Weathering the storm

This is not going to be a blog post boasting about how well I have dealt with the absolute train-wreck that has been 2020. I cannot claim to have coped with it particularly well. I have spent most of the year with a general sense of dread which never quite goes away. Plenty of days have been write-offs, when I have struggled to find any optimism whatsoever.

Even when it isn’t 2020, making a living as an outdoors photographer is hard. It is a genuinely privileged life, but making 100% of your income from outdoors photography is very tricky indeed. This year has been worst-case scenario. After a particularly busy winter, in which I actually had more work than I could manage by myself, everything dried up overnight in March. In the space of a few hours on a bleak afternoon, several months of upcoming work disappeared.

Here, I am going to focus on the positives that have come from this year. I’m going to share the stories behind a few of my favourite images from recent months, in the hope that it provides an insight into how I have tried to navigated the challenges of 2020 as a professional wildlife and landscape photographer.
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‘Go big or go home’

Not long after lockdown started, so did one of the most beautiful periods of weather I’ve ever seen in the Highlands. The high mountains were still loaded with snow, and we had non-stop sunshine for over two weeks. It was the kind of weather-window that we only get once every few years. As a photographer who relies on money made from mountain landscape photography, it still hurts when I think about those few weeks. Perhaps that sounds melodramatic, but I would normally have made around £2000 in images and article publications from a period of weather and conditions like that. And there was nothing I could do about it. One day, sitting in the garden on the 6 or 7th day of unbroken sunshine, I felt like bursting into tears.

When the Covid restrictions were finally lifted enough for me to get back into the hills, fear forced me to adopt a ‘go big or go home’ mentality. I couldn’t afford to miss any opportunity to try and make up for lost time. I have always been thorough in my research for mountain landscape images, but I increased this considerably. The feeling of pressure to produce images that I could sell was more intense than ever before.

 It kept me awake at night. In July, snow-expert Iain Cameron tweeted some photos from inside one of the Cairngorm’s summer snow tunnels. To me it looked like the perfect candidate for an image I had been considering for a while. I liked the idea of photographing one of the tunnels at night, lit only by flashes and the light of a head torch. You see quite a lot of photos of these tunnels nowadays, but I had never seen one taken in this way before. 

So one July evening, armed with some co-ordinates provided by Iain Cameron, my partner and I made our way up the hill in order to reach the snow tunnel entrance just before dark. It took me quite a while to set up multiple flashes in order to light the scene in this way, but it worked out nicely. It’s an image which has attracted quite a lot of attention, including doing well in a national competition (more news on this soon!)

My most popular mountain landscape image of the year was taken in the Cairngorms in late summer. I had been ‘eyeing-up’ this particular spot for a few years, but always waiting for exactly the right conditions at sunrise. Things didn’t look promising at first, and I nearly gave up in the horrendous winds that battered me as I crossed the Cairngorm plateau in the dark. Before 2020, I would have probably given up in similar conditions. The gamble paid off, however, and I was rewarded with an utterly spectacular sunrise. It was a hard image to achieve, with gale-force winds battering me as I struggled to keep the camera still on the tripod. I’m still amazed I came away with anything sharp. Ten minutes later, and a bank of low cloud came, and the hills were in the fog for the rest of the day.

The vast majority of my mountain landscape photography is directly aimed at selling to magazines and other publications. The images have to be bright and bold, with nice light or conditions, otherwise you just can’t sell them. In the past I have been guilty of over-thinking weather forecasts to the point where I sometimes just don’t do anything. This year, the need to make up for lost time and income has prompted me to go out more in bad weather, as occasionally, magic will happen. This image came from just such a day. It took all my willpower to drag myself up onto the Trotternish ridge in the rain and dark, with only the slightest suggestion of any light in the forecast. I had a very long, cold wait, but I was rewarded with around 20 seconds of utterly awesome light.

Generally speaking, when the first snows arrive in the hills every year, I tend to head somewhere with an easy walk-in for my first winter day out. This year, however, my feeling of urgency to make the most of winter conditions is off-the-scale. I skipped an easy first day out, and went straight for Suilven in the snow. I’m glad I did, as I have waited for around a decade for the opportunity to present itself to get Suilven snow-covered from summit to glen in good light. This is by no means one of my best images of the year, but just now it is one of my favourites.

