Shooting the Breeze – Eve Russell interview

Eve Russell

David Lintern catches up with a wildlife photographer and graphic artist living and working in the north.

Where are you based and why?
I live on the Black Isle, just North of Inverness, with stunning views of the Fyrish monument and Ben Wyvis. I work as a freelance Graphic Designer and photographer, alongside a part-time job with the Royal Mail. I’m here for the wildlife and the landscape.

Do you have a favourite place at the moment to visit and take photos?
Recently I’ve been keeping things local for a few dog photography shoots. More usually I spend a lot of time out West, especially around Ullapool. I spent a fair bit of time in Torridon last year, enough to know I want to spend more time there this year! There are so many spectacular locations, views and walks in this part of the world – we’re spoilt for choice.

Stac Polliadh – a spectacular October day last year before the clocks went back, and the early part of sunset.

You clearly have a deep affinity with animals, both wild and domestic – was that always there, and how has it developed or changed over the years?
I had a passion for animals from a young age. I seem to have had a camera of some sorts forever too, so combining the two things has just evolved. I just feel a connection to the natural world, and find it very therapeutic to be out in the middle of nowhere in the company of wildlife. There’s also a deep sense of satisfaction from capturing something new (to me) or visiting a new place: I come back home at the end of the day feeling completely refreshed and buzzing with ideas for creative projects.

Over the years photography has taken me to so many places I wouldn’t have visited otherwise – across the UK, but also Finland, Canada and Alaska. Seeing grizzly bears, black bears, humpback whales, orcas, grey whales and bald eagles in their natural environment has been a journey of discovery. One that sticks in my mind in particular is the ‘gray jay’ – a cheeky bird coming back and forth stealing my lunch in Mount Rainier National Park!

What’s the underlying motive in your photography – what drives you?
It’s nothing too complicated – just a love for the outdoors, the Scottish Highlands in particular and my passion for capturing images of wildlife in their natural setting. It also gets me outdoors in all sorts of weather, discovering new places. I really enjoy exploring – not knowing what I will come across. I love the mountains and travelling on foot to remote glens and corries where I can sit quietly and try to photograph deer and mountain hares especially.

Do you use hides in your work, is it opportunistic… or mix of both?
I have used hides previously, especially for red squirrels, but over the last few years I have avoided them, and tend to just stand or sit quietly and wait for the animals to appear. I find just being out the environment I can get a better range of images. Wildlife photography has become a lot more visible over the last few years with the ease of sharing online and for me there was the danger of images taken from hides becoming quite generic. Avoiding hide photography for me has lead to more creative images and given me ideas for other things I want to explore creatively.

Which animals do you find the most challenging to photograph, and why?
I wouldn’t say it’s challenging as such, but I do have to keep my eye out and be ready and on the button to get a decent shot – wild animals can move quite quickly! I’m thinking in particular of species like the crested tit (aka ‘The Punks of the Forest’!) – you need to be quite quick and keep your eyes peeled. And as I’m not in a hide, I need to keep quiet and reasonably still, in order not to disturb the animal. The idea is just to become part of the surroundings so that the animal can venture closer and I have a higher chance of getting that image.

And do you have a favourite, and why? Has that changed over time?
As I mentioned previously, deer – and especially red deer – are a real favourite for me. There’s something so grand, majestic and beautiful about them, not just in their look, but also in their presence. They have been the focus of lots of my images, and I’m sure they will continue to do so – not just in the photographs.

Is there a particular location or species that would be a good starting point for someone at the beginning of their wildlife photography journey?
For a compete beginner, I would probably recommend a photography workshop or tour. There are plenty of folk offering these types of things up here in the Highlands and around the rest of the UK, and they are also a good way of meeting new people with similar interests.

Having said that though, I just started out by getting out and about, and picked things up over time… so it can be done! Either way, no matter how long people having been photographing, everyone is always learning and wanting to improve – it’s what makes it such an addictive and creative thing to be involved in.

Red Squirrel – taken last year out in the woods without a hide. The squirrel grew comfortable with my presence and was happily looking for a cheeky hazel nut or two.

Tell us something about your journey from total beginner to where you are now.
I studied graphic design at university, but the skills I learned in my degree in a way have helped me with my photography. I got my first decent camera (DSLR) over 10 years ago, but about 5 years ago I upgraded to the Nikon D800, which I love. Over the years my eye has developed – these days I try to study the environment more, and include it with the species I am photographing, rather than abstracting the animal from their habitat, using a long lens and a fast aperture for example. These days I’m enjoying trying to tell something of the story of the animal where it lives.

How does your training and work as a graphic designer influence your sphotographic eye?
There are definitely transferable aspects – an eye for detail, composition (which I think of as ‘layout’). Light is a huge factor in photography as everyone knows, but also colour and tone, which perhaps aren’t talked about quite so much.

Mountain Hare, the photo taken shortly after a snow blizzard, with the warmth of the sun just beginning to show on the grasses. I waited for what felt like ages until the blizzard had passed.

I notice from your website you offer photographic portraits of people’s pets. Without giving too many trade secrets away, have you got any tips for those trying to capture good shots of their dogs when they are out walking?
The best way to capture your dog is just to take the shot in a natural environment where they are most comfortable e.g. on a dog walk to the local park, beach or out in the hills. This is where they’ll be happiest and in the zone.

The image above is one of my dogs (Skye).This image was taken at the end of last year out and about hiking up Ullapool way.

What’s next for your photography? What would you like to achieve longer term?
The pet photography work is my focus at the moment. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years and really enjoy the challenge. I hope to develop this area, but continue as always with my wildlife images. I’m also developing other related ideas around drawing, illustration, and artwork for clothing.

See more of Eve’s work on her website: www.wildwatchereve.co.uk and on instagram: www.instagram.com/wildwatcher_eve

Want to improve your photography? Check out our listings for photography workshops and tours

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