It’s not long until June now. The leaves of the trees near my house have locked into their dark-green biochemical morph, the hawthorns are holding on, and the elderflower crop is waiting just around the corner - the initial scald of spring is giving way to the simmer of summer.
It also mean the beginning of The Wildlife Trusts’ initiative #30dayswild isn’t too far away.
This year (only the second time it has run) over 16,000 people have signed up for the challenge of doing something ‘wild’ (e.g. spending some time outside) everyday in June.
Although this is primarily aimed at getting people who don’t normally interact with nature to spend time out of their houses and into the elements, I found myself absorbed in it last year and, along with Kew Garden’s Grow Wild, it’s one of the finest nature-based social media campaigns out there at the moment (I’ll be sporting my ‘I heart wild’ badge next month). Looking forwards to this, I decided it doesn’t have to start in June.
A few weekends ago I found myself away from London in a corner of Gloucestershire. With an evening to spare my girlfriend and I decided to peer into the gloaming and try to spot some badgers.
This was exciting: although I’ve spent years studying mammals, I’ve never actually seen badgers – the UK’s largest carnivore – in the wild. A few weeks previously, Jess had spotted an extensive sett in some fields near her home and, as the weather was fine, we thought this was the night to set off and try to spot some mustelids.
The sett (which for you etymologically minded folks comes from cete - the old collective noun for a lot of badgers), was spread over a pretty large area, with about seven entrances, all with a decent amount of displaced earth sitting outside the runs, and each about ten meters apart. Underneath could have been hundreds of meters of tunneling (around a quarter of a hectare) complete with cubbing, breeding, and sleeping chambers, and it very well could have been habited for decades - indeed some setts have been used for hundreds of years. The view of the landscape any badgers exiting their home would have seen wouldn’t have changed that much should that have been the case.
It was quite a hike to get up the the sett, which was set on the slope of a hill. Although I hadn’t banked on a bank, this isn’t that unusual when it comes to the placement of setts - in fact, over 85% of badger homes are found on land with an incline, which helps the badgers when it comes to removing excess soil, allowing good drainage, and being able to find good spots for tunneling through differing soil layers.
So we were there, having had as bland a-smelling dinner as possible, and wearing as many dull-coloured layers as we could find. The first of these precautions was the most important. As badgers are crepuscular/nocturnal, they’re eyesight is not their most well developed sense. It would seem that at some point in their history they depended on their striking facial colouring to warn of their ferocity to would be predators (wolves?), but in terms of their own vision, it appears not to be too fantastic. Their olfactory system, however, is something extraordinary (the surface area afforded to enhance their sense of smell thanks to the extensive scroll-like bones of their nasal regions is huge), and most badger-watchers highlight the importance of keeping downwind from them in order to get within a decent distance from them.
We hunkered down, half-sat, half-lying on the hill side, looking up at the sett. It was after a good half an hour that started becoming aware that a few more layers would have been a good idea in order to lie on, but the prospect of seeing something black and white and wholly new (for me), was enough to make us stay as still and quiet as possible.
It was frustrating to be sat under the sett, looking up, as the mounds of earth hid what activity might have been happening on the other side, but we couldn’t chance moving due to the direction of the wind, and the rustling of our clothing. We had arrived just shy of an hour before sunset, and the limitations of our own eyes had began to show. Our daylight adapted-retinas, without a tapetum to rely on, where soon struggling to make out details on the hillside.
Then, we heard a noise. It wasn’t what I had expected, a muffled scratching, or a snuffling as a curious rhinarium probed out of one of the runs, but it was a steady, quick, rhythmical patter which was soon twinned with a lightning fast, blurred movement of something crashing our of the field just over the horizon and the peak of the hill, terminating somewhere on the other side of the sett.
As much as I wish I’d seen a family of badgers foraging around their home that night, or vocalizing a challenge to an intruding boar, this was as much badger as I saw on that, my first attempt at badger-watching.
At first, Jess and I hadn’t even been sure that that was what we had seen, but that rapid smudge had been led by a splash of white - it was a snout - all of it that I would have been able to make out in the twilight, but unmistakable.
Badgers aren’t always thought of as being the most active creatures, but this may be a result of their habits being constrained to those times of the day most of us are not traipsing around hillsides. Badgers dig, but they can also climb and, as I discovered that night, may gallop as well as trot, being able to run at speeds of 25-30 kph.
