IT was a bit like being on a rollercoaster as the RIB pounded its way through the rolling grey sea; fine and steady for a second or two and then a sudden stomach-lurching leap into the air as the small craft crested a wave.
It was exhilarating and fun, and although we had left North Berwick just 25 minutes previously, we were already nearing our destination – the Isle of May in the outer Firth of Forth.
The air began to fill with the whirring wings of puffins, guillemots and razorbills, and as the waves started to calm in the protective lee of the island, the sound of wind and sea was replaced by the excited chatter of my small group of fellow passengers. This was my first visit to the Isle of May, and it was an opportunity I was only too eager to grasp after being invited to join one of the special regular wildlife photography trips organised by the Scottish Seabird Centre (SSC) in North Berwick.
This is the first year that the centre has run these once-a-week spring and summer nature photographic trips and they have proved so successful that already plans are being drawn up to run a new series of tours next year.
According to tour leader Maggie Sheddan of SSC, the photographic safaris have been made possible thanks to the excellent co-operation of Scottish Natural Heritage, who manage the island nature reserve. Recognising that such tours involved small groups of responsible enthusiasts with little likelihood of disturbing breeding seabirds, SNH was happy to sanction their go-ahead. One of the advantages for the participants is that you are on the island at a time when there is a real air of tranquillity, with no other visitors around.
“Having been involved in taking boat trips to the Bass Rock over the past few years, it became apparent that there was a definite gap in the market for keen photographers who wanted a bit more space and time to take pictures of the wonderful range of wildlife found in the Firth of Forth,” explains Maggie.
“The popularity of the trips has been incredible and I get a real buzz out of just watching the photographers enjoying themselves.”
The tours attract photographers of all abilities and I was very much in the novice camp. While I had previously been quite proud of my camera gear, it was all too easy to succumb to the first early twangs of “lens envy” as massive telephoto lenses began to emerge from the camera bags of some in the group. But you really don’t need fancy equipment, as the puffins and other seabirds were incredibly tame and it was easy to get up close. Indeed, once you started taking pictures it was hard to stop and by the time I had finished I had racked up 267 frames. Halfway through, it dawned on me that I was becoming a bit obsessed with the photography and soon learned to put aside my camera for at least some of the time, so that I could enjoy the magnificence of the seabirds around me.
The trip certainly proved a hit with my companions. Landscape and nature photographer Shelley Shipton-Knight, who comes from Doncaster, said: “The visit was superb and I will definitely come back. The great thing is that you are given the space and time to compose the type of photographs that you are looking to take.”
Amateur wildlife photographer Bart Vercruysse from Belgium agreed. He has travelled widely in his quest for great photographs and reckoned that the Isle of May was up there with the best. “It was fantastic and I could easily have spent all day on the island taking photographs.”
But did I make the grade as a passable wildlife photographer? I have left that decision in the capable hands of the Scotsman Magazine picture editor. If you see my byline accompanying at least one photograph on this page, then perhaps I have some potential. If not, it will be a case of having to try again. And if that means another trip to the magnificent Isle of May, then that is something I can happily live with.
• The Scottish Seabird Centre will be running Golden Hour Boat Trips to the Bass Rock until October that are specially tailored for photographers. See www.seabird.org for details.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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