Shags at cliff base with crashing wave
pic Photographed using a Nikon F4s camera with Nikkor 80-200mm zoom lens at about 150mm mounted on a Benbo tripod; taken at about 1/125th second at f5.6 on Fujichrome Provia 100 film rated at ISO 100 and processed normally; no filters used.

Angled contre-jour late afternoon sunlight, August.

Caithness, north-east Scotland.
This image was Highly Commended in the 'Wild Places' Category of the prestigious international Competition BG/BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 1998.

The story behind the picture....

"In late August, overnight storm force winds around the north-east coast of Caithness had made for some really rough seas. By the following morning the wind strength had abated a little but the sea was still very rough with huge breakers crashing into the base of the cliffs and sending spray high up their sides.

"I was preparing to shoot some of these huge crashing waves when I noticed a group of shags at the base of the cliffs, made noticeable only when the white spray was thrown up behind them. Here they wing-stretched and preened, seemingly oblivious of the gigantic waves crashing around them, sending spray all over them and occasionally threatening to engulf them completely.

"Perching myself somewhat precariously on an adjacent cliff-top ledge, I began composing shots of just the shags with the huge waves crashing behind them but quickly decided to shoot vertically to include the cleft in the cliffs as part of the composition. This made the shags look even more diminutive and vulnerable and I timed my shots to coincide with the biggest crashing waves so that the white spray behind the shags made them more visible. Soon, though, the effect diminished as the tide fell, and I left to search for other pictures.

"As the morning sunshine earlier had given rather flat frontal lighting to the cliffs, I decided to revisit the same place again later that day when the tide was on the rise again, even though I knew that the cliffs would have no direct sunlight on them. The sea was still very rough with huge breakers hitting the rocks once more and, as expected, the cliff face was in deep shadow.

"Nevertheless, I resumed my precarious position on the cliff ledge and was delighted to see that the late afternoon sunlight was angled just enough to light the wall of the cleft and the group of shags on the rock base, making for a much more interesting composition and light effect. Each time a large wave crashed into the base of the cliffs, the spray would launch high into the mouth of the cleft to be caught in the sun's rays and, once again, nicely isolating the shags. In addition, the spray lingering in the air from each preceding breaker was just enough to produce a stream of sunrays higher in the cleft, further enhancing the shots.

"However, most of the waves were not large enough to create sufficient spray behind the group of shags and so I only managed to get four successful shots with dramatic spray during the 40 minutes or so before the sun dropped down too far so that the shags (and diminishing spray) became engulfed in the cliff shadow and the effect was gone."

Geoff Doré

Back to Larger Image

Another story ...          Stories... Index

Prints          Image Files Categories          Main Index          Enquiry Form

This page last revised: Jan 2002

Our e-commerce web site with full search facilities is at