So I had, sort of, seen a badger, but unfortunately, that was all we saw that night. Perhaps we weren’t downwind enough, perhaps our hands, not covered in gloves, gave our presence away. Perhaps, had we been on the other side of the set, we would have seen a few, curious animals making their way out of their sett. Indeed, as we started to make our way home, we moved around up the hill so we could see a slightly more elevated angle and, sure enough, there was the path that the badger had careered down. I hope it had been spooked by something in the next field, and not by the humans sat twenty-five meters away.
So, I learnt something that night - that badgers could actually move extremely fast if they wanted to - but I also found something else out.
As badger activity increases at around about sunset, I had been waiting, after we had found what we assumed was the best position, for the sun to set. I knew this was going to be around eight thirty and, around this time, I took my phone out - as quietly as I could and checked to see what the time was.
It was Jess who pointed out the lunacy of this. I was surrounded by sky, aware of the temperature dropping as the sun moved lower, and yet - out of habit - I had automatically checked the time, rather than checking the sky.
This is why #30dayswild is important - even for people who think of themselves as outdoors-types who try to spend as much time outside as possible. No matter how seriously I was trying to take badger watching, I was still, automatically, tied to the technology I had become habituated to. This wasn’t a terrible moment - if anything it was just embarrassing - but I’m hoping by the end of June, after watching a wild patch near my home alter each day as it proceeds further into summer, I’ll start to wean myself off my reliance on technology when trying to take in my natural environment.
I’m hoping that my ID skills are going to improve - that I’ll begin to learn the sorts of things I otherwise would rely on google to teach me. That I’ll be able to recognise things without the assistance of my phone and dichotomous keys.
And, hopefully, be able to tell the time without automatically reaching for my phone. I don’t know what I’ll pick up, but I’m looking forwards to finding out.
I’ve become more enamoured with my job of late (because, primarily, I’m busier with it) but still, it seems I spend a lot of my time at my computer or in the lab - either way, I spend a lot of time with inanimate objects.
If, like me, you’re a bit of a people person, post-doc posts can feel a little isolating, especially if you're not part of a big lab, which is frustrating because as scientists we are building on others’ work and its always a huge boon to talk to other people doing similar work to help you look at things with a fresh perspective.
But in order to do this, you need to actually have an idea of the people around you, and it’s not always obvious to discover what folks are interested in/experts on by just looking at their publication history.
I myself am a whole-body anatomist working in a Cell and Development Department, and I don’t really have too much interest in the heavily developmental lunchtime talks that take place upstairs bi-weekly.
This has always been a bit of a problem here, especially as my last department was a very friendly, daily-tea sort of place, and my team at the Natural History Museum was an outreach team keen on break-out spaces, mind-maps and extended lunch breaks. But I didn’t want to lose my enthusiasm for my job: my actual SCIENCE job I’d been waiting for. What to do?
Why, set up a mini-sympoium gathering a bunch of like-minded people from the immediate area together, of course!
This was the idea hit upon by the amazing Natalie Cooper and I a little while ago – on my final day and her first in the Natural History Museum, London. I was going back into academia, and we were both new to London and felt getting to know the extended family of vertebrate researchers would be an excellent idea.
So over the last month, we invited people to UCL, scrambled around to find a lecture theatre to book (which, it turns out is as tricky as all my peers always told me it was), managed to find a way to order cakes and coffee (even more difficult) and on the 3rd of May we found ourselves introducing the first ‘London-ish Vertebrate Researcher’s Meetup’ (we really didn’t put too much effort into the name).
This originally was planned so mainly mammal workers were going to talk about their work in the hope of setting up collaborations, chatting about problems we were facing with our work, and generally generating new professional networks, but without the hashtags. But we soon found ourselves inviting so many people we had to alter the meeting so that people only had three minutes to talk about their work? Did it work? Yes!
So what did I learn from this fairly slap-dash endeavour?
1. Flash talks are a very good thing.
We really weren't sure this was going to work. At all. Initially this was going to be a small meeting and the flash talks idea only came around because we didn't not want to accept anyone who might like to give a talk. So we had almost thirty names down for a single afternoon.
Astonishingly, everyone was amazing at keeping to time. It really did seem, as Anjali Goswami tweeted, that three minutes was the optimal duration for a talk. OK, she might have been saying that sweetly, but three minutes was a great amount of time to outline what you were interested in, what you were thinking about looking into researching in the future, without getting bogged down with the complexities of the research itself - that was what coffee was for...
