Stalking the image
A deer and her calf among the deer grass on Meallan Odhair in the Kintail mountains of the north west highlands

It’s always good to be able to switch lenses quickly. On a walk in the Kintail mountains yesterday I had my usual 10-24mm wide angle and 70-300mm, with the wide angle on the camera to capture the clouds over the landscape as a weather front cleared the area and left billowing cumulus in its wake, drifting across the ridges and summits.

I disturbed a ring ouzel in the rocks, probably a first winter male as it didn’t have a white ring yet. It’ll soon be making the long trip to the Atlas mountains to overwinter but for now it was content to shadow me up the hillside, not staying long enough for me to get the long lens out. I met it later at the summit but it only appeared briefly, flying off down the rugged slope.

There was a fair bit of contrast between the clearing sky of crepuscular rays and the darker mountains still coming out of their storm garb so I was bracketing exposures, intending to blend them back in the digital darkroom, all of which made for a slow ascent as the weather was so interesting with wonderful, fast changing autumn light.

At length, I scrambled up a narrow groove which looked like it might be a nice winter climb and popped out on the flat plateau on the summit and off in the distance three deer grazed. They were up wind of me so they hadn’t heard, smelled or seen me.

I dropped to the soaking ground, below a small rise, just big enough to hide me and got the long lens out of the rucksack. Loosening the back cap I layed it on its waterproof bag and took the wide angle off the camera, switfly moving the cap onto it and fixing the long lens in place. A quick tighten of the cap on the wid eangle and into the waterproof bag and I started crawling across the boggy, mossy ground.

Eventually I got to within a decent range but the lens had trouble focussing in the flat light, until a burst of sun came through and the deer finally spotted me. I froze. They froze and stared. I had the camera to my eye and shot frame after frame after frame. f5.6 was the widest I could go at 300mm to throw the mountain behind out of focus and narrow attention to these beautiful animals.

Eventually they’d had enough of my presence and gracefully cantered across the moor and down the slopes towards Glen Shiel.

It was a magic few moments, made possible by persevering with the equipment. Having to switch from landscape to wildlife mode in a few seconds. If you ever think it’s probably not worth changing lenses, the subject will be gone, just go for it. I always do.