2019 has been my first year as a full time professional wildlife and landscape photographer. I’m happy to say it has gone very well indeed, and I am extremely glad that I did ‘take the leap’.
If you work as an outdoors photographer, then your images may be seen by many thousands of people via magazines, competitions and other publications. You often get the chance to provide context to your images in the form of captions, but you rarely get the chance to explain why an image might mean a lot to you. You rarely get to explain just what great lengths it may have taken to get an image, or why it may be a personal favourite.
So I’m going to indulge and do just that, with some of my favourite images from 2019.
An Teallach at the end of October. This is possibly my personal favourite mountain landscape image from 2019. I have visited this location numerous times but never quite got the conditions I wanted, until this particular day. I had to wake up at 1am at home in order to drive to Dundonnell, and make the summit for dawn. Even with such an early start however, it was still an effort to get there in time. The snow was deep and very hard going above 800m, and I really had to push hard to make it in time. Once I had got there, the dawn was truly special, and worth every minute of effort. This image made the opening double page spread of the current issue of The Great Outdoors Magazine.
A summer view into Assynt. This image is a favourite, simply because it made me fall in love with summer mountain landscape photography again. I always go through a motivational lull during the summer months, but this particular dawn on Stac Pollaidh helped to turn that around. Again it is a view I have photographed many times, but never in such spectacular conditions.
Miles from the road in Glen Affric. Now that I work as a photographer full time, it isn’t often that I get to just wander aimlessly with my camera. I truly love this kind of spontaneous landscape photography, so I cherish every opportunity I get. This was taken on one of my first mornings of personal landscape photography after an extremely busy summer of wildlife photography work, and it recharged me in a way that is hard to describe. I had found this arrangement of three trees, framed beneath a band of cloud, but in very dull, overcast conditions. I could see some breaks in the cloud behind me however, so I settled in for a long wait, and eventually, light broke out onto the hillside.
The North face of Ben Nevis – taken whilst out on a commissioned shoot for UKHillwalking. Being able to get paid for taking mountain landscape images, and for writing about my experiences, is my dream job. I have to pinch myself that it is something I’ve been able to do for a few years now. I love this image, simply because I took it during one of my best days at work ever.
Liathach in winter. This is an image I had to shoot for a last-minute commission, and I had to take quite a gamble on the conditions. I’m fortunate enough to live quite close to Torridon, and I really value how intimately I have started to know the hills there.
The one and only time I’ve been lucky enough to see a humpback whale ‘breach’, and I managed to photograph it. We were on a whale-watching boat in Monterey Bay, and had been watching two relaxed humpbacks for quite a while. Out of nowhere, with no warning, this individual leapt into the air. The whole thing lasted just over 1 second, and I barely even saw it happen. I caught a rapid movement out of my right eye, moved my camera and just started shooting. I couldn’t quite believe it when I found I had captured it. I can’t tell you how happy this image makes me.
I regularly guide clients to photograph mountain hares, so I have many images of them. It is always tempting to fill the frame with wildlife photos, but I can really enjoy minimal, more challenging images. This is one of my favourite hare images from the last couple of years.
This individual pine marten has been a big part of my life since 2016. I have put hundreds of hours of effort into photographing her, and keeping her visiting my hide on the Black Isle regularly. She is perhaps the single most well-known marten currently alive in Scotland. It is hard to put into words how much this animal means to me. This photo is a particular favourite from this summer. The evening light was beautiful, and it was a rare day when I got the hide to myself without any clients.
I have also been photographing pine martens by DSLR ‘camera-trap’ in various locations on the Black Isle for the last year. I have taken many hundreds of marten photos since 2016, but until this summer I had never got a pure pine marten portrait that I was happy with. It is surprisingly difficult to get a clean, simple portrait of a marten! So when I successfully captured this on my camera trap, I was delighted.
This was a highly challenging image to get, and it took me several weeks to achieve. I had a camera-trap running every night for 2 months, photographing jumping pine martens. It took lots of experimentation, and a lot of tearing my hair out, but I got there in the end.
Perhaps the most spectacular cave chamber in Scotland – Xenomorph Chamber in ‘the Cave of True Wonders’. It cannot be overstated how difficult it is to photograph this place. To reach this chamber, you need to traverse a lengthy section of challenging cave, before tackling two extremely tight, highly unstable ‘squeezes’. It is a deeply unsettling journey to reach Xenomorph Chamber, and at the time it felt like the loneliest place on earth. However, this is perhaps the first high quality image to have ever been taken in this unique, bizzare place.
Mike Webster in the ‘Swiss Cheese Crawl’ in subterranean Applecross. This image was taken during the climax of a 2 year process with Mike, making the film ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’. Mike had to learn to cave for the film, and was at the edge of his comfort zone in this particularly claustrophobic passage. This is a ‘grab shot’ using the light of our torches, and I love how it has captured the intensity of the moment.
This is quite probably the first high quality image seen from this cave, only discovered in 2017. I had no idea what this cave looked like before I visited it. The entrance ‘squeeze’ was so tight and awkward that even getting the camera gear in was a real challenge, and the entire cave was tight and claustrophobic. This cave is one of three recently discovered Scottish caves, which to my knowledge I am the first pro photographer to have documented.