2. Coffee is also a good thing.
This was the opportunity for people to ask questions, and ask they did! The three minute introductions were useful for everyone to find out where people's interests where, but it also whetted people's appetites to know more.
3. Young researchers really want to talk about their work.
Obviously, but here was an opportunity to talk about recent work without the fear of it being torn to shreds by your supervisor's nemesis. It really was great to see so many people right at the start of their PhD/post-doc journeys wanting to show their work off and get people interested in future collaborations.
4. Ordering cake is a faff.
But a necessity.
5. The pub is a must.
Finally, this gave everyone a chance to talk a greater length about things that had piqued their interest. And happily, some of the more established professors, especially those recently moved to London, were complimentary about the meeting, as it gave them the ability to say "Hey, scientists in my city, this is me, this is what I do. Fancy a chat?"
Most of this was pretty obvious after attending vast international conferences, but there was something truly collegiate about organising a smaller affair, where everyone we met and talked with worked only (at most) a bus ride away, the antithesis of the three days spent at conferences where further collaborations could only be conducted via inbox alerts.
So, if you’re at your desk, feeling a little blue and it doesn’t feel like there are too many folks around you to enthuse you about your work, be proactive, book a room and get your network-face on. I can’t recommend it enough.
A couple of years ago I spent a morning with a few friends at the RSPB reserve in Snettisham. I brought the wrong lenses, so made a film about bird watchers, instead of watching the birds. Here are a few shots that my friend Jamie took last year. It’s an astonishing experience and well worth checking the RSPB’s information on high tides and getting over there if you’re based in the South East.
You can watch it over here, at Vimeo. Click away...
Published in The Guardian in 2015
The manuscript is the currency of science. It is the point of conclusion, the quantitative, accepted measure of creative output, and the primary source of scientific knowledge. It is the initial package in which scientific knowledge is first presented to the world. It is the researcher’s darling, their pay dirt, and their greatest frustration.
Five months ago I had written my latest manuscript with my PhD supervisor. Although my thesis had offered me the glorious leg room of 60,000 words to somehow develop my tangential thoughts, I soon found myself taking on the unasked-for role of the ruthless editor, highlighting the most unambiguous aspects of my writing, but accepting the price this came with – I was exorcising the joy of discovery, and the individuality, from my work.
It was then 18 months later and 60 miles from where I’d slaved into the night in front of micro-CT software, hunted for references in the departmental library, and lived and breathed mammalian anatomy, that I found myself utterly bored by what I had written.
The science was sound – goodness knows how many times we had checked and rechecked every detail, scrutinised every citation, made sure each data point in my principal component analysis had the correct acronym, and appeased every reviewer comment, no matter how small. But it was the tone, the impersonal, black-and-white nature of my text that meant writing up my discoveries had turned from what should have been a triumphant exercise in celebrating new knowledge, into something that just needed to be submitted.
Sadly this is the nature of things and perhaps not surprisingly this work, this conduit through which scientists’ research is digested by their peers, is both everywhere and nowhere. Papers take months to write; each paragraph agonised over, each figure slowly, incrementally improved with each revision. Authors double, triple, quadruple check minutiae, forgiving the publishing houses that consider it appropriate our colleagues should accomplish this on behalf of our peers for free.
But then, what? Perhaps it is the vast quantity of papers published, perhaps the insistence on the third person, perhaps it is the fog of terminology, or the limited scope and high specificity – whatever the reason they just sit. Then, it is with the researcher’s relief that they may be discovered by the journalist, for it is the hard-backed, wide-ranging distillations of science that do the admirable job of showing readers the creation of knowledge, rather than these netsuke of our understanding of the world.
On Monday, the Wellcome Trustrevealed the shortlist for their 2015 book prize, which celebrates excellence in popular writing around the themes of medicine, health, and medical science – whether fiction or non-fiction – and is now one in a collection of awards aimed at championing accessibility, readability, and creativity in popular scientific writing. This year’s selection, as in previous rounds, is wonderfully diverse, from Marion Coutts’s devastating memoir of her husband’s illness, to Alice Roberts’s personal voyage into human anatomy. But for all my admiration of these extraordinary works, I can’t help but think back on the thousands of papers I’ve read and ask: why begin the celebration of these worthy attributes of good writing at this level of communication? Why not award literary creativity at the very core of scientific knowledge?