The 100 days of waiting

Every year, I spent most of April sat in my hide in the woods, waiting for pine martens. It’s an essential part of the process of getting them to visit reliably in daylight later in the summer. Generally my first clients arrive at the beginning of May, but not this year, of course. With the hide only just around the corner from where I lived, I spent almost the whole of lockdown in the hide by myself. I knew that if I had any chance of salvaging any of my summer of work, I would have to put the hours in at the hide so the martens were showing reliably. Motivated mainly by the fear of failure, I decided to go in hard with my efforts. So I spent around 100 days in the hide, for up to 14 hours on some days.

Despite the dire financial implications of losing so much work, I know that I am privileged beyond measure to have been able to have spent lockdown in this way.


 By early May, the resident female pine marten was showing regularly during daylight. I spent my time in the hide in the pursuit of a handful of specific images, most of which I managed to achieve. This backlit image was particularly hard to get. It was only possible by a marten appearing at exactly the right time of day, facing in the right direction, with bright sun in the sky. The opportunity only presented itself on one occasion out of the 100 or so days I spent in the hide.

Usually I get very few opportunities to photograph the pine marten kits each summer, as clients are in the hide every day. This year was my chance. But just as the kits started to make sporadic appearances at the hide in late May, I was thwarted by a spell of bad luck which felt like it would never end. Despite all the hours I was spending in the hide, I would repeatedly miss them by just a few minutes. And on the days I decided to do dawn-til-dusk shifts in the hide, they often didn’t appear at all. I spent dozens and dozens of hours waiting without success. I started to take it personally. Some days I would get home from the hide around 10.30pm in a foul mood, go to sleep, and then return early in the morning for the next 10 hour shift.

When Karen Miller, a local photographer who does some work for me, spent a session in the hide and the kits appeared after only a couple of hours, I couldn’t believe it! And then when Andy Howard, another local pro photographer, got all three kits on his first ever visit to the hide…well, to be honest it felt like a bit of a kick in the teeth! I was of course delighted for Karen and Andy, both friends of mine, as these wonderful pine marten encounters clearly meant a lot to them. But I could barely believe how lucky they had been, and how unlucky I seemed to keep being. 

Eventually, after endless failed attempts and endless hours spent in the hide, my day came. The resident female marten appeared as usual, and behind her, a beautiful squeaking kit came bouncing out of the heather. My losing streak had ended, and I was fortunate enough to photograph the kits on several more occasions over the coming weeks.

Something new?

Without doubt, this final image below took the most work to achieve out of anything I’ve shot all year. At the end of the summer I had the opportunity to dedicate several weeks to a camera-trap project, so I decided to pull out all the stops. A few years ago, whilst assisting Terry Whittaker with a camera-trap project, we were both surprised to find pine martens exploring a remote stretch of beach on the Black Isle. This summer I decided to put out a trail camera in one of the nearby sea caves, and to my delight, I found that at least one pine marten was occasionally visiting the cave, probably to hunt the mice that frequented the entrance. Here was my opportunity to create a truly unique pine marten image.

It took around a week for my camera-trap to produce the first images of pine martens from the cave. But I wasn’t at all satisfied. It took me another 2 weeks to refine the composition and lighting to the point where I was happy. By far the biggest issue, however, was that the cave lay only metres away from a beach which had become busier than ever before, due to people walking more locally than usual. I had to put the camera trap out just before dark every evening, and then return early next morning to remove it all, to avoid the risk of anyone stealing the equipment. I had to hide all the kit nearby, and then return in the evening to deploy it all again. The lighting involved 4 flashes, all placed extremely precisely, so each turn-around of the camera trap took around an hour. I did this twice a day for almost three months. Every morning, I would nervously enter the cave in the hope that my equipment was still there. On one occasion, I got a shock when a large dog sprinted into the cave, knocking over my tripod and barking loudly. It didn’t inspire confidence.

