.

Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima) North Uist - Outer Hebrides
Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima)

Standard portraits of  waders, I know are a bit ‘normal’ but to be honest will always have their place and for me are still a great challenge to take. I also wanted to try and capture a few images that were a little different. The shot below was with the 400mm, it has wonderful bokeh, rendering the foreground and background beautifully soft.

Sanderling (Calidris alba) through a diffused foreground.
Sanderling (Calidris alba) through a diffused foreground.

You don’t always have to show the birds very large in the frame. I wanted to try and capture the Dunlin with its reflection, as if it was stood on a frosted mirror. I felt by having the bird smaller in the frame added to the composition.

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) with reflection. Balranald RSPB North Uist by Graham Ella
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) with reflection.

Another great thing about the Outer Hebrides is that you never know what’s going to turn up, as the next shot shows. Another first for me was this Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) which should normally be much further North in Greenland. To get the shot meant a very ‘non army like’ sniper crawl along the shore line, inching forward like a Seal or maybe more like Jabba The Hut!

Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) Balranald RSPB North Uist
Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides) another first for me.

As the days draw to a close and the sun begins to drop, the lighting changes and it’s always worth having a few shots in mind. By positioning myself with the sun behind the birds made for a beautiful backlit scene, and I love the juxtaposition between the warm light falling onto the bird and foreground and the cold shadow area of the rock in the background.

N.B I’ve always dreamed of using the word juxtaposition in the correct context, Mr Henderson (my English teacher) would be so proud…

Photograph of a backlit Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) North Uist
Backlit Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) Outer Hebrides

As the light continued to drop I looked for images that could be shot into the fading sun. The sea was looking fantastic against the orange glow of the sun. I always shoot on Manual exposure, that way I can’t blame the cameras meetering choice if it gets it wrong. So I was all set and just needed a subject to fly across the scene, these 5 Oystercatchers were ideal.Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) as the sun sets. North Uist, Outer Hebrides

Oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) as the sun sets.

The final shot of the Arctic Tern is one of my favourites from the trip. I framed the scene with the Sun just to the right of the frame, I’d seen a small group of  Terns flying in the area, so waited and hoped that one would fly into the frame. It’s when you wait for a period of time you realise that hand holding a 400mm 2.8 is pretty tiring on the shoulders, good exercise though.

Arctic Tern_5371web

This is the first instalment of my photographs from my trip to the Outer Hebrides, I do hope you enjoyed them, please share my blog if you did, that would be great.

I know that wildlife photography is completely different to the video production work we do at Vivid Photo Visual, but hey it’s my hobby and I love it!

 

 

Gumball 3000 hits Manchester – Vivid Team outing

Karl and Helen Hartey driving their Jaguar F Type at Gumball 3000
Karl and Helen Hartey driving their Jaguar F Type at Gumball 3000

I only found out about Gumball 3000 hitting Manchester on June 8th a couple of days before the event. Anthony, my 6 year old loves cars. I suppose most lads do. So I promised him on the way back from visiting friends we’d call in at the City of Manchester Stadium to have a look. As it turns out we bumped into Glen and his family as he’d had a similar idea.

Lamborghini Gallardo at Gumball 3000 Manchester
Lamborghini Gallardo at Gumball 3000 Manchester

Apologies at this point for the photo quality, I only had with me a trusty little Panasonic point and shoot compact, as to be honest the forecast was for heavy rain and didn’t think we would actually go.

For those that don’t know what the Gumball 3000 is, think back to the Canonball Run films from the 80’s. Lots of fast cars, drivers having fun and big crowds following them. The route changes each year but they cover 3000 miles. This year it’s Miami to Ibiza. Did I mention the entrance fee? This year only £40,000!

Team 46 Bugatti Veyron at Gumball 3000, Manchester 2014
Team 46 Bugatti Veyron at Gumball 3000, Manchester 2014

Anthony’s favourite car is the Bugatti Veyron and costing over £1m you don’t normally see them. When one turned up, he had a smile from ear to ear.

There are often a few celebrities that enter the Gumball, this year Jonathan Ross turned up in Manchester in a Lamborghini Gallardo he hired especially for the race. He’d just collected it from Edinburgh where he stalled it and it took him 30 minutes to figure out how to get it started again…oh well!

Jonathan Ross in a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder
Jonathan Ross in a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder

Another firm favourite amongst the crowds and certainly those that remember the 80’s was Team 37 a Dodge Challenger, painted like the ‘General Lee’ complete with a Dukes of Hazard air horn. Geek Fact – The original General Lee was in fact a Dodge Charger but the new Challenger looks more like the old Charger.

Team 37 Dodge Challenger 'General Lee'
Team 37 Dodge Challenger ‘General Lee’

It’s not just the new Supercars that enter Gumball, check out Team 40 in their 1963 Jaguar Mk2…with a few modifications under the bonnet!

Team 40 - 1963 Jaguar mk2 in the Gumball 3000
Team 40 – 1963 Jaguar mk2 in the Gumball 3000

There was also this monster of a truck that was entered by Team 63, it was recently featured on Top Gear and is a Brabus Super G 700 6×6! It was a real crowd pleaser due to its shear size and noise from the engine. All these cars love to rev their engines!

Brabus Super G 700 6x6 Gumball 3000
Brabus Super G 700 6×6 Gumball 3000

There were many other cars that turned up on the day that weren’t actual entries in the Gumball, some of which were absolute classics. Here’s a few of our favourites.

A stunning bright orange BMW 3.0 CSL

Bright orange BMW 3.0 CSL at Gumball 3000 Manchester
Bright orange BMW 3.0 CSL at Gumball 3000 Manchester

2 for the price of one next. Two of original batch of new breed Super Cars, the Ferrari F40 and the Jaguar XJ220 parked next to each other! You don’t see that every day.

Ferrari F40 and Jaguar XJ220 together
Ferrari F40 and Jaguar XJ220 together

Last is a car that to be honest I was unfamiliar with, it was Glen that knew what it was. It’s a Ultima GTR, the quickest accelerating and decelerating super car of all time. Multiple world record holder and general all-round speed machine.

Ultima GTR at City of Manchester Stadium - Gumball 3000
Ultima GTR at City of Manchester Stadium – Gumball 3000

After seeing a few tasty cars me and Glen thought we’d pick our Top 5 cars that we’d like to own.

Glen’s Top 5 Cars would be:

  1. Jaguar D Type
  2. Jaguar E Type
  3. Dodge Challenger, old & new
  4. Corvette Stingray (early 70’s)
  5. Ferrari 308GTS

Mine would contain a few a little more modern I think;

  1. Lamborghini Aventador LP700
  2. ’66 Shelby Cobra
  3. Ferrari 458 Italia
  4. Porsche 911 GT2
  5. Ferrari F12 Berlinetta

I hope you enjoyed this quick blog and some of the cars on show. If anyone would like to put up the entrance fee and a car for next year, the Vivid boys would be glad to participate! We’d make you a video.