I am probably not alone in believing that a little solitude can be very beneficial for a healthy life. Put solitude together with a little wilderness, throw in some accommodating wildlife and no forgetting a little bit of light, and you have the perfect combination for wildlife photography and a course of natures own tonic. Whilst it is increasingly difficult to find real solitude, if you are prepared to do the research and to put the work in, then with a little bit of luck you may find the solitude that you are looking for. To this end, towards the end of November, I found myself once again on the long road north.

My destination in, the aptly named, Northern Isles was almost as far north as it is possible to go in the British Isles. The purpose of my trip was simply to spend time working alone amongst some of the remote colonies of Grey Seals that can be found in the Northern Isles.

With a little bit of insider knowledge from the owners of the self catering cottage I was renting, I found myself exploring along the tops of remote sea cliffs searching for small colonies of seals on the isolated beaches and coves below. Access from the cliffs was difficult and in places impossible. However, there were a few places where, with a little care, it was possible to climb down the cliffs.

By working carefully and patiently, my presence caused no disturbance to the seals. Whilst mothers and pups spent most of their time sleeping, at times the pups would become inquisitive and approach me.

Around two weeks after the females give birth, they will mate. To my surprise, a pair of seals decided to mate in the surf just off the beach from where I sat observing their small colony.

One of the beaches that I spent time at was covered in sea wrack. The unusually warm weather for the time of year coupled with the wrack, attracted a swarm of flies that plagued the seals and me!

Again, whilst their mothers slept, a few young seal pups would approach for a closer look at the stranger who had briefly stepped into their world. By remaining still and quiet, the pups would approach very close affording me the opportunity to make close up images of them.

Sadly, all too soon my time on the islands came to an end. I had, however, left just enough time to visit a small colony on the mainland on the way back home.

In the time that I spent amongst them, I only saw one other person making images of the Grey Seals, and this was the girlfriend of an Islander back from London visiting relatives. In total, I counted less than six other people on the cliffs, beaches and coves. It was a privilege to be able to work alone, without fear of causing disturbance, with truly wild animals in one of the few areas of wilderness that remain in the British Isles.

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  1. Dean Eades says:

    Nice read Andrew. Always go North

  2. Jeanette says:

    Love your work! The seals make me melt. Perhaps I should give up law and go find a camera?? :-)

    • Andrew Mason says:


      in some ways in was an easy decision to give up law and to start a new career but not in others. Spending time with nature is its own reward. You can always pick up a camera when not working as a lawyer. Without the pressure of having to make a living from your images, you may enjoy the experience even more.

      Best wishes


  3. Maryann says:

    Andrew…might I also ask what photo equipment you use for birds in flight?(-:

    • Andrew Mason says:

      Maryann, it depends on the birds, location, light and weather conditions and the image I wish to make. I am currently using a Nikon D3x and D3s which are both full frame cameras. When the light is good and I do not need to use a fast frame rate, I prefer to use the D3x because of its higher resolution. If the light levels are low and I need a high frame rate, I will use the D3s. My approach may change when I upgrade to the Nikon D4 and D800/800E. Lens wise, it depends on how tolerant the individual birds are of human presence and whether I am trying to make a close up portrait of the bird or to include more of the environment in the image. I will use the Nikon 600mm F4 lens with 1.4 and 1.7 Teleconverters where the bird is less tolerant and/or I wish to make a closer portrait image, this is on a substantial tripod. I also use the Nikon 200-400 F4 lens which I can just about hand hold and this is the lens I used for the Puffin flight images. If you are using a cropped sensor, you may be able to use a slightly smaller lens by making use of the inherent multiplication from the sensor. I hope this is of help. Andrew

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