I finally got the image I wanted on the last day of the time I’d assigned for the project. I’ll be honest, I yelled with excitement when I saw the image on the back of the camera. My instincts tell me that it might be a genuinely special image. It has just been shortlisted in the British Photography Awards, and I would of course appreciate any votes for it for the People’s Choice award! 
https://www.britishphotographyawards.org/2021-shortlist/land-animal/cave-visitor/4dbf7bc4-1ac8-4cef-ae8a-cd02745b50a3

The months ahead

I hope you have enjoyed some of the images above, and I hope it has provided some insight into how my mentality has been changed by 2020. Despite the endless worry and stress involved with being a self-employed photographer just now, this year has probably forced me to improve my work ethic. I suspect many other people will have found similar.

The months ahead remain highly uncertain. I still don’t know how many of my usual winter wildlife photography tours and workshops I will be able to run, or what next summer will bring. I suspect we haven’t even anticipated some of the longer term effects of the pandemic yet. But I’m trying to weather the storm as best as I can.

If you are a photographer, either professional or amateur, that would like to share your experience of dealing with 2020, please be in touch. I’d love to hear your stories.

Until next time

James

Favourite images of 2019

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.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole – a new film and exhibition

I am delighted, and a little nervous, to announce news of this. For the last year I have been working on a documentary with award-winning film-maker Mike Webster from Inverness, supported by Petzl.

Down the Rabbit Hole’ is an adventure film, but it is also an honest exploration of mental illness and recovery. In 2018, aiding my recovery from a relapse of mental illness, I set out with Mike Webster on the ambitious task of trying to produce the best photographs yet seen of some of Scotland’s most recently discovered caves.

I don’t want to reveal too much here. But in this film we say some things that are not often said, and we shine a light on the subterranean world that most people don’t realise exists beneath Scotland.


An ambitious task
If any other film-maker had approached me about this, I would have immediately refused. This is a film which could only be made with trust and friendship, as I really bare my soul. Mike Webster and I have been friends for 4 years, and he possesses exactly the right combination of qualities to make him the right person to direct this film. Not only is he open and willing to talk about subjects such as mental illness, he is also adventurous, fast-learning, and willing to endure a fair amount of suffering in the name of filming and photography.

He had never been caving before our first trip together, let alone shot a film inside a cave. Thankfully he proved to be a natural, much to my relief. It is hard to over-state just how difficult it is to shoot a film inside the caves we visited – in general they are tight, strenuous, and prone to flooding. To our knowledge, he is the first film-maker to have shot inside these caves, some of which have only been discovered this decade.

My interest in these caves started a few years ago when I read about a remarkable discovery made on the Applecross peninsular. Cavers from the Grampian Speleological Group had been searching for un-discovered cave entrances, when they came across a tiny hole beneath some trees. After removing some rubble from the hole, they squeezed down a tight slot to find a sizeable cave passageway stretching into the distance. The cave revealed itself to be unlike anything else yet found in Scotland, containing thousands of stalactites and pristine calcite formations.

Since the discovery in 2011, several other spectacularly beautiful caves have been found in Scotland. To my knowledge no other professional photographers have been into most of these caves, so the potential for a photographic project was immense. It is still a very much ongoing task, but ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ provides an insight into what is involved.

Film screenings
We are delighted to have the world premier of ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ at Inverness Film Festival on the 10th November at Eden Court cinema.

The film shall also be showing at
– the Petzl Underground Night at Kendal Mountain Festival on 15th November.
Dundee Mountain Film Festival on 30th November.

A solo photography exhibition

I am also delighted to announce that I now have a solo exhibition of the images I shot for the film, in the 1st circle gallery of Eden Court, Scotland’s largest combined arts venue. The exhibition runs throughout November.

A huge thanks to Petzl for their support and providing caving equipment for the making of the film. Also a huge thanks to Inverness Film Festival and Eden Court.

Another summer of pine martens


Taken at my pine marten hide near Inverness.