I am keenly aware that (save for the odd rhyme) my work so far has consisted of another set of papers concurring with the style model of scientific reportage, wrapped up in terminology hardly attractive to someone who perhaps hasn’t though about anatomy as much as I had found myself doing during my mid-20s. We appear to have normalised a dichotomy of performing the worthy occupation of extrapolating the deep beauty of nature whilst accepting the alienating constrictions the swollen rules of scientific literature dictate upon us. This, in my view, is mistake.
Is it really important to celebrate literary craft within the medium of equations and p values? Perhaps ten years ago I wouldn’t have thought this was something to call attention to. But the laudable calls for transparency within the scientific literature and universal access to research via open access licensing are resulting in the deserved exodus of knowledge from ivory towers. Surely this should be a moment when scientists should reconsider their audiences and, even at this level, we should appreciate authors who steer their writing away from the baffling and towards the universal. Let us seize upon this change, and award creativity within the reportage of science at its core.
AdvertisementPostgraduate students often scramble through plays and novels, frantically attempting to find lyrical introductory quotes for their thesis chapters days before they hand their PhDs. Why is it that the assumption that the inclusion of poetry within their already dense work will add gravitas and reason to their quantitative wanderings, soon evaporates? Perhaps because this would be both naive and false: having found a rhyming couplet about moles would not have improved my work on underground mammals.
But perhaps it would be nice to quote the occasional non-scientist in our scientific works. 1869 is not 2015, but it is fascinating to revisit the first edition of the journal Nature, which not only began with a line of Wordsworth’s A Volant Tribe of Bards on Earth are Found, but followed this up with an editorial in which T H Huxley riffed on Goethe’s Aphorisms on Nature. And it isn’t as if scientists don’t allow for more creative avenues of explanations. Lecture rooms are awash with metaphors, tutorials brim with new ways to visualise concepts. The nature of how science is reported has never been bullet points and experimental instructions, but prose: introductions developing concepts and ideas, discussions expanding interpretations and exploring how the results support or reject hypotheses.
Richard Feynman could not understand how the addition of a form of knowledge alongside another could detract from the appreciation of an object – a flower, say. He was a scientist talking about an artist friend’s view of science but, in the same way, what if the inclusion of a little more creativity in our scientific writing could enhance the uptake of ideas, could increase readership, could hold attentions? Prizes such as the Wellcome Trust’s rightly celebrate the inclusion of all within the reach of science. But they should also galvanise researchers.
Science communication is my bread and butter, and perhaps I have spent too long in the cathedral of nature, admiring the melding of scientific knowledge with Romanesque architecture. But the germ of an idea has taken root. Let’s read, be inspired, and begin experimenting with the manuscript. Let’s celebrate excellence in scientific writing at its source. Let’s try inserting a trifle more humanity into our work - and let’s see who picks up a copy.
Originally published in 2013 - that post, complete with the photographs can be found over at my old Wordpress site...)
What had started out as a clear autumn dawn was turning into a blustery, rainy morning. There was drizzle on my lens and the sound of wind was fighting through the leaves of the trees around us. Only there wasn’t a cloud around and I was stood at the edge of a shingle beach. That light shower was sea water, falling off thousands of knots’ legs as they slid above and past me, pushing the air off their wings with the sound of a gust cutting through a forest.
I grew up in a house with a pair of binoculars never out of reach. From as early as I can remember my parents had hung bird feeders from the apple trees in our suburban back-garden and the now almost forgotten sight of fifty-or-so starlings descending onto the grass always meant a call away from my megadrive and a trip to the kitchen window. Every motorway journey would include either my mum or dad pointing out a kestrel or a kite, and Slimbridge was such a part of my childhood that that’s where I chose to spend my 22nd birthday. But all of this never instilled in me a desire to actively go out and birdwatch. I was never a twitcher. I think I liked cities too much.
It was laziness that had constrained me. In addition to early mornings, almost 600 species of birds are out there, swirling about and above us, calling out to be identified by fleece wearers grasping copies of the Collins Bird Guide. The number of indigenous British mammals, on the other hand, is far more manageable and, although my undergraduate project was on the dynamics of flight in early birds, my PhD is on the insectivores that wear fur rather than feathers; the pin badges that adorn my coats are of bats and otters, not bitterns and oystercatchers.
