During November, I spent two weeks guiding the NaturesLens Grey Seal photography holidays. The Grey Seal is one of Britain’s most charming mammals & my personal favourite subject to photograph so to spend this amount of time with them was an enormous privilege!
With just under half of their global population inhabiting the UK, their curious nature & cuddly appearance make,s these animals fascinating to watch let alone photograph.
This pair of Grey Seal photography trips started at a beautiful fully-equipped cottage with the private beach being a stone’s throw away from the seals. Once the group & I had settled in, we kitted up in our waterproofs & boots & headed to the beach for our first session with the Seals. It was low tide, so we were able to venture straight out to the sandbanks where some of the seal colony stayed.
It was very windy, so we mostly concentrated on the seals in the surf as there were some pretty gentle waves. We also got some beautiful shots of them swimming around & curiously popping their heads up through the waves looking at what we were doing.
Being on the North Sea coastline the weather as you can imagine was changeable at the drop of a hat. This created some of the hardest & harshest photography conditions I have ever worked in. Still, it also produced some exceptional photographic opportunities as can be seen in this blog post.
The wind started to pick up significantly while we were out on the sandbanks, with gusts of up to 50-60mph hurling the sand across the beach, creating a fantastic sandstorm. The whole sandbank, as far as you could see, was moving with the strong winds. The conditions were extremely tough, but the group & I knew we were being presented with the opportunity to create some unique images.
I came across a pup sheltering from the strong winds & blowing sands. The extreme conditions made lying down or using a tripod impossible since both I & my kit would have been covered in the sand within seconds. So I decided to look for another composition angle and opted to stand at a distance so that I could capture the moving sandstorm around the pup. It was then just a matter of waiting for the pup to do something other than lay there. I soon got lucky when he woke up & gave me a yawn producing this different image.
The rest of the afternoon’s session just kept getting better & better as the weather conditions got harsher. At one point, the heavens opened & we were exposed to a massive storm followed by hailstones.
We decided to ride out the conditions & I am so glad we did as the sun soon came out, giving us a fantastic rainbow & some decent light on the seals. The wind was still up, creating a pretty impressive sandstorm.
On seeing the rainbow, I knew I just had somehow to get it in an image with a seal. The group & I walked further down the sandbank towards the end of the rainbow. There was, unfortunately, no pot of gold but a very helpful female Grey Seal laying correctly at the base of the rainbow.
After some waiting, she stretched her neck up, giving me this habitat shot. Wildlife photography can be a challenge when the elements are not on your side; however, if you remain persistent, then patience is quite often rewarded!
For the next few days, the group & I concentrated on portraits of the pups. We were also lucky enough to witness a birth.
Watching an animal take its first breath & then to meet its mother for the first time was a pretty magical & very precious moment.
Towards the end of the first week, the forecast was looking great with some bright days. So the objective was to work on some creative imagery using the light for side-lit, front-lit & back-lit portraits. There is an entire blog post dedicated to these ‘special light’ images available here.
Seals are one of those subjects that are very tricky to backlight as it involves them having to be active in some way for the light to wrap around their body, or else they look like rocks with a highlight on them! There were so many times where we had some great light, but the seals were not performing.
The following week pretty much consisted of the same format. Get up early for sunrise & head to the beach, then head back to the cottage for a few hours for lunch & to review our images. We then headed back out into the afternoon for the better light. Week two was trickier for Grey Seal photography due to the sheer number of seal pups that had been born during the previous week, which made getting to the beach somewhat challenging. Since we did not want to disturb the pups or cause the mothers to be alarmed, I decided to stay in & amongst the dunes.
This made photography at times challenging as we could not always get as low as we would have liked. However, the welfare of the seals must always come first. The second group still came away with superb images from that trip. We focussed on shooting as low as possible through the grass & trying to create immaculate looking images with minimal distractions in the foreground & background.
Just like week one, we also got a few days of lovely evening light, so again I showed the group the best settings for backlit images.
On the last day of the tour, I took the group further down the coast, where the seal colony had spread out somewhat, allowing us to access back on to the beach. We headed out to the surf to concentrate on some lovely images of the seals playing in the ocean. It was a cold morning but one that gave us all some great sightings & photographic opportunities with the seals.
JOIN SEAN IN 2018 TO PHOTOGRAPH NORFOLK’S SEALS
In November 2018, Sean will be leading a week-long holiday focussed on Norfolk Seal photography for NaturesLens, specifically between the dates of November 25 – 30, 2018.
The cost is £999 per participant, which includes five nights accommodation in a gorgeous cottage on a dinner, bed & breakfast basis; your meals will be warming, homely & plentiful to get you warmed through & filled up after a long day on the beach. Numbers are limited to ensure that the trip is sustainable, ethical & enjoyable for every photographer.