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Arctic terns - Isle of May, Scotland

Famed for its seabird colonies including kittiwake, puffin, guillemots, razorbills, shags and terns, the Isle of May is a wonderful location to photograph seabirds. A large colony of terns nest at the jetty at which visitors disembark. Adult birds nest in small hollows on the ground and any intrusion is met with uproar, swooping and calling loudly they will on occasion defecate on interlopers or strike their heads.

Arctic tern sitting on nest in the rain protecting chick, Isle of May, Scotland.

Arctic tern sitting on nest in the rain protecting chick, Isle of May, Scotland.

Arctic tern chicks are typically fed with small fish which appear to vary in size depending on the size of the chick.

Young arctic tern chick being fed small fish.

Young arctic tern chick being fed small fish.

Arctic tern chick being fed large fish by parent, Isle of May, Scotland.

Arctic tern chick being fed large fish by parent, Isle of May, Scotland.

Chicks are fed constantly even when wet.

Chicks are fed constantly even when wet.

As soon as possible chicks begin to test their wings and develop their strength.

Arctic tern chick strengthening wings in the rain.

Arctic tern chick strengthening wings in the rain.

Young arctic tern chick testing wings.

Young arctic tern chick testing wings.

As the chicks strengthen their flight muscles and gain coordination the adults are constantly catching food and bonding.

Kleptoparasitism on the Isle of May, Scotland

During July I was privileged to spend a week on the Isle of May,  a National Nature Reserve owned by Scottish Natural Heritage. The weather was typically mixed during my stay with periods of intense sunshine intermingled with drab grey skies and the occasional heavy rain shower. All of which made for exciting and varied photographic opportunities.

The puffins, for which the island is perhaps most well-known and certainly gain the majority of visitor attention, are regularly attacked by herring gulls and black backed gulls as they carry fish back to their burrows in which they feed their young, known as ‘pufflings’. Kleptoparsitism (parasitism by theft) is the term used to describe this behaviour. The puffins are physically assaulted so that they release their catch which is summarily consumed. Occasionally a black backed gull will predate a puffin, killing it.

Puffin (Fratercula arctica) caught whilst flying by a black backed gul in to attempt to steal its food. 

Puffin (Fratercula arctica) caught whilst flying by a black backed gul in to attempt to steal its food. 

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When attacked on the ground the puffins attempt to escape as best they can either by running away or seeking refuge in a burrow.

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The puffins can outrun the herring and black backed gulls and seek the refuge of their burrows.

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Herring gull and black backed gull fight on the Isle of May Scotland to assert dominance over an area with puffin burrows so that they can undertake kleptoparasitism of the puffins.

Scotland’s North East Coast: Monochrome Collection - WASP Studios, Aberdeen

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‘Scotland’s North East Coast: Monochrome Collection’.

I am pleased to announce that I will be displaying a series of images at:

Photoghost Wasp Studios, Langstane Place, Aberdeen, AB11 6EN.

The images are part of an ongoing theme depicting the north east coast of Scotland.

The exhibition opens Tuesday 27th June

 Photoghost offers photographers and other visual artists a local, friendly and professional photographic, fine art printing and developing service. With passion for both analogue and digital media. 

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Scotland's North East Coast: A Photographic Exhibition

I am pleased to announce that I shall be exhibiting a series of monochrome images of the north east coast of Scotland, alongside my friend Douglas Weir, entitled ‘Scotland’s North East Coast: A Photographic Collaboration’.

The exhibition is curated by Grampian Hospital Arts Trust (GHAT) and shall be hosted at The Small Gallery, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Opening at 18:30 – 20:00 hrs on Wednesday 19th April it shall run to Friday 2nd June.

 

 

 

Personal projects for the widlife photographer

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Professional attitudes

Many professional photographers, e.g. Chase Jarvis, Jonathon Kambouris and Jose Rosado, discuss the importance of personal projects to both practice their craft and to develop new sources of potential revenue. Specifically as a tool to demonstrate their competence in a genre to prospective clients. Amateur photographers often participate in photographic competitions or evenings at clubs which include a theme. A theme is chosen and it is incumbent on the photographer to represent the theme in their photography.  Themes can be the practical or mundane, e.g. ‘local town’ or ‘landscapes’, to the esoteric e.g. ‘life’ or ‘yellow’. It is a staple tool of art schools teaching artists and photographers and in many ways is intrinsic to developing their ability to understand and develop a client’s ‘brief’.

Theme or personal project?

I would suggest for the purpose of this discussion that the term ‘theme’ and ‘personal projects’ are interchangeable. For a professional photographer a theme is akin to a client’s brief whilst a personal project is exactly that. A photograph or portfolio of images taken for enjoyment or possible future benefit (possibly both).

To the amateur photographer, unencumbered by the requirements of clients, every shoot can be a personal project whether it has a theme or not.

Use in wildlife photography

How often does a wildlife photographer throw their camera in their bag with a casual thought of taking taking some photos? Upon reviewing their days photography how often do the same repetitive images appear in their portfolio? The classic ‘bird-on-a-stick’ imagery. With the associated slightly derogatory implications of the phrase.  

How could a theme be interpreted into wildlife photography?

Classification & distinction

Animals and birds can be classified broadly:

  • male

  • female

  • adult

  • juvenile

  • healthy / sick / injured

Behaviour also falls into broad categories:

  • feeding

  • display

  • fighting

  • predation

  • flight

  • walking / running

Often plumage or colouration changes depending on sexual maturity or season.

When taken in combination e.g. male breeding plumage displaying versus female plumage or seasonal changes, then photographing even the most common of UK garden birds takes on a whole new challenge. The photographer is not taking a photograph of a bird but a specific bird demonstrating a specific behaviour under specific circumstances. A theme is developing and from that a personal project.

Using projects successfully

To successfully undertake a project identify the parameters that require consideration. For example:

  • Season – will the species be demonstrating the behaviour at this time, if not when?
  • Location – some species only display certain behaviours at specific locations.
  • Time – animals follow patterns of activity, are they sedentary during the day but active at dusk & dawn, nocturnal, do they feed in a pattern?
  • Migratory – some species move with the seasons.

From this list a plan develops.

Benefits for your shoots

Anything that focuses the photographer prior to embarking on a shoot has several benefits:

  • Minimises the equipment taken to that required to fulfil the expected outcome – no more lenses in the bag ‘just in case’.

  • Increases knowledge  of the species in question – you need to know its behaviour, locations and patterns prior to the shoot.

  • Understanding a species minimises disturbance, e.g. interrupting displays, inadvertently disturbing nests.

  • Better planned shoot has more chance of success.

  • Less chance of missing a shot because of distractions – you have a goal.

Portfolio selection

As the photographer gains an increasingly diverse range of images of a species portfolio selection becomes easier. Images are added as they show different behaviours yet are part of the same, or similar, themes.

The selection of images within this post are all taken of one species (pine marten) from one location (my hide) yet cover a range of behaviours (climbing and on the ground) in different seasons (summer & winter) and with the animal wet and dry. The gallery Mammals of Scotland have more.

Africa in Mono - Icarus Owen

Icarus Owen Exhibition

Delighted to announce that I am exhibiting a series of prints entitled 'Africa in Mono' at Photoghost, WASPS Studios, Aberdeen, Langstane Place, AB11 6EN.

The exhibit comprises photographic prints depicting various iconic African species.

The exhibition is open Tuesday - Saturday, 10:00 - 18:00 hrs.

Prints available for sale.

Icarus Owen exhibiting at Photoghost, WASPS Studios, Langstane Place, Aberdeen.

Icarus Owen exhibiting at Photoghost, WASPS Studios, Langstane Place, Aberdeen.

'Africa in Mono', series of African wildlife printed in monochrome by Icarus Owen exhibiting at Photoghost, WASPS Studios.

