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Outdoor Photography Magazine July issue 2023

Updated: Jun 24, 2023


A grey seal pup playfully splashes in a puddle on the Norfolk coast.

An image is just one part of an experience, and it is something that is created in the hope of capturing a little of the sensation and joy of the encounter.

I always try to portray something of the spirit of my subject, or an aspect of its life that makes it special to me. It might be that it is a creature that I particularly enjoy watching or spending time with, or it might be a certain set of circumstances that come together to make a moment feel extraordinary. Even though, for the most part, I become intensely frustrated by my inability to do those moments justice with my camera, I always strive to capture something other, the essence of a moment.


This month, I’m lucky enough to have six of my images featured in the Portfolio section of Outdoor Photography magazine, and I thought that I would take you through a little bit of the background story of three of them.


Seal Pup


The Norfolk coast in winter is magical, but in a very matter of fact and seemingly mundane way. It doesn’t flaunt its riches but invites you to sit and become absorbed by them over time. Until you eventually realise that you have become blanketed in stillness and calm.

Grey seals bid you to sit and be still, to simply watch them as they go about their business, which for the most part involves resting and sleeping on the beach, and along the dunes and sea defences. This part of the coast at Waxham is very much like a Paul Nash painting, in the sense that it is the edge of land ring fenced by the brutalist structure of the concrete sea wall.

The Shore (1923), Paul Nash. Leeds Museum and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery)

The Shore (1923), Paul Nash. Leeds Museum and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery)


The seals, especially the young pups, absolutely love this. It gives them a safe place away from turbulent winter seas, and a way up onto the shelter of the dunes if needed, but it is not without its dangers as I have seen them struggle to find their way back down again.


Stay still long enough and the young seals simply cannot contain their curiosity, and they shuffle and flop their way toward you. They want to know what you are and why you are sitting (or in my case laying) on their patch.

This is exactly what the pup in my image was doing, as I lay on the wet sand with my camera attempting to frame a shot, as it splashed towards me. I was keen to capture the rippling water as well as the curiosity in the pup’s eyes. Needless to say, I got quite soaked, but it was something I didn’t notice at the time as I was so captivated by the moment. I was very careful to move slowly away as the seal edged closer and closer.


A juvenile dipper on a river in the Derbyshire Peak District.

Dipper


The Peak District is a place that I escape to from time to time, especially in spring or early summer when I know I will be able to see one of my favourite British birds, the dipper. On this occasion I had arrived late in the afternoon and decided to explore the river for the next day’s shoot, but I had taken my camera gear along just in case.

I was curious to get down to a large Victorian weir even though the signs clearly said, “NO ENTRY”. Once I had negotiated the slippery path down to the foaming river, I sighted a young dipper neatly tucked away in the brick work seamlessly blending in with the blue and grey coloured slate.


By this time the daylight was fading but the temptation of getting an image or two was too great to ignore, so I set the long lens on the tripod and began creating images.

I shot until the light completely faded, pushing the camera to its limits. I find it best to shoot as many variations of composition as possible in the hope of achieving a good outcome.


In the end, the encroaching darkness beat me before it did my camera, as I realised, I had a long and shadowy walk along a densely wooded riverside path to return to my car.


A handsome male wheatear perhed upon a boulder on the Llangattack Escarpment near Crickhowell in The Black Mountains, Wales.

Wheatear


The former quarries of the Llangattack, escarpment near Crickhowell in Wales, are a landscape apart, having been transformed by people into something resembling the surface of an alien planet. It is here, amongst the crumbling overhanging facades and ramshackle rock falls, that you can find the wheatear.

It thrives amongst the craggy boulders and short sheep clipped grassland of the quarry spoil heaps. They patrol in pairs, flitting from one boulder to the next, and they are never still for long. In fact, they portray their presence through their rapid and high-pitched chiselling song.


As difficult as it was, I traversed the rock-strewn ground carrying my tripod and big lens, but I soon discovered that the best approach was to sit down low and wait for the birds to come to me.


As with the juvenile dipper, what you notice about the wheatear is just how perfectly coloured it is for its environment. It seamlessly blends into the mottled shades of the rock as if the two are one in the same.


In my image I wanted to capture that correlation between the bird and its environment. The dapper male wheatear smartly perched on the gigantic boulder.

I hope you will take a look at the feature in “Outdoor Photography”. It was such an honour to be included and it has given me an added incentive to get out again this summer for more adventures with wildlife.


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Many congratulations and so well deserved! Deborah Vass

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