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High Key Gannets: Behind the Lens with Ellie Rothnie

Sometimes the cover image of a magazine makes you sit back and think, 'I wonder how they did that?'

So this month, we're going behind the lens with the Guest Editor of our September issue, Ellie Rothnie, to discover the story behind her striking, minimal cover image of a single gannet. Discover the back story from Ellie below.

Embracing the elements

The coastlines of Britain and Ireland offer some of the best breeding seabird colonies in Europe, and this Spring I was photographing seabirds on a small Irish island where there is a fantastic Gannet (Morus bassanus) colony. Small islands can sometimes be tricky to get to, and I had visited this part of the coast in the past but hadn’t been able to land because of rough seas. This time though I was lucky, you could probably say that the Irish luck smiled on me, and I had three rewarding days photographing one of the island’s Gannet colonies.

If you’ve ever visited a Gannet colony in April, they are noisy and boisterous places to be. It was the breeding season which meant there were many opportunities to photograph some wonderful behaviours. I think the Gannet is one of the most stunning seabirds to photograph, with its piercing blue eyes, white plumage, yellow-buff head and elegant postures. I therefore had some images in my mind that I wanted to try, especially photographing the greeting rituals and sky-pointing, where a Gannet literally points it’s head upwards before leaving the nest.

On one particular morning, I woke up early to foggy weather, in fact the visibility was very bad. It would have been easy to roll over and go back to sleep, and just wait to see if the sea fog cleared, however I love this type of weather and I had some high key images in mind to make the most of the fog. Landing on the island was straightforward and I trekked over to the Gannet colony. The busy colony was situated on an area of white, guano-covered rocks and in one direction it was quite a challenge to isolate one or two birds. So I looked in a different direction and lay behind a rock which I used to create some white ‘mush’ in the foreground of the image. And because it was foggy and I wanted a high key look, I dialled in a positive exposure compensation, creating a background canvas which was white and clean. This particular Gannet started to sky point and eureka, there was my shot.

By keeping it simple, thinking a bit differently about things like composition and technique, and working with the foggy weather, the sky-pointing Gannet image was created.

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