Ecologist - Writer - Photographer

A Gathering of the Extraordinary: Scottish Nature Photography Festival 2017

Hover Fly on pink flower
If you are wondering why it has taken me 9 months to post my first Blog of 2017, I don’t know. It is not that nothing has happened. Almost too much is happening… I will try to back-post to fill the gaps.

I just returned from the annual Scottish Nature Photography Festival, a stimulating and fascinatingly diverse series of presentations from a selection of the world’s best nature photographers. Held over the weekend at the Scottish Natural Heritage Battleby Conference Centre, in Perthshire, Scotland, the SNPF has been running for 27 years and continues to highlight the incredible quality of and important work that wildlife, natural landscape, and conservation photographers do. Personally, I have been attending SNPF for at least 10 years. It never disappoints.

The presentations transported the audience from the far corners of Planet Earth, the frigid raw environments of Scandinavian extremes and the arid earth of southern Africa, to the humble English back garden. We experienced the alien-esque environments of Iceland (Orsolya and Erlend Haarberg), the lonely spindrift of the Nordic north (Sandra Bartocha), the mountainous challenges of Greenland and South Africa (Alex Nail), the serenity of the Kent marshes (Robert Canis), the extraordinary within the ordinariness of Derbyshire wildlife (Andy Parkinson), and the wonders of a Surrey back-garden (Richard Peters).

The diversity of animals was expansive, from everyday species, for example the common woodpigeon, to the exotic, with the world’s rarest frogs. From the minute to the land giants. From urban fox silhouette on garden wall to black Arctic fox on fresh white snow. The angular yet transparent angler fish. The hyena clan against a backdrop of star-studded night sky.

The lunchtime focus was on the Red Squirrel: A Future in the Forest (with Neil McIntyre). Alternatively, it was possible to sign-up for personalised speaker-led workshops over lunch. These are a great opportunity to pick up hints and tips from the masters and gain a more technical insight into the workflow of the professional. I learnt about Alex Nail's approach to Lightroom and Richard Peters methodical approach to using natural light. I always wish I could fit in more workshops than is possible, and in particular I was sorry to miss James Shooter's session on the use of video. One of the noticeable trends at SNPF is the increasing use of audio-visual elements (video clips with sound) in presentations. Scottish Nature Photography Festival founder Niall Benvie predicted this at SNPF a few years back.

Technical innovation was apparent in Will Burrard-Lucas’s Beetlecam and other Camtraptions enabling an insect-eye view of elephants, lions and other members of Africa’s large mammals, and Alex Nail’s innovative time-lapse rig providing breath-taking views of the ebb and flow of the clouds below the spear-like peaks of the Drakensberg. The cosy comfort of the Battleby lecture theatre failed to dilute the physical and mental challenges experienced during the strenuous wilderness expeditions of Orsolya and Erlend Haarberg (Laponia [northern Sweden] and Iceland) and Alex Nail (North and South adventures).

Conservation photography was strongly in evidence thanks to George Stoyle and Robin Moore who provided insight on how to use photography as a tool for positive action to help save species, environments, and people. Alongside discovering new amphibian species, Robin has rediscovered numerous ‘extinct’ ones (In Search of Lost Frogs).

As well as the speakers, there were other wildlife photographers and SNPF alumni in attendance, amongst them Terry Whittaker, Paul Hobson, Chris Gomersall, Mark Hamblin, Jack Perks, Andy Howard and WildlifeKate. I got to meet up-and-coming Environmental Photojournalist Ben Cherry and chat to him about his recent projects on Pygmy Elephants and Palm Oil and Flight of the Swans. One of the plusses of the SNPF is the opportunity to chat face-to-face to speakers and other Festival-goers - the atmosphere is very friendly. The attendance of so many professional nature photographers is a nod to the quality and reputation of the Scottish Nature Photography Festival. What is the collective noun for a gathering of nature photographers, is it a flock, herd, gaggle, pack... crash?

The images, the videos, the musical orchestrations impacted the audience. So many memorable moments. I was not alone in departing the Festival come the end in a bit of a dwam.

As an ecologist, I appreciate the conservation and ecology insight and awareness-raising potential of photography. With photographs, we can show people nature that they may never see – either because it occurs in some far-flung part of the world, or an extreme environment, or closer to home at an anti-social time of day or inaccessible micro-habitat. Nature photography not only provides a conduit to share the un-seeable with people, but also to share the beauty of the wild – whether through landscape, wildlife, or abstract photography. And ofcourse, ‘the wild’ does not necessarily mean the wilderness. The ‘wild’ is present in our agricultural landscapes, our towns, and gardens.

Wild is also a state of mind.

Despite the diversity of their subject matter, all the photographers shared a passion for the beauty and wonder of nature, alongside a creative talent for photography and a motivation to face challenges and take inspiring pictures.

The more that we can appreciate the value of nature, whether via its beauty or ecosystem goods and services, the better we can hope to look after it.

Nature photography at its best. Wildlife. Landscapes. Amazing photos. Insightful stories. Thought-provoking. Inspirational. Visual nirvana. Thank you Wild Media Foundation for running such an exceptional event. I am already looking forward to the Scottish Nature Photography Festival 2018.

Below: series of my own images of Scottish wildlife and Scotland’s landscapes. Click on an image to read more about it.

Scottish Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel, Cairngorms National Park.

Snow-covered Beinn Eighe

Snow-covered A' Chreag Dhubh peak on Beinn Eighe. Wester Ross.

Moody tree abstract

Winter thrak: moody trees, West Craigie.

Magical waterfall and autumn leaves on Ben Lee

Allt Garbh Mor, Isle of Skye.

Sea Thrift

Sea Thrift, Balmacara.

Hills of Sunart

Hills of Sunart, Ardnamurchan.

Beech leaves against snow abstract

Beech leaves against snow, West Craigie.

Evening reflections on Loch Turret Reservoir

Loch Turret, just along the road from the Scottish Nature Photography Festival at Battleby.

Cairngorm pine forest

Glenmore Pines, Cairngorms National Park.

The Fascadale Stag

Fascadale Stag, Ardnamurchan.

The lead image (click Blog if you cannot see it) is of a Hoverfly, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh. Visit the Scotland Galleries section to see more of my Scottish Wildlife and Scottish Landscapes.

To learn more about the Scottish Nature Photography Festival, and some highlights from the featured photographers, click the links below. Check out the photographers - they are all amazing.

Scottish Nature Photography Festival

SNPF speakers - you can visit all the speakers webpages via the SNPF Speaker Page.

Iceland - Land of Contrasts - multimedia video sample from Orsolya and Erlend Haarberg.

Back Garden Safari - Gallery by Richard Peters.

Will Burrard-Lucas BeetleCam African Wildlife Gallery

uKhahlamba - Drakensberg - video featuring stills and time-lapse from Alex Nail.

Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project from George Stoyle.

Andrew Parkinson's Mountain Hare Gallery

North Kent Marshes by Robert Canis.

Metamorphosis - something a wee bit different from Robin Moore.

Neil Mcintyre's Red Squirrel Gallery

Lys - An Intimate Journey to the North - video from Sandra Bartocha and Werner Bollman.