Tag Archives: Workshop

So in the continual search for improving my wildlife photography I decided a workshop on bird photography would be good and Hawkshead Photography day on the Farne Islands on 11 June 2013 attracted me. I have to say it was great fun and Kaleel and Trai we both informative and really helpful.

Whilst I ‘sorted’ my autofocus issues (see earlier blog) I still hadn’t tested the ideas in anger. In addition I thought I would ‘test’ the Nikon 200-400 f/4 that Florian advised he used for 80-90% of his wildlife image and so I rented one from LensForHire (who I can really recommend – a great service). In discussion with Alan from Hawkshead beforehand I decided to use my D800 rather than my D7000.

Out of interest if I sound informed about the birds of the Farne Islands in this blog its because I bought Kaleel’s book Wildlife of the Farne Islands: A Guide to All the Major Breeding Species.Includes professional photography tips – its recommended.

The Puffin’s are what I had in my mind to photograph and I think I got some nice shots with many good take off shots – it was quite breezy and Trai pointed out a spot where the Puffin’s took off into the wind on a headland. I also spotted a nesting area where Puffin’s would come in with Sand Eels in their beaks.

Puffin on Farne Islands Puffin Landing in Farne Islands Puffins on Farne Islands

Puffins in Flight on Farne Islands Puffin with Sand Eels on Farne Islands Puffin in Flight on Farne Islands

Before you get far off the boat however you have to dodge the Artic Terns who nest close to the path and are vicious. We had been advised about hats – I used my Tilly with extra padding in the crown and even then it hurt especially if they got their beak into one of the “eyes” in the side wall of the Tilly – next time I am going to craft something more robust. Kaleel likes using flash to capture the terns going for you I tried this with my Zeiss 21mm set to f8.0 initially though I used my D7000 with a 16-85 on without a flash. I like the flash idea although it has the consequence of a 1/250 shutter which is perhaps a little slow – I am sure there is a way to freeze the action more with the flash.

Artic Tern on the attack in Farne Islands

Artic Tern on the attack in Farne Islands

The other Auks other than Puffins are Guillemots with similar numbers they need a reasonable amount of ‘pulling’ in post processing as they are quite dark! There are also a few Razorbills.

Guillemots on Farne Islands Guillemot in flight on Farne Islands

Guillemonts-Prof Ian Purves-20130611-0942 Razorbill on Cliff in Farne Islands

Another ‘dark’ bird is the Shag and found a lovely shot of one on the nest with a chick – I used my Zeiss 100m f/2.0 Makro-Planner and the boken is great. I must do a blog on this lens I’ve been a bit slack recently.

Shag with Chick on Farne Islands Shag preening on Farne Islands

Shag on Farne Islands Shag with Chick on Farne Islands

The gulls are interesting I particularly liked the Kittiwakes but found myself on a cliff above their nests and the 200-400 is quite heavy to handhold I had been using my Safari monopod technique quite well with the Puffins but this was impractical when shooting below me. In retrospect I should have put my 70-200 f/2.8 on. The other gull of interest, and not that common, was the massive Great Black-backed Gull. There were more of the Lesser Black-Backed ones – though still not many. The Great does a nice line in eating young Puffin’s. I like the shot below with the Puffin’s ducking. Of note this shot had the x2 teleconvertor on (so 800mm) and it worked well with a central focal point.

Kittiwake in Flight onto nest with egg on cliff in Farne Islands

Great Black-backed Gull in flight on Farne Islands

The final shot I was ‘at sea’ with a rolling boat and the birds (Gannet’s) flying across us a 45 degree’s at some distance and hand holding the 200-400 – I got several sharp shots!

Gannets in flight near Farne Islands

Personal learning notes

  • The obvious thing I learned is about understand your “prey” – Scout out the lay of the land and observe behaviours. On the Farne’s wind direction and observation of take off and landing directions is important.
  • The Nikon 200-400 f/4.0 and D800 combination is amazing.
  • I don’t use flash so I need to read up about freezing action with flash. [Update 01/08/2013 see blog]
  •  Trai suggested trying to use the [AF-ON] button for focus and disable focus on the [Shutter-Release]  apparently Alan uses this technique but neither of us could work the settings out – I need to investigate and try it. [Update 01/08/2013 see blog]
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So I have just spent a week in the Scottish Highlands at a photographic workshop – The bigger picture – photo book and portfolio making workshop – it felt like a month (in a good way). What a great venue in Mellon Charles at the Perfume Studio it is amazingly equipped and reviewing an OS Map doesn’t prepare you for the beauty of the surrounding landscape – breathtaking.

The Team

The team of tutors were fantastic and friendly and I had a great laugh! Joe Cornish needs little introduction not only is he a deeply knowledgeable person but a great artist and I learnt a lot about light. Eddie Ephrams seems to be Mister Publisher in the photographic world and introduced me to layout and style. Paul Sanders having spent 10 years as the Times picture editor looking at thousands of images a day summarises your efforts in seconds but in a fashion that feels great and leads to support in the field next day fixing that ‘issue’. Owner of the studio, Adrian Hollister,  was also helping out brilliantly until he tried to take his head off with the garage door – nice one Adrian glad you were OK.

My fellow tutees’ were a great mix of professional and amateur photographers who all had varying learning goals. We all collaborated brilliantly and we really had some belly laughs, drank a few glasses of wine and worked and worked (sometimes from 0530 to 1900 !).

The Workshop

I choose to do the portfolio group, led by Joe, which involved creating a selection of 5 images which for me summarised the area. I am also going to use these images and a few more to create a book with InDesign and publish through Blurb – coming soon.

I arrived in Mellon Charles from the Isle of Skye after a few days taking photo’s in Elgol and the Cullins (see my Scotland gallery). There was a lot of snow on the mountains and the drive takes you through beautiful but desolate landscape. By the road there are intermittent remnants of a past age which seem not to be cleared presumably due to their isolation and they obviously rust. So I decided to take my theme from ‘Breathtaking Beauty and Dilapidation’ the hardest part was capturing alluring images of dilapidation and this was a challenge for me – Joe and Paul where a fantastic help and very supportive. In the end the beauty was ‘easy’ but these images are coming in the book matched with dilapidated  (Beauty and Beast) – you will have to wait and see in a future blog – sneak preview in gallery!

My Portfolio

So here are my selection – thanks to everyone who helped.


Old Boat at Cove


Abandoned Lobster Pots at Cove


Abandoned House at Cove


Disused Petrol Pump at Aultbea


Harbour at Aird Point

Of course it wouldn’t do not to tell you what, Sharon (wife), my greatest ‘critic’ had to say:

Well I wouldn’t give them wall space

Update 24th July 2013: Book now published

Personal learning notes:

  • Feel the landscape and explore not just the geomorphology but at your feet and the sky.
  • Spend time exploring the composure of each image – though in great light just take it – and then carry on reflecting on the composure.
  • Painting with light (dodge and burn) is such an old part of our craft and the new tools in Lightroom and Photoshop are easy to use.
  • Take on a challenge and don’t stay in your comfort zone.
  • Be careful – I slipped and damaged my Zeiss 21mm and smashed my big stopper – a few days later the wind also blew over my tripod when my back was turned.
  • Fundamentally find a group of like minded photographers, have fun, share and collaborate.
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