Otters are tricky subjects to photograph. They are extremely difficult to locate, hard to approach without causing disturbance and can disappear as quickly as they appear.
I have found the Isle of Mull to be a fantastic location for otter photography. Otters can be found all over the island and the opportunities are massive. I took my first otter image on Mull in 2020.
I was extremely lucky on this occasion; I was sat in my car by the loch and the otter brought a fish in to shore not far away and ate the fish and then spent time rolling around. But it is never usually that easy. Sometimes you have to sit and wait for many hours to see an otter. You have to be patient and sometimes sitting behind rocks just hoping that an otter may come your way, is actually one of the best ways to get decent shots without causing disturbance. If there are signs that an otter has been in the area, The likelihood is that it will be.
On Mull, and most coastal environments, the best time to see otters is generally between 2-3 hours before and after low tide. This is when they are more active and are out hunting, drastically increasing your chances of finding them. You can see them at other times but it’s a lot less reliable.
Otters will spot you on the skyline, so make sure you have something obscuring your profile. Also, wear dull clothing to blend yourself into the background.
Wind plays an important role in getting close enough to photograph otters. Wind direction is key – ideally you want a strong wind coming straight at you or onshore, staying upwind of the otters at all times. This means your scent will be going away from the subject and any sound you will make will also be taken away. The stronger the wind, the better your chances regarding noise.
Otters will quickly detect any sudden movements, so move slowly and when in position raise your camera slowly to your eye. Most people get excited once in position and ruin it by quickly moving the camera up.
I shoot with a Nikon D850 and 600mm lens. The D850 has massive image files so it enables you to be able to crop the image quite a lot and the 600mm lens enables you to get reasonably close images without causing disruption.
Below are some images that I have taken – on the left is the image as it was taken and on the right is the image after it has been cropped and processed.
You can see that there was still a considerable distance from me to the otters. This is how I prefer to shoot.
Recently there have been a lot of reports on Mull of “photographers” chasing and disturbing otters. Disturbing an animal is never right or worth it – just to get the shot.
Otters are one of the main species on Mull that people want to see. They can be seen everywhere, but there are a few locations that attract heavy traffic. These are the locations where there are issues.
I would advise everyone to follow these guidelines.
- Never chase an otter along the shore. Walk away and loop well ahead of the otter when it is in the water. Find some rocks and sit and wait. The otter may come to you.
- If there are several people already watching an otter leave it and go and find something else to photograph, perhaps another otter?
- Never be tempted to get too close. The majority of otter images posted online will have been shot on large telephoto lenses and most probably cropped. You don’t have to get very close to get a good shot. A respectable distance should allow you to observe the otter behaving naturally.
- If an otter is in the water and you want to try and get closer. Wait for the otter to dive and approach it with the wind against you. When the otter surfaces crouch down and repeat the same again when it dives.
- You need patience! There will be times when you feel you want to get closer If you get to the point where you are thinking “should I or should I not,” the answer is most definitely you should not.
Otters can be a highly sensitive species, so always be overly cautious when photographing them. Their holts are protected under law, so never disturb or destroy these areas. If you do happen to disturb one, leave the area to allow them to get comfortable again and carry on hunting. Otters need to eat a huge amount each day, so if they get disturbed several times then they would struggle to get their daily food quota.
Mull is fantastic for otters and lot’s of other wildlife.
There are plenty of otters for everyone to see and experience, but please apply common sense and treat the otters with respect. Do some research and consider spending time with an experienced guide such as Brian Boyes who will show you how to approach otters without causing disturbance.
Another option is to book a trip on a group wildlife trip – there are several companies that run wildlife tours on Mull but I would recommend Andrew Tomison and Wildlife on Mull. Wildlife on Mull
Mull Otter Group have heaps of useful suggestions and information on watching otters. Mull Otter Group
Brian Boyes is one of the best otter photographers that I know and his advice and tutorship was key to me being able to get images. He runs the Passionate About Mull Facebook page that provides a lot of useful information on Mull Wildlife and Otters. BJB Images and Passionate about Mull on Facebook
If you are interested in a guided wildlife tour to Mull then please get in touch. I can do one on one guiding or if there is enough interest I can put a group together. Click Here