Rammell Photography

Surrey Wedding Photographer

Blog Post 7: Grey Seals at Donna Nook

Canon, Camera, Animal, 60D, Seals, Photo, 7D, Wild, EOS, Beach, Rammell, 1D, Nook, Photography, DonnaMichael Rammell2 Comments

Hi All and welcome to blog post number 7!

I must admit when I first started investing some time into writing this blog I didn't really expect to have so much to write about so soon. However it seems that I actually do get out a bit with the camera and have plenty of stories to tell.

This week is no different. On the Sunday 3rd June, one early morning (very early I may add!) Richard Claypole, Neil Graham and I all made our way to Donna Nook, Lincolnshire in the UK to photograph Grey Seals.

We had been planning the trip for a few weeks trying to decide whether early June was a good time to go, not least because the weather was due to be quite poor, but more because we were unsure,  if after driving for 4 hours, we would actually see any Seals at all! 

There were other ethical issues to research too. It's apparent that quite a number of photographers head to Donna Nook at times when the Seals come on-shore to give birth to their pups in November and December. It's believed that the presence of people (photographers in particular who like to get nice and close!) can often scare off the mothers, leaving their new born Seal Pups all on their own. This means they often die. We knew that it wasn't the season for the Seals to be giving birth but never-the-less we did not want to disturb them and we certainly didn't want to become part of that stereotypical crowd of people who have no concern for the well being of the Seals. We only wanted to go if we were going to be able to get photographs without being a nuisance to the Seals. 

Richard contacted the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust (LWT) and asked them what the situation was with regards to photographers visiting the beaches. We were informed that we were okay to visit in June but there was no promise of seeing Seals. We were asked not to get too close and not to disturb them, if we saw them.

We had decided that if we were going to make the drive down we were going to make the most of our time there and also decided to purchase some proper waterproof clothing, meaning we could lay on the wet sand and get a little dirty if needed. Also, with the weather forecast as light rain and heavy winds it was definately a must-have. We would be out on the dunes for around 2 hours between tides. It was a long way to go and we wanted the best shots we could get.

So, we decided to go for it anyway thinking that if anything we would have the chance to photograph something if the Seals weren't around.

A gamble that paid off

So, we set off at 4.15am - Even earlier for Richard though as he was driving and had to make stops and Neil's house and then at mine to pick me up too! (Thanks Richard for driving by the way!). There was a light rain and as you would imagine it was still pitch black at that time of the morning. I had been working late that week (and early too) and was unable to keep my eyes open during the drive up. We were all a little groggy and tired to say the least.

All that changed when we finally arrived though. We parked up, got out and the wind hit us! Hard! It certainly seemed to wake me up. We walked up to the top of the bank to have a quick look at the sand dunes and to see where the tide was. Good news was that the tide was out (and still going out) and it was a clear day. Bad news was that we couldn't see any Seals from that spot. Richard however said that we had a long way to walk and that we couldn't in fact see the entire beach. So, we opened the boot and started getting ourselves ready. Pulling on our waterproof gear, prepping the camera's before heading to the beach (I really did not fancy the idea of changing lenses on the beach - sand in my camera body was a scary thought, especially seeing as I have a wedding to photograph on Saturday 9th June!)

We each had our bags and our gear ready, Richard and Neil had bought Sleds with them to put some of their heavier gear on too, which was a great idea. We started walking.

The beach itself is used by the RAF on weekdays as a bombing range so our trek toward the water revealed many interesting things. Magazines, shell casings, buoys and markers set out in target formations. Take a look at the beach on Google Maps and you can see what I mean. The walk was about 3/4 of a mile and took us about 20 minutes in the rain and soft sand. It was only when we were about half way though that we could see the shoreline. More interestingly we could see a black mass in the distance. The closer we got the more we could see that in fact this mass was a pod of seals (it could be called a herd too). Relief! At least we were seeing what we came here for. Rather than heading directly toward them we walked towards the sea front so that we were alongside them, about 200m away and then started to edge closer to get our shots.


Click to Enlarge: We'd been spotted!

Seals Doing a Runner!

Even though we were easily 200 metres away from the nearest herd they had already spotted us. A large number of them decided to make a break for the sea. It was a little concerning, not only because it would seem they were easily spooked and I didn't want to be responsible for that, but also because if they were running (or bouncing I should say) away from us when we were this far away what chance would we have of getting any closer and taking any decent shots? 

