Black and white photography at Gyles quay


As we rounded the corner where the road dropped down to Gyles quay we got our first glimpse of what the weather conditions had in store for us. We had come to photograph the black guillemots as we have on two previous occasions, only this time it was not blowing gale force winds.

To say it looked like a dream come true would be an understatement.
The tide had peaked an hour earlier and with no wind to speak of, the sea was calm and almost glass-like. To top it all off there was a sea fog that obliterated the horizon line between the sea and sky. I had dreamed of experiencing such conditions, but never held out any real hope of those dreams coming true.

Now we could photograph the black guillemots either resting on the water with no demarcation between the sky and the water. We could also photograph them flying over the sea while appearing to fly in a white featureless expanse.

Because black guillemots are almost pitch black with only white patches on their wings, photographing them flying through a featureless expanse of white meant we could get minimalistic high contrast images. Colour would not be the order of the day, contrast would be king. But first we had to wait until the tide allowed us to walk out onto the beach and get down to eye level and then the fun could begin.

I found that if I got low to the water level I could see the small swells moving out to sea and judge when the birds would be partially hidden behind them. I believe this creates a softer looking image.

I could also time my shot for when the bird was on top of the swell. Either way the horizon was not visible.

Black guillemots fly very fast and and have the fastest beating wings I have encountered so far.

A pattern soon became apparent with the birds often flying out from their resting place behind behind us on the quay and pitching into the sea in front of us calling for their mate to join them. On the other hand some would fly in a large circle out to sea and around us, then returning to the quay giving us amazing opportunities to photograph these fast moving birds. It wasn't long before we settled into a rhythm. The bird in the picture above was flying the circuit option.

A small bird flying through the great white expanse is the kind of shot that is completely different from the usual tight cropped portrait images that I normally go for. Both Rosie and I really enjoyed the experience.

This bird pitched into the water close to us where its mate was calling it.


Basically it was a Black and white photography morning at Gyles quay.