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Photography Workshop review; Autumn on Shetland – Nature, light & land

Posted by Molly Michelin on Wednesday 18th September 2013 | News

Returning to gain work experience for her second time this year, Molly Michelin (studying Marine & Natural history at Falmouth University) summarizes our debut landscape and nature photography workshop collaboration with Richard Shucksmith of Earth in Focus. Although not completely full, the workshop went very well, providing some wonderful opportunities for our guests to capture exciting images of Shetland in this special season.

A big thank you to guests Lauren Cooney and Ruth Asher for sharing their wonderful images from their week with us…

Collaster panoramic. Photo by Ruth Asher.

With its endless photographic opportunities, Shetland is a dream location for wildlife and landscape photographers. A remote archipelago at the mercy of the North Sea & the Atlantic, the islands are alive with wild, untamed landscapes that are molded by the ever-changing weather and light. With light forming the base of photography, working with it to create some outstanding imagery was the aim of the week for the workshop guests.

Designed to explore both the landscapes and wildlife of Shetland the workshop is led by Richard Shucksmith & Brydon Thomason. This collaboration gave the guests guidance in both fields of photography, Richard’s experience and knowledge of landscapes allows him to capture the raw untamed landscapes coupled with dramatics skies in the most breathtaking ways, meanwhile Brydon’s natural affinity with the wildlife and the islands leads to some of the most intimate and personal wildlife encounters.

A rather wet start to the week did little to dampen the enthusiastic spirits of the guests; kicking of the week with a trip to Yell to collect camera trap footage from an active otter site gave the guests an early glimpse into the lives of Shetlands illusive otters. Brydon and Richard regularly make use of the Bushnell camera traps to help them identify patterns in movement and activity of the otters. Rain never lasts that long on Shetland and landscape photography was at the forefront of our agenda; dark clouds and high levels of water movement made for some dramatic moody imagery. Once darkness had fallen and a hearty meal back at the lodge there was time to work on photographic workflows and post processing using software such as Lightroom. Essential elements to help bring out the best in any photographers work.

The third day brought the group a wildlife encounter to remember, news quickly spread about a pod of 30+ long-finned pilot whales that had been sighted in Firth’s Voe, Mainland. This was not to be missed; we headed of hoping we would reach the whales before they left the voe. Driving from the lodge in on Unst, one of the most northerly points on the islands, we headed south knowing it was a good hour and two ferry journeys before we would get to where the whales were. A quick chat with Mark Chapman who had originally sighted the pod at around 10.30am confirmed they were still there. Excitement was brimming as we drove across Yell. On reaching the yell ferry a call from Gary Bell also confirmed they were still there, it looked like we might make it. By midday we were on the shoreline alongside a growing crowd of photographers, ecologists and local wildlife lovers. This encounter gave us the opportunity to photograph and witness cetaceans in close proximity, with the whales only 30metres off shore, at times you could hear vocalization within the pod. It was an amazing the experience but concerns were being voiced due to their behavior that the pilot whales may strand themselves as they headed right into the shallow end of the voe. Pilot whales have been known to strand in the past for various reasons. With this risk in mind, a boat was deployed to help drive them out into deeper water which was successful. Photographing, filming and just observing these whales is something I’m sure none of the group will forget.

As well as the amazing wildlife encounter this day also brought us to mighty the cliffs of Eshaness, a place brimming with photographic opportunities. The ever-changing weather tested the photographers, who worked with filters and long exposures to create atmospheric images of the rugged cliffs and Eshaness lighthouse that have stood the test of the raw power of the sea crashing upon them. Working into the evening meant we were shooting with fading light moving along to different points on the cliff tops allowed us to capture the lighthouse in a variety of compositions before a late return to lodge.

The next day back on Unst saw a trip to a beautiful beach to photograph seascapes and waders. I had spent some time photographing the waders on the beach earlier on in my trip, and after achieving some success it was decided that as a group we would go and work on photographing the sanderling and dunlin that flock to the tide line to forage. This week really benefited from the small number of individuals on the workshop. Time could be spent thoroughly working on helping them to achieve the shots they were aiming for, slowing down the process, looking at capturing interesting behavior and minimalistic portraits.

Otters were also on the agenda for today, with SE winds, it was decided that we would visit an active shoreline but before we had even left Unst we came across an individual fishing. After spending time with this individual we then continued to the next site where we were lucky enough to spend time with six different otters, with a mother and her two cubs being the highlight of the day. Brydon’s deep love and understanding of the islands otters enabled us to have some outstanding close encounters without the otters ever knowing we were there. Utilizing local knowledge, the wind direction and tides, the guests were able to enjoy photographing and observing the family as they fished, played and slept along the shoreline. At times you just didn’t know which way to look!

