All posts by Richard Shucksmith

The Exhilaration of Discovering Otters

I’m writing on my way to St Kilda to undertake sea cave surveys, but so far the expedition has been fraught with difficulty. Low pressure weather systems, one after another, have been making conditions too windy and the seas too rough.

Eventually after a week of surveying in Loch Laxford, on the north-west of mainland Scotland, a weather window opens and we make a dash for Kilda, only for the boat to suffer engine problems.

We turned round and headed to Uigg, on the north end of Skye to await an engineer. It is looking like St Kilda will elude us on this three week expedition.

Sitting in Uigg gives me time to collect my thoughts from the busy, sometimes punishing work schedule that these expeditions seem to create. My thoughts are always back in Shetland, with my wife Rachy and our new born child, Jack, and I miss them both dearly. By the time I will get back to Shetland, the busy seabird cliffs will have almost emptied, and otter cubs will start to appear along the shore.

I find autumn an exciting time of year, walking the shores and hearing the high pitched squeak of an otter cub, the finding of a “new” family, is always an exhilarating experience. In those first weeks of life the cubs are just a fluffy mass of brown fur, extremely buoyant, struggling to dive underwater.

Cuckoo wrasse, Shetland Isles.

The seas are at their warmest and large shoals of fish can be seen swimming over the kelp beds. Many of the fish species the otters like to feed on are at their highest abundance – a perfect time for the otters to have their cubs.

Autumn signals the start of the bird migration, the chance for a rarity or a first for Britain. Although I am no birder, it is always fascinating to see what turns up.

Sights such as large influxes of waxings, incredibly colourful, confiding birds, are a pleasure to see and fun to photograph.

Photos: Richard Shucksmith

Aim to be Different

This month Richard Shucksmith gives some advice to budding wildlife photographers on how to make their images stand out from the crowd.

Today’s photographic world is a fast moving place, the days are gone of a small number of professional photographers producing imagery for commercial use.

The onslaught of the digital era has opened up photography to everyone, and with the world wide web and social media the “world” can be accessed from a click of a mouse. We are visual creatures, so naturally when we want to tell the world what we have done we do it using imagery.

This has created a world which is awash with pictures, there are 1.8 billion images shared every day across all the different social media platforms. Obviously many of these are phone snaps, however, among that mega number are many images where people have spent time thoughtfully capturing the world around them, making creative images.

Wildlife photography suffers from being awash with imagery from the amazing to the poor, causing images to lose their power and potential to make an impact. The number of images makes it difficult for any to stand out; it also becomes harder to create an image that has not been done before.  I also wonder about the longevity of an image, the way we use social media means we post, we “like” at a click of a button and move on to the next. Most images are lucky if they get more than 24 hour coverage before they are forgotten.

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So how do we make images that stand out from the rest in wildlife photography?  In my eyes there are two ways, being creative with a common subject or to photograph the unusual; the rarely seen.

Creative photography means experimenting and often the only constraining factor in our creativity is our own minds. Creative photography is fun and really comes into its own when you can be creative with lighting, this maybe in the mode of using flashes or natural light or a combination of both to show your subject in a different way.

Artificial light or flashes are the best for control as you can manipulate every aspect of the light hitting your subject – from how powerful the light is, to the colour of the light by using coloured filters over the flash. For example, you can use an orange filter to give the light warmth which replicates the warm glow of a sunset. You can change the angle of light to highlight different parts of the subject and so on.

Photographing the unusual or rarely seen can be very time consuming. You need to know the animal inside out and the only way to do this is to spend a lot of time in the field observing. That means often spending many hours without taking any images.

However, if you really have a passion for your subject and for being outside this is some of the most rewarding photography you can do. Often the end result is a set of images that have a strong impact and tell a story.

The key to successful wildlife photography is to be persistent, as many ideas can take time to evolve as you try different methods which need to be refined before you get the desired result. But most of all it has to be fun, that way you will spend more time and work harder at getting those unique images.

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Photos: Richard Shucksmith