However, last October I set my alarm for four o’clock in the morning, walked from one side of Cambridge to the other and drove with my friends from the Department of Zoology to the RSPB’s reserve at Snettisham. With that first flock that tore overhead I realised that the early alarm, the thermos-stewed tea and the old boy smoking a pipe next to me was all worth it. That giddy, goofy smile of complete wonder the girl in boat at the end of the murmuration video smiles – that was me.
So when my friend and wildlife photographer Jamie Gundrysuggested we go to Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast I though let’s give this another go. Three months later and during the beginning of the end of my graduate studies, I packed my boots, my camera, borrowed a lens and folded up a fleece.
Skomer lies off the western most point of the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire, beyond the marine nature reserve of Jack Sound(which has its fair share of shipwrecks) and has been lived on by humans in some capacity since the Iron Age – the island is sparsely dotted with standing stones and stone circles whose provenance is sadly mysterious. However, since the 1950s the site has been managed by what is now the Wildlife Trust of South and West Walesand is both a National Nature Reserve and a SSSI, as well as being a Special Protection Area.
It’s also a little over a five and a half hours drive away from Cambridge. As it had been more than a while since I’d tried to photograph wildlife and as I thought I might need a little practice with the EF 100-400mm classic lens I’d managed to borrow, we decided to increase the journey a little by detouring north to Gigrin Farm in Rhayader, Mid-Wales.
Gigrin Farm is still a working sheep farm, but since 1993 it has also been an official red kite feeding station thanks to the owner at the time welcoming a proposal from the RSPB. Since then the number of red kites feeding has increased from less than ten to over 400 daily. It’s also a red kite rehabilitation centre: as kites don’t have as powerful jaws as other raptors, they generally survive by exploiting a scavenger lifestyle but this can lead to all sorts of trouble such as swallowing lead shot in the carcasses of culled wildlife and ingesting lethal pesticides. However, Gigrin farm acts as a safe haven with food left out in the afternoon, allowing the birds to retain their natural scavenging lifestyles in the morning.
Sitting in the hide, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d seen a few of the birds circling on the horizon as we’d trekked up to the wooden walls, but this was no different to how I’d seen them in the past – in the distance whilst my Dad had pointed them out. But as we heard the tractor approaching at around three o’clock the sky became full of dark brown Ws, and in an instant they were diving down onto the green in front of us, skimming over the grass to pluck a piece of beef off the ground with their talons and flying up, nibbling at their morsel. I started to get a little better at snapping them as their 1.8m wingspan meant it wasn’t to difficult to estimate their trajectory as they soared. But on deciding which scrap they wanted, their tail would snap to the side, their wings would rotate 90 degrees and they’d speed towards the Earth, showing off flashes of white on the top of their wings.
I put my SLR down for a while and took some pictures on my iPhone, but these couldn’t really capture the scene. Here were birds I was used to seeing fleetingly over a field, all tumbling out of the sky together filling the skyscape. I counted how many I could see in one of these photographs. I could make out one hundred and twenty eight.
At 8:30 the following morning we were at Marloes Peninsula, packing all the food we’d need for the week into a sealed bag (carrying this down the quay, it became obvious we’d brought far too much). Skomer is rat free and any introduction of vermin onto the island would decimate the bird populations its so famous for, so this preparatory chore was a must. As it’s been separate from the mainland for so long, Skomer doesn’t have any large terrestrial mammalian predators: no foxes, no rats. In fact, the apex predators seem to be the greater black-backed gulls that turn the Manx shearwaters inside out and leave their heads, spine and wings to the elements during the dawn. But more on that later.
Crossing Jack Sound was an easy journey but the twenty minute commute can be less than accommodating and the often big seas can mask the beauty of the reserve, hiding the porpoises, dolphins and nudibranchs under the surface. As a fairly photogenic mist rolled away in front of the boat I packed my old OM40 away, lamenting that I hadn’t brought any spare film.
Although we were there to photograph the zoology, it was the flora that had the first impact on me. As the only large mammals on the island are rabbits, the treeless landscape is dominated by brackens – any other saplings would soon be cropped by their incisors. However, the variation from one area of the island to another was stark. As soon as the ground was sheltered away from the sea breeze, entire fields of red campion bloomed as far as I could make out, a damp, saturated pink of carpet. But as soon as you stepped over the brow of an incline, suddenly everything became green, or a pale yellow. My Nintendo starved mind couldn’t help making the connection between these botanical zones and moving from one area of Koholint Island to another. All that was missing was a change in theme music.
