Over the years, and in spite of being away so much of the time (up until the last 11 months that is), my local family of Mute Swans who inhabit the two small stretches of canal in my home town, have been very good to me.
A dozen or so summers ago they were a testing ground for some of my early forays into water level photography, donning my chest waders and sitting in the canal with the camera sat on a tripod itself submerged as well, and resulting in the lens sitting about an inch above the water level. Aside from the regular questions of passing residents as to what on earth I was up to (other than those who knew me and who merely rolled their eyes), it was confirmation that the benefit in terms of amazing viewing angle and resultant enlarged reflections, made this an approach well worth undertaking more seriously as hopefully the above image confirms.
It certainly led to a number of other such projects over the years but that particular summer I was keen to see if I could could capture some images of their cygnets at the cute stage and sure enough it only took a few evenings to become part of their scenery and tempt out the boldest, most curious individual who eventually had to be shooed away from trying to insert his head in my lens hood!
Subsequent summers my time locally has been far more fleeting in its nature and although I have paid a metaphorical nod to them it has only been in passing on a walk or suchlike rather than with photography in mind.
Fast forward to this time last year and the first COVID related lockdown here in the UK and the one with the strictest confinements aligned to the highest anxiety levels as the pandemic took initial hold. Other than visiting birds in my garden it led to one of the longest ever spells without any serious photography on my part – ensuring business survival pretty much dominated the 3 months it consisted of.
As early summer coincided with the first releasing of the ability to actually do more than go to the supermarket or a daily stroll with no stopping, I was pretty clear where the first outing with a camera in tow was going to be – it was small cygnet season after all and I knew just where to head! I wasn’t disappointed either and this was my first couple of images back as they say taken as the family navigated the narrow cut between the two sections of the canal.
Over the course of the next week or so visiting them became an integral part of my routine, and as I re-discovered the specifics of just where the best low vantage points along the entire canal were, and having already decided that donning chest waders and sitting in the canal were probably not in the spirit of things all things considered, I enjoyed some more encounters and even discovered this years boldest youngster too!
As summer unfolded, opportunities to head a little further afield within the UK for photographic work began to open up and I also settled into developing some new ideas for the coming autumn and winter at my woodland hide given overseas options were clearly going to be limited still, and then we found ourselves back at square one. Briefly at first, in November, and then again come the new year it was a full lockdown once more, albeit one that was more permissive in terms of going out for work. I have stayed local though and daily exercise soon re-established which youngsters of the swan family were still on the scene and being tolerated by Mum and Dad, and just where they seemed to want to hang predominantly, especially as the weather turned colder and ice started to form on certain sections of the canal which is not particularly free-flowing.
And then one Sunday morning it all came together. The forecast had been encouraging the night before and pulling back the curtains at dawn after setting an alarm to be sure, not only was there snow everywhere but beautiful flakes of the right photographic sort still gently drifting down. My daily exercise aligned to work was confirmed and I headed down to the canal once more encountering only one other early morning dog-walking couple the entire time so inhospitable were the conditions, but not from a photographic perspective. The result was a collection of images that have long been on my wish-list as far as this family was concerned, but one which has simply never revealed itself in terms of opportunity. The fact that I should have been guiding in Ethiopia barely crossed my mind!
I even reckoned that this was the bold youngster again too based on his confidence in heading my way, and I particularly liked the way the snow continued to pile up on their backs as they swam too!
It would be easy to draw all sorts of moral conclusions from this collection of images and experiences but I’ll let anyone reading reach their own in that respect. Suffice it only to say however the latest roadmap back to normality over the coming months unfolds, my local lockdown swans will figure somewhere on my agenda once more.