Hermaness is a location that offers opportunities for all different aspects of photography, whether that is landscapes or wildlife, spending a day on the cliffs hardly scratches the surfaces of the endless images you could capture. After spending several days working on photographing the puffins & gannets on the cliffs during my visit in June, and after coming away from those sessions, I had to started work on ideas for new shots that I wanted to produce. I think of one the strongest emotions I felt upon Hermaness was the sheer power of the sea below you, peering over the edge towards dark platforms crowded with hundreds of white specs, these two elements brought together were key to the shots I was hoping to achieve this time around. Today was also yet another great day for cetaceans with Rissos dolphins being spotted from the cliffs (while we were shooting Muckle Flugga Lighthouse) as well as Minke whale passing through. There is an immense amount of landscape opportunities on Hermaness and it was great to be able work on some many different elements of photography, including mixing gannets with landscapes, thus creating a striking landscape images showing the gannets in their environment. Having two tour leaders allowed for the group to split as one half headed back to the lodge while the other half stayed till dark to capture the famous Muckle Flugga lighthouse light coming on and to add that extra element to the image.

After 5 days of exploring the landscapes and wildlife of Shetland, the last full day was upon us, with amazing light, rolling sunshine amidst soft fluffy clouds we decided to split the day, continuing with landscape work as well as working with otters again. Both aspects brought great success, another ‘otterly’ brilliant day, spending time with 5 otters, giving the guests another fantastic opportunity to take away some amazing images of these signature species of Shetland. The evening’s landscape location was the breathtaking view across the ness of Collaster along the west coast of Unst. This location gave the photographers the chance to use the derelict old croft buildings as a subject within their images, experimenting with a range of lenses enabled them to capture these ruins in a variety of ways, the vast expanses lend themselves to the wide angle lenses, meanwhile, focusing in on the crofts beneath the towering hills of Valla field create a striking size comparison image.

With a week of outstanding photography, learning and a lot of laughs coming to an end, it was time to head back down south to Sumburgh. Along the way visiting a variety of different locations to take in more of the breathtaking landscapes Shetland has to offer- finishing up with an amazing close encounter with a Minke whale off Sumburgh Head. What an incredible week!

To find out more about this unique Landscape and Nature photography collaboration workshop see dates and details in our holiday program.

Guest recommendations

I had never been to the Shetland Isles before until I joined this “Autumn on Shetland” workshop. As a keen amateur landscape photographer I was really looking forward to new places to capture and I wasn’t disappointed by the amazing seascapes we were presented with. But it wasn’t just the striking landscapes that made this holiday, there was an abundance of wildlife which we had the opportunity to capture too. One day we were watching a pod of Pilot whales and the next we were tracking otters not to forget the amazing Gannet colonies at Hermaness. Brydon, Richard and Molly made for a fantastic team with their amazing ability to locate wildlife particularly the sea otters getting us into close proximity to capture these endearing creatures. After long days out in the field we were returned to the comfort of the Shetland Nature Lodge (our accommodation for the week), a modern, spacious and newly renovated crofters cottage which offered fantastic views out onto the bay where we could watch, from the comfort of our armchairs, Gannets diving for food. This was a fantastic experience and one which I will never forget, I made some great friends and returned home with a fantastic set of pictures. A very big thank you to Brydon, Richard and Molly for making this such an amazing experience.

Ruth Asher

I have had the good fortune to travel in a lot of places in this amazing world we live in, and can easily say that time with Shetland Nature is one of the best holidays I have ever had!  It is not only the stunning scenery, amazing wildlife and wild spaces of Shetland that made this holiday so special. The commitment, passion and knowledge of Brydon Thomason and Richard Shucksmith, as well as their true desire to share this passion and knowledge with their guests, in a patient, fun, natural, easy-going way, make the experience unbeatable. Also in this case we were lucky enough to have the equally friendly and helpful Molly Michelin with us, a university student on internship with Shetland Nature.

I was very much a ‘beginner’ with my photography, and had a great time learning new techniques and about the amazing places and wildlife Shetland has to offer. Having both Richard and Brydon as guides was great, both ever willing to provide support and useful tips, as was Molly and my fellow guest, Ruth! I never thought I would come away with the sort of shots I managed to take, and yet I did! I am even more excited and interested in photography now that I see what I can do!

Brydon and Richard enlightened me to the world of otters too. On the two days we went out ‘ottering’ we saw many otters.  We managed to watch them in their natural habitat for quite a few hours each time, with Brydon, Richard and Molly ensuring that we did so in a way that was not disturbing to the otters, a commitment they take very seriously. Such a special experience that I feel privileged to have experienced.

Finally, what has to be said is these guys are all just great fun, – a lot of laughs and hilarity throughout the week, but seriously, these guys know their stuff. I will definitely be going back, and am pushing all my friends to do the same!

Lauren Cooney