• Ben

My photography year 2017

2017 has been an exciting and enlightening year. Looking back at my photos on my hard drive it seems like a decade has passed. Looking back at images from January, I recall the time and effort taken to achieve them, but having finished the year taking some of my favourite images to date, those bumbling days on the beach with sniggering dog walkers passing by become so worthwhile.

We finished the year at sunrise on the beach at Rattray Head, in probably the worst weather I have ever tried to take photos in. Sideways snow and hail, 50mph winds and sand whipping our faces. These conditions were combined with probably the best light I've ever photographed seascapes in - as tends to be the way. Knowing instinctively what to do with the camera - and how to react when the camera decides it's too cold and wet to work properly, got me probably my two favourite images of the whole year. Without those foolish looking days on the beach taking garbage underexposed pictures with the wrong filters on, I wouldn't have had a chance.

Rattray Head Lighthouse - Canon 70D, Canon 16-36 f4L @35mm, f10, ISO100, no filters, 0.4 seconds

I guess there are two things to take - 1) Keep taking photos regardless of how complex and hard work it seems, because it will stick with practice and become routine (and the best guess stuff will get more and more accurate), and 2) ignore the threat of bad weather and go anyway - the best light often comes with the worst weather.

Rattray Head Lighthouse - Canon 70D, Canon 16-36 f4L @26mm, f13, ISO100, Lee 10 stop ND and Lee 2 stop Hard Grad ND, 46 seconds

I look forward to looking at these images at the end of 2018 and laughing at how poor they are!

However, 2017 for me was primarily about wildlife, as I have blogged about before. So severe is the addiction to photographing birds in particular, that I found myself in possession of a new camera for Christmas, a Canon 7D mkII. I therefore now have NO excuses not to take good wildlife pictures.

It's been frustrating, because December notoriously yields dreadful light and short days, and while the cold weather can bring birds to garden feeders in great numbers, it's because there is so little food in the wild and it is therefore hard to capture them in a natural environment.

The enjoyment is still threefold though. Primarily, watching and learning about the birds is the main draw, and the photography a close second. Being out and getting so much more exercise is an added benefit, but equally addictive.

Some of the highlights have been watching puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmar at Fowlsheugh. I only went to Fowlsheugh to photograph the waterfall at Crawton, and discovered this amazing world of seabirds that were only 15 miles from home and I never knew about.

The fist time I saw puffins I was in awe of them. The second time I saw them, the following week, they happily sat six feet from me and posed for the camera. If that didn't get me hooked on bird photography, what could? I never got anywhere near as close to them again, but the damage was done!

People who know me know that I don't do things in half measures. I hate not understanding things, so I embarked on considerable reading, research and learning about the subjects I was photographing, as well as the techniques involved in the photography.

In April I agreed to take the role of Competition Secretary at our camera club, which it transpired was a three year sentence, so now I have no way out of this until 2020! That job is extremely hard work, but equally great fun and a great way to learn more about photography.

A summer of birdwatching, including regular visits to Fowlsheugh, and watching a colony of common terns raise chicks on a derelict warehouse roof near to home continued to fuel the passion, along with a number of hill walking trips (training for climbing Lochnagar for charity).

View from near the summit of Ben Vorlich, looking towards Loch Earn, with (l-r) Meall Corranaich, Beinn Ghlas and Ben Lawers behind.

A trip to Troup Head in August was an absolute highlight of the year. I cannot wait to make more trips there next year and see more of the gannet colony. Stunning birds, and wonderful characters to watch and capture. Equally a beautiful bit of coastline, and an opportunity to visit Rattray Head, Loch of Strathbeg and Newburgh before/after too.

Northern Gannet bringing a present back to its partner.

I suppose the other highlights were discovering just how much there is in and around Montrose that had totally passed me by for years. Seeing a humpback whale at St Cyrus, watching kingfishers at the Lurgies, seeing a lesser yellowlegs and enjoying the reaction of the twitchers queuing up to catch a glimpse of it. Seeing and photographing birds that are there all the time, but I just had to learn where to look and what to listen for, like water rail, purple sandpipers (my favourites!), turnstone, godwits, little egrets, otter, sanderling, goosander, merganser, redwing, fieldfare, grey wagtails, long tailed tits, goldcrest..... the list goes on and on.

Long Tailed Tit

Water Rail

And the wonderfully fun and fearless Purple Sandpiper

2018 is going to be even better. A trip to the Isle of May in the Spring to see puffins again, along with many more trips to Fowlsheugh and hopefully up to Troup Head again. Loch of Strathbeg will hopefully yield a sight of bearded tits, and maybe finally I'll get a decent shot of a kingfisher at the Lurgies. Not holding my breath for that one - but they are fun to watch regardless. I still have no real interest in sitting in commercial hides to photograph birds on sticks or fishing in tanks, so the chances of decent kingfisher pictures are significantly reduced.

I'll also enter a few more competitions, and see how things go. This year has seen an increased frustration with 'experts' and judges though. Some of the speakers we get at camera club are really inspiring. Many of them have achieved great things, and international acclaim. I'm struggling to remember any of them not saying that 'rules are there to be broken' about photography though. So what happens when you break the rules? 12 out of 20! The same experts come back as a judge and crucify your image because you broke a rule.

I'd love to know at what point in a photography 'career' are you entitled to break the rules, ha ha!

This is one of my favourite images of 2017. A Northern Wheatear, briefly resting on St Cyrus beach before departing for central Africa for the winter (3,500 miles away!). I love the colours and the pose of the bird, and the moment in its journey that it captures - the anticipation of what is to come. This is currently entered into a competition entitled 'the journey', and I await 12 out of 20 because the bird is looking out of the picture instead of into it.

*update - it got 15/20. I missed out on promotion by ONE point! The judge said it was badly composed and the bird was looking out of the picture. Sigh.

Won't change my feelings towards it, and frankly that should be all that matters.

Happy New Year everyone, and may 2018 bring photography triumphs galore!

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