It has been the longest and one of the most successful seasons ever at the Black Isle Nature Photography pine marten hide. I’ve had people in the hide almost every day from the end of April until mid August! So I thought I would give you all a bit of insight into what goes into running the UK’s most popular daylight pine marten hide.

The success rate for guests photographing martens in daylight was high – around 80%. Our ‘resident’ old female marten has continued to visit, and for yet another year she provided many dozens of people with their first ever sighting and photos of pine martens. Additionally, her kit from 2 years ago has also visited on and off throughout the summer.

It is wonderful how much joy these animals bring to people. One guest told me they had their best ever experience with wildlife at the hide – something that meant a great deal to me. Pine martens are breath-taking animals to see up close, and it is hard to describe the magic of seeing your first ever marten pop up a few metres away in the heather.


The season started very early indeed. The old female always starts making daylight appearances in March, but usually only when there’s nobody in the hide. This year I first caught a glimpse of her on the 22nd March – the earliest I’ve ever seen her. She went quiet again for a few days, and then on the 4th of April she made her first visit of any real length. She was very shy, but she looked incredible in her thick winter fur and I was ecstatic to see her properly again.

The first two weeks of May are usually some of the best of the season. It was a bit different this year, with both martens becoming more elusive for a while. Things rapidly started to pick up however, and I was on tender hooks waiting for the first sightings of this year’s kits.

Then, a spanner in the works.

A fox started to make occasional fleeting visits during mid May. This is the precise time that the mum usually starts bringing her new kits to the hide! The martens and fox largely avoided each other entirely, but I suspect the fox’s presence was enough to dissuade the mum from bringing her kits to the hide.

So whilst the kits didn’t appear as they have every other year, the good news is that the mum continued to visit in daylight almost every day. The fox never became a long-term problem thankfully, and June and July were good months at the hide. Eventually I came to accept that either the mum hadn’t had kits, or she was simply not bringing them into the heather in front of the hide.

Finally on the 10th of July the kits were heard yelping only a short distance away, but they never actually appeared. Around the same time the mum got a large bite mark on her neck – a tell-tale sign that she had mated again! So I’m very hopeful for kits again next year.


With the mum still visiting consistently during the second half of July, I decided to extend the hide season for another few weeks. I’m glad I did, as she is sometimes still popping up in mid-afternoon during the middle of August!

As with every season at the marten hide, this year has had its share of ups and downs. Inevitably, some people left disappointed without any sightings. I always feel so bad when this happens. However, I can’t state strongly enough how much effort I put into giving the best possible chances of seeing pine martens in daylight. From the middle of March until late August, pine martens completely take over my life. In early spring I spend up to 12 hours a day, almost every day, just sitting in the hide and waiting for those first glimpses of a marten. I study the animal’s behaviour exhaustively to give guests the most accurate information possible as to when and how the animal’s will visit. I examine every photo I get of the martens, both mine and those sent to me by guests, to look for any possible injuries or signs of illness on the animals that might affect them. 
I make sure there is food out for the martens every day – no exceptions.

The simple truth is that, sometimes, the animals just don’t visit whilst it is light enough for photography. Who knows why? I can give educated guesses when it happens, but that’s all. There is a reason why there are very few daylight marten hides in Scotland – they are a difficult species!. In the end, pine martens are almost mythically elusive creatures, which allow us only brief, privileged glimpses into their lives.

I’m delighted to say the old female has mated again for another year, so I’m expecting (hoping!) for kits to make an appearance next summer as usual. I’ll keep you posted!

I will also be running a night-time pine marten hide this autumn/winter, so I will be releasing more details soon.

James

New photography workshops for 2019/20


First off I’d just like to say a big ‘thank you!’ to everyone who has joined me for workshops, photography days and tours over the last few months.

Black Isle Nature Photography is experiencing its busiest year to date, and I’m delighted to be able to share details of some new workshops and photography days for 2019/2020.

Highland Autumn Woodland Workshops.
Following winning the ‘Wild Woods’ category of the British Wildlife Photography Awards(BWPA) last year, I have had increasing demand for landscape photography workshops. Last year I was included amongst ’10 of Britain’s most exciting landscape photographers’ by The Great Outdoors Magazine, and one of my Scottish woodland images made the coveted opening spread of Outdoor Photography Magazine.

