Interviews & Features 1st September 2020

Fragile by Colin Prior

Landscape photographer and Loxley Colour Ambassador Colin Prior has a new book coming out later this month. We wanted to find out more about his book on birds and their habitats, so we asked Colin to tell us all about Fragile. Discover below what Colin had to say about this stunning book.

It was with a sense of personal satisfaction when I received an advanced copy of my latest book Fragile. It is the culmination of ten years of work which documents a passion I have had since childhood – birds. Early in my career and in spite of this passion, I felt I was able to say more about the natural world through the medium of landscape photography rather than by photographing wildlife. It allowed me to arrange the elements of the landscape within my viewfinder in a way that corresponded with the way I saw the world. Ten years ago, I began exploring how I could approach the landscape in a more meaningful way and how I might fuse my interest with birds and I came up with the idea of photographing their habitats. To complement the habitat image, I thought about photographing their eggs which would be portrayed as a diptych with an egg on one page of a double page spread and the habitat on the other.

I knew that museums had big collections of birds’ eggs, so I contacted the Museum of Scotland to explore the possibility of photographing their collections for my project to which they agreed. So, we set up a studio in-situ at the museum and spent five weeks there photographing around 250 eggs. Photographing an egg, close up, is not a straightforward proposition – if you focus on the top, the edges are soft. If you focus on the edges, the top is soft and if you try mid-way, both edges and the top are soft, so it was necessary to adopt an approach that utilised focus stacking. We moved in a Cambo studio stand which weighed almost 200kg, had an electronically controlled stacking unit, three flash heads and a custom-built table. Each of the egg photographs is a compilation of anything between 40-80 separate exposures, which were subsequently blended in stacking software. The results, by comparison with a single exposure are in another league and give front to back exposure.

The second part of the project meant identifying genuine habitats for each species as I was keen to create a synergy between each egg and habitat. I used the dominant colour of each egg as the starting point for the habitat and often this meant going back later in the year or perhaps earlier the following year. My goal was to create a symbiosis between both elements on opposite pages which fed off each other, visually. In some chapters, I have used a single image of birds within their environment to reinforce the message about birds, however, I was keen to keep this genre of images to a minimum, to avoid the work becoming editorial.

My motivation for ‘Fragile’ was, in part, to raise awareness of the demise of wild birds whose populations over the last 50 years have plummeted and something which I have witnessed first-hand. Lapwing, for instance, have fallen 63% between 1970-94 and have vanished entirely from some of their former strongholds. Another icon of the British countryside, the rook, has fallen in numbers by 20% from 1995-2014 and as a member of the crow family, they have been unjustly persecuted throughout history. Conversely, the reintroduction of the Norwegian white-tailed eagle has been a resounding success, with well over 150 birds now distributed around Scotland’s coastline. The white-tailed eagle was persecuted and, by 1918, had become extinct in the British Isles. Three shillings was the bounty on its head, and they were being destroyed at a rate of 20 a year. What, for me, is so special about this egg is that it was collected in 1869 and was laid by the now extinct indigenous Scottish genus.

You can pre-order Fragile now ahead of its release on the 17th of September.

You might also be interested in…

Vista Frame – the perfect frame for landscape photographers – as chosen by Colin Prior.

Loxley Colour Toolkit – Create your own promotional materials.

Books – Create your own photo book for clients or commercial purposes.

Acrylic Gallery – The ultimate wall product for landscape shots.