'Africa in Mono', series of African wildlife printed in monochrome by Icarus Owen exhibiting at Photoghost, WASPS Studios.

North East Scotland Biodiversity Champions - Pine Marten

North East Scotland Biodiversity Champions - Pine Marten

Pine marten images on North East Biodiversity Partnership pull-up

Pine marten images on North East Biodiversity Partnership pull-up

The North East Biodiversity Partnership are a non-profit partnership promoting biodiversity in the north east of Scotland. I was recently asked if I could provide images of pine marten (Martes martes) for inclusion in a pull-up as the pine marten was one of their north east Scotland biodiversity champions.

The North East Biodiversity Partnership does excellent work promoting our natural environment across a broad range of subjects and I am pleased to be able to support their work albeit on a very small scale. 

The pull-up was approximately 31 x 90 inches which is largest that any of my images have been printed.

 

Photographing the aurora borealis


Photographing the aurora borealis

Photograph of aurora borealis in Aberdeenshire taken bi Icarus Owen


The aurora borealis, also known as 'northern lights' or 'merry dancers' in the northern isles, gave a superb show during the evening of Sunday 6th March with it being seen across Scotland. The last time I had seen them was whilst living in Orkney and I was pleased to have another opportunity.


The aurora borealis is an interesting natural phenomenon caused by solar wind (charged particles released from the surface of the sun) ionising the upper atmosphere of the Earth. The ionized elements of the atmosphere release photons of light at specific wavelengths.  It is this light that is observed during the displays.

Issues associated with photographing the aurora borealis.

There are several issues that the photographer has to consider whilst photographing the aurora borealis:

  • As it is night time focussing will be manual. If your camera has live view it can be used to assist the focus. Otherwise setting the lens to infinity or hyperfocal distance will suffice. On digital cameras focus can be checked and adjusted as required.

 

  • To ensure sufficient light is available the aperture will probably be fairly wide, for example f1.4. 2.8 etc, depending on your lens.

 

  • If the shutter speed is too long, for example 30 secs, the visible columns of light sometimes associated with the aurora borealis and often called 'curtains' can merge and lose coherence and merge into an a less interesting amorphous glow. Visible stars will also begin to show more obvious star trails in the final image. A shutter speed of 10 secs or less ought to ensure the light ' curtains' are maintained and minimise star trails.

 

  • The ISO setting on your camera will be based on the intensity of the aurora borealis, the aperture used on the lens and the shutter speed. Modern cameras have excellent ISO sensitivity before 'noise' becomes a significant issue. Older cameras are less efficient and typically 'noise' becomes an issue at lower ISO settings.

As the exposures will be lengthy the camera ought to be supported on a tripod or other support, for example gorilla pod, to minimise camera shake during the exposure.

The example below was taken at f2.8, 10 secs, ISO 1250. The curtains of light are visible.

I Image of aurora borealis - f2.8, 10 secs. ISO 1250

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Image of aurora borealis - f2.8, 10 secs. ISO 1250


The example below was taken at f2.8, 30 secs, ISO1250. Only a minute separates the two images yet there are less details in the aurora borealis in the image taken at 30 secs due to the longer shutter speed.

Image of aurora borealis - f2.8, 30 secs, ISO 1250 - note the lack of detail in the aurora due to the long shutter speed

Image of aurora borealis - f2.8, 30 secs, ISO 1250 - note the lack of detail in the aurora due to the long shutter speed



Finally during the exposure a secondary light source, for example a torch, may be used to light the foreground if required. Using a light source in this manner during long exposures is often described as 'light painting'. I used a small torch in the image below to add a little light to the trees in the foreground.

Aurora borealis - 2.8, 10 secs, ISO 1250 - with a little light painting using a torch.

Aurora borealis - 2.8, 10 secs, ISO 1250 - with a little light painting using a torch.

Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata), Aberdeen

Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata), Aberdeen

 

After seeing so many images of the mandarin duck (Aix galericulata) in Aberdeen during the last few years I finally decided to photograph it myself. I have to admit he is striking.