So I am happy to announce details of my Highland Autumn Woodland workshops for autumn 2019. These are 1 or 2 day workshops, aimed at photographers of all abilities. I will take you to some of the Highland’s finest woodlands and forests to photograph this magical time of year, and use my local knowledge to make the absolute most of the weather and conditions. This is a perfect workshop if you are looking to break into landscape photography. Dates20th of October to the 5th November 2019.

Camera Trap Photography Workshops with Terry Whittaker
Terry Whittaker is one of the UK’s top wildlife photographers, and a leader in the field of camera trap and remote wildlife photography. Camera trapping is one of the best ways to really take your photography to the next level, and there is no one better to learn this from than Terry. In August and the first week of September 2019, he will be running camera trap workshops close to my pine marten and red squirrel hides on the Black Isle. These are 2 or 3 day (or more) workshops, which can also be booked alongside my Red Squirrel in Flowering Heather days at the hide. For further information on Terry’s workshops, please visit here https://www.terrywhittaker.com/p/tours


Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshops

Wildlife photography is gaining in popularity rapidly in the UK! As a result I am increasingly guiding for complete beginners. With this in mind, I have released details of Introduction to Wildlife Photography Workshops . These will cover basic fieldcraft, using wildlife hides, getting the most out of your equipment, autofocus modes for wildlife photography, ethics in wildlife photography, basic fieldcraft and image processing. You will have the opportunity to photograph iconic Scottish species such as red squirrel, crested tit, red grouse, red deer and mountain hare. Dates – late August 2019 to late March 2020 (closed September).

Scottish Winter Wildlife Photography Tours 2019
These are always popular every year. For 2019, they shall take the form of flexible 3, 4 or 5 day tours based around the Black Isle and the Cairngorms National Park. Each tour is tailored to the individual’s needs. I am there to provide photographic tuition at any level you require. We shall aim to photograph as many of Scotland’s iconic species as we can in the time you have. I will be guiding for mountain hare, red squirrel, ptarmigan, crested tit, snow bunting and red deer. There are often opportunities for waxwing, otters and coastal waders also. Dates – early November 2019 to late march 2020.

I will be announcing further workshops, photography days and tours soon, so please check back for more details!
In the meantime, updates can be found on the Black Isle Nature Photography Facebook page, and you can follow me on Twitter or Instagram.

Thanks folks!

A great winter of photography workshops


I’d like to say a huge ‘thank you!’ to the many people who have joined me on my Black Isle Nature Photography workshops and tours over the winter. It has been such a great few months and you have all kept me extremely busy.

It’s fair to say that we haven’t had the coldest or snowiest winter up here in Scotland, but this doesn’t seem to have lessened the enthusiasm of my clients. Something I always try to put across to my guests, is that you really don’t need snow to get stunning images of the Highland’s winter wildlife.

February was one of my busiest months of guiding ever, and I’m writing this on my first day off for almost a month! I’ve spent large chunks of time guiding mountain hare photography workshops which has been an absolute joy as always. The mountain hares are often the highlight of many of my guest’s visits to Scotland. There’s a consistent element of surprise amongst clients at how close the hares allow us to get, and what breathtaking animals they are to see in the flesh.

As well as the mountain hares, I’ve also been guiding for red squirrels, ptarmigan, crested tit, red deer and red grouse. The red squirrels at my hides on the Black Isle remain as excellent as ever, visiting frequently every day. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of introducing people to these charismatic little animals.

I’ll leave you with some of my own images from my workshops this winter. I can’t wait to do it all again next year!
James

A win in the British Wildlife Photography Awards

‘Seasonal Overlap’ – Wild Woods category winner in the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2018

I need to say a big thank-you to everyone who has sent their congratulations over the last few weeks. I have had literally hundreds of messages via email, social media and in person, and I haven’t been able to respond to even half of them.

It has been an overwhelming couple of months. Since mid october I’ve had an image Commended in Landscape Photographer of the Year, the opening double-page spreads of both Outdoor Photography Magazine and The Great Outdoors Magazine, and this – a category win in the British Wildlife Photography Awards.

