In our latest blog post, we spoke to John Moncrieff whose photographs feature in our display of the British Wildlife Photography Awards about his work photographing seal pups.
Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition?
I’ve been visiting this small and remote Grey Seal colony for several years now. It’s at the bottom of 600-foot cliffs and is often exposed to bad weather. I love to spend time watching and listening to the seals, as they sleep, scratch, and make little noises - the pups actually sound a bit like human babies.
I had specifically wanted to get some overexposed shots so that just the details like eyes, nose, whiskers were the main features in the shot. I also did a series just concentrating on their flippers and tail details.
John Moncrieff's photograph 'I'm New Here' features in this year's British Wildlife Photography Awards under the 'Portraits' category., John Moncrieff
How did you go about getting that shot?
It’s quite a long walk and a steep climb down to the beach - then it’s a case of moving very, very slowly and just waiting for a seal pup to do something. They spend a lot of time sleeping - so I just need to be ready to grab a shot when they yawn or scratch themselves with a flipper.
How long did you have to wait for this shot?
I was probably crawling among the rocks for around three hours to get the shots I was after.
Did you use any particular equipment or software?
I used my D800E (recently replaced with a D500) and my Nikon 200-500mm lens. I never use a tripod as they’re a bit cumbersome for how I like to move around, so everything is handheld or rested on my camera bag. I use Adobe Photoshop CC for editing purposes.
What are your favourite scenes, species or motivations behind your photographs?
The rare times I do scenery, I like a stormy day or a good sunset. My favourite wildlife subject has to be Otters as I love the hunt and fieldcraft involved in getting a good shot. Just getting up close with nature is fantastic and makes for an enjoyable experience even without taking any photos.
What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?
Living in Shetland, wild weather and lack of decent light can be a problem for the much of year. With Otters, just finding them can be very hard, then a degree of luck is needed for what photographic opportunities will arise.
The beach at Fitful Head on a windy day, showing how exposed the seals are during a storm. Several die each year due to storms., John Moncrieff
What would you like people to think about when they see your work?
Hopefully, people would think “oh that’s nice” or maybe be inspired to get out and about with their own cameras - as long as they don’t do a much better job than me.
How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?
I started around nine years ago, with a lot of trial and error and reading various internet forums for tips. Without digital cameras I would probably have given up. I think the reason I started was just to try and capture some of the things I was seeing and be able to share them.
A Grey Seal pup in my car. This was a storm victim, who washed up a mile from the colony, with a few injuries. We had put him in the boot to go to the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary, but he managed to climb over the parcel-shelf and on to the back seat. I braked sharply and the seal shot into the front along with me and my stepson. We got out quickly and managed to get the seal back in the boot - it was successfully released a few weeks later., John Moncrieff
What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?
Spend a while watching from a distance to see how your subject behaves and reacts at first. Then gradually (over days or weeks if necessary) begin getting close enough for photos. Avoid causing any disturbance to the subject’s natural behaviour and hopefully you’ll be rewarded with some good photo opportunities.
What projects are you working on now or have coming up?
I’d like to do some photography involving animals and slow shutter speeds to try and give a dynamic feel to my photos. Someday I would love to visit the Arctic to photograph Polar Bears and Walrus.