Lake Kerkini, Greece


Over the last few years I have been eagerly anticipating an opportunity to make my way over to Lake Kerkini to photograph the beautiful, yet sinister-looking Dalmatian Pelicans.

Being one of the most important wetlands throughout the whole of Europe for wintering birds, Lake Kerkini is a paradise for bird enthusiasts and photographers alike. Situated within the Macedonia region of Greece, and close to the Bulgarian border, the lake is in a great location to access other stunning and surrounding landscapes within proximity such as the national park of Pirin.

Dating back to the 1930s the reservoir area was put in place in 1932, in turn, creating a rich and diverse area for fishing and wildlife, and to this day, playing an important role to over 300 different species of birds. It is hard to imagine that amount of bird species in one area, but as I stood on the edge of the lake on that very first evening, I witnessed a remarkable scene unfolding in front of me as a flock of Pygmy Cormorant glided across the mountain skies right in front of me.

My trip to Lake Kerkini was heavily influenced on a vision of images I have wanted to create for a while now. Anyone that has followed my previous work as a photographer will know I came from a portrait and engagement background where I developed a dramatic and bold style to my work, which I am relishing bringing slowly over into my work as a wildlife photographer.

I have always been interested in the manipulation of light, and how one can use that to an advantage when photographing a subject. Dalmatian Pelicans are the perfect subjects for creating a variety of images from dreamy and elegant looking photographs, to the yet more deep and dramatic tonal images that I was mostly looking for.

This is my story and vision of my time spent in this wonderful part of northern Greece photographing the Dalmatian.

R E F L E C T I O N S  I N  T H E  M I S T

Nikon D810 & 400mm f2.8G VR

Monday the 27th of January 2020, and I am suddenly awoken by my 5:30 am alarm call. As I take a quick glance through the draped and silk-like curtains, dawn is soon approaching. The sky is completely filled with thick banks of cloud and I know the chance for some glorious light this morning would be highly unlikely. Steam from the boiling water fills the room with a foggy haze, and the fresh scent of coffee beans set the mood for the morning’s adventure.

It would be a twenty-minute drive to my location that morning from the villa, and as I drive along the glorious roads that snake beside the vastness of Lake Kerkini, I am surrounded in the shadows of the overhanging forest trees. The accompanying sounds of Ludovico Einaudi is all the motivation I will need this morning as a quick look through the passenger side window welcomes me with the view of the snow-dusted mountains peeking through the multiple layers of cloud.

Although I was hoping for some bold and contrasty light, I soon realized I had an entirely different opportunity that very morning. I take a left off the main road south of the lake, making my way ever closer to the edge of the lake over frozen and rugged terrain. I open the driver’s side door and the air is still, the air is crisp, and the atmosphere around me is ethereal. Dawn approaches much quickly now and there is a low hanging mist that is reflected within the lakes glass-like surface, resembling a deep marble texture.

I slowly make my way to the lake’s bank as the rocks crumble beneath my feet, and I begin placing all of my equipment out in front of me. As I attach the lens to my camera body, as ever, the soft clicking sound puts a huge smile on my face as I now lie and wait beside the water’s edge. It only takes a few moments before I can hear the teeming sound of birdlife echoing around the lake.

Dawn has now risen and the mist is slowly fading. The atmosphere is still ethereal, but with the extra light coming through, it is now an environment with an extra softness. Looking through my viewfinder for the third time, there I see it through the mist with a wingspan of up to 11ft slowly gliding into the frame, I fire off the shutter as the water ripples beside me. I really hope I captured the moment as my heart rate eventually slows back down.

Dalmatian pelican coming to land on lake kerkini

Reflections in the mist was a beautiful moment, and one I wasn’t at all expecting on the first day. I stayed by the water’s edge that morning for a couple of hours taking a variety of photographs of these majestic birds, whilst also taking the time to put down my camera and admire the surrounding views whilst reading my book. I also drank coffee and ate greek butter biscuits whilst sharing company with the Dalmatians.

I was blessed with some lovely conditions throughout the first two days which enabled me to capture these birds in a different light than what I had originally planned. I love how the simple shades of silver create that dreamy feel, with the added extra blends of greys and creamy whites. Below is another one of my favourite images captioned Feathers of Silk, again shot with the Nikon D810 and the beautiful 400 mm 2.8.

S L O W I N G  D O W N

When I was in Africa last year I made a promise to myself going forward to split my time between photography work, and taking time out during the same trip. Throughout my time in Africa, I was too focused on photography that I forgot about the simpler things when in such environments. Every photographer will tell you it is very hard to say no to yourself and to put the camera down from time to time. It’s engraved within all of us as creatives.

Thinking back to the above, I had now started to experience the effects of making more time for myself outside of photography on my latest trip, and of course, Lake Kerkini was my first real attempt at slowing down.

High up in the mountain range, with the dust trailing behind my feet, it was now 14:30 pm on Thursday 30th of January. I tug on the straps of my backpack to strengthen the tension and swiftly take a drink from my water bottle admiring the views of Lake Kerkini from above. I then re-adjust my shoelaces and start to descend down from my morning hike up in the hills. Although I had only been here for two full days, I was already feeling the benefit of leaving out the morning photography session by taking myself away to enjoy the surroundings I was in.

The views from the hills were exquisite. The strong afternoon sun was hazy and the light was casting silhouettes all around the valley floor. Different patterns began to emerge within the landscape and the layers upon layers of light on the opposite hills were sublime. Knowing I didn’t have any of my camera gear on me, I was a litte disappointed for a second, but as I began to look at the bigger picture, I realized I was now enjoying being in the moment, and appreciating nature as a whole.

After my hike, I then decided I was going to take the whole day to just enjoy some of my time in northern Greece. Yet again drinking more coffee, this time sampling some greek coffee, which was served in a very strange, yet pleasing Turkish/Greek copper jug. I then went to a local tavern that very evening to sample some greek beer and some local greek food. It was fair to say I definitely felt the benefits for the duration of my time in Greece thereon after. I felt motivated, energized, and full of optimism in my creation process.

Portrait of a Dalmatian Pelican in Kerkini

Nikon D810 & 400mm f2.8G VR

The shore of the lake has a completely different feel to it from earlier in the week. The smooth creamy whites are replaced by dark metallic qualities that give a sense of eeriness. The storm is closing in as the water on the lake begins to sway from one side to the other and my surroundings become yet even darker as the elements close in.

The sun has almost set but there is still light around. The reflective light above me bounces around the lake and casts a warm glowing sidelight upon the Dalmatian who is giving me the sinister stare. I have never witnessed a more profound stare from any bird like this before. I am locked in, I am inspired, and I am mesmerized as I wait for the perfect composition. The composition opens up and the heavens begin to open. I check my focus before I quickly make my way back to the car stumbling across the shore. As I reach the top, I quickly take a look behind me to see the Dalmatian also making it’s escape.

Dalmatian Pelican on a stormy Lake Kerkini

It is paramount as a photographer in any area to understand and utilize the different varieties of light. Whether that is in wildlife photography or portraiture, by taking the time to learn about light and how to execute it in the field, your creativity as a photographer can become endless.

Out of all the images I shot in northern Greece, this one is my favourite for a variety of reasons. The reflective sidelight is gorgeous, I love the central composition, and I love the sinister stare the bird is giving me, which is adding emotion and a connection to the image.

Below are a couple more images I shot utilizing the use of light, particularly, the use of dramatic light during my time in northern Greece.

Dalmatian Pelican flies across Lake Kerkini during sunset
A  L A K E  O F  F I R E

Nikon D810 & 400mm f2.8G VR

It is the evening before my last morning on the lake. I check my phone with anticipation of what the forecast has in store for tomorrow morning. I had checked earlier in the day, and mostly clear skies had been forecast roughly between 4:00 am and 7:30 am. Of course, you can never simply rely on a table of figures, but usually, the app I use for my regular forecasts is quite accurate.

I was in a joyous mood not only as the forecast looked very promising, but, I was also about to embark on the only boat trip during my stay in Kerkini.

Ten minutes into my drive and I knew this morning was going to be epic. Sometimes you get a feeling when everything may just come together, and this was one of those mornings. Passing through the overhanging forest trees again, this time as I looked through the passenger window I could see the perfect layers of sunrise colours forming above the horizon line.

I am finally on the boat and we begin to embark further up the lake as the sun starts to put on a show. The fresh wind in my face is a beautiful reminder of being alive whilst the incredible numbers of pelicans glide through the morning sky at every angle. Water begins to spray in all directions, I struggle to get settled as the boat sways from one side to the other and I begin to feel overwhelmed with the options around me. The sun is well and truly setting the lake on fire, finally finding an opening within the chaos, I manage to fire off a few frames as the pelican spreads out its elegant wingspan, showcasing its silvery plumage that now becomes backlit to the glorious golden sun.

Looking back at the image below I can’t help but feel a deep connection. I will always remember every single moment that unfolded on that very morning, and each time I look at this image, I will be left reminded of the cold wind in my face and the feeling of being alive.

Dalmatian Pelican in sunrise light in Kerkini

At the time of finishing this blog post, I have just returned from Scotland after spending 10 days up in the Cairngorms photographing the mountain hares. Bracing two storms, complete whiteouts, and blizzards with up to 70mph winds, photography has been very challenging up there. That blog post will be live towards the end of February or the first week in March and I will be excited to share that with you all.

March will be a relatively quiet month for me as I make preparations for the Maasai Mara.

To read more inspiring blogs from the wild, why not visit my blog page to check out all of my latest adventures!

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