Capturing images of Caithness – an interview with Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell is an amateur photographer from Caithness who won Thurso’s Photographer of the Year Award in May. Getting into photography by chance, Colin is known for his nature and wildlife photography and now runs a photography business alongside his full time job.

We were delighted to get the opportunity to speak to Colin and to find out more about how he captures amazing images of Caithness!

With nature photography, there’s nothing quite like the buzz and fulfilment of getting ‘that shot’. A bonus of wildlife photography is that it can take place anywhere. Simply open your back door and look into your garden; you’ll likely find garden birds to capture.

Deer in Caithness, by Colin Campbell

Q.What’s your story, how and when did you originally get into photography?
At the age of 19 I found myself, like everyone else my age, cruising the streets of Wick in my tinted window Clio! I wanted something to break myself away from this and went looking for a hobby. At the time I was working nightshifts in Tesco and remember browsing Caithness Local Ads on Facebook and came across someone selling a fancy camera, a Canon 550D, and lens kit for £340. I checked my bank account and had £355 so with little sense I went ahead and bought it. (It was better than my other idea of starting a tropical fish tank!)

7 years later and I truly believe this was one of the best decisions I have made, and it has changed my life. However, with photography as a hobby, my bank balance rarely surpasses £15. Photography has opened many doors in my life, it has brought me a sense of pride and confidence and I believe this new found confidence even helped me gain my current job as Construction Project Supervisor at Dounreay.

Photography has given me something to talk about and the ability to better portray myself. I started selling my photographs and really turning it from a hobby into a business in 2016 and plan to grow it further in the months and years ahead.

Weasel in Caithness, by Colin Campbell

Q. What is your favourite subject to capture?
There isn’t much I don’t enjoy capturing but one of my highlights is wildlife. I can see why some people love or hate this though as if you have patience, you’ll love it and if you don’t you likely won’t!

My first experience of wildlife photography was a walk along the cliffs at Duncansby. A weasel popped out of nowhere and the initial spark of seeing it and capturing it had me hooked! I wouldn’t class the photograph as perfect but it definitely sparked my interest in wildlife, there’s nothing quite like the buzz and fulfilment of getting ‘that shot’. A bonus of wildlife photography is that it can take place anywhere. Simply open your back door and look into your garden; you’ll likely find garden birds to capture.

Puffin in Caithness, by Colin Campbell

I’m keen to further develop wildlife photography and am currently looking into camera hides. This involves setting up somewhere known for its wildlife and sitting in the camera hide for a few hours, trying to capture a Hen Harrier, for instance. The camouflage should help in not spooking the animals and allow me to capture more. I’m also in talks with photographers from across Scotland as I feel it’s vital to share best practice and tips on how to get the best photographs.

Forss Mill in Caithness, by Colin Campbell

Q. Where are your top spots for photography in the area?
One place I find very undervalued in Caithness is Forss Mill. Working in Dounreay I drive over the Forss bridge every day as do the rest of all the Dounreay workers. However not many know that just down from this is a beautiful mill and falls where you can see otters and leaping salmon. Forss Mill is only known about locally and I don’t think you’ll find it in many guidebooks. It’s a dream for photographers. I’m sure many could spend hours here capturing different shots from different angles.

Loch More in Caithness, by Colin Campbell

Another one of my favourites places is Loch More, near Halkirk. Loch More has fantastic sunsets and dark skies. I’ve found myself there at 3am just astounded by the number of stars visible. This is my go-to place for relaxing in the county. Again, wildlife is in abundance in this area but my goal that I still have not yet managed is to capture an image of the osprey which nest nearby!

However even if you don’t manage to get to either Forss Mill or Loch More, simply take a walk, stop and look, you’ll quickly see something to capture, it’s a beautiful part of the world.

Orca in Caithness, by Colin Campbell

Q. You recently won Thurso’s Photographer of the Year award, is this your first award win?
Yes, I’ve never really entered many competitions with my photography. I went through a lull in my hobby where I wasn’t picking up the camera as much as I used to so I joined the Thurso Camera Club as a bit of a promise to myself to get out more and meet some new friends too. The club is great for people to meet and discuss locations and photo ideas. Last year we began looking to get professional photographers from down south up to do talks. This was really interesting and gave me ideas on how to further develop my career.

One of the things the club does is that it takes part in the ‘Highland Challenge’ which includes camera clubs from Nairn to Shetland submitting photographs which are then judged by a professional photographer. I have a few photographs submitted for that and am eagerly awaiting to hear what the professional photographer thinks of my photographs.

Stroma by Colin Campbell

Along with my camera I also use a drone. Something I am really proud of personally is a video I did of the abandoned island of Stroma. This was watched on Facebook by over 81,000 people from all around the world. I recently achieved my full commercial licence to fly my drone so I’m hoping to put that to good use!

I like the feeling of giving people different aspects and views of life. Everyone sees at eye level but if I can crouch down and give a different perspective or fly a drone in the sky there’s a different view again. I think this adds value to a photograph.

Dounreay sunrise by Colin Campbell

Q. What are the top tips you would give any photographers out there?
Keep a spare battery and memory card in your glovebox of your car as forgetting these 50 miles from home with a perfect sunset in front of you is something that happens more often than it should!

A fond memory (not for me) was a beautiful evening with a breath-taking Aurora. My two friends were out taking photographs and there I was inside the car trying to charge my camera battery off my car battery!!

Jokes aside, it’s far too easy for beginners to get frustrated by the technical jargon. The professionals talk about f numbers and exposure, but I like to remind people to just go out and take photographs, you will learn from your mistakes.

My personal quote that I tell everyone is “If you can’t see a photograph then you simply won’t capture it”. You need to close your eyes and imagine what you are going to take before you go and take it. I believe it is developing this mentality that gives personals style to images. Photography is more about eyes than fancy cameras and lenses. None of my photographs taken in the first 2 years were fantastic but I’m still glad I snapped them and kept them as it allowed me to learn and develop.

Colin's Daughter

Q. What’s next for you and your photography career?
My life has been pretty hectic in the last year between work commitments, moving into a new house and really trying to get back into photography. Not to mention the major milestone of becoming a first-time dad too!

My aim is to really get back out there with my camera and enjoy taking photographs. Meanwhile I am in the process of building an office and a studio for the business side of things. This will allow me to be able to switch off a bit more at home and spend quality time with my daughter and partner. A final thing I am keen to try and develop is blog writing and camera tutorials to share with other photographers and those who are keen to pick up a new hobby!

To see more of Colin Campbell’s photos make sure you ‘like’ or ‘follow’

Shona LawranceBy Shona Lawrance
A young quine with an energetic sense of adventure but dire sense of direction! Born and bred in the North East of Scotland with a long loving appreciation of the Scottish islands.

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