Unmissable moments

Close to home in Scotland, National Geographic photographer Robert Ormerod set out to capture some zoomed-in shots of the wild wonders just off his doorstep.

Published 19 Aug 2021, 12:01 BST, Updated 26 Aug 2021, 10:55 BST
A flock of norther gannets perch on Bass Rock at the height of summer a few months before their long migration south.

A flock of norther gannets perch on Bass Rock at the height of summer a few months before their long migration south.


Rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) don’t glide through the North Sea so much as jut along the surface, crashing atop each wave in a salt spray staccato that consistently threatens to knock you off your balance. In a near-desperate bid for equilibrium your eyes lock to the horizon as minute tick shapes streak across the sky, adorned in black and white, accentuated only by bursts of vivid orange at top and tail. Puffins. Blink and you’ll miss them. And they are truly unmissable: a moment you want to dwell on, examine, and share with others. It does beg the question, if the human eye has trouble keeping up with these magnificent creatures, in a moment barely comprehended by the mind, what chance does a camera have?

“Weight is important,” muses National Geographic photographer Robert Ormerod after a recent assignment along Scotland’s east coast. “Normally you have to carry quite heavy equipment, and that can impact your freedom to capture stuff.” Over several days, Robert swapped his professional-grade camera gear for the Canon PowerShot ZOOM to more easily capture some of the best experiences near his home—while considering some of the challenges of seeing, setting up, and catching the right moment with a more traditional camera.

Hunkered down against the wind on a RIB from North Berwick, a seaside town sitting on the south coast of the Firth of Forth, Ormerod’s first stop was Bass Rock. Standing almost vertically above the churning waves, the 320-million-year-old hunk of volcanic rock almost looks like a colossal iceberg, shimmering white with northern gannets hunting, nesting, and swirling in the sky above. Reaching numbers of around 150,000 during peak breeding season, these large seabirds nesting in dense colonies along the cliffs are a delight for the lens, but can be tricky to get into view. A glorious shot of gannets blanketing the rock face is relatively simple, especially with image stabilisation offsetting the bob and sway of the RIB that ferries wildlife enthusiasts each day to see the rock up close. Slightly harder, perhaps, is catching a gannet’s distinctive beak outlined in black or its piecing blue eyes in a much tighter shot. “Shooting a moving subject from a boat that’s also moving is alright, as long as the light’s good,” explains Robert. “With a more manual camera, you’d need enough light because your shutter speed would have to be right up high to avoid blurring the image.”

A kayaker photographs northern gannets on Bass Rock, home to the largest northern gannet colony in the world.


A northern gannet shows off its distinctive colouration.


A few days later, Robert ferried over to the Isle of May, about 17 kilometres (10 miles) out from North Berwick. Along with a rich history, including the erection of Scotland’s first lighthouse in the 1630s, “the May,” as it’s known locally, is a national nature reserve. A tapestry of high cliffs ridged in ledges and grassy banks rolling across its plateau offer up a plethora of birdlife that makes the island a special destination for many people. Around 285 species have been recorded here, but it’s one in particular that Robert considers impossible to miss: the Atlantic puffin―sea parrots, clowns of the sea, and sheer sweet joy for practically anyone lucky enough to catch a glimpse.

The puffin’s striking appearance, large colourful bill, and waddling gait make this species one of the most easily recognised seabirds. Nesting near the tops of the cliffs, puffins commonly occupy old rabbit burrows, with pairs taking turns caring for a single egg, and eventually their hatchling―a squat, fuzzy, endearingly named puffling. “The thing with photographing puffins is you know where they are, it’s just getting to them,” says Ormerod, contemplating the effort involved in traversing the rocky terrain of the island. “The focal length needs to be long enough to get in that tight [for a close-up]. That kind of lens is expensive.” And heavy. Taking a small fortune’s worth of weighty telephoto lens into a precarious situation is usually unfavourable for professional and hobbyist alike. There are times observers may need to place one hand to steady themselves, leaving only the other hand to raise equipment to eye level to catch a subject in that moment—a clumsy process that can cost precious seconds.

A puffin sports a silvery beard of fish. Despite their appearance, puffins are keen hunters, able to dive up to 60 metres (200 feet) and stay underwater for 20 to 30 seconds.


Puffins gather atop a cliff on the Isle of May. Only laying and caring for a single egg at a time, puffin parents take turns guarding the nest and heading out to catch fish.


Back on the mainland, family fun ensued. Seacliff Beach and Harbour both offer activities nestled within a relatively undiscovered Scottish gem—horse riding, sailboats, and paddle boarding all work up a suitable appetite for ice-cream served from the windows of vans bordering the harbour walls. For the last activity of the evening, backlit by the golden light of sunset, the Clark family indulged in some diving. Launching himself into the mouth of the harbour, the youngest of the clan executed a forward flip clad in neoprene.

Enjoying the spectacle, Robert sought to capture the moment. Bringing the Canon PowerShot ZOOM up to his eye, the small, lightweight monocular let him witness the action and click a crisp snap within a heartbeat. Throughout the trip, free from heavy camera equipment or the worry of fumbling his camera phone into the sea, Robert was able to observe and capture what he wanted, even stepping in close with a pair of optical focal lengths. Automatic settings, image stabilisation, and an easy-to-use and carry design make the Canon PowerShot ZOOM the ideal answer to some of the challenges associated with traditional photography. A point-and-shoot simplicity perfect for amateurs, wildlife enthusiasts―or families enjoying the last outdoor activity of the day. “What I really like about the Canon PowerShot ZOOM,” Ormerod says, “is it brings you back to some of the most engaging elements of photography―being able to just explore and shoot.”

Frozen mid-flip, limbs splayed, proof of Robbie Clark’s acrobatic manoeuvre is immortalised. Another unmissable moment, now decidedly un-missed.

Robbie Clark performs a forward flip into the mouth of Seacliff Harbour.

Left: Top:

National Geographic photographer Robert Ormerod getting into position to capture incredible moments with the Canon PowerShot ZOOM.

Right: Bottom:

Robert Ormerod uses the Canon PowerShot ZOOM while floating in a high-speed rigid inflatable boat.

Photograph by SYLWIA CROFTS(Left)(Top)
Photograph by SIMON CROFTS(Right)(Bottom)
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