Photographing Otters, Eagles and Seals with George Turner
In England and Wales, Eurasian otters were locally extinct by the 1970s. Pesticides contaminating rivers where otters lived, fishermen killing otters they deemed pests and others hunting otters for their pelts all resulted in a near-total extinction. All that remained of the Eurasian otter in Great Britain was one last, tiny stronghold in the most remote parts of Scotland. Then, in the late 80s, otters were classified as a protected animal (making it illegal to kill them), harmful pesticides were banned and the animals slowly began to return. Now, a booming population of otters exists around the UK, particularly on the Isle of Mull, where our photo story takes place.
A day’s drive to the north of London, across the rolling hills of the Scottish countryside, up into the winding roads of the Highlands and over a short stretch of sea by ferry lies the Isle of Mull, the UK’s hidden treasure for big-ticket wildlife. One of the largest Scottish Isles, and yet one of the least-visited due to its seclusion, the Isle of Mull is the perfect place for once-endangered animals to rebuild their populations. Otters, eagles, seals and many more animals have established homes across the 300 miles of coastline. For British photographer and conservationist George Turner, this kind of wildlife abundance in his own backyard meant he practically had to go explore, photograph and edit his shots in Lightroom!
George, or, as he’s known on Instagram, George The Explorer, is just that: an explorer! This wildlife photographer and conservationist travels the world, learning about its creatures and telling their stories through his lens (literally). He captures images of all kinds of animals, bringing his photos to life in Lightroom.
Now, picture him waiting out in the marshes for hours, camera at the ready, lying on damp ground in what turned out to be otter poo. Why would George do something like that, you ask. Well, it’s simple: to get his shot.
When George arrived on the Isle of Mull, he spent nearly four days getting the lay of the land. As part of his photography process, George says, “I really try and understand the landscape and figure out how the animals are behaving and what they’re doing. I use that knowledge to get the images that I want. If you see an animal, you can’t just walk right up to it, because you’re either going to scare it or endanger yourself.”
By doing his (thorough) research, learning from locals, talking to tourists and taking it slow, George got to know the routines of the creatures he came to photograph. During his time on the Isle of Mull, George observed many habitats. In one loch populated with otters, George discovered who were the dominant males and who were the females. He learned their sleeping schedules and recorded when the mothers would bring out their pups. He became so well acquainted with the patterns of these otters that he was able to capture some ridiculously impressive photos. As for the reason he was able to achieve these images, well, as George puts it, “If you really respect somewhere, it will give back to you.”
In the end, all this deliberate preparation was worth it. George came away from each day of shooting with SD cards full of incredible selects, featuring local wildlife, beautiful scenery and much more. But enough talking about all this; let’s see it! Check out the video below for a behind-the-scenes look into his photography trip and his editing process in Lightroom.
Now if the advice George imparted in that video wasn’t enough to wrench you from your seat and propel you out into the nearest wildlife reserve, here’s a little something extra. He was kind enough to share some words of wisdom for those drawn to wildlife photography.
First and foremost, you need to do it for the right reasons. You need to genuinely love wildlife so much that you’re in it for the animals and not just yourself. If that sounds like you, then George would tell you to “Get your camera and go photograph anything that moves!”
One of the things that makes George’s photography unique, is he understands his subject. The otters he photographed on the Isle of Mull were by no means his first. In fact, he’s spent years traveling the world, learning about and photographing otters. For George, “Photography is no different to any kind of industry in this matter. You have to do your research.” If migrating birds come through your region of the world, study up! Understand where they fly and when they’re most active. Learn about the wildlife that you’re going to photograph.
Bringing your viewer in close helps them connect with the animals in your photos. One way to emulate the intimacy you built with your subject is by using the Crop Tool Overlay in Lightroom. Draw your audience in closer to your subject. Then, to set the right mood for your viewers, use Lightroom sliders to echo the feeling you observed during the shoot.
If there’s one big takeaway from George’s trip to the Isle of Mull, it’s this: You don’t need the resources to travel the world in order to capture amazing wildlife images. For George, this trip was all but in his own backyard. “If you look hard enough,” George says, “there are such amazing things that are on your doorstep.” With the world at your feet and Lightroom at your fingertips, there’s nothing to stop you from creating something incredible. So wherever you live, feel enabled and empowered to get out there. And don’t forget your camera!