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About the Art: Mark Hamblin

As we continue to highlight the work of the photographers featured in our exhibition of photography from the British Wildlife Photography Awards, we spoke to Mark Hamblin about his work and the natural beauty of Scotland.

Can you tell us the story behind your photo in this exhibition? 

This picture was taken as part of the ‘SCOTLAND: The Big Picture’ project that I am working on alongside colleagues to amplify the case for a wilder Scotland. Scotland hosts some of the most important wild forests in the UK but the old Caledonian forest that once cloaked much of Scotland has been reduced in size and fragmented over millennia and now less than 5% remains, much of this within the Cairngorms National Park. Part of the problem today is that very little natural regeneration is taking place as a consequence of high deer numbers in and around our forests, which are preventing saplings from becoming established as a result of grazing pressures. This means that we have an ageing forest that is not being replaced by younger trees. This trend is being reversed in some areas where grazing pressure is being reduced by controlling deer numbers, and the result of this management is that trees are rapidly regenerating from a local seed source. This clearing in Abernethy Forest, owned by the RSPB is an example of how thousands of trees can quickly become established and fill in gaps in the forest that have been lost in the past. These young trees, in turn, provide shelter and opportunities for a wide range of other species including thousands of spiders, their webs highlighted perfectly on this misty autumnal morning.

  • Forest of the Future, Mark's 'Forest of the Future' which appears in our exhibition of photography from the British Wildlife Photography Awards until 14 January, Mark Hamblin
    Mark's 'Forest of the Future' which appears in our exhibition of photography from the British Wildlife Photography Awards until 14 January, Mark Hamblin

How did you go about getting that shot?

In all honesty this was not a difficult picture to take and was a consequence of an early morning drive around the forest close to my home in the Cairngorms National Park. As a close observer of the weather forecast there was a good chance of suitable conditions for photography that morning and so I set off aiming to take some landscape images at first light, but before reaching my destination I saw these spider’s webs highlighted by dew and felt that it was too good an opportunity to pass by and so stopped and spent the next 30 minutes or so exploring various compositions to highlight both the webs and the densely regenerating pine saplings.

How long did you have to wait for this shot?

For a change, there was no waiting around for this picture since it presented itself as I was driving by and it was simply a case of taking advantage of the opportunity before the conditions changed. As is often the case with these kinds of opportunist pictures, the conditions may be short-lived and the shot may be gone so I needed to work quickly and efficiently to capture the scene as best I could.

  • Red Squirrel by Mark Hamblin, Red squirrels are reliant on an expansive, well-connected forest but the loss and fragmentation of our native woodlands has resulted in the species being absent from many parts of Scotland. As forests become better connected in the future through a mix of tree planting and regeneration it is hoped that our only native squirrel will become more widespread and resilient to diseases and competition in the future, Mark Hamblin
    Red squirrels are reliant on an expansive, well-connected forest but the loss and fragmentation of our native woodlands has resulted in the species being absent from many parts of Scotland. As forests become better connected in the future through a mix of tree planting and regeneration it is hoped that our only native squirrel will become more widespread and resilient to diseases and competition in the future, Mark Hamblin

Did you use any particular equipment or software?

I have an array of cameras and lenses that allow me to shoot from macro to long telephoto. These are the tools of my trade as a working professional and I use Canon gear that is both durable and optically superb to try to achieve the best quality images I can from any given situation. I use Lightroom and Photoshop for processing my images.

What are your favourite scenes, species, or motivations behind your photographs?

For the past few years I have been photographing almost exclusively in Scotland, and whilst I have been lucky enough to travel to many overseas destinations, my home and my heart now lie in Scotland. I enjoy photographing all species and landscapes primarily within the Cairngorms National Park but also throughout the Scottish Highlands. The mountain landscapes of Torridon and Assynt remain high on my favourites list. I am currently working on golden eagles and this species together with birds of prey in general would rank highly and provide me with plenty of inspiration and motivation.

