James Shooter – An Interview

“I enjoy creating images that make your eyes work as it holds a viewer’s glance for a few seconds whilst they take in the scene and search for a subject.”

James Shooter is a nature photographer from England who has now found a new home in the Cairngorms, Scotland. I came across his acclaimed wildlife imagery whilst doing my MSc in Nottingham (having studied the same course a few years after him). James was so kind to answer a few questions regarding his wildlife and drone photography. You can read his answers here.


James Shooter © James Shooter
James Shooter © James Shooter

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

My name is James Shooter and I’m originally from Derbyshire.  Three years ago I swapped national parks and moved from the Peak District to the Cairngorms in Scotland.

What sort of photography are you specialised in?

I started out primarily wanting to focus on wildlife photography.  Although it is an area I still love and practise often, I am often working as part of a team and therefore need to contribute something different to others. For the past year or so I have been focused on gathering aerial imagery using drones.

What is your background as a photographer?

Compared to most photographers in the industry I guess I started pretty late on!  After leaving university where I studied zoology with conservation I went on to do an MSc in Biological Photography & Imaging.  This was the first time I had picked up a DSLR and it was a pretty steep learning curve, but being involved in photography almost every day meant I picked things up pretty quick.

Why wildlife photography? Did someone/something inspire you to do this?

I had always been inspired by wildlife documentaries growing up and had big dreams of becoming a wildlife cameraman.  When I started learning the trade I fell in love with the simplicity and then the technicalities of still photography.  To be able to tell a story with a single image is a difficult task and I enjoy the trials and tribulations of trying to achieve that.

“When I started learning the trade I fell in love with the simplicity and then the technicalities of still photography.”

What does the job as a photographer entail next to the actual taking of images?

Probably gone are the days when a professional photographer can rely solely on their imagery to make a living.  With being fairly new to the industry I have never had the luxury, or the complacency, to ever be able to fully rely on image sales.  As well as my own photography business I work as a photography guide for Northshots Photo Adventures where we take customers on landscape and wildlife photography workshops in Scotland and around the world.  I also work as part of a team of media professionals for an organisation called The Wild Media Foundation.  We are effectively a small production company, taking commissions to produce multimedia for conservation charities and nature themed businesses.  We are also working on an in-house project entitled SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, where we produce inspiring imagery to advocate the case for a wilder Scotland.

Meander of the River Spey as it leaves Loch Insh in the Cairngorms National Park. Aerial (drone) shot for SCOTLAND: The Big Picture. © James Shooter
Meander of the River Spey as it leaves Loch Insh in the Cairngorms National Park. Aerial (drone) shot for SCOTLAND: The Big Picture. © James Shooter

How would you describe your style?

I’m not sure if I’ve fully developed my own personal style yet as it takes years and years to really understand and figure out what you like the most.  I enjoy working in winter conditions and creating minimalist wildlife photographs against snowy backdrops.  At the opposite end, I really like producing photographs with frame filling patterns from nature, I enjoy creating images that make your eyes work as it holds a viewer’s glance for a few seconds whilst they take in the scene and search for a subject.

“I enjoy creating images that make your eyes work as it holds a viewer’s glance for a few seconds whilst they take in the scene and search for a subject.”

What kind of camera equipment do you use?

Camera equipment is expensive – especially if you try and expand into multimedia.  I use a 7D mark 1 that probably needs updating but has been my workhorse for almost my entire stills collection.  With that, I use just two lenses, a 15-85 mm and a 400 mm.  For filming jobs I use a professional camcorder – a Canon XF300 and for aerial work I use a DJI Phantom 3 Professional.

Next to the camera – what do you think is the most essential piece of equipment you have?

Tricky question!  There’re so many extra little gadgets and gizmos that get used for different jobs that it’s hard to pin down one for a general purpose. I spend a lot of time in the mountains and I’ve recently stopped using my camera bag and started using a large 65 litre rucksack that can carry lots of things, but most importantly, is very comfortable when carrying weight.  The more comfortable you are, the longer you’ll stay in the field so I’d say that is pretty essential.

Could you shortly describe your workflow?

I have recently been focusing on aerial photography and working a lot in hard to reach, mountain areas.  With this kind of imagery, planning is essential so it’s really important to do your research.  Studying OS maps of your planned location gives an idea of terrain and direction of light, along with an app called SunCalc that helps position the sun at any particular time of day.  I also use Walk Highlands a hell of a lot for specific route planning, coupled with a GPS watch to mark waypoints it has been an unrivalled advantage to planning hikes.  I then keep an eye on mountain weather forecasts and if all looks good, hike up and get the shots I’m after.  I’ll then edit the images and send them into our own stock library as well as commercial ones.

Do you have a favourite photo of your own?

Favourite photos are often those you’ve taken recently as the experience of the moment itself is fresh in your memory.  The real favourites then, or the photos that stay with you for a long while after taking them.  One of my personal favourites is an abstract red deer in falling snow. Some photographs take months of planning and some are spontaneous.  This particular image was about twenty seconds in the making from spotting the scene in the distance, to dropping to the ground and firing the shutter before the stag moved off and the shape was lost to the wood.  It breaks a lot of ‘rules’ of traditional wildlife photography but for me it just works.  One of those frame-filling patterns in nature type images I like so much.

“Favourite photos are often those you’ve taken recently as the experience of the moment itself is fresh in your memory.  The real favourites then, or the photos that stay with you for a long while after taking them.”

A male Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) stands amongst woodland in heavy snowfall. Peak District National Park, England. © James Shooter
A male Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) stands amongst woodland in heavy snowfall. Peak District National Park, England. © James Shooter

Do you have a photo that you dream of taking one day?

There’s still lots of places in Scotland I’ve yet to explore and mountains to climb.  Some that I think will look really good from the air and perhaps involve a real adventure with a long hike in and an overnight camp – so I’m excited about exploring the Cuillins on Skye a bit more and Torridon on the west coast.  In terms of species, I’d love to photograph lynx as I think they’re just beautiful.  I’m a real advocate for rewilding and would love to be involved in the documenting of their reintroduction to the UK one day!

Do you have any advice for people interested in nature photography?

Work locally.  Whether that’s your back yard or the local nature reserve, this is where you’ll get the best results.  I love travelling and will definitely carry on exploring the wonders of the natural world around the globe, but that’s got to be alongside your own personal projects close to home.  The fact is that you’ll be able to dedicate so much more time to local projects and because of that, get more creative with it.  Anyone can go to Africa and get a nice portrait of a lion, but can they spend 6 months of the year at the place you know intimately and can visit at the drop of a hat when the conditions are good, gathering a diverse collection of images with different behaviours and techniques?  Probably not!

“Work locally.  Whether that’s your back yard or the local nature reserve, this is where you’ll get the best results.”


Overview – James Shooter
Working location: Cairngorms, Scotland, UK
Speciality: Wildlife Photography & Drone Imagery

Contact
Website: www.jamesshooter.com
Blog: https://maptia.com/jamesshooter
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