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.


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!


I almost didn’t write this yearly review as there simply seemed too much to say, for good reasons and bad. So I’ll keep it brief.

2018 is a year that will stand out in my memory for a long time to come. In many ways it’s a year I’m happy to see the back of, as it was in february that we lost my dad to cancer. It has been a hard few months since, and I’m still processing it all. It has affected almost every aspect of my life, personally and professionally. To everyone who has offered some support in the last few months, I’m hugely grateful.

Working as a photographer has been both a cure and curse in 2018. I’ve wanted to quit more than once, but despite everything I had my most successful year to date.

I promised to keep this brief, so I will.

Workshops and guiding
I’ve had an extremely busy year of wildlife and landscape photography guiding up here in the Highlands. I enjoyed a non-stop few weeks of back-to-back workshops and tours during a beautifully wintry January and February, when my clients were treated to some outstanding light and conditions. Many of our guests came from overseas, and it was so good to see them experiencing the Highlands at their very best.

A hugely significant moment for me came in the spring, when I took over the running of Black Isle Nature Photography, who I’d been working for as a guide since 2016. I’m indebted to the very excellent James Moore for everything he’s taught me along the way (and for all the tea and bad jokes).

I had another very busy summer running the pine marten photography hide on the Black Isle. It was the most successful season yet, with 95% of guests getting photos of martens in daylight. (I’m now taking bookings for summer 2019 btw…)

Published work/magazine articles
I was fortunate to have my work published in mutiple publications again this year – in books, magazines and newspapers. Some highlights included
– The opening double-page spread of Outdoor Photography Magazine.
– Opening double-page spread of two editions of The Great Outdoors Magazine.
Articles published on UKHillwalking.
– Images printed in numerous national newspapers including The Times.
– A double-page spread in BBC Wildlife Magazine.
Images published in 4 national photography awards books.

The big event for me on this front in 2018 was winning a category in the British Wildlife Photography Awards. I’d had images Highly Commended in the competition for the past 2 years but never thought this would happen. I was amazed by how much attention it brought, and I’ve directly gained a fair amount of work through it.
Other awarded images
– Landscape Photographer of the Year – Commended.
– The Scottish Landscape Photography of the Year – Commended
– The British Wildlife Photography Awards – Highly Commended (alongside category winner)
– Scottish Nature Photography Awards – Finalist

‘Seasonal Overlap’ – Wild Woods category winner in the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2018
‘A Winter Dream’ – Commended in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2018

Personal work
My relationship with my own photography has gone through many peaks and troughs this year, so instead of explaining it all I’ll simply leave you with some of my favourite images of the year.

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.



Seven months ago I lost my dad to cancer. I’d had a while to try and prepare myself, to build emotional muscle for what we could see was probably coming. There were many reasons to be as strong as possible during it all, but of of course, the enormity of the change that came had a huge effect on me.

I made sure I did what everybody advised me to do – to allow myself to feel the things I needed to feel. Some days I was fine. Others not so much. One cold winter’s day, the sort when it never really gets light, I found myself starting to spiral rapidly downwards. Everything felt bleak.

Aimlessly driving around on country roads near my home, feeling like crying but oddly unable to, I had a random urge to visit a woodland I’d been meaning to explore for the previous few weeks. I pulled up and parked the car, automatically slinging my camera bag over my shoulder. Every so slowly, it started to snow.

Ten minutes later I was walking amongst one of the most beautiful ancient woodlands I’ve ever seen in Scotland. With hindsight, looking back on it after a few months, what happened for the next two hours is something of a surreal, blurred memory. I took out my camera and started shooting, in a way lacking in process or method that I can recognise. However silly it sounds, it feels like I entered an almost dream-like state.

I didn’t look at my images at the time. I spent the rest of the day, and most of the next day, hiding from the world in my bed. Two days later, however, I went back. And again a few days later. I couldn’t get the place out of my mind.

It took me a little while to realise, but in some way or another, letting myself loose in this wood with my camera was helping me to grieve. I’m still not really sure how it helped, or why, but it did. Perhaps it took me back to being 8 years old again, walking in the woods in Cambridgeshire with my dad as he taught me how to use a film SLR.

All the following images are taken from this woodland, over the space of a handful of days spread over several months. I’m not sure if they have any real photographic merit, but that it isn’t the point. It would be interesting to see what other people see in them, if anything.

Visiting the wood with my camera still helps me seven months on.

(All images taken on a Nikon D750, and 24mm 1.8, 50mm 1.8 and 85mm 1.8 lenses).

Time of plenty

The winter that has just ended has been very difficult for me on a personal level (more on that in a coming post). That aside, it has been a spectacular few months in the Highlands and in terms of photography it has been my most successful winter of the past decade. I spent many weeks guiding back-to-back photography workshops and was largely blessed with cold, snowy conditions both on the hills and in the glens.

When I wasn’t guiding I managed to sneak in some of the best winter days on the mountains I’ve ever had. The North West Highlands featured heavily in my winter, and for weeks the hills there were in the best condition I’ve seen for 5 years.

Here’s some of my favourite images from winter 2017/18. I have to pinch myself when I say many of these were taken whilst working, and I’m certainly counting my blessings.