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Peter Cairns

I wanted to be a rock star, ended up a truck driver and now very grateful to be a nature photographer!

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Featured Photographer

Peter Cairns


Based in the heart of Scotland 's Cairngorms National Park , Peter Cairns is a freelance nature photographer whose images and stories appear in a wide variety of media. In addition to documenting Europe 's wildlife species, Peterís deep fascination for our own relationship with the natural world focuses his work on a diverse range of issues such as wildlife management, ecological restoration and eco-tourism.

Along with Mark Hamblin, Peter published his first book, Wild Land , in 2004 and has recently published a book and touring exhibition from the widely acclaimed Tooth & Claw predator project ( www.toothandclaw.org.uk) which he initiated in 2005.

Peter was a founding director of Wild Wonders of Europe and has recently become a director of the Wild Media Foundation, which works with the scientific community to bring natureís stories to a wide audience

Website: www.northshots.com/


Why nature photography?
I guess like most photographers, it started off as a way of recording what I saw when I was out and about Ė a trophy of my experience if you like. Thereís a bit of the hunter in all of us! What motivates me now is the power of visual imagery to communicate complex issues to a mainstream audience. Pictures can fuel a shift in societyís values and thatís what keeps me going.

Oh and to be fair, I took a lot of inspiration from Laurie Campbellís early images so I should thank him or blame him depending on whether Iíve had a good day or not!

What's best about it?
When a plan comes together! When light and subject work in perfect harmony. It doesnít happen nearly as often as Iíd like, but when it does, itís like a fix which I need again and again.

What's worst about it?
The fear of failure! I get very nervous about investing a lot of time in a project that might well produce very little. I should enjoy the prospect of success but being a cynic and obsessive about wasting time, I wallow in the fear of failure. Iím working on changing this!

I also detest processing my images and will throw away perfectly good images if they need too much post-processing.

Favourite species and places in Europe?
Predators Ė because there are so many human stories to be told around them. Our attitudes towards predators tell us a great deal about ourselves. I love photographing bears especially Ė yes, there are great stories to be told but theyíre just so damn cool, Iíd do it anyway. I gravitate towards northern climates and particularly enjoy working in Norway . I hate being hot!

What's in the bag?
Camera equipment bores me to death. It interests me as much as cars, which as far as Iím concerned are just metal boxes with wheels and an engine which get you from one place to another. So in my bag are the tools necessary to allow me to do my job Ė Iím not particularly concerned what colour my kit is or who makes it but for anyone thatís interested, itís Canon.

Your specialities / skills?
I guess because I speak to a lot of people involved with wildlife management, Iíve become reasonably knowledgeable about contemporary land use issues. To this end, I supply images and stories to a diverse range of publications and organisations and this suits me well. So my speciality (I think) is wildlife politics!

What will you do in your next life?
Iíve had a great time on this planet for the last 45 years and wouldnít change a thing. Iíve been so lucky but being a pessimist, I keep thinking it must all go wrong soon! If I was given another chance, Iíd ask for the same again thanks very much. Iíd like to have started ten years earlier as a photographer.

3 tips for beginners
1) Passion is not enough but itís a great start.
2) Be a good communicator as well as a good photographer.
3) Never stop asking questions of yourself.


Believe it or not, there are not too many benefits from being one of those at the helm of this super-tanker project. But I did get to have some influence on my missions! Iíve got a range of boreal forest owls to get to grips with and Iíve already spent some time in Laponia but failed to secure moose images Ė these missions are both work in progress.

Early next year, I get to spend some time in Scotland Ė not in the majestic Highlands where I live but in the heart of Glasgow chasing urban foxes and roe deer which live cheek by jowl with 3 million people. In a similar vein, Iím off to Berlin where itís not foxes that roam the streets but wild boar. Whenever thereís a people/wildlife interaction, Iím looking for a bit of intrigue, humour and perhaps sadness too Ė images to make the viewer think and ask questions.

Best Picture

Best Picture
Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) standing on frozen loch at dawn, Scotland .

What's cool about it?
This is a tough one. Iím not sure itís my best but itís one of my personal favourites because it was taken very close to my home but looks somehow exotic. I do like simple, graphic images and am a sucker for mist and silhouettes!

Could it be better?
Yes of course in many ways but it is as it is, and Iím lucky to live close enough to this place that if the conditions come around, Iíll try again!

Behind the Scene
It was cold! Itís a simple image in many ways but to get the swan to look up and towards the sun, I slid a small stone across the ice which made just enough noise to grab the swanís attention for a couple of seconds!

Date: January 2006
Location: Loch Insh, Cairngorms National Park , Scotland
Gear: Canon 1dMII, 500mm lens

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