Pay me with inspiration.

Nature photography can be a tough business and thesedays it’s damned difficult to get even a toehold on the ladder. It’s not always possible but when it is, we like to try and help young photographers/naturalists progress their career and/or personal development. I recently received a letter from Laura Mackay, a photography student and as it turned out, a thoroughly pleasant young woman. She joined our group on a ‘Fish Eaters’ tour and in return for her place, I asked for a blog post. This is what she sent me:

I am an aspiring photographer who was undecided on which field of photography to pursue until recently when I hooked up with Peter Cairns (Pete) on one of his “Fish Eaters” tours. Everything about this experience was new to me. I had never been in a hide before, I had never seen an osprey before and I certainly hadn’t seen what 4 o’clock in the morning looked like, and although there was a lot of hanging about, I can honestly say that these four days were the best experiences of my life.

I thought that getting up at 3.30 in the morning would prove difficult but I was so excited that it became second nature. Leaving The Steading (our base) at 4am, we headed out for 4/5 hours to sit in a wooden hide to try to get some shots of the ospreys diving for fish. This isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but seeing the ospreys diving just metres in front of me was incredible. Every time I heard the word ‘diving’ come over the radio adrenaline kicked in – hands on camera, finger on the trigger, eyes peeled, it was like a little routine I had going on, as I wanted each shot to be better than the last one.

Later in the day we tried for dolphins on the Black Isle but they weren’t really playing ball. This in itself is a lesson I learned – that if you want to be a wildlife photographer you have to have a great deal of patience!

Being on this tour was one of the best things I have ever done, I met some very interesting people with fascinating stories of their travels around the globe, with amazing photographic evidence to back these up. I learned so much from Pete and the other guests, I was the youngest guest there (and the only Scot) but I didn’t feel at all left out. Since the other guests were from different countries then it added more interest and culture to the group, they were all so kind and friendly and keen to get to know me, and once everyone had settled in, and gotten to know one another, we had some great laughs, and some captivating stories were exchanged.

Seeing Pete’s work and how he produces it and how well he gets on with people really inspired me. I went on that tour with an open mind and not knowing what to expect but when I left I felt inspired. When I left to get home, I was so ‘gutted’ that the experience was over, I didn’t want it to end. However I also couldn’t wait to go home and tell my friends and family how it went and show them my images. When I left I was still ‘buzzing’ (or ‘excited’ for those who aren’t a 20 year old girl) it made me realise what field I want to pursue in photography. I am so thankful for my stroke of good luck but I am even more thankful to Pete, my eyes have been opened and I now realise that if you want something bad enough, and if you work hard enough, goals can be achieved.

Just one thing Laura – we do know what ‘buzzing’ means! The cheek of it.



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It’s cool to cry.

I was never a great fan of Big Cat Diary. The naming of leopards and lions, the dramatization of their daily struggle for survival and the liberal sprinkling of cute kitten shots designed to pull at our heart strings and draw us in to what was deliberately constructed as a feline soap opera. No, it was a bit too fluffy for me, a bit nauseating, a bit emotional. Continue reading

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The Eagle’s Way: Jim Crumley

BB-sea eagle-110

Those of you who have endured my rants over the years will know that I just don’t get it. Life that is. I don’t get Christmas; I don’t get marriage; I certainly don’t get funerals. I don’t get cars; I don’t get jewellery; I don’t get food, especially pretentious food. The list goes on. I quite like tattoos though. And that frizzy hair that young women promoting discount sofas tend to have. Very nice. Overall however, I struggle to make sense of the world and its human inhabitants. Continue reading

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Puffin Bootcamp

Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) backlit at sunset, Fair Isle, Scotland.

There can be few wildlife photographers in the northern hemisphere without at least one decent puffin picture. The bar is probably higher with puffins than with any other bird. It is then even more important to find just the right place – lighting, background and viewpoint all play a part in just the right place – and our recent Puffin Bootcamp took us to the far north to just the right place: Fair Isle. Continue reading

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Uniqball: A unique ballhead (I think).

I’ve got to be honest; I’d almost prefer to watch chess than talk about tripod heads. It was then, with lukewarm enthusiasm (read ‘none’) that I greeted colleague Andy Rouse’s call about a new model on the market. As he eulogised about the unique merits of UniqBall with its unique 2-ball mechanism and its unique levelling ability, I could feel my eyelids getting heavy. At the end of the call however, I’d established that the head was indeed unique and that a demo was hightailing it in my direction.

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What do we want our landscape to look like?

Pine marten (Martes martes) portrait, Ardnamurchan, Scotland.

This blog is about pine martens. Well actually, that’s not true: it’s about prejudice and ignorance. Strong words perhaps, but fair I feel. It started with a recent post on Facebook. Continue reading

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Honey, I just shrunk my world!

I think the time has come. I feel a bit of honesty is due. They say that the first shoots of recovery from a self-inflicted malaise, is an admission of that malaise. For the last 20 years or so I’ve been kidding myself that I’m a photographer. And now, I realise that I’ve been living a lie; it’s time to own up. For as long as I can remember I’ve been feigning interest in all manner of photographic dialogue but in truth, I care not a hoot.

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Prejudice and Pride

Amanda and her hen

Do you know sometimes I feel like I’m on trial in my own house. All he needs is a gown and a wig and he’d not be out of place in Law and Order.

It all started a year ago to the day when I collected six very bedraggled hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust. Continue reading

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Help for Heroes


I have to apologise: I might have brought you here using a misleading header for this post. I’m sorry. I do want to talk about Help for Heroes, but environmental and social heroes rather than the military type. For some, there is no more worthy an act than sacrificing your safety for your country. For me, it is just as important to celebrate the selflessness of those who give their time and expertise to make our communities – and therefore the world – better. Continue reading

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Trees for Life

Caledonian pine forest (Peter Cairns)

We all have value systems: the internal rules that govern our daily lives and ethical beliefs. My values have been shaped over five decades and are influenced by myriad factors including my upbringing, my friends and colleagues, my exposure to different belief systems around the world and in recent years, by a better understanding of our relationship with Nature. Continue reading

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