My first year as a photographer

Loch Lomond NNR and Flanders Moss NNR

David McCulloch is one of our volunteers who has spent many, many hours working away on our NNR’s to the benefit of the wildlife and knows the sites well. But his connection to these special places has strengthened with the development of a new hobby:

I was walking across Loch Lomond NNR last year when I spotted an osprey perched on a dead tree just begging to be photographed. I put the mobile phone camera up against one of the eyepieces of my binoculars and I got a close-up photo, but it certainly wasn’t going to make me a candidate for Wildlife Photographer of the Year. That experience persuaded me to buy my first proper camera, a digital SLR with interchangeable lenses.

My shiny new camera came with a fat instruction manual. However, just as the manual you get with your new car doesn’t actually tell you how to drive, a camera manual tells you how to adjust the aperture (for example) but it doesn’t actually tell you why the size of aperture might be important. Thankfully Strathclyde University came to the rescue. They provide relatively inexpensive adult education classes on ‘Understanding your Digital SLR’, and I can honestly say that six week course last autumn was transformational.

The cold frosty winter provided plenty of opportunities to practice what I had learned. This view of the Luss Hills from Net Bay on the RSPB part of Loch Lomond NNR shows how the loch can look at its very best in winter.



I’m colour blind, so black & white photography has some advantages for me because it removes the worry that I might have over (or under) saturated the colour or misjudged the white balance. However black & white images can often be better than colour anyway because they emphasise strong contrasts, shapes and textures without the eye being distracted by the colour. For example, this view of Loch Lomond from the RSPB part of the NNR definitely works best in black & white as it emphasises the delta wing shape made by the reflected cloud.



The bog cotton on Flanders Moss also cried out for the monochrome treatment that focuses the eye on the sea of white tufts with their bright fringes backlit against the sun.



It took slightly longer for me to become satisfied with my shots of wildlife. Wildlife photography does of course work best in colour, but I’ve included this skein of geese over Loch Lomond just to prove that wildlife isn’t necessarily a black & white-free zone.



Wildlife has the annoying habit of moving about, but with patience it’s possible to get some decent shots of birds in flight such as these whooper swans over Loch Lomond NNR. A fast shutter speed is of course required to freeze movement but on a grey Scottish day it’s often impossible to achieve this (even using a wide aperture or small f number) as the camera needs plenty of light to compensate for the fast shutter speed. It’s therefore no coincidence that I got this sharp shot of whoopers on a day with a pure blue sky and lots of light.



I recently splashed out on a better quality telephoto lens, and it has enabled me to take shots I wouldn’t have thought possible only a month or so ago.

This black darter dragonfly was seen at Flanders Moss but required a 400mm telephoto lens to capture the fine detail of its body and wings.


This four-spotted chaser dragonfly was also found at Flanders Moss.


Recently I decided to go back to where it all started, looking at that dead tree in Loch Lomond NNR in the hope I’d ‘capture’ an osprey. No luck on the osprey front, but as I was standing there I heard a rustling in the long grass in front of me and up popped this fallow deer hind with its ears backlit against the sun.


I’ve had my SLR camera for ten months now and I’m quite pleased with how much I’ve achieved in that short time. I’ve also discovered that an SLR camera with interchangeable lenses is much better than an all-in-one ‘bridge’ camera that has a built-in zoom. Bridge cameras have the advantage of being compact but their smaller image sensor means they don’t work as well in poor light (quite common in Scotland!) along with a number of other disadvantages to do with depth of field and focusing.

If you’ve ever thought of taking up photography, to quote a certain sportswear company’s advertising slogan…just do it!


More of David McCulloch’s photos can be seen here.



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2 Responses to My first year as a photographer

  1. Jane says:

    Fantastic images! And I do love the doe’s lovely long eye lashes!


  2. frejatravels says:

    wouw.. your photos are beautiful


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