  • Sunrise in the Cairngorns, The first rays of sunlight splinter through a mist-laden pine forest in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, where some of the first examples of the Great Wood of Caledon can still be found. , Mark Hamblin
    The first rays of sunlight splinter through a mist-laden pine forest in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, where some of the first examples of the Great Wood of Caledon can still be found. , Mark Hamblin

What are the difficulties of wildlife and nature photography that you face?

Whilst the UK supports a diverse range of wildlife species, many are wary of humans, which presents a challenge in terms of getting close to your subject. Many are also in low or decreasing numbers, and others, particularly birds of prey such as hen harriers and eagles continue to be persecuted by humans. This is of course of great concern and as part of the 'SCOTLAND: The Big Picture' project is something that ourselves and others are aiming to highlight. The challenges faced by our native wildlife remains a real threat to their future existence throughout the UK and whilst competitions such as BWPA go a long way to highlight the beauty and importance of our natural world, there is still a lot more to be done in this regard and so that is a constant challenge.

What would you like people to think about when they see your work?

I hope that people feel a connection to the subject within the photograph and that it provides enough interest and perhaps intrigue to hold the attention for more than a few seconds. In today's digital world we are bombarded by outstanding imagery on a daily basis and so the challenge remains to try to make your picture stand out, which is becoming more and more difficult. People’s attention span is very short and we are all very guilty of skipping through images at a lightning pace, certainly on digital devices. Pictures showcased as prints and presented in a gallery environment offer the chance to really look at a photograph and hopefully appreciate and enjoy it. As a body of work, I hope that my pictures provide some inspiration and motivation for people to really appreciate and care for the natural world.

  • Mark Hamblin youg pines, Overgrazing from deer species and sheep is one of the greatest threats to Scotlandâs forests, preventing a natural succession of trees and other species and leaving just old pines where once there would have been a mosaic species including a rich understory, providing a home to a plethora of wildlife. Where grazing pressure has been reduced young pines such as this are able to get away and established. , Mark Hamblin
    Overgrazing from deer species and sheep is one of the greatest threats to Scotlandâs forests, preventing a natural succession of trees and other species and leaving just old pines where once there would have been a mosaic species including a rich understory, providing a home to a plethora of wildlife. Where grazing pressure has been reduced young pines such as this are able to get away and established. , Mark Hamblin

How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?

I began taking pictures aged 14 (37 years ago) having been a keen birdwatcher, as a way of recording what I’d seen. Photography quickly became my main pastime and I began photographing the birdlife of my home county of Warwickshire with my father. I was hooked from that point on and continued to photograph as a hobby until I started to make a living from wildlife photography in 1995.

What would you advise someone wanting to start taking photos of wildlife or nature in their local environment?

My best advice to anyone is to get to know your local subjects as well as you possibly can. There is no substitute for knowledge and this will always stand you in good stead. Some of this knowledge can be short-circuited these days with professional guides and hides available to rent, something that I offer myself - but finding your own subjects and producing original work is not only far more rewarding in the long term but will provide a much stronger portfolio of images. And dare to be different. Try different techniques and unusual shooting angles to produce unique images.

What projects are you working on now or have coming up?

I am currently working on 'SCOTLAND: The Big Picture' producing a range of visual imagery to amplify the case for a wilder Scotland. Alongside colleagues, we are covering a wide spectrum of species and stories within Scotland that are connected with habitat restoration and rewilding. We are interested in documenting how and where habitats are being restored and the benefits that this brings to not only wildlife but for local people as well, especially through increased tourism. Within this project, I am continually taking pictures that relate to forest regeneration and expansion as well as covering individual species such as golden eagles, which I’ll be working on over the course of the winter. 

  • Golden Eagle, Old pines remain an important part of the forest ecosystem providing nest sites for many species such as this golden eagle seen here leaving its nest containing two well-grown chicks. , Mark Hamblin
    Old pines remain an important part of the forest ecosystem providing nest sites for many species such as this golden eagle seen here leaving its nest containing two well-grown chicks. , Mark Hamblin