When you embark on transformational learning and personal development, you can expect to become knowledgeable or even an expert in your chosen field of study. But when Scott Duffield started his Digital Photography Diploma course with Centre of Excellence, it’s fair to say he didn’t imagine he’d be a finalist in the prestigious Outdoor Photo of the Year awards a few short years later. In fact, Scott told Centre of Excellence that he still doesn’t quite believe it!
Despite this incredible accolade, the 39-year-old still characterises himself as a keen amateur photographer who specialises in the fine art of the outdoor photo in his spare time. Scott works for the Canal and River Trust as the Regional Mechanical and Electrical Supervisor for Yorkshire Northeast and the East Midlands, meaning he spends a lot of time outdoors.
Here, his passion for photography was born thanks to the “ever-changing light and weather conditions” that reflect and interact with the mood of the photographer and the outdoor photo.
Scott told Centre of Excellence, “I had been photographing wildlife for a number of years and figuring out how my camera worked as I went along, until I discovered Centre of Excellence’s Digital Photography Diploma.”
Of the learning experience, Scott said, “The course gave me a greater insight into the science behind the camera settings, knowing what each setting does, and how they are affected by altering other settings,” adding that it helped him master the camera and fine-tune his creative eye for capturing great compositions. Many of the photography skills Scott learned on the course — such as changing the camera’s quick buttons and keeping an eye on what else is caught in the edges of the shot — the photographer still uses to this day.
He also said, “The course was straightforward and worded brilliantly so it could be easily understood. I loved the fact that there was no time pressure to get the course completed, which was a great weight off my mind when juggling work, photography and learning.”
While he also shoots artistic urban, night and portrait shots, Scott enjoyed the Digital Photography Diploma course so much that he even signed up to further learning to better understand the animal behaviour of his favourite subjects.
The Challenges of Taking a Great Outdoor Photo
The outdoor photo fanatic said: “I find wildlife so intriguing and the toughest discipline in photography, as wild animals very rarely sit and pose for a picture and the constantly changing light, shadows, weather and movement make it such a difficult art to master.”
Indeed, the territory poses many challenges. Scott explains, “As well as the technical challenge of constantly altering the camera’s settings to match the conditions, you also have to capture the mood and character of the animal in the shot so the emotions can be conveyed to the viewer.”
It is clear Scott — who shares his work on Instagram — has mastered the outdoor photo with a combination of training, development and a natural eye for an incredible shot. Just take a look at his entry for the Outdoor Photo of the Year awards:
Scott told Centre of Excellence about the “magical moment” he captured at Ravenscar on the Yorkshire coast this summer. Recalling his visit to the colony of seals that live on a rocky outcrop just offshore, Scott said, “Accessing the rocky beach is just as much of a challenge as getting the picture. Firstly, you have all your camera equipment to carry down a daunting, near-vertical track to descend to the beach. Once I had reached the bottom, after the treacherous loose gravel and rock track had been conquered, I stopped to gather my surroundings and work out the best place to get some shots.”
As Scott sat there catching his breath, he noticed a solitary seal struggling to get out of the surf and onto the rocks of the beach. After a minute or two, though, the seal finally made it onto a little basking rock where it lay on its side, took in a deep breath and, as Scott recalls it, seemed to sigh. Scott continued, “At this point, he looked over at me and gazed straight into my eyes. I think he was trying to figure out if I was a threat or not. Then, suddenly, just as I pointed my camera at him, he sat up and looked straight down the lens and gave me a bashful and doe-eyed look.”
Scott told Centre of Excellence it was as if the seal was thanking him for giving him space to rest after his choppy journey to the rocks. There the seal sunbathed for warmth for 10 minutes before attempting the strong surf again and making it back to the rocky outcrop. During that time, Scott said, “I only took a couple of quick snaps so as not to disturb the seal, so I never expected much to come from them. When I got home to check the pictures, I was overwhelmed and quite emotional with the results.”
It’s not unusual for wildlife photography to create an emotional moment for the artists and composers of these works. Scott says that moments like this can leave an outdoor photographer feeling “on top of the world.”
But the tribulations don’t come without trials. Scott explained, “The biggest challenge is your biggest critic: Yourself. If the image you have captured is technically good but the composition isn’t how you imagined or doesn’t feel right, you consider it a failure, which can easily knock your confidence if you let it.”
This is why, Scott says, it would mean so much to him to win the Outdoor Photo of the Year accolade. “I suppose it would give you a sense of validation and would silence the inner critic that is forever telling you that it’s not the best picture. It would be a massive boost to my confidence in my photography as well as a huge sense of achievement,” Scott said.
So, onto the million-dollar question.
What Makes the Perfect Outdoor Photo?
Well, Scott’s not entirely sure there’s such a thing as a perfect photo — after all, art is subjective. But there are some things he looks for; namely, the mood, the emotion and “a little piece of the photographer captured in the shot”, as well as the subject matter. In other words, he admires photographers who have the capacity to put their soul into the frame.
“Too many people get caught up in trying to get their picture technically perfect and miss the actual moment,” Scott says, adding that he would rather see a picture that captured an emotion or feeling “over a pin-sharp, perfectly exposed, passionless image that looks more like a digital rendering than something someone has put a piece of themselves into”. He says it doesn’t always matter if that is a slightly darker or slightly softer image if it still has great composition and mood.
Scott concludes, “I think, for me anyway, the key to a great picture is to capture a piece of yourself in the way you take the picture so that when other people see it, they know it’s yours from the way it’s taken.”
Sharing some advice with other outdoor photographers, Scott said, “Take your time. Relax and wait for the scene to feel right. After all, one great outdoor photo is worth more than a thousand generic and ill-timed shots.” Moreover, he shares the gentle reminder to not be too hard on yourself and stop comparing your work to that of others, adding, “Your pictures are always better than you think and, if they’re not the same as everyone else’s, that isn’t always a bad thing.”
Just like Scott, taking the first step could lead to something truly special, such as a moment with a wild seal — or, indeed, being shortlisted out of hundreds of thousands of entries as the person behind one of fifteen pictures in the running to be named the Outdoor Photo of the Year 2021.
It is certainly a deserving shot. To cast your vote, go to Outdoor Photo of the Year 2021.