“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!