At the end of one of these fields lay The Wick, a cut into the southern coast where razorbills, guillemots and puffins sat, perched and burrowed into the cliff face. On saturdays, the area would be crammed with upwards of two hundred tourists and school groups, whereas today we were alone with a BBC cameraman and a handful of ‘guests.’ It had been ten years since I’d been an AS-level biology student trying to photograph puffins as they crossed the path in front of me and the panorama hadn’t changed at all. But what had changed was my patience. The ability to take not-bad looking photographs of the clowns of the sea increases exponentially with a decent camera and a grands-worth of lens attached to the front of it, and with it came a desire to capture something special.
Although Skomer during daylight is a delight, it’s during the night that you realise how lucky you are to be staying there. After assisting in completing the bird log (now running unbroken for 50 years describing the prevalence and activity of wildlife on the island) at the warden’s office, we waited until quarter to midnight and then walked into the mist, wearing hats and head torches. After we passed the glow worms and avoided the hundreds of frogs and toads who refused to move out of the way of our walking boots, we started to hear what the BBC describes as a ‘cackling call’ that may have had an influence on british folk law.
Skomer boasts a third of the world population of Manx shearwaters, with over half a million of the birds momentarily staying on the island at night, when the breeding pairs meet and swap over parenting duties. Although astonishingly well accomplished in the air above the ocean, shearwaters are utterly, embarrassingly clumsy on the ground. There, their slick, aerodynamic bodies and skinny wings can’t help them. Instead, their hind legs, which are positioned extremely far back on their bodies, show themselves to be fantastically maladapted for life on the floor and as we made our way across the island, countless birds fell straight into us, shook themselves off, and then fell haphazardly towards their burrows. It’s exactly this inability to fend for themselves well on the ground that leaves those that can’t get to the sea in time after dawn at the mercy of the gulls, who discard their prey all over the few paths. But these shortcomings can’t take away from their mind-boggling feats of migration. Each year they travel from Skomer to South America, some 10,000km, and only a few days after the young first pluck up the courage to fly by hurling themselves off any ground slightly higher than the landscape. On top of this, each day the parents spend hours on the wing feeding in order to present their young with an easily digestible fish-supper. As some of the birds are over 50 years old, they’ve tallied up an astonishing number of air miles.
The final day arrived too soon, but proved to be the finest for photography, and afforded me the opportunity to see the incredibly well camouflaged daytime little owl and two of the few seals still hunting around the waters. Later in the year, hundreds of pinnepeds line the coast, continuing their never-ending search for the perfect napping position.
What I hadn’t banked on was how difficult it was to take an image that stood out. In terms of the birds, both the razorbills and the puffins were wonderful at posing, but each image I took looked like everyone else’s. As a zoologist, I balk at the idea of anthropomorphism, but razorbills really are puffins’ cooler, motorcycle-owning older brothers. But capturing the ‘personality’ of a species that can be identified by so many people is the bread and butter of the wildlife photographer. And it’s a frustrating business. I take my hat off to any of the photographers that manage it. At best, my shots were adequately framed, but hardly ground-breaking.
Discussing this with a friend after I returned to Cambridge, he talked about the similarities between wildlife and sport photography. Both require patience and an ability to estimate the future movement of your subject and both need fast reflexes and nimble fingers over the controls of your camera. But whereas any sports fixture carries some sort of historical value (so-and-so’s tenth game playing for so-and-so, when blah-blah happened in the something quarter), a puffin is, for all intents and purposes, a puffin, is a puffin.
Around the second morning I realised that wildlife photography wasn’t for me. Watching the animals through binoculars and taking a record of the behaviour I was privy to was one thing, but the frustration at not being able to capture that personality in a photograph was quite another. Readying myself for my post-PhD adventure later this year, I’ll bring my 600D, but I’m also packing a bag full of velvia.
Skomer was an incredible experience for a naturalist, but in terms of photography, it underlined what had been my opinion for a long time; that I’d much rather use photographs as imperfect aids to memory, rather than as tools for precisely capturing the dynamic action of life onto circuit boards. I’d rather watch through binoculars than track with autofocus.
Which makes me sound like a lomography advert. For which I am truly sorry.