Saturday 12 February 2022

Tours In July And Friends In August

After missing out because of the pandemic and all its restrictions in 2020, Andy and I were relieved to be able to run our summer photography tours here on Mull through July, though this time it would slightly different in that I wasn't staying in the accommodation with the clients. While this added about an hour to my day in terms of travel, it was so much better to be able sleep in my own bed, instead of whatever I was lumbered with in the digs. Usually some sort of inflatable mattress in a sleeping bag.

Almost all of our previous trips out to Staffa and Lunga had seen bright, dry weather, but the first one of our visits was wet. I was actually pleased, after seeing some wonderful images Lyndsey had captured during a very wet visit, with puffins sitting around covered in beads of rain. Maybe it was the wrong sort of rain, but the puffins didn't seem to like being wet, and kept shaking the rain off of them.

It was good to see some of them out collecting nesting materials though, and this allowed us to lie down to photograph them as they scuttled around on the grass.

Of course what most clients aim to get photos of, are flying birds, especially the puffins. What was noticeable was how much better at tracking the birds the latest mirrorless cameras are compared with even the top of the range professional D-SLRs, to the point that we'd try an idea of a shot with birds in flight, and the Canon R5 in my case, would nail the shot almost immediately, leaving me wanting to try something else.

The settings on these cameras is key though, and by adjusting clients' cameras to match my own improved their hit rates enormously. Of course I have years of experience with photographing birds in flight, even tricky ones like puffins, so that coupled with the incredible AF on the R5 meant that during moments of downtime, where the clients were immersed in their own quest for shots, I was able to dial down the shutter speed, and attempt to pan the puffins. No, not over a fire, but with a panning movement to follow them in flight, blurring the background and their wings, but keeping the head and feet in sharp focus.

Funnily enough, the hardest part was getting an image that actually showed movement in the background, rather than tracking the puffins.

Our second and third visits to the Treshnish Isles were back to normal, with bright and often sunny conditions. This creates shadows and lights up the feet of the puffins as they fly in.

What the sun also does is give rise to sparkles on the water, and that can create an interesting effect behind the birds as they fly in front of it. However, this mass of contrasting blobs confused the AF on the R5 and it repeatedly failed to lock on to the birds. I solved this by disabling the emulation mode on the electronic viewfinder, which shows the view as it would be through a D-SLR, and that allowed me to get a lock.

After the sparkles came more shadows and contrast, and I attempted to capture images of the birds as they flew against a shaded area whilst being lit up by the sun. Again it was challenging to obtain and maintain focus, but was fun, and I enjoyed some success with it.

And it was a treat for all to see a puffling looking out of its burrow occasionally, on our final trip to Lunga.
The private trips out with Mull Charters for the white-tailed eagles are always a highlight for me, even though I was running my own workshops using them, and working alongside Martin or Alex aboard the Lady Jayne throughout the summer.

The eagles were always on form, but we were also treated to some great views of cetaceans, with a minke whale getting my pulse going, being the first whale I'd ever seen. The less said about me missing out seeing orcas in Shetland one year, the better.

And of course back on Mull itself, we managed to find some otters for the clients, including one remarkable encounter where a young dog otter sauntered over to where I was lying on the shore beside the clients, and sniffed my boot!

And because I was using an R5 which is silent, and had my 100-400mm lens attached, which allows for close focusing, I managed to get some images when it was slightly further away from me, showing some incredible detail on the otter.

Once the tours ended, I had a bit of time for myself, and enjoyed some down-time with friends who had travelled over to Mull to catch up with me, and also to photograph some of the wildlife and views on offer.

We enjoyed some wonderful encounters with the eagles from the Lady Jayne, otters around Mull and towards the latter half of the month, spent a great deal of time pointing our cameras at the families of short-eared owls that had been raised over the summer.

It reminded me of some of the winter sites I've visited for the owls over the years, when there are so many flying around that you don't know where to look. It was wonderful, and we saw the owlets flying to meet their parents for food, and also the sound of them begging for it, from the vegetation. Once one started, they all joined in.

What was noticeable though at the end of August, was that some of the birds that had been a constant sound throughout the warmer months, had started to, or had actually gone. They'd left the island once more, and it began to get quieter.

Something I expected to be more apparent as summer made way into autumn and eventually winter, but that's for another post.

No comments: