It’s 720,000th time lucky! Photographer takes perfect picture of diving kingfisher in honour of his grandfather – but it took him six years and 4,200 hours to get the shot
- Alan McFadyen never forgot boyhood visits to Kirkcudbright, Scotland, with grandfather Robert Murray 40 years ago
- After taking up photography he returned to the site and spent six years trying to capture perfect kingfisher dive
- Mr McFadyen, 46, clocked up 4,200 hours at the lake and took more than 720,000 snaps before his success
- The father-of-three now hopes to pass his love of the lakeside location along to his eight-year-old son Leighton
A photographer who used to watch kingfishers as a boy with his grandfather spent six years and took 720,000 photos trying to get the perfect shot of the bird in memory of his late relative.
Alan McFadyen, 46, was taken by his grandfather Robert Murray to see the kingfisher nesting spot at the beautiful lakeside location near Kirkcudbright, Scotland, 40 years ago.
As he grew up, Mr McFadyen never forgot his boyhood visits and so when he took up photography six years ago, he decided to make the spot the focus of his attention, taking hundreds of photos per day trying to capture a kingfisher’s flawless dive.
Since the kingfisher nest was flooded each year by the tidal water, Mr McFadyen dug a hole in the bank and filled it with clay to make a more sustainable nest for the birds.
For six long years, Mr McFadyen returned a few times a week – averaging 100 days a year – to photograph the kingfishers as they dived into the lake.
The father-of-three clocked up more than 4,200 hours and took around 720,000 photos before he got the perfect shot of the kingfisher doing a flawless dive into the water, without even a splash.
Mr McFadyen, from the Dumfries and Galloway area of Scotland, said: ‘There are not many people in the world who have got this shot. Kingfishers dive so fast they are like bullets so taking a good photo requires a lot of luck – and a lot of patience.
‘The photo I was going for of the perfect dive, flawlessly straight, with no splash required not only me to be in the right place and get a very lucky shot but also for the bird itself to get it perfect.
‘I would often go and take 600 pictures in a session and not a single one of them be any good. But now I look back on the thousands and thousands of photos I have taken to get this one image, it makes me realise just how much work I have done to get it.
‘I never really stopped to think about how long it was taking along the way as I enjoyed doing it but now I look back on it I’m really proud of the picture and the work I put in.’
Sadly, Mr McFadyen’s grandfather Robert passed away in 1994 at the age of 78, and Alan is sad that he did not get to see him take up the kingfisher photography.
Mr McFadyen said: ‘I’m sure my grandfather would have loved it, I just wish he could have seen it. All of my family contacted me when they saw it and said he would have been so proud of it.
Three generations: Mr McFadyen pictured as a baby with grandfather Robert Murray, left, and eight year-old son Leighton, right, whom Mr McFadyen is hoping will follow in his footsteps and share in his love of nature
The photographer believes his perfect kingfisher was an adult female around two or three years old
His love of kingfishers came from being taken to Kirkcudbright as a boy by grandfather Robert Murray 40 years ago
Visiting twice a day, about 100 days a year, Mr McFadyen would usually shoot around 600 pictures per session
‘I’m not really an emotional guy but hearing this really did get me going. I felt very proud as my grandfather brought me up as if he was my dad, so it really meant a lot.’
Visiting twice a day, about 100 days a year, Mr McFadyen would usually shoot around 600 pictures per session. Over the six years, he believes he accumulated around 720,000 pictures – but felt only a small fraction were any good.
Mr McFadyen said: ‘As a small boy of about six I remember my grandfather taking me to see the kingfisher nest and I just remember being completely blown away by how magnificent the birds are.
‘I felt very proud as my grandfather brought me up as if he was my dad, so it really meant a lot,’ – Mr McFadyen on his great achievement
The kingfishers’ speed at diving into the water has been described as ‘like a bullet’ by the 46-year-old snapper
Mr McFadyen would sit in a photography hide he built himself for around seven hours each day trying to get the elusive shot
‘It was extraordinary how quick they flashed into the water with their brilliant blue colours – they didn’t look real, they were like a bullet they were so quick.
‘So when I took up photography I returned to this same spot to photograph the kingfishers, but due to flooding the birds would rarely survive so I decided to give them a hand.
‘I got in the water and built them an artificial bank, by digging a hole and filling it with clay. I wanted to give her a helping hand with her nest and see if the chicks could survive.
‘Around 70 per cent died from either flooding or not learning to dive properly. It is so difficult to learn to dive like the one in the picture as the bird has to judge the refraction in the water
Before he built them a new nest, Mr McFadyen said 70 per cent of the kingfishers would die due to flooding or not knowing how to dive
Despite finally getting the ‘perfect’ shot, Mr McFadyen said he had no plans to give up photographing kingfishers at the lake
The female kingfisher sat on a perch about four feet off the water and would only do three or four dives in an entire day – meaning Alan had to sit there for around seven hours, positioned around nine feet from the bird in a photography hide he built.
Mr McFadyen, who now rents out photography hides across Scotland for a living, believes the kingfisher was an adult female of between two and three years.
Despite getting his ‘perfect’ picture, Mr McFadyen does not intend to stop photographing kingfishers any time soon.
Mr McFadyen said: ‘Just because I have now got this shot, I’m never going to stop going to this spot and snapping the kingfishers. It’s a very relaxing place and I just love it. But I’m not sure how I can ever beat this picture.
‘I have already started taking my eight-year-old son Leighton along with me and he spotted a kingfisher for the first time just last week so my dream is for him to take it up too.’
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