Me especially as I only had my EF 70-200L IS USM MkII and 7D (with my 1.6 crop factor effectively giving me a max focal length of 320mm). Richard had his Canon 1D MKIV, EF 400 F2.8 L IS + EF 1.4x II extender:


Click to Enlarge: Richard Claypole: Cold and Windy and having to carry the 400mm f2.8 around!

This shot of Richard was actually taken facing in-land, toward where we had walked from. You cannot see the land from here as we had to walk back up and over some dunes. This shows how far we had walked!

Neil was wise enough to rent a 400mm for the occasion, add to that his extender meant that they were able to fill their frames without the need to get so close, unlike me:


Click to Enlarge: Neil with his 400mm, still a long distance from the nearest Seal

We were out on the beach for some 2 hours in total (not including the time it took to walk back). The longer we stayed the more comfortable the seals were with us being there. We managed to end up getting to around 20 metres away from them which was great for me as I was able to get better shots:


Click to Enlarge: You're disturbing my rest!20 metres really was our limit though. Each time I got up to adjust position one of the larger seals would sit up and look in my direction, even the smallest movement would cause at least one of the seals to see what we were up to. I was laying flat on my front most of the time trying to stay low, simply waiting for the lazy Seals to look up at me, or do something interesting. A few times they would look in our direction, give a little stretch, roll over or just get up and head towards the sea.

to move around we tried to stay low by walking on our knee's (wonderfully demonstrated by Richard in the above photo) At one point I got up to get a little closer by walking on my knee's but the sand became really hard, almost like concrete, I let out a little 'Ouch' as I walked on my knee's and this caused a few of them to pay attention:


Click to Enlarge: Wanna see my best Lizard impression?

After a while the pod that Richard and I were photographing had began to disband, leaving one little Seal on it's own with just a few others. It was quite a confident little Seal and didn't seem to mind us being there. At one point it threw me a cheeky little look over it's shoulder, catwalk style:


Click to Enlarge: The camera loves you baby!Richard and Neil both got a few shots of the Seals frolicking in the Sea too, but with just a 70-200mm lens I wasn't really able to get any shots of real merit myself. A lesson learnt that day was that I should have rented the right equipment. That said I am still quite pleased with what I came away with. Given the quite heavy cropping the images don't look quite so good full screen, but displayed here on the Blog for illustrative purposed I'm pleased enough. I think I'll use this as a lesson.

The 7D is weather sealed afterall!

People who know me will tell you that I take very good care of everything I own. I keep my mobile phone's in top condition, my iPad is well taken care of, laptops, cars, everything. My camera is no exception. I genuinely care about the things I own - because they cost money and I don't have an endless supply to constantly replace things!

It was therefore quite a shock to me that my 7D was so wet and had wet sand in moving parts. It actually freaked me out a little bit. Richard, as an experienced photographer is used to having worn and used equipment (Equipment that is still functionally perfect, granted) but I also like my things to look new and shiny as well as working like-new. After making the long walk back to land and spending some time getting our gear back into the car we set off back to the south

I sat in the back the entire journey cleaning the sand out of my crunching focus ring and the wheel on the 7D. A few buttons were stuck down too. I was distraught! I didn't want to have to send my equipment off for servicing - I have a wedding to shoot a week later! after hours of brushing all the crevices and wiping down the camera it looked to fine again.

Luckily there was no sand or dirt on my mirror either. Phew!

I must say that I am mightily impressed with the weather sealing on the 7D. When I was researching what equipment to buy as part of my upgrade from my 500D earlier this year I had read many reviews of people praising the whether sealing on some of the EOS range, the 7D had received rave reviews - apparently the sealing is to the same standard as that of the 1D series. I saw this brilliant video on Digital Rev of them testing the 7D to hell and back (take a look, great video!):

The BG-E7 battery grip is also built to the same standard and that too was evident. That was easily cleaned up and restored to new in no time. I didn't use my 580EXk II that day but the specs say that it is weather sealed too! If it's as good as the sealing on the 7D, BG-E7 and 70-200L IS USM MkI then I will be pleased!

So, I hope you enjoyed some of my shots from Donna Nook. I am in no way an expert or a tour guide but if you are thinking of heading up there to do this for yourself and have questions please do give me a shout. Happy to tell you what I can.

Alternatively, Richard Claypole tells me he is entering the blogging world once again and is writing his own version of events from our trip. He may be able to offer some advice. Once I know where to find his Blog I'll be sure to update this post with the relevant link information!

Right then, until next time where I shall be doing a write up of a wedding I am photographing on Saturday for a lovely woman by the name of Shelley Maslen!

Have a great week!



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