This is not the first time I’ve won a category in a national competition, but even so I was not prepared for just how much attention it would bring. On top of the fantastic awards event at the Mall Galleries in London, I’ve had my images printed throughout the national press, my image appear on the BBC Breakfast show, interviews with magazines, print sales to as far away as Florida, and a large increase in bookings for my photography workshops.

With two of my images at the BWPA awards event at the Mall Galleries in London. (Image – Alex Roddie)


I’ve known since late summer that I’d won the Wild Woods category, but the phone call was long enough ago that I’d almost stopped being excited about it. That quickly changed when the results were announced however, and the couple of days around the announcement are a bit of a blur. I’ve been fortunate enough to Highly Commended images in the BWPA for the past 3 years in a row, but this was an entirely different experience.

I’ll leave you with a couple of observations which you might find interesting:

1. Every single one of my images which have had competition success or have been printed large in magazines in the last two months were unplanned, and simply the result of being in the right place at the right time. My winning image in the BWPA was taken in a rushed 30 seconds from the road. The only previsualisation was the idea of looking for autumn colours mixing with snow, nothing more. Planning images with military precision can work wonders sometimes, but does it necessarily make you a better photographer? Some days it does, some days it doesn’t.

2. Your images actually do not necessarily need to be technically perfect to do well in the biggest national competitions. The main requirement is impact. If an image has enough of that, nobody cares if they are technically perfect or not. And having the best possible gear is not that important. My category winning image this year was taken on an knackered old 50mm f1.8 lens, which is the cheapest lens I own, and had been dropped in a puddle 2 hours earlier! There’s a lot of weight behind the saying ‘the best lens is the one you have with you’.

A huge congratulations to everyone else who had success in this year’s competition. It was brilliant to see so many friends and familiar names do well, and even better to discover some immensely talented photographers I’d never come across before. It was also great to chat to Christopher Swan, Kev Morgans, Chris Dale, and David Noton, all of who’s work I greatly admire.

And another big thanks to all of you who support my photography, attend my workshops and commission my services. It pays my bills!
James x

Landscape Photographer of the Year 2018

                          Commended in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2018

First off I’d just like to say a big congratulations to everyone else who was successful in this year’s competition. Some of the images I’ve seen have been world-class, and I’ve been getting a case of ‘imposter syndrome’ looking at them all.

I’ve been fortunate to have had a good amount of success in national photography competitions over the past few years, with multiple images awarded in the British Wildlife Photography Awards, the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year etc.

However up until this year I’ve never had any success with the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. It is one of the most prestigious competitions of its kind in the world, and it gets tens of thousands of entries every year. It is brutally competitive, and every year there are many exceptionally fine images which don’t make the final cut. Indeed the chances of an image being successful are so low that I’ve only bothered entering perhaps 3 times. No matter how good your work is, it’s a lottery.

It was lovely to get the email letting me know one of my images had been Commended this year. It’s one of my favourite ever mountain images, and it holds some personal significance which I won’t bother going into just now. I also had another image shortlisted, even though in my opinion it was one of my weaker entries.

Photography competitions are funny things, and I sometimes find myself disliking them a fair amount. There’s a couple of things which don’t sit right with me with LPOTY, such as there never having been a female overall winner (!) I have specific qualms about most of the big national competitions, but I’m not going to go into details.

That having been said, in general I think they are a positive part of the photography world. I think the process of entering competitions can help you refine your work, and get a clearer idea of which of your images have immediate impact, and which are ‘growers’. From my own perspective, as someone who now makes most of their living from photography, success in competitions has helped me get here. My first Highly Commended image in the British Wildlife Photography Awards gave me a big confidence boost, and encouraged me to work harder at what I needed to.

It’s a slightly odd feeling, but success in LPOTY this year has been largely overshadowed by more exciting things currently happening in my photography world! More on this soon.

If you love photography I strongly encourage you to have a look at the winning and commended photographer’s images, there is some stunning work included. The book will be available soon.
https://www.take-a-view.co.uk/2018-award-winners/

James

The British Wildlife Photography Awards 2017


Last year I managed to sneak a landscape image into the British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition and book. I was delighted, but this year I’m very pleased to have had an actual wildlife image Highly Commended.

‘Wave Break’ is probably my favourite wildlife image from the past few years. Nothing about it was planned or pre-visualised, it was entirely reactive to an opportunity that presented itself for a brief few seconds. It is the polar opposite of the kind of wildlife photography that has provided much of my income this year, which mainly involved long hours waiting for pine martens.

It was great to see lots of familiar faces at the awards event at the Mall Galleries in London, and like last year I was humbled by the quality of work on display. The book is a big, gorgeous, coffee-table style hardback, and it was great to see that my image had been given a double page spread near the front of the book.



I’m so impressed so many of the images that made it into the book that there’s far too many photographers for me to mention. However I must quickly mention –
– Ben Andrew for his winning series in the British Seasons category. Four exceptional blends of wildlife and landscape – just wow.
– Caron Steele for her winning gannet image – one to stare into for a while
– Robin Goodlad’s otter image is beautiful and hilarious in equal measure.
– Steve Palmer for his winning Botanical Britain image. Wonderfully effective.
– Alex Hyde for his vibrant, mind-expanding insight into a square inch from a garden pond.

Also great to catch up/talk with Anthony Spencer, Andy Howard, John Moncrieff, Matt Cattell, Duncan Eames and plenty of others, and see the variety of work they had contributed to the final cut.

A final congratulations to Daniel Trim for his worthy overall winning image.

A win in Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year

'Stand'Stand
Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year – Four Seasons Award winner (Autumn)


Last October was a month I will remember with intense clarity. My dad was fighting an aggressive cancer, some big changes were happening in my work and social life, and I was in the depths of a fairly intense period of mental illness.

Everything felt to be crumbling, yet something new and good was stirring inside me. After a summer of commissioned photography work, I had a short few weeks free for some personal photography before the start of the winter wildlife guiding season. Perhaps it was inspiration born from a need to escape, but I found myself fixated with shape and form in a way that had never happened to me before. I shot almost everything on the same lens and for a short while everything seemed effortless, and October 2016 became the single most successful month of photography I’ve ever had. (Read more in this interview with TGO Magazine).

It also marks the point at which photography really started to become a major part of how I make my living, and consequently the start of a total change in how I perceive myself as a photographer.
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Making the grade, paying my way

In all truth I can find working in photography immensely intimidating. There’s an endless number of brilliantly talented photographers out there, all now able to share their work far and wide every day via the internet. I often find myself swamped in self-doubt at my own abilities and wondering if I have any hope of keeping up. ‘Standing out from the crowd’ for me has now evolved from being a simple case of seeking recognition, to being a crucial part of sustaining my income.

We enter competitions in search of validation of our talents. I try not to take them too seriously, but they become just a little bit addictive once you’ve seen some success.

It was huge surprise when I got the email informing me that I was one of the category winners in Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year. I’m honoured to have been chosen amongst an exceptionally talented collection of photographers. It isn’t my first success in a major national competition, but to echo something Lee Acaster said in his latest blog, there is something really special about seeing your images in the big coffee table books produced by these awards.




I have been overwhelmed by the response I’ve had to the image since the results were announced. In particular I’m delighted that so many people have said the image ‘draws you in’, as that was my intent. I was looking to convey seductive silence rather than vibrancy.

And now, a few weeks after the initial euphoria, what has come from this win? If anything it’s given me a renewed energy to try harder, keep on my toes, and make the absolute most of being able to follow a childhood dream.

Congratulations to all the other winners and commended photographers – particularly Nick Hanson, Christopher Swan, Dylan Nardini, Lizzie Shepherd and Greg Whitton, all of whose work I greatly admire, and fellow TGO Magazine contributors Dougie Cunningham, Damien Shields and Stewart Smith.
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Image technical notes
Nikon D7200
Shot on the (ever wonderful) Nikon 50mm f/1.8g
1/40 sec at f/8
ISO 320