This week’s talk was given by Tom Langlands. Tom worked as an architect, but since retirement seems to have become even more full time a photographer, mostly concentrating on wildlife, and this talk was about British wildlife in particular. Starting from his beginnings of interest in the natural world, which he attributes to his mother taking him to a rich area of marshy ground close to their home in Dundee.
Tom showed us a Water Rail, Barnacle Geese and wild Whooper Swans from Caerlaverock, Red Squirrels from near Lockerbie, Red Kites from Galloway, Bottle-nosed Dolphins leaping high out of the water in the Moray Firth, Red Deer and Sea Eagles from Mull, Puffins and Arctic Terns from the Western Isles, Gannets from Bass Rock and Starling murmurations near Gretna amongst others.
But it was not just the excellent photographs which made the talk so special, Tom was generous in his advice about how he makes pictures that draw the viewer into the world of the animal he is portraying. He stresses the importance of spending a long time with each indivdual he wants to photograph. This has the double benefit of the bird becoming relaxed in his presence, happily carrying on with its normal routine and allowing a close approach, but also Tom then gets to be able to predict where the bird is likely to go, what perches it uses, what route does it take to its nest. This allows him to be positioned in just the right place to catch the killer shot, and very frequently this means being really low to the ground to get on to eye level with is subjects; he carries an old camping mat in the car which he habitually uses in the field. He will then make small adjustments of side to side position to achieve the best background as possible.
Backgrounds in nature shots are incredibly important in allowing the subject to stand out free from background clutter or bright distractions that draw the eye and with luck the background colours will be complimentary as well. Such a painstaking but productive approach was exemplified by spending five days getting to close terms with a Water Rail, an incredibly shy and secretive inhabitant of reedbeds in Caerlaverock Wetland and Wildlife Reserve. The results are stunning, and all the better for being rarely achieved.
As well as explaining how and where he takes his photographs, Tom gave fascinating details about the life history of many of the species he showed. It is obvious that he is a naturalist primarily who also takes, (very good), photographs and his passion for nature conservation shone through. Some of the messages were positive, the numbers of Barnacle Geese wintering on the Solway has increased from 300 in the post WWII era to 400,000 now mostly due to the protection of adequate feeding areas at Caerlaverock. There is the downside, however, that the climate crisis is melting the ice around Svalbard and Polar bears there, deprived of the option of going out onto the ice to hunt seals, are so hungry that they attempt to climb the cliffs where some of the Barnacle geese nest